Years Pass and Violence Continues to Increase in Mexico
Monday, January 11, 2021
by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
In parallel to the great contemporary issues and conflicts that take over the news around the world, there are several situations of disrespect for the most basic human rights that reach structural levels in different parts of the planet and do not receive the due attention. This is the case, for example, with the kidnappings and disappearances in Mexico – a real humanitarian crisis that has lasted for more than 15 years and does not seem to end in the near future.
Every year, thousands of people mysteriously disappear in Mexico and are never found again – or are found years later, already dead. In general, the most common victims of disappearances are members of the most vulnerable social groups, including low-income workers, women, children, and many others. It is estimated that in 15 years, more than 77,000 people have disappeared in Mexico – the number may be even greater, considering the delay of some Mexican states in accounting their police occurrences. The rise in kidnappings began in 2006 and since then, the numbers have continued to grow. In 2019 – the first year of the government of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador -, the country reached its peak in occurrences, with 8,345 missing (which corresponds to about 18% of the total in 15 years). We do not yet have official figures for 2020, however, it is unlikely that there was a drop in numbers.
The beginning of the rise in disappearances was not by chance in 2006: the episodes have an obvious connection with the beginning of the so-called “war on drugs”, declared by then Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who, trying to solve the profoundly serious security problems in his country, initiated a violent offensive against the organized crime, placing the fight against drug cartels as a state priority. This policy was continued and developed for years and generated a great scenario of conflicts in the country, but it had no effect with regard to the decrease in the power of drug traffickers, who continued to act strongly in the country. On the other hand, civilian fatalities have increased exponentially, especially with regard to disappearance cases.
The causes for each disappearance vary widely, having in most occurrences relations with drug trafficking organizations. In most cases, victims are intercepted when crossing areas dominated by drug trafficking, being executed, and having their remains hidden or eliminated. In other cases, drug trafficking acts in collusion with government forces, as happened, for example, in the Iguala Massacre in 2014, when 43 students from a rural school in Ayotzinapa disappeared during a trip on the Iguala road in Guerrero. The students were traveling to participate in a protest against illegal practices by the local government, which prompted police in the region to intercept the trip. According to witnesses, those responsible for the operation were the mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca Velázquez, and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, and the students were allegedly murdered by members of the “Guerreros Unidos” cartel, which supports the mayor and acts in collusion with corrupt policemen in the region. To date, only two bodies have been found. The mayor and his wife were arrested, but still without trial.
Although the authorities estimate that 90% of the disappearance cases are related to drug trafficking, it is important to note that the cases have also been growing in the country’s capital, Mexico City, where the main cause moves to the growing phenomenon of human trafficking, mainly women and children. However, it is also possible that human trafficking networks are partially or totally linked to the Cartels, which are also involved with international prostitution networks.
This month, it is two years since Obrador declared the “end of the war on drugs” in Mexico, consummating one of the “humanitarian” agendas of his government plan. And what has changed? Little – and for the worse: in 2019, the disappearances reached a historic high, the worst so far and it is likely that when the official figures for last year come out, we will have an even worse surprise. In 2006, when the war on drugs was declared, the numbers of violence increased; in 2019, when this war was finished, they also increased. So, the question remains: was there ever a real war on drugs?
The case of disappearances only illustrates how artificially the Mexican State’s official speech towards drug trafficking has been. Governments have been concerned with satisfying public opinion and for that they create more rigid or softer speeches, according to the need. Calderón bet on a war speech; Obrador bet on the humanitarian one – and what both of them managed, in the end, was only to increase the violence even more. And the reason is simple: drug trafficking and violence are already a structural part of the Mexican state and cannot be stopped with the means used so far.
The process of forming a Narco-State is advancing with great speed in the country. Mexico is today one of the most striking examples of states that not only fail to combat drug trafficking, but also have their security forces coopted by criminal organizations. To combat this scenario, a deep reform is needed in the entire political and social structure of the country, which requires international cooperation. The country needs to be held responsible for the lives of the missing and international sanctions must be imposed as long as the violence persists, forcing the government to take more effective measures against the superstructure of trafficking (which includes a good part of the Mexican elite and the political class itself), not only the infrastructure. Otherwise, Narco-State will definitely triumph, and its effects cannot be contained, with the further spread of violence not only across the country but also internationally, in the north (which will intensify border tensions with the US) and in the south (increasing the flow of drugs and the activity of Mexican Cartels in Central America and the Caribbean).
2020 was a lost year for Mexican public security. Violence increased even in the midst of the pandemic and social isolation measures. The disappearances probably increased, and the year ended tragically with the discovery of a clandestine grave with 60 bodies in Salvatierra. For 2021 we can expect little from Mexico, but international society can turn its attention to some problems in the global periphery and try to change this serious scenario of humanitarian crisis.
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