A relatively new party in Mexico won big in a recent election, while the long-dominant political force suffered a crushing defeat. This new balance of power could bring sweeping change to the country’s approach to fighting organized crime, but the promised radical reforms may not root deep-seated criminality.
In the July 1 election, the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional – MORENA), founded in 2014 and headed by now President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, won control of several key governorships and the government of the capital Mexico City.
MORENA’s victory came at the expense of a drubbing for current President Enrique Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI). The PRI failed to win any governorships, lost significant power in Congress, and its presidential candidate José Antonio Meade secured less than 20 percent of the national vote.
An analysis by the Spanish news outlet El País found that the PRI’s losses were particularly significant in areas most affected by the record levels of violence Mexico has experienced during Peña Nieto’s six-year term.
PRI spokesman Ramiro Hernández admitted that the party’s defeat stemmed from its inability to stop rising insecurity and the damage its reputation has suffered due to accusations of corruption and tiesto organized crime.
InSight Crime Analysis
The PRI’s retreat from power at the local and national level in Mexico could pave the way for big changes to the country’s strategy for tackling crime. Whether those policies will be successful is another question entirely.
The state of Jalisco, the base of operations for Mexico’s biggest organized crime threat, the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG), provides an example of how things could play out more broadly.
Jalisco has felt the weight of rising violence and insecurity that followed the emergence of the CJNG in 2010 after leaders of other powerful crime groups were killed or captured. Over the past several years, the local approach to combating organized crime in the Pacific state has mirrored the broader militarized approach used at the national level, which has proven unsuccessful time and again.
While MORENA won several governorships, Jalisco was not among them. Instead, the state will be governed by Enrique Alfaro of the Citizen’s Movement (Movimiento Ciudadano) party.
Alfaro, the current mayor of Guadelajara, is reportedly under investigation by the United States for having links to the CJNG and allowing the group to expand on his watch. He has vehemently denied these allegations, but if they are true, it does not bode well for López Obrador’s policies to succeed in a crucial area.
Whether or not Alfaro has ties to organized crime, as a member of a different political party, he will have some independence in terms of choosing whether to follow López Obrador’s lead on security policy. While López Obrador did win a plurality of the vote in Jalisco, he only narrowly outperformed second-place finisher Ricardo Anaya from the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional – PAN), suggesting that voters weren’t completely sold on his ambitious proposals to reduce criminal violence, such as granting amnesty to drug traffickers.
Even if López Obrador is successful in implementing the policies he has proposed, it’s not clear that they will actually work.
Jaime López, a security policy consultant and former Mexican police officer, told InSight Crime that López Obrador’s proposals may sound impressive on paper, but in practice they could fall short of their lofty promises.
“There are a lot of factors at play in Mexico’s homicide and security crises,” López said. “I’m not sure he’ll be able to come up with a single strategy or policy that will get to the root of these issues.”
“I don’t think López Obrador will be able to make any major changes to Mexico’s fight against organized crime,” he added. “These are structural issues, and it’s going to take more than just a good attitude.”