Political democratization in Mexico: the wake of a security crisis

Mexico’s has a federal system in which periodical elections are carried out to choose local authorities including governors, local deputies and a president. Since the end of the Mexican revolution in the late 1920s, the country has been ruled by one for almost 90 years by one party, with very few interruptions in power. The […]

Mexico’s has a federal system in which periodical elections are carried out to choose local authorities including governors, local deputies and a president. Since the end of the Mexican revolution in the late 1920s, the country has been ruled by one for almost 90 years by one party, with very few interruptions in power. The Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI, or Revolutionary Institutional party) with its enormous resilience has been considered as the almost perfect dictatorship.

As paradoxical as it may seem the electoral defeat of the PRI in various Mexican states in the late 80s and 90s prompted an increase in drug trafficking and criminal activities. Political scientists Ley and Trejo contend that turf wars and violence escalation in Mexico can be linked to the subnational democratization of Mexico, because cartels lost their conventional access to informal networks and protection which they used to receive from the PRI [1]. Indeed, the hegemonic PRI government permitted drug lords to have legal loops, links and protection from authorities.

Party alternation meant that those informal links began to break and thus, cartels required an alternative arrangement that would provide them with a defense mechanism against their competitors. Therefore, drug lords developed their own militias which also allowed them to renegotiate the informal networks with the new elected authorities by coercive means and bribes. Yet, due to their newly developed capabilities, it was an almost natural step to seek territorial expansion and this started turf war among cartels.

Nevertheless, the violence increased dramatically from 2006 onwards with the arrival of former president Felipe Calderón who decided to declare a war on drugs. The severity in the raise of violence should not be underestimated. There have been almost 235,00 people who have been killed directly or indirectly in these turf wars during the administrations of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).

The new Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has stated that security will be a recurrent topic that needs to be addressed. Yet, there is no easy or magical solutions to this problem. His proposal on creating a national guard has been highly criticized by intellectuals and policymakers since it could entail the militarization of the streets. In the meantime, there are thousands of untold tragedies in this war in which remain untold due to fear or impunity.

 

[1] Guillermo Trejo & Sandra Ley, “Why did drug cartels go to war in Mexico? Subnational party alternation, the breakdown of criminal protection, and the onset of large-scale violence”, in Comparative political studies, vol. 0, nº0, p. 3.

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