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Mexico: A “Failed State”?

(Press Office Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador/Handout via REUTERS)

“And, at the regional level, Mexico should pursue stronger cooperation with the United States regarding control of arm trafficking, such as Operation ‘Frozen,’ which attempts ‘to freeze the illegal movement of guns between the two countries.'”

On a spring morning this past April, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stated at his morning press conference: “The strategy to address violence and insecurity is going to take a while, but it could yield results within six months, when social programs operate fully and the National Guard enters into operation.” His announcement came in the wake of a violent attack at a bar in the city of Minatitlán (in the state of Veracruz), where gunmen shot dead thirteen people. 

Unfortunately, during these following months, new stories of violence, such as that which took place at Minatitlán, have permeated throughout Mexican airwaves. Since President López Obrador took office last December, 29, 629 people have been murdered, positioning 2019 to potentially surpass 2018 as the most violent year in modern Mexican history. 

Recently, a new incident filled the news, with the blood bath that took place in the city of Culiacán in the state of Sinaloa. On October 17th, the “Cartel of Sinaloa” engaged in a fire fight with the Mexican Armed Forces after the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán, the son of “El Chapo” Guzmán, former leader of the Cartel. 

The city of Culiacán was turned into a zone war for more than an hour. Civilians ran into shops looking for safe places to hide, with their children in toe. In the meantime, members of the Cartel were recorded on video on the streets of Culiacán. One carried a high-powered weapon known as Caliber 50. What could have been a scene in a popular television series such as Narcos or movies such as Miss Bala and Infierno, was, in fact, a reality. Later, the Mexican Forces freed Ovidio Guzmán, providing a victory to the drug cartel and establishing an unfortunate precedent for organized crime going forward: that violence against the state can result in meeting their objectives. 

As a result, questions of whether Mexico is a failed state have arisen again—as the government habitually demonstrates that it is not capable of fulfilling its basic duty: to provide public security. Clearly, President López Obrador’s strategy of “hugs, not bullets” is not working. 

A Glance to History 

Mexico’s security problem has been a major affair for a long time now. Former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) started a “War on Drugs.” Also, in 2007,  President Calderón and U.S. President George W. Bush agreed on the creation of the Merida Initiative, a security arrangement between the two countries to address drug trafficking and crime. The Initiative consisted of four pillars: disrupt the capacity of organized crime to operate, institutionalize the capacity to sustain the rule of law, create a 21st century border structure with better infrastructure and technology, and build strong and resilient communities. In the next decade, the United States spent more than $1.6 billion (and Mexico would do much of the same) seeking to meet these goals.

Next, under President Peña Nieto (2012-2018), Mexico experienced its most violent year in 2018, “with official statistics logging 33% more killings than in 2017.” Security became the defining problem in the country, a situation that López Obrador used as part of his campaign when he promised to restore basic safety, end corruption, and not renew the war on drugs. He positioned himself as the new hope for Mexico.

Mexico, a Failed State? 

According to the former president of World Peace Foundation, Robert Rotberg, “Nation-States fail because they are convulsed by internal violence and can no longer deliver positive political goods to their inhabitants.” This has been the case in a number of countries, including Somalia, Yemen and Sudan. Even though Mexico is a country with corrupt institutions (and a pressing security burden that causes major problems such as violence and underdevelopment), to label the country as a “failed state” is likely a tad extreme at this juncture, even though American University’s Manuel Suárez-Mier has recently contended that Mexico has indeed earned that unfortunate description. In general, the Mexican government is still able to provide its population with basic goods, such as healthcare and education. So perhaps it is more accurate to say that Mexico—rather than a “failed state”—is a failing state, an entity that has been routinely unable to guarantee security to its citizens, as was proved again in Culiacán.

And then, on November 4th, another massacre related to Mexican drug cartels hit the news, but this time it involved American citizens. In the border state of Sonora, gunmen killed nine members of an American, Mormon family, who had been settled in the hills of Northern Mexico for decades. Among the victims were six children and three mothers. 

President Donald Trump wrote on his Twitter account that Tuesday morning: “…many great American people [were] killed, including young children, and some missing (..)if Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters, the United States stands ready, willing and able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively.” He concluded: “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!”

However, later President López Obrador discarded that approach and stated: “We declared war, and it didn’t work.” Also, President López Obrador said that the situation would be addressed solely by the Mexican government, thus highlighting his commitment to national sovereignty. Finally, he assured Mexico that his government was committed to pursuing justice in the case. 

What Must Be Done

With that said, the president cannot continue downplaying his responsibility for the atrocities happening in the country by blaming the failed policies of his predecessors. He has now been in office for almost a year, and the responsibility falls, at least in large part, to his administration. 

Unfortunately, the episode in Culiacán, as was mentioned, shows that sometimes it is the cartels, rather than the government, who are emerging victorious from confrontations. This is an extremely dangerous precedent. To prevent future situations along these lines, Mexico’s federal government must fully commit itself to an unwavering national security plan. And, at the regional level, Mexico should pursue stronger cooperation with the United States regarding control of arms trafficking, such as Operation “Frozen,” which attempts “to freeze the illegal movement of guns between the two countries.” Providing basic security is one of the most important duties of any state, and that is what Mexico must always be working on.

Luz Paola Garcia graduated with a B.A in International Relations from Tecnológico de Monterrey. She currently works as a political consultant and as writer for Revista Ciudadania.

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