Mexico’s Nonsensical Security Policy

Contradictory, that is how one could define the current administration’s security approach. The president inaugurated his presidential term by declaring the end of hostilities towards criminals. He decided to pursue a “Hugs not Bullets” approach based on moral principles rather than on policies aimed at reducing crime rate. Just a few months later, and in view of the deteriorating security circumstances, he backtracked and decided to send in the military to the streets to pacify the country. This decision went against what he initially promised and meant he put in place the very same security policies he once was fiercely critical of from previous administrations.

Despite the clear militarisation of the country, he keeps saying it is best to attack the roots pf violence: poverty, unemployment, and inequality. His governmental record however, shows his time in the presidency has caused severe deterioration in all those three aspects. The result has been an unprecedented explosion in violence that has reached record levels.

The statistics of his first 2 years in the presidency could potentially be pointing at the fact that Mexico is on its way to becoming a failing state.

There are 3 factors that characterise a failing state:

  1. Loss of control over the territory

Mexico’s Head of Security, Alfonso Durazo, has himself acknowledged that there are regions in Mexico that are in full control of criminals. Even before the pandemic hit Mexico, federal and state authorities were largely absent from rural areas across the country, namely in the states of Michoacán, Jalisco, Sinaloa, Estado de México, Guerrero, and Guanajuato. Opposing drug cartels and their push for dominance helped drive murders and overall violence rates to an all-time high during the first 6 months of 2020.

  • Erosion of a legitimate authority

The pandemic has exposed the government’s lack of control over certain regions. Those power vacuums have been filled, unfortunately, by drug cartels. Criminal groups show extreme fragmentation, however, they exert a powerful influence on municipal, state and federal authorities. They have limited the effective governing authority of elected officials through bribing and infiltration to ensure their own impunity.

Additionally, in states and municipalities with lower degrees of political and multiparty participation, locally dominant political actors often govern in a highly opaque way that constrains citizens’ rights. Official corruption also erodes legitimate authority as any attempts to prosecute acts of corruption have often failed due to widespread impunity and weak rule of law.

  • Inability to provide public services

Security is one of the core public services any state should be able to provide and guarantee. Mexico is clearly failing in this. However, it isn’t the only service it isn’t providing. The current pandemic has also exposed the government’s health deficit as a result of his policies

The government has become utterly ineffectual. Andres Manuel López Obrador has stubbornly gone ahead slashing budgets under the name of austerity  aimed at increasing savings and improving wealth distribution.

These cuts, however, are destroying the efficiency and effectiveness that the government once had to provide essential public services. These resources are now being rerouted as gifts to various segments of the population not with the goal of reducing poverty but to solidify adherence and support to the president’s movement, and that will, in turn, pay handsomely during the 2021 midterm elections.

The president’s decision to cancel the new Mexico City Airport, to build a Maya Train that will destroy local habitat, and the construction of a new refinery built by Pemex, Mexico’s state-run oil company, and that is on the verge of bankruptcy has led to massive strains, especially as the economy has been on a standstill since the start of his administration. This will eventually force the government to incur in large fiscal deficits that will result in higher poverty, unemployment and inequality.

He hasn’t stopped cutting budgets in crucial ministries while increasing spending on social programmes. There are no signs he will rethink his approach. However, unless he changes strategy soon, his managerial incompetence and ideological absurdity will lead Mexico to a fast track towards bankruptcy and becoming a failed state.

The president cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the worsening reality in Mexico. Security should be looked at not as a separate part but as an integral one of the process of democratisation and state reform. Making Mexico safe again is not as simple as strengthening the police; police has to be supported by a strong and efficient judicial and prosecution systems. These 3 factors combined make up a solid and effective rule of law. If one fails, any effort to improve security is bound to fail. In Mexico, unfortunately, these 3 factors are severely fractured. Without an effective state reform and attempts to get rid of widespread impunity and corruption, the prospects look bleak.

This administration hasn’t broken away from the vices and malpractices of the past, on the contrary, these undemocratic practices are entrenching. The president has failed to get a grip on his institutional and legitimacy crises, along with an increasing leadership deficit.

The current presidency keeps piling failure after failure in security, economics, and politics. The sheer amount of destruction a self-centred, egotistical, dogmatic, narcissistic and Trumpian president will inflict in Mexico over such a short period of time will indeed be remarkable, and this along with the president’s short-sightedness and stubbornness to rectify will remain as the legacies of this presidency.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza
Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza
Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a politics and international relations tutor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East. Her research interests include: Democratisation processes, governance and theories of the state, contemporary Mexican politics, Latin American politics, political parties, international relations theories, contemporary USA-Latin America foreign policy.