Share this Post
Mexican Cartel Op-Ed No. 7:
Mexico: Crucible of State Change
John P. Sullivan
This series provides a retrospective look at the first year of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Sexenio with comments on the prospects for 2014. These Op-Eds, numbered 1-7, are written by various SWJ El Centro fellows. Of note is the dynamic that we are witnessing between the criminal insurgent aspects of the conflict now raging in Mexico and the PRI administration’s focus on promoting the interests of the Mexican ruling class over the security and safety needs of the majority of its citizenry. RJB
Mexico is in the midst of a series of storm fronts. As Enrique Peña Nieto begins the second year of his Sexenio, it is clear several storms rage. Cumulatively, these have created a vortex that demands adept government response. The first storm is insecurity, which is driven by violence, corruption and impunity. The second storm is found in the economic forces seeking to reshape Mexico to make it more competitive in the global market. The third storm is the push for reforming corrupt institutions. The storms have been violent, characterized by confrontation and exploitation. They have challenged the legitimacy of the state and civil society. They have also emboldened gangsters and challenged the solvency (legitimacy and capacity) of the state at multiple levels. These three intersecting storms culminate in a crucible of state change. Let’s now examine these storm fronts.
The First Storm: Insecurity
Insecurity is the most visible storm front challenging Mexico. Gangland murders, kidnappings, assassinations of journalists, police, and mayors have punctuated the conflict. When Peña Nieto came to office, he shifted the public face from high-profile interdiction to a more nuanced counter-violence strategy. The results have been mixed. While public expectations and government communiqués claim a reduction in violence, tangible results remain elusive and many contest the inferred reduction.[1,2] The result is a perception that ‘Fiefdoms of Narco Death’ remain a poignant reality for much of Mexico. Consider, for example that Zeta, the Tijuana weekly, reports that more gang murders (19,016) were committed in the first 11 months of Peña Nieto’s Sexenio than in the last 11 of Calderón’s (18,161). Zeta’s numbers contrast with those officially reported (17, 068) by the administration.
Mass graves (narcofosas) remain a significant concern with at least 190 corpses found buried in 10 states over the past 10 months. The perpetrators include Los Caballeros Templarios, Los Zetas, the Sinaloa, Arellano Félix, Beltrán Leyva cartels, as well as the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación. Kidnapping has risen 245% in the last ten years with 1,583 cases reported in 2013. In the case of Pemex, tomas clandestina (illegal tpipeline taps) nearly doubled in 2013 from 1,379 in 2012 to 2,492. This upsurge in resource extraction is closely related to the second storm of gathering economic forces.
The violence is widely believed to be concentrated on the US-Mexico border, but in fact is much more diffuse. As battles calm in one region, they shift to new space. Criminal conquest and battles for the plazas and supply lines are in continual flux. The deciding factor appears to be more one of which capos won control than one of sustained governmental stability. Yet violence is only the leading edge of the puzzle. Impunity (a lack of investigation and criminal prosecution) combined with endemic corruption hollow out state capacity and legitimacy. Cartels and gangs fill the void; so do vigilantes (autodefensas/self defense forces): some legitimate, some arms of the cartels. Gangsters in military kit conduct blockades and threaten journalists and public officials. For example, in Late December 2013, armed commandos broke into the home of Anabel Hernández who fortunately was not home. I doubt they were going to ask her to autograph her book “Los Señores del Narco,” which chronicles collusive corruption among state officials and gangsters.
Corruption remains a key concern in Mexico during its democratic transition. Indeed, Transparency International ranked Mexico (tied with Argentina) as the most corrupt nation in Latin America; ranking 106 out of 177 countries worldwide sampled with a score of 34 (the scale went from 0/highly corrupt to 100/clean).
Indeed, Forbes following up on this assessment has ranked the top 10 Mexican corrupt figures (all members of Mexico’s various elites). These included: Elba Esther Gordilla, former head of the teacher’s union; Carlos Romero Deschamps, a Pemex union leader; Rául Salinas de Gortari, brother of a former president of the republic; former governor Humbierto Moreira of Coahuila; and governors Fidel Herrera of Veraruz, Andres Granier (Tabasco), and Tomás Yarrington of ‘failed’ Tamaulipas. Also on the list is Genaro Garcia Luna, the Secretary of Public Security for his alleged links to ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.
As a consequence of this erosion of state solvency, Michoacán and Tamaulipas are virtual ‘failed states,’ and Guerrero, Jalisco, and Edomex (State of México), as well as the Distrito Federal (Federal District) are under the gun. A graphic case in point is the discovery of a decapitated and dismembered torso found in a suitcase on Mexico City’s Metro in late December.
The Second Storm: Economic Forces
Economic forces present the second storm. These include pressures to enhance Mexico’s stature among neo-liberal economies. Manufacturing, information technology, and petro-energy lead these fronts. Essentially the drive for reform of Pemex is a response to these forces. Yet Pemex has been challenged by both crime and pervasive corruption, making reform a dicey proposition.
The parallel force to neo-liberalism is deviant globalization. Here we see global illicit flows fueling Mexico’s internal conflict cum criminal insurgencies. One recent case involves the links between the Knights Templar (Cabelleros Templarios) and Chinese merchant interests. The Knights have cornered and control all aspects of Michoacán’s iron mining interests and are moving iron ore to China through the port of Lazaro Cardenas. Other forms of global illicit trade (beyond narcotics) include human trafficking and trafficking in human organs. Here we see the potential for a forthcoming battle for resource extraction between warlord entrepreneurs and plutocratic elites. Expect the battle to be contentious and destabilizing.
The Third Storm: Reform
Reform—rightly so—is a key plank of Peña Nieto’s strategy for revitalizing Mexico and containing endemic cartel violence. Among the projected reforms are an anti-corruption law (which should become a priority in 2014); increased autonomy for the PGR (Procuraduría General de la República) (essential!); and both economic reform (read privatization of Pemex) and justice reform (police, courts, and corrections). So important is justice reform—including standardizing criminal procedures—that Viridiana Rios has called it Mexico’s Petit Révolution—and she is right. Rule of Law/Security Sector Reform is essential to reverse incursion into the state’s legitimacy and hence solvency. Peña Nieto should prioritize these efforts as he moves forward.
Conclusion: Crucible of State Change
Navigating the intersecting storms buffeting Mexico will remain a challenge for years to come. The case of Michoacán is instructive. The state is arguably a ‘failed state’ with rival cartels, the municipal and state government, and federal forces, not to mention autodefensas (self defense forces), engaged in a multi-party contest for who rules. Hyperviolence and barbarization reign rampant and the state’s monopoly on violence and territorial control are torn asunder. Co-opted state reconfiguration is evident.
Key parts of Mexico have failed. Foremost among these are the states of Michoacán and Tamaulipas. Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Veracruz, and Nuevo León are not far behind. Indeed, a recent report warns that 10% of Mexico—2,437 municipos (cities) in total—are under the control of gangsters rather that the state.
This leaves Mexico at a crossroads. Many storms have passed and have wreaked great damage. Others continue or promise to threaten stability. The twin engines of social change: criminal insurgency (from below) and plutocratic insurgency (from above) have the potential to derail Mexico’s on-going democratic transition. Essentially, narcocultura is in competition with the elites. Peña Nieto’s first year has slowed the onslaught, now he needs to consolidate gains and accelerate reform. A good first step would be to complete the build out of the Gendarmería nacional.
 Sierra Rayne, “The Battle Over Mexico's Crime Statistics,” The American Thinker, 17 November 2013 at http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/11/the_battle_over_mexicos_crime_statistics.html.
 Alejandro Hope, “Is Mexico Seeing Fewer Homicides Under Peña Nieto?,” InSight Crime, 19 December 2013 at http://www.insightcrime.org/newsanalysis/is-mexico-seeing-less-homicides-under-pena-nieto; translated from “¿Menos homicidios?,” Animal Politico, 18 December 2013 at http://www.animalpolitico.com/blogueros-plata-o-plomo/2013/12/18/menos-homicidios/#axzz2pZKFRg6J.
[3} “Fiefdoms of Narco Death,” Frontera NorteSur, 9 December 2013 at http://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/fiefdoms-of-narco-death/.
 “Peña peor que Calderón: 19 mil 016 ejecuciones en 11 meses .” Zeta, 9 December 2013 at http://www.zetatijuana.com/ZETA/reportajez/pena-peor-que-calderon-19-mil-016-ejecuciones-en-11-meses/#sthash.8iNMwgZh.dpuf.
 Arturo Ángel, “Hallan más de 190 cuerpos en fosas, en apenas diez meses,” 24 Horas , 12 December 2013 at
 Oscar Lopez, “Mexican Crime: Kidnappings In Mexico Have Risen 245% In Ten Years,” Latin Times, 1 January 2014 at http://www.latintimes.com/mexican-crime-kidnappings-mexico-have-risen-245-ten-years-141826.
 “Reporta Pemex que robo a ductos se incrementó al doble en 2013,” SDPnoticias, 16 December 2013 at http://www.sdpnoticias.com/nacional/2013/12/16/reporta-pemex-que-robo-a-ductos-se-incremento-al-doble-en-2013.
 Alejandro Martínez, “Armed group breaks into the home of Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández,” Journalism in The Americas, 3 January 2014 at https://knightcenter.utexas.edu/blog/00-14931-armed-group-breaks-home-mexican-journalist-anabel-hernandez.
 Transparency International: Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 at http://www.transparency.org/cpi2013/results.
 Armando Tinoco, “Forbes Top 10 Most Corrupt Mexicans 2013 List Led By Elba Esther Gordillo And Raul Salinas De Gortari,” Latin Times, 16 December 2013 at http://www.latintimes.com/forbes-top-10-most-corrupt-mexicans-2013-list-led-elba-esther-gordillo-and-raul-salinas-de-gortari.
 David Iaconangelo, “Mexico Drug Cartel Violence: Body Of Decapitated Woman Discovered On Mexico City Metro Stuffed In Suitcase,” Latin Times, 24 December 2013 at http://www.latintimes.com/mexico-drug-cartel-violence-body-decapitated-woman-discovered-mexico-city-metro-stuffed-suitcase#.UrnK6MbX6mc.twitter.
 W. Alejandro Sanchez, “A response to Forbes: Corruption in Mexico’s PEMEX,” VOXXI, 18 December 2013 at http://voxxi.com/2013/12/18/response-forbes-corruption-mexico-pemex/.
 Reuters, “Knights Templar drug gang corners Mexican iron ore trade with China,” South China Moring Post, 2 January 2014 at http://www.scmp.com/business/commodities/article/1396149/knights-templar-drug-gang-corners-mexican-iron-ore-trade-china.
 “En Oaxaca, tráfico de órganos de migrantes: Solalinde,” El Universal, 11 November 2013 at http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/2013/oaxaca-trafico-organos-migrantes--964721.html.
 Viridiana Rios, “Mexico’s Petit Révolution: Justice and Security Implications of Approving a Fully New Code of Judicial Procedures,” Mexico Center, Wilson Institute,” 13 December 2013 at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/mexico-petit-revolution.
 Mónica Villanueva e Itzel Reyes, “Michoacán, territorio en disputa,” 24 Horas, 29 November 2013 at http://www.24-horas.mx/michoacan-territorio-en-disputa/.
 Luis Jorge Garay and Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, Narcotráfico, Corrupción y Estados: Cómo las redes ilícitas han reconfigurado las instituciones de Colombia, Guatemala y México, Mexico City: Grijalbo Mondadori, 2012 available at http://www.gandhi.com.mx/index.cfm/id/Producto/dept/Libros/pid/551061.
 Itzel Reyes, “El 10% del país en “estado fallido,” 24 Horas, 10 December 2013 at http://www.24-horas.mx/el-10-del-pais-en-estado-fallido/.
 Duncan Wood, “Mexico in 2014: Can Peña Nieto Consolidate Reform?,” CNN, 3 January 2014 at http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/03/mexico-in-2014-can-pena-nieto-consolidate-reform/.
 Doris Gomora, Gendarmería Nacional, en operación a partir de Julio de 2014, El Universal, 23 December 2013 at http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion-mexico/2013/policia-federal-pena-nieto-condecoraciones-974860.html.