I MAJOR ISSUES FACING MEXICO TODAY
SECURITY AND VIOLENCE IN MEXICO
Why does Mexico have so much drug violence today?
Mexico's drug problems emanate from the insatiable demand for drugs in the United States. Currently, the United States serves as the largest market for drugs in the world. The level of demand by the United States rarely changes in spite of all the measures, successful and unsuccessful, that the US government has taken to prevent drugs from entering the United States. In fact, drug experts suggest that the only likely decline in drug usage in the immediate future will be among cocaine users, not because of a successful government strategy, but because baby boomers represent a disproportionate percentage of cocaine users, and their numbers are declining. The United States has spent most of its antidrug budget on an interdiction strategy, much of which has focused on the border with Mexico. During the Obama administration, increased resources were directed toward reducing demand. As part of the interdiction strategy, the United States has encouraged the Mexican government for years to prevent the shipment of drugs from and through Mexico, and to destroy drug production in Mexico. To make that strategy more effective in Mexico, the US government urged the Mexican government to expand the role of the Mexican Army, given the ineffectiveness and corruption of civilian agencies, both local and national.
When President Vicente Fox was elected in 2000, in spite of campaigning on a promise to withdraw the military from the drug war, he not only maintained the military's role but also increased its presence. He improved the effectiveness of the military through increased cooperation with the attorney general, who in his first cabinet was himself a brigadier general. The improved coordination between civil and military authorities, as well as collaboration with members of the Drug Enforcement Agency and other US officials, increased the number of drug leaders who were killed or captured. Those very successes, however, created a vacuum in the major drug cartels, leading to intense, violent confrontations among the competing cartels for control over territory and new drug routes. By the end of the Fox administration, more than thirty thousand troops were engaged in this mission.
Felipe Calderon became president in 2006. He decided to confront the drug cartels more proactively by assigning roving battalions to those communities or regions where drug-related violence was most pronounced. In the first four years of his administration, he increased the number of troops and officers from both the army and navy to slightly more than fifty thousand to perform this task, hoping to break up the large cartels into much smaller and more easily controlled units. This proactive strategy, though it resulted in the capture of more top traffickers, not only led to much higher levels of intra-cartel violence but also increased the death rate of soldiers, police, prosecutors, and innocent bystanders, contributing to a higher homicide rate, much of it drug-related. It also led to an increased level of human rights abuses by the armed forces.
President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in 2012, campaigned on a pledge to employ innovative strategies. He proposed a new federal force, a gendarme unit, trained in police and military skills. Originally, it was to be large enough to replace a significant percentage of the armed forces devoted to the antidrug campaign, but ultimately it totaled only five thousand members. It became active in the summer of 2014, but had no measurable effect on the drug war.
An increasing number of Mexicans, in response to the rising level of violence, now believe their personal security is compromised and that the government's strategy is largely responsible for that violence. The government's own data from the 2015 National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Security revealed that twenty-three million Mexicans were victims of crime in the previous year. The frequency of crime generated widespread fear of being a victim among six out of ten citizens in 2015. Drug-related homicides account for approximately a third to half of all intentional homicides, depending on how the data are calculated. The National System of Public Security released new data in 2016 indicating that homicides increased significantly in seventeen states from December 2012 through June 2016.