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Is Mexico A Failed State?

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Is Mexico a failed state? The constant news about massacres and widespread violence in large regions of Mexico spread rapidly across American news, painting the canvas of a chaotic country, similar to a western movie where only the villains rule and there is no John Wayne in 10 towns around, just a bunch of corrupt “sheriffs.”

The Mexican state is profoundly incompetent

There is some truth to that mental image, especially in terms to the indolence/ineptitude of Mexican authorities, of all colors and at all levels, to the extent that they have become incapable of fulfilling one of the basic functions of any functional State: the protection of roads and railroads. Yes, just like in the western movies.

Let’s look at the case of trains. The Security Report on the Mexican Railway System — which was updated to the first quarter of 2021 and prepared by the Railway Transportation Regulatory Agency — shows an increase in reports of theft in the train system, which totaled 791 between January and last March, an increase of 13.49% over the previous quarter, driven mainly by a drastic increase in the theft of “track components” (rails and sleepers) that shot up 63.7%.

These thefts have become a way of life for thousands of thieves and often even result in derailments, such as those recently recorded in Puebla and Jalisco. Yes, as you read it, the Mexican Government is not only incapable of taking care of its residents, but they cannot even protect roads that should be easy to monitor and protect.

Worse yet, when the problem is not official thieves, “social activists” appear. Since 2020 Mexico has had approximately 7,000 hours of blockades on the railroad network, mainly in the state of Michoacán, where the CNTE (a pseudo teachers’ union that in practice operates as a political extortion gang) takes advantage of any pretext to paralyze the state and obtain even more perks from the local government and the federation.

The consequence? More than $4.4 billion dollars in losses in 2020 alone, according to BSI & TT Club’s Cargo Theft Report 2021, which explains that due to the road blockades, Mexican industry tried to rely more on cargo trucks to move their goods. There are bad news: Mexico’s roads are as unsafe as its rails. Or worse.

That same report explains that, unlike cargo thieves operating in the United States or Canada, “thieves in Mexico are not opposed to carrying out armed hijackings of cargo trucks in transit…cargo thieves in Mexico often use violence…[and] in multiple cases, well-armed thieves have overpowered [cargo] security escorts.” These are scenes from an old western, or —rather— a horror movie.

Armed robbery is a daily risk in a large part of Mexico, including the country’s main highways, to the extent that the U.S. State Department advises against and even prohibits its officials from driving on some Mexican federal highways, such as highway 45D between Celaya and Irapuato, a restriction shared by the Canadian government.

Violence is on the highways, in the streets and in homes. It is not only about the dangerous neighborhoods that we could find in other parts of the world, in Mexico there are cities and entire regions captured by criminals or subjected to the relentless struggle of cartels that fight for territory before the inert and inept eyes of the federal government, which promised “hugs, not bullets”.

The result is a state of quasi-war without parallel at the international level. An often-quoted study by the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice places six Mexican cities as the most violent in the world, another one includes five Mexican cities among the 10 with the highest homicide rate worldwide. Insecurity can be breathed, impunity is experienced and the incompetence of the authorities (of all parties and all levels) can be seen from a distance.

Is Mexico a failed state? No, it is a functional state, but one that has failed to take advantage of its potential. (Image: Unsplash)

So, is Mexico a failed state?

The knee-jerk reaction would be yes, but the answer is not so simple.

Despite unbeatable crime and violence, Mexico continues to function and grow. There are modern cities, vast commercial centers and huge industrial zones that have made this country the leading trading partner of the United States, surpassing Canada, and yes, China as well.

I mentioned earlier the common train robberies. However, between January and July of this year, Mexican railroads moved a total of 54,595.12 million ton-kilometers on 1.2 million cars, clearly surpassing not only the 2020 figures, but also those recorded during that same period in the years prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, so Mexico in spite of everything, it moves.

And it will continue to move, even faster, as economic integration with the rest of North America is a major driver of development. In March 2021, Canadian Pacific Railway Limited announced that it will merge with Kansas City Southern, which means the creation of a 32,000-kilometer-long network that will include for the first time both Mexico and the United States and Canada.

Similar projects are moving forward in many other industries. So to the question “Is Mexico a failed state?” No. Mexico is a corrupt, conflictive, violent and complex state, but it is also functional and competitive.

Mexico is, however, a state in failure

Back to the case of the train. The World Bank points out that the United States moves 26 times more ton-kilometers than Mexico. Surely that difference would be much smaller if the Mexican State functioned well, providing security and preventing the blocking of the tracks. The same applies to the rest of the economy. With a well-functioning state, Mexico would take full advantage of the talent of its people and the country’s potential, as well as its proximity to the United States. It would be a much more prosperous nation than it is today, even more so than Canada.

Failure to take advantage of these conditions makes the Mexican Republic a failed state, even if it is not (yet) a failed state. It is that clear, even if it hurts.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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