Is Mexico becoming a narco state?

On December 12th, 2006 former Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, declared what would be one of the most intrusive and intense military strategies in the history of the country: The War on Drugs. He attested it all was in the name of justice, to cease illegal drug trade and to protect Mexican citizens. However, sixteen years later, the results brought by such strategy proved otherwise. From March 2021 to December of the same year, the population’s general perception of insecurity grew from 66% to 68%. Drug-related violence is only one of the many different types of violence ordinary citizens experience in Mexico. It would be hard to find someone who has not been a victim of criminality.

From the start, the actions carried out by the government were doomed to fail. The focal point of the strategy were the drug cartels, branding them as the sole reason for illicit drug trade. The government followed a security policy based on the militarization of the country, taking the army into the streets to persecute and arrest drug traffickers without having proper contingency plans. In the begging, 6,500 federal troops were deployed and by the end of Felipe Calderon´s six-year term, approximately 45,000 troops were patrolling the streets. This led to having a state-of-exception-kind-of situation in different states of the Republic, such as Michoacan, Guerrero, Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. Thus, human rights and individual guarantees were constantly suspended and violated.

This security policy of militarization was continued in one way or another by the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, who succeeded Calderón in the presidency in 2012, and has been intensified and spread to other areas under the current administration of Andres Manuel. Last year alone, he announced that port and customs procedures would be handled by the army in an attempt to stop contraband and drug trafficking. Likewise, due to the military presence in the streets several local police forces are being dismantled, handing the monopoly of force to the army. Hence, having an army with such power on the streets without alternate forces that can in some way stop, or even keep them in check, hinders the sovereignty of the state. Which, at the same time, leads to question how effective the democratic system really is.

Nevertheless, another consequence that still today hinders national security is what we call efecto cucaracha (cockroach effect). This effect refers to the after math that occurs when you start killing top leaders of every cartel. This was the strategy followed by Felipe Calderon and statistics released later that year showed that his kingpin strategy did more damage than good. After these killings, big cartels fragmented, and mushroomed throughout the country. For instance, in 2009 the official state list consisted of 37 leaders from which 33 were taken out, and by 2015, the list grew to 122 people. Likewise, in 2021 approximately 16 different cartels were spotted trafficking across the nation, compared to 2015, where only 9 cartels controlled the routes.

Furthermore, with the increasing criminal activity it was naïve to believe that drug trade actors would not get convoluted with governmental authorities and that the economy will not become highly dependent on illegal trade. For example, in the local elections of 2021 in the city of Tijuana, severed human heads were thrown at people in the election polls to threaten certain candidates and their actions.  Later on, cutting deals with certain cartels and allowing them to take decisions within the government apparatus became a reality due to the economic importance they possess. Thus, necropolitics emerged as an unstoppable consequence. The state started to decide who was worthy of leaving and in what conditions. Finally, on the long run, the state became unable to provide security to its own citizens in regions that became largely controlled by organized crime, and the loss of personal security was in some places so gradual that it became unnoticeable to people in those areas. Before the declaration of the War on Drugs the army could not be in the streets or even act over the local police forces and now seeing them pass on the street is as common as seeing the sun rise every day.

Martha Garcia
Martha Garcia
Martha Garcia Torres Landa has a bachelor's degree in International Relations at the Tecnologico de Monterrey University in Queretaro, Mexico. During her undergraduate degree she has specialized in conflict and peace studies. Likewise, she has taken several creative writing courses and workshops in both Mexican universities and abroad. Her research interests include feminism, social activism, World History and Human Rights.