Does Mexico exercise political sovereignty throughout the republic?
In November 2008, the US Joint Forces Command of the Department of Defense issued an official report entitled Joint Operating Environment, Challenges and Implications for the Future Joint Force. In a section on weak and failing states, it suggested that "in terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico." It went on to conclude that "the Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone."
As can be imagined, this provocative statement, without any corroborating evidence, caused a widespread reaction in Mexico. Mexico is not nor is it bordering on being a failed state. Nevertheless, nine years after this statement was issued, to what extent does Mexico exercise control over its national territory and governance structures? (See the question on Mexico's security in this chapter.) The degree of such control is indeed a significant measure of the stability and strength of a sovereign state. According to Mexican experts, organized crime has penetrated more than three-quarters of Mexican communities. The degree to which drug cartels continue to infringe on the sovereignty of the civil governance structure in Mexico remains largely unchanged. On the local level, in various rural municipalities, drug cartels have threatened municipal leaders and police to such an extent that they no longer function independently, or they have abandoned their positions altogether. This situation encouraged 46 percent of Mexicans in 2015 to support taking personal control over enforcing the law in their communities. It also contributed to the belief among a sizable minority that organized crime does more for their local communities than does the local government. Finally, ordinary citizens currently rank drug cartels second only to state governors in exerting regional control. The conditions of such municipalities and states change over time; thus, the lack of political sovereignty is not necessarily continuous.
Moreover, if we go beyond overt control by criminal organizations and include their indirect control over political leaders and police forces, the compromising effects on political sovereignty are far more extensive, and in many cases unknown. Numerous mayors have been arrested for being in the pay of the drug cartels. Most police departments in Mexico are compromised by bribery and threats from organized crime. By 2014, Control Risks estimated that the police are involved in seven out of every ten kidnappings. Given the extent of corruption—specifically organized-crime corruption—among the police, it is impossible to protect potential witnesses who would testify against drug traffickers and their associates. Given the judicial reforms in June 2016, as a result of which judges now demand more comprehensive evidence of criminal guilt, witnesses, just as they would in the US justice system, play a critical role in the successful prosecution and conviction of criminals. In a report issued by the University of San Diego Justice in Mexico program, eight out of ten judges in 2016 agree that the reforms have had positive results. Because drug cartels are pursuing other forms of criminal activity, including the intimidation and bribery of local businesses, these activities raise the question of how much control local authorities actually exercise in their communities. The economic consequences are equally telling. As early as 2000, the estimated cost of violence to the Mexican economy was approximately 12.3 percent of the gross domestic product. In 2011, 160,000 businesses closed their doors because of organized crime. According to Coparmex, a leading employer's association, 37 percent of Mexican companies in 2014 reported being victims of extortion, corruption, kidnapping, or robbery, most notably in Guerrero, Michoacan, and Tamaulipas. Crime cost Mexican businesses 5.8 billion dollars in 2014.