Mexico has a serious problem. It is not merely insecurity, which to a greater or lesser extent exists throughout the world. It is not that there are “barrios bravos,” but that crime is consolidating its control over an ever-increasing share of Mexican power, economy, life and death. The resulting chaos is a regional threat that Washington must take seriously.
Mexico, under crime
The López Obrador government, along with Mexico’s political and business class, is trying to hide the seriousness of the problem by overplaying its hand, presenting a face of normalcy and pretending that everything is under control, but they are fooling themselves: Mexico is increasingly less under their control and increasingly subject to the whim of criminals.
Municipal and state police forces are overwhelmed throughout the country, the National Guard promoted by President López has neither the numbers nor the training to fulfill its objective of replacing the Army in the fight against organized crime. Even the Army and the Navy have accumulated episodes of failure, subjugated and humiliated by private militias.
The decomposition becomes very clear with two pieces of information from last Friday, May 6:
- That day a video recorded in the state of Guerrero was shared on social networks, where, with all the calm in the world, a group of “community police” tell a member of the Navy that they were thinking of killing him, but would not do so out of courtesy to the municipal president, who is also present in the conversation.
- Also on May 6, the newspaper Reforma reported that Mexico is ranked fourth in the world in terms of crimes committed by organized crime, only behind Congo, Colombia and Myanmar.
In short: crime is increasingly organized and authorities are increasingly subjected to the “mercy” and good vibes of crime.
And the people? They do not even get mercy. Violence has turned horror into routine throughout Mexican territory, with more than 400,000 murders so far this century, in addition to millions of assaults, extortions and robberies, with impunity levels close to 100%, under the impotent, if not complicit, gaze of authorities at all levels and parties.
Yes, complicit, because the Mexican government has been for centuries a nest of corruption, ranging from the most petty to the most systematized. From the police and agents who extort motorists by inventing traffic infractions, to high-level officials who organize fraud on an industrial scale, such as the one uncovered a few days ago at SEGALMEX, which is estimated to be worth close to $500 million dollars.
This corruption filters into organized crime networks. Several former Mexican governors have been indicted or are in the crosshairs of the DEA and other U.S. government agencies for their direct collaboration with criminal networks. Genaro Garcia Luna, the head of President Calderon’s alleged “war on drugs” is in a New York jail, on trial for allegedly collaborating with drug traffickers; former Mexican Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos was also arrested on DEA charges, and then sent back to Mexico under very unclear circumstances.
Tens, hundreds, thousands of other cases are known and shared among whispers in the corridors of Mexican politics and society. Together, they paint the picture of an increasingly fragile and violent country, where organized crime advances with no greater counterweight than that of rival groups, because the government itself has become a criminal structure, thinly disguised under a cloak of institutional legality, which will eventually collapse.
The Mexican government must stop being criminal
To do so, it urgently needs transparency and a functional justice system. Only with a relatively clean government and less impunity would Mexico’s institutions have a hope of victory against organized crime.
The problem? That in Mexico there is no political force in sight capable, not just of achieving this, but even of putting the necessary changes on the agenda.
So then? What remains is “plan B”: that when things get chaotic enough, the United States will bring order.
During the last administration, the U.S. government toyed with the idea of declaring drug cartels as terrorist organizations, which would provide greater scope for direct action by its armed forces. Now we also know that former President Donald Trump was reportedly considering the option of launching missiles at synthetic drug labs in Mexico.
It sounds drastic, reckless and even counterproductive, but also, in light of the news accumulating in Mexico, it sounds inevitable.
According to The New York Times, in those discussions Trump added that Mexicans “don’t have control of their own country.” He is right. So sooner or later: either the Mexican government cleans up, wakes up and puts a bit of order in place, or that order will have to come from Washington. The alternative is chaos.