SWJ El Centro Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown has a new essay out. In “Hooked: Mexico’s Violence and U.S. Demand for Drugs," published by the Brookings Institution’s Order from Chaos blog on May 30th, 2017, Vanda Felbab-Brown explains that, with a total of 177,000 drug-related murders having taken place within Mexico from 2007 to 2017, Mexico’s conflict is more intense than many civil wars and insurgencies around the world.
In 2016, the drug wars in Mexico claimed between 21,000 and 23,000 lives. That’s back to the peak levels of 2010 to 2012, when up to 23,000 people died each year in drug-related homicides. Between 2007 and 2017, a total of 177,000 people were murdered—but that may actually under-count, since many bodies are hidden in mass graves that may have never been found. Tens of thousands of people have also been internally displaced. In short, Mexico’s conflict is more intense than many civil wars and insurgencies around the world.
When Enrique Peña Nieto became president five years ago, he and the Mexican public sought to put the drug war behind them. Promising to cut down the murder rate by 50 percent in his first six months, he instead focused on Mexico’s badly needed energy, economic, and education reforms. He indeed succeeded at getting important measures passed, though implementation has been a challenge.
Meanwhile, although the drug market initially calmed in his first two years, the wars among Mexico’s criminal groups have been relentless. The violence has returned to areas where progress seemed to have been achieved—such as Tijuana and Cuidad Juárez—but continues to rage ferociously in Guerrero, Michoacán, and Tamaulipas, and spread to new areas, including Mexico’s center and south.
Multiple immediate and structural causes are driving the persistence and intensification of the criminal violence, including particularly cartel fragmentation and turf war on the one hand, and weak rule of law and problematic policy choices on the other…