Democracy and rights

Abbreviated as MEX, Mexico is a representative democracy where power has since 2000 shifted between different parties. But the rule of law has major flaws. Both political and civil rights are limited due to corruption, violence and human rights violations that both state and non-state actors are guilty of. For journalists, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

The limitations of democratic freedom and rights mean that Mexico is classified by the Economist Intelligence Unit as a “defective democracy” which is just a few steps from falling into the “hybrid regimes”, the third category on a four-degree scale.

Corruption is widespread, especially at the state and local levels. Mexico is ranked 130 out of 180 countries in the Transparency International’s (TI) index (see list here)). The latest listing represents a slight improvement, after the country has for several years been declining in terms of the points on which the ranking is based. Among positive developments, TI mentions a reform to fight corruption and a new and independent state prosecutor’s office. Otherwise, however, a number of major corruption scandals have harmed Mexico, in several cases involving governors. The civil rights have been eroded, including with regard to freedom of expression and media. In a new scandal, in December 2019, a former security minister was accused of receiving millions of bribes from a leading drug cartel while he was the chief of the federal police (see below and Calendar).

Violence has become a growing social problem in the 2000s. A campaign against the drug powers that began in 2006 has stirred among the well-armed crime gangs but has led to increased violence instead of diminished. Corruption and violent crime have also become increasingly closely related to each other, and legal security has deteriorated (see further below: The judiciary and legal security and the war on drugs). Human Rights Watch has described the human rights situation in Mexico as “catastrophic” given the many murders and disappearances that are almost never resolved.

The number of victims of the violence decreased in 2012–2014, but the curve has since turned steeply upwards again. Another new record was struck in 2019 when the number of murdered persons according to official data amounted to just over 34,500, the highest figure since statistics began to be conducted just over 20 years earlier.

In total, nearly 275,000 Mexicans have been victims of deadly violence since 2007. The figure of registered cases also includes murders that are not directly related to the drug-related violence. At the same time, many point out that violence gives birth to violence, and that the drug war and widespread impunity contribute to the brutalization of society as a whole. In addition to those registered dead, more than 60,000 people have been reported missing (see Calendar).

The violence is often extremely severe, with massacres, kidnappings and studied forms of torture. Cutting and truncation are common.

Freedom of expression and media

Freedom of speech and press is guaranteed in the Constitution, but the widespread violence against journalists means that freedom is strongly circumscribed. Relatively severe penalties for advocacy offenses and for data that are considered to interfere with the general order also contribute to the self-censorship of the media becoming commonplace.

President Andres Manuel López Obrador, who took office in 2018, has raised concerns by throwing dirty and indirectly threatening media and individual journalists who are disliking him. He has also directly asked the leading newspaper Reforma to reveal its sources

The poor security situation – with widespread corruption, organized crime and political violence – creates risky working conditions. According to media organizations, the dangers for journalists are to compare with the situation in war-torn nations such as Syria and Afghanistan. Around 150 journalists have been murdered since 2000, according to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). Reporters Without Borders (RUG) believes that journalist murders are part of a systematic campaign and should be investigated by the International Court of Justice (see Calendar). Very few murders are cleared up. The country ranks 143rd out of 180 in RUG’s index of freedom of the press in the world’s countries (for the full list see here).

Many media workers are also subject to assault and kidnapping or threats of violence, and many have disappeared. Not least investigative journalists, as well as bloggers and activists on social media, risk getting dangerous enemies. The drug powers are behind a large part of the abuses, but corrupt police and military forces also account for part of the violence. The murders are largely never resolved.

Since 2007, defamation is no longer punishable by federal law, but criminal offenses remain within criminal law in several states.

Televisa is a leading media company in the Spanish-speaking world and exports many programs to other countries. Televisa previously had close ties to the long-standing PRI party but is considered to have become more independent. At the same time, Televisa is accused of contributing to PRI’s election victory in 2012 through selective news reporting and subsequently uncritically reproducing the PRI government’s reality picture.

Judicial system and legal security

The judiciary is formally independent but in reality politically controlled and ineffective. Lack of transparency contributes to weak legal certainty, and few crimes committed by government officials lead to prosecution and convictions.

Conditions in the country’s overcrowded prisons are difficult. The death penalty was formally abolished in 2003.

The widespread violence is devastating for the rule of law. Harassment and violence to a large extent affect groups that have nothing to do with drug dealing: indigenous activists, lawyers, journalists, church officials and others who have worked for civil liberties are particularly at risk.

Police and military are not infrequently suspected of being in contact with the powerful drug cartels and see between the fingers of abuse that organized crime is behind. Police officers, who often have poor wages, are also charged with receiving bribes and for assaulting suspected criminals. The security forces are pressed to justify the war and tend to shoot first and then ask. Arbitrary arrests are common, as are tortures to obtain “recognition”. Accusations of extrajudicial executions occur. Very few of those involved are held accountable.

Leagues also engage in kidnappings and blackmail, which often affects civilians. Migrants are a particularly vulnerable group. An example is a 2010 massacre of 72 Central American migrants who were kidnapped on their way to the United States (see Calendar). The cartel behind the massacre, Los Zetas, has been formed by defected security personnel. Another notable case concerns 43 teacher students who were arrested by police after a demonstration and then disappeared without a trace in the fall of 2014, of all convicted murdered by a criminal gang.

The war on drugs

Drug trafficking across the border in the north has been around for a long time, and increased demand in the United States from the 1970s meant increased smuggling. When the big cartels in Colombia were destroyed in the 1990s, the handling center was largely moved to Mexico and the drug leagues there grew ever stronger. Ironically, democratization in Mexico around the turn of the millennium (see Modern history) also contributed to the development. Previously, the state-carrying party PRI controlled the entire power apparatus down to the local level, largely through patronage and bribery. When the PRI’s domination broke, the drug cartels could easily take over and similarly control the mayor and the judiciary.

When Felipe Calderón took office as president in 2006, he declared “war” on the drug cartels and deployed the military on a large scale to fight them. He was not the first Mexican president to use the army against the drug powers, but the scope was new. Gradually, around 50,000 soldiers patrolled Mexico’s streets. The military was better armed and less corrupt than the police and was therefore supposed to be able to fight organized crime better.

Initially, the “war” won strong favor among the electorate, but many became increasingly concerned by the rising violence. In the first few years, tens of thousands of people were arrested, mainly members of the four largest cartels, but also police chiefs, military, mayor, judge and others.

A decade later, more than 150,000 Mexicans have been killed in violence linked to organized crime, where drugs are often at the center. The war had the opposite effect as soon as it was intended, and no illumination was seen: now new bleak records are being struck (see above).

Calderón’s successor Enrique Peña Nieto (2012–2018) tried to downplay the talk of war and focus on something other than crime. But in practice, there were no major changes. Several of the highest ranking leaders were arrested during the beginning of the term – a strategy that, according to critics, only led to the leagues being split and the violence increasing.

Peña Nieto’s successor Andrés Manuel López Obrador is critical of the military strategy and has advocated social initiatives, including education for young people. But he has backed away from previous promises to withdraw the soldiers from the streets and instead set up a new military-led police organization, the National Guard, which, with 50,000 members, will fight the drug cartels. Many fear it will lead to further militarization in the fight against the armed gangs. In addition, it has proved difficult to recruit people to the National Guard, because the job is dangerous. In 2018 alone, 421 police officers were killed in Mexico.

For a long time the violence was concentrated in some states, but it has now spread to almost the whole country. Guerrero has the highest murder rate – with the classic tourist resort of Acapulco, which is now Mexico’s most violent city. Well-known tourist destinations such as Cancún on the Yucatán Peninsula and Los Cabos on the Baja California Peninsula have also been hit, which risks hitting the tourism industry hard.

One reason for the latest escalation is believed to be the arrest in 2016 of former drug king Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who was followed by a power struggle within the Sinaloa cartel. The United States has called Guzmán the most powerful drug king in the world. Guzmán was extradited to the United States and sentenced in 2019 to life in prison.

Another cause of the escalating violence is increased demand for heroin in the United States, the world’s largest drug market. Mexican drug cartels are estimated to make between $ 19 billion and $ 29 billion a year in sales in the United States.

Mexico Crime Rate & Statistics

Mexico Democracy and Rights
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