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10/08/2011 | Mexico's Public Security Nightmares, Institutional Needs and Future Governance

Patrick Corcoran

On December 1, 2012, as Mexico’s next president takes office, high among the list of the most pressing problems confronting his (or her) administration will be public security—namely, the nation’s struggles with organized crime.


Not coincidentally, the administration of outgoing President Felipe Calderón has been largely defined in terms of security. While public perception has been largely critical for several years, the reality is that not everything Calderón did with regard to organized crime was wrongheaded. With the negotiation of the Mérida Initiative, he helped bring a new era of bilateral cooperation into being. With the judicial reform, Calderón sought a comprehensive and enduring improvement in Mexico’s capacity to try and convict criminals. And, in what many of his supporters point to as his cardinal virtue, Calderón saw the depth of the public security challenge in a way that his predecessors did not. In so doing, he engineered a lasting change to the way the issue is approached in Mexico.[1]

There is at least a kernel of truth to these arguments (especially regarding the potential benefits of the judicial reform), but for all his improvements, Calderón’s balance on security is not to be remembered as a positive one. With close to 40,000 dead (a figure likely to approach 60,000 by the time he leaves office), with Juárez reborn as the most dangerous city on earth, and with levels of extortion calling to mind Sicily in the early 20th century, the present sexennial is, rather, a public security nightmare, and an albatross around the president’s neck. It has significantly weakened Calderón politically, and limited his political maneuverability in other areas. It is vital that the next president recover a situation over which many people feel that Calderón has lost control.

Conceptually Lacking

The first adjustment that the incoming president must make is to introduce a pair of conceptual guideposts that have heretofore been lacking: a definition of success, and a hierarchy of the crimes that most worry Mexican authorities.

Among the most glaring weaknesses of Calderón’s crime strategy was this missing explanation of success. Calderón and his underlings have spoken repeatedly of not taking a step backwards in their war, but obviously there will be no victory parade through the enemy’s capital marking the end of the present conflict. Mexico will always have criminals and the US will always have a market for recreational drugs. Given those constraints, what is “victory”?

Mexico’s next president should fill this semantic vacuum by articulating a rough sketch of what the end result of his security policies will be. Such a move need not included a detailed set of statistical benchmarks, but merely offer an idea of what Mexicans can reasonably expect: criminal networks that are smaller, more defensive, and less wealthy, where attacks on government officials and crimes against civilians are exceedingly rare. Mexico will have “won” when the threat to the democratic institutions and to the basic activities inherent to a free society is nil.

The task of establishing a rough hierarchy of crimes is equally important and intimately related to defining the end state that is pursued, insofar as the idealized end state is determined primarily by those crimes that the government wishes to eliminate. Unfortunately, under Calderón, authorities have never adequately distinguished between gangs that extort, that use terrorism, that kidnap, and that merely traffic drugs. They are all lumped under the broad category of organized crime, and essentially treated as a single malign entity.

This is an oversimplification that confuses those activities that are most damaging to society. Kidnapping and extortion necessarily target prosperous individuals, so they act as de facto taxes on success and ambition. Their crimes therefore have an insidious effect on the society that extends far beyond the harm they do the victims alone.

And they are increasing in frequency; one study from the Mexican Congress found that kidnappings had jumped by more than 300 percent from 2005 to 2010. A Mexican NGO known as the Law and Human Rights Counsel estimates that the number of extortions nearly doubled from 2008 to 2009, while a previous study showed a 10,000 percent explosion in the same crime from 2002 through 2007. In many cities, the problem is sufficient to inhibit some of the basic rudiments of life in a free society: according to one study, 80 percent of all businesses in Juárez have made extortion payments.

Other crimes not directly related to drug trafficking have also spiked, from crude oil robberies, which now cost the national oil company several hundred million dollars a year, to car-jackings. Following the August 2010 massacre of 72 Central American migrants in Tamaulipas, among the most publicized of these is human trafficking. According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, migrants were abducted on 11,000 occasions in 2010 alone. Another growing criminal problem is pirated merchandise of the sort Mexico City markets are notorious for; authorities recently said that 60 percent of all commercial transactions in Mexico are for pirated goods, a proportion that has grown by half in just two years.

As mentioned, the above criminal activities threaten some of the basic ingredients of a prosperous nation, from free commerce to entrepreneurialism. The ill effects of gangs that merely traffic drugs and keep their fighting to those directly involved with the underworld, by contrast, are relatively insulated from the law-abiding society at large. As such, the government should identify different gangs and cells that engage in the criminal activities that most affect normal citizens, and spend an inordinate amount of their efforts on precisely these groups.

The government should also make clear that it is doing so, both in public statements and in the way that it distributes its resources. While this would not provoke much of a response immediately, in the long term, this would ideally establish an informal normative system guiding the interactions between criminals and government. This would be not unlike the way gangs in the US know that you can get away with dealing drugs on a street corner, but if you start shooting police officers, you have crossed a line and essentially ensured your demise.[2]

It’s the Institutions, Stupid

With those broader objectives in place, the next administration must focus on how exactly to achieve them. The key issue—indeed, the one that looms above all others, the one that has the potential to undercut the impact of any strategy, no matter how well conceived—is institutional quality. 

The need for better institutions—evidence of whose ineffectiveness is abundant, and presented at various points below—is often overlooked despite (or perhaps because of) its obviousness. In but one example of this unfortunate trend, the Mérida Initiative (the $1.4 billion aid package negotiated by George Bush and Calderón that kicked off in 2008) spent only 20 percent of its initial outlays on programs that could be classified as institution building. In contrast, the proportion of the aid taking the form of aircraft was twice that amount. While Mexico certainly won’t suffer from an infusion of hardware, an organic criminal phenomenon consisting of some 500,000 Mexicans can’t be adequately countered with eight Bell Helicopters. (When the first three years of the agreement expired, the US announced an increase in the institution-building side of its aid, a welcome though insufficient improvement.) However, American shortsightedness notwithstanding, competent and honest security agencies and an efficient criminal justice system constitute the single most important barrier to a safer Mexico.

At the risk of belaboring such an obvious point: any strategy that does not afford institutional-improvement a key role, a designation that encompasses many of the suggestions regarding Mexican security that appear in the media, is necessarily flawed. 

Beyond its direct impact on drug trafficking, institution-building is a good that will continue to pay dividends years into the future, after the drug trade has hopefully become a mere nuisance. Governmental bodies that are able to arrest, process, and convict perpetrators are always valuable in any nation. Furthermore, an ethos of hyper-competence in one realm of government would likely spill over into other departments, creating more effective institutions across the breadth of government.

In contrast, strategies based only on limiting the profitability of the drug trade are incomplete: ideas like reducing demand and legalization are worthy of pursuit, but they alone would do nothing to prevent already existing mafias from branching out into other criminal activities—many of which, as discussed above, are more damaging to public security than drug trafficking—so as to replenish their lost income. Indeed, much of the recent expansion in extortion, kidnapping, and the rest is thought to be a result of increased difficulty in trafficking large shipments of drugs through Mexico. While the profit margins in other activities may not be equal to cocaine trafficking, they aren’t nickel-and-dime enterprises: a recent UN report estimated the annual revenues of human trafficking in Mexico at $6.6 billion. By this logic, greater success in staunching the flow of drugs could have a negative impact on public security in the short term.

Start with the Police

When considering the institutions whose shortcomings worsen public security, the nation’s various police forces are a good place to start. While a comprehensive, detailed picture of police corruption is impossible for obvious reasons, there is an abundance of evidence of Mexican gangs working for criminal bosses. Calderón himself reported in 2008 that of almost 60,000 police tested in various corporations, half were judged “not recommendable.” The so-called Operation Clean-up uncovered corruption at the highest levels of Mexico’s federal-crime fighting apparatus in 2008, including the nation’s chief drug prosecutor, who was charged with accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Beltrán Leyva gang. The problem is even more pronounced at the local level, with major cities like Veracruz, Torreón, and Pachuca, among many others, all pursuing mass firings of their local cops during the Calderón administration. In April 2011, the executive director of the National System of Public Security deemed 91 percent of municipal police untrustworthy.

In response to this daunting panorama, Calderón made a number of changes to the various police agencies, as virtually every Mexican president has for a generation. He unified the two main federal police groups, the AFI and the PFP, and he launched a campaign, still unfulfilled as yet, to replace all of the nation’s municipal police departments with revamped state police departments.

What Calderón didn’t do enough of was pursue changes that would alter the incentive structure that leads police to work for criminal groups to start off with. Research by John Bailey and Matthew Taylor is helpful in providing a framework understanding the challenge. As the two scholars have demonstrated, the police have a choice of three options when facing criminal gangs: tolerance, collusion, or confrontation. The gangs, for their part, can select between confrontation, corruption, or evasion.

For years, the balance in many regions has been corruption-collusion. The healthier equilibrium, both for public security and institutional integrity, would be evasion-confrontation. Despite government attempts to swing the pendulum toward such a balance, the agents on the ground haven’t reacted as intended. Gangs are as invested in corruption as they ever were, and they have also resorted to confrontation more than in the past, resulting in the public security nightmare of the past several years. And efforts to create police more resistant to corruption, as evidenced by the above examples, have been spotty. Part of the reason is that there is a significant principal-agent problem: even if the next president himself is honest and manages to fill all of his top posts with honest men (something virtually no one has been able to do in recent times), that will not, in and of itself, change the calculus.

To truly affect the average individual patrolman’s decision to collude or not, the next president should take into account how such a decision can be discouraged: increasing the likelihood that corrupt cops are caught and sent to prison through polygraph testing and asset-monitoring; improving the professionalization and esprit de corps in police agencies through better training, more competent recruits, and higher pay; and protecting cops who have been threatened by organized crime groups.

Calderón’s administration implemented a vetting program for police that has addressed some of these obstacles, but it has thus far been applied far too sporadically to have an impact. Indeed, as of mid-2010, only 8 percent of all state police officers have been submitted to vetting. The proportions were slightly better for the federal and municipal police, but at no level had even half of the officers nationwide been subjected to vetting programs, and the total proportion of vetted cops was just 22 percent.

The next president should also understand that despite the arsenals possessed by criminal gangs, the main hindrance upon police isn’t a firepower deficit, but rather a lack of honesty and investigative competence. The FBI, for instance, doesn’t arm its agents like infantrymen, yet it remains one of the world’s premier crime-fighting agencies. Conversely, the Federal Police look like infantry units when they deploy in any urban area: five ski-masked and automatic weapon-toting police typically ride in the bed of a sizeable pickup truck, with their weapons pointed outward, toward the people they were ostensibly sent to protect. While they look the part of the imposing force, the Federal Police, and even more so other police bodies, are not sufficiently capable of conducting investigations. As one analyst has noted, “Most of Mexico’s various police forces continue to be largely incapable of objective and thorough investigations, having never received adequate resources or training.”

This investigative incapacity is also evident in Mexico’s ministerios públicos, who are “empowered not only to bring charges against the accused, but also to oversee the investigatory police units and individual investigations.” The near-ubiquitous MPs have an extraordinary amount of power over criminal proceedings, operating essentially as both investigating officer and prosecutor, and endowed with the power to toss evidence that cuts against his case.

From the standpoint of putting criminals behind bars, giving one official such a large role isn’t in and of itself an insuperable barrier or even a particularly unwieldy system, but the MPs are clearly not up to the task. As one of the most recognized critics of the causes of public security recently wrote, “ministerios públicos with miserable salaries and without training that carry out investigations so poorly elaborated that criminals manage to get out [of jail] without any trouble.” Investigative incompetence by the MPs is also a large part of the reason that just 28 percent of all federal arrests in 2010, a category that includes most drug-related crimes, resulted even in trials, to say nothing of convictions.

Other Challenges: Judges and Jails

Mexico also has much work to do regarding the quality of its judicial system. The evidence of the branch’s shortcomings, both anecdotal and otherwise, is substantial. Outrage over judicial incompetence and corruption grew in response to the recent documentary film Presunto Culpable, in which a demonstrably innocent Mexico City denizen was railroaded into a murder conviction in a trial worthy of Stalin-era Russia (incompetence from the MP was a major piece of the story). The Rubí Marisol Frayre affair, in which a trio of judges set free the suspected killer of a 16-year-old girl, despite the fact that he had confessed and led authorities to the girl’s remains, was another catalyst of anger regarding the judicial branch.

A less publicized but even more worrying piece of evidence is the widespread understaffing of the judicial system. According to one recent study, Mexico has just 3.58 judges per 100,000 inhabitants, roughly one third of the proportion in Colombia, and one-sixth of that of Costa Rica.

The judicial reform passed in 2008 could go a long way toward addressing the issues plaguing the criminal justice system, and the next president should ensure its continued implementation, whatever the obstacles. The reform, which is to be implemented over the course of eight years, established the presumption of innocence and mandated the conversion to an oral, accusatory trial system much like that in place in the US. Two analysts characterized the reform as “sweeping changes to Mexican criminal procedure, greater due process protections, new roles for judicial system operators, and tougher measures against organized crime,” as well as an effort to “bring greater transparency, accountability, and efficiency to Mexico’s ailing justice system.”

The legislation stands as one of Calderón’s foremost accomplishments, but despite its potential, the judicial reform has been hampered by inefficient implementation and a lack of spending. With regard to the latter, the 2011 budget delivered 10 percent less to the judicial branch than had been sought by the Federal Judicial Council. This prevented the opening of 71 new courts that had been planned to alleviate the strain on the overtaxed judicial system, which led one leading paper to accuse the budget of “killing” the judicial reform.

A recent inspector general’s report from USAID, which contributed to the implementation of the reform, is illustrative of a more broadly haphazard program: “[T]he audit found that under the current awards-implementing activities to support the rule of law program, USAID/Mexico has not delivered technical advisory services in a strategic manner to reach maximum efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability, mainly because it lacks a strategic focus (see page 4). As a result, USAID/Mexico’s rule of law activities has had limited success in achieving their main goals....”

Assuming the reform is eventually put into place and criminals are routinely and efficiently processed for the crimes they committed, the situation remains quite precarious inside of Mexican prisons. Examples of criminal bosses running their operations behind bars are notorious; among the most well known is that of Osiel Cárdenas, who negotiated pacts with criminal allies, fought with his enemies, ordered his subordinates this way and that, and enjoyed many of the accoutrements of life on the outside, all while stowed inside one of Mexico’s maximum-security prisons.[3] Massacres inside of prisons are also a regular feature in the nation’s newspapers.

Escapes are also quite commonplace; the example of Chapo Guzmán’s flight from a maximum-security prison (one in which he lived like a king, with nightly banquets and regular visits with prostitutes, to boot) in 2001 is the most famous, but it’s hardly the only one.[4] More recently, to take but three high-profile examples, 53 prisoners escaped from a Zacatecas prison in 2009, 40 more from a Matamoros jail in 2010, and 151 stole from a facility in Nuevo Laredo the same year.

Local Government

Another bottleneck for improved security comes from the municipal and state governments. With few exceptions, they are exceedingly weak entities, susceptible to both corruption and intimidation. The wave of murdered mayors in 2010, with 14 of them murdered around the nation, brought some international attention to the problem, but it is not a new development.

Part of the problem stems from Mexican history; since the Revolution, the stove-piped, corporatist political system ensured that municipal government was just a local reflection of the centralized revolutionary nationalism. Consequently, an ethos of local can-doism and self-reliance never fully developed. Nor, on a related note, did local tax systems; the federal government provides the overwhelming majority of operating expenses for the nation’s municipalities. And according to one recent report, 80 percent of the nation’s municipalities faced debt crises in the aftermath of the recession of 2009. As a result of this heavy dependence on the federal government, following an upsurge in violence, local officials ordinarily don’t develop effective responses on their own, but rather they issue pleas for the federal government to send more resources.

Furthermore, even when they have ample amounts of cash, local governments often lack the absorptive capacity to make use of their funds. One fact illustrating this is the chronic under-spending on security. According to data from 2007, state governments, which have access to a federal fund for police weaponry, spent 40 percent less than their total allotment, despite widespread (albeit often exaggerated) worries that the government was outgunned by the gangs.

All of this conspires to make local governments not an active, productive part of the governing body, but rather little more than deadweight at best, a festering sore at worst.

Recasting the Image of the Fight for Public Security

The next president could also improve a great deal on Calderón’s legacy in terms of his presentation of the crime policies to the nation. Calderón’s administration has always struggled to present a coherent narrative and justification for his crime policies, comparable to the national security doctrines that every American president inevitably formulates. It was not until June 2010, almost four years after he was elected, that Calderón even ventured to publish a formal outline of his policies with the National Security Strategy.

Previously, Calderón and his team leapt from one explanation to another in defending his policies. Violence was declining, his people would argue; but when it would go up, the violence was a sign that things were working. The Americans need to reduce demand one day, but then the next American demand is insatiable and the goal is merely to shift the routes to outside of Mexico. Calderón has also spoken sporadically of the need to recover territory from the criminals and to protect Mexico’s children as his government’s security mission. These are doubtless two valuable goals, but they do not collectively form a coherent justification for his policies.

This is not merely a public relations problem; this communicative confusion creates a vacuum and cedes terrain to Calderón’s political adversaries, the more sensationalistic corners of the press, and criminal enemies with their narcomantas. It is in large part due to Calderón’s negligence on this issue that baseless narratives such as that of Mexico as a failed state can gather steam. Calderón’s administration is not defining the terms of the debate, but rather constantly playing catch-up to whatever media narrative prevails on a given day. Because media attention is fickle, resources are not always distributed as they should be.

One clear example of this is Torreón, which witnessed three acts of terrorism, killing scores of law-abiding local civilians, in the first six months of 2010, amid a years-long deterioration in local security. Despite the broadly worsening climate and the intentional killing of law-abiding Mexicans, and despite the fact that Torreón is the center of the ninth-largest metropolitan area in Mexico, the first two attacks earned scant national and international media attention, and consequently there was only the scarcest federal presence in the city.

This failing has been exacerbated by Calderón’s reluctance to seek input from people beyond his circle in the formulation of crime policy, an oversight the next president should eagerly redress. Cabinet posts typically reflect personal ties to Calderón rather than a long track record of excellence in public service; as a result, politicians widely perceived as lightweights—Interior Minister José Francisco Blake, former Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez—have been entrusted with some of the most important positions in the government.

This tendency reflects a disregard for consensus that has been on display since the outset of his presidency: with his lightning deployment of the army to Michoacán days after his inauguration, Calderón sent a bold message about who was running the country, but he sacrificed the chance to build a policy around a more enduring support base. Subsequent attempts to bring together various wings of the Mexican elite—political, mass media, business, civil society—failed to produce that consensus, in part because Calderón waited so long to seek outside opinions: the first such moment came in 2008 with the Acuerdo Nacional por la Seguridad, La Justicia, y la Legalidad; the second in 2010, with the Diálagos por la Seguridad; and the third, earlier this spring and summer, in a series of meetings with Javier Sicilia, a poet who turned into a peace activist following the murder of his son. They also failed because of the related impression that he was only doing so because circumstances forced him to, not because of any genuine desire to consider the many conflicting points of view.

The recent dustup regarding American drone flights in Mexican airspace—a scandal whose existence owed far more to the ill-advised secrecy enveloping the program than to the program’s intrusiveness—shows Calderón still hasn’t learned. This is all the more senseless because much of what Calderón wants to do on crime has a significant constituency; polls have shown that wide majorities support the use of the army for domestic police work specifically and aggressive combat of organized crime in general. In other words, by disregarding the input of all those not part of his inner circle, Calderón doesn’t in any great way free himself to pursue policies that would otherwise be proscribed; rather, he deprives himself of the support base that would remove security from the realm of political football and give his policies a tri-partisan varnish.

To that end, the next president’s first big move on public security should be to establish a commission—with members from security agencies, academia, the political opposition, and the international community—to develop long- and short-term recommendations for security policy.

Redefining the Relationship with the US

Calderón’s successor should also seek to recalibrate the relationship with the US in two key ways. First, he should avoid, as Calderón has failed to, loud denunciations of the US for its failure to attack drug demand and arms trafficking. While Calderón’s frustration is understandable, and while the US should indeed do more to address its role in driving the Mexican drug trade, the fact remains that significant progress on each of those two issues is both unlikely and completely out of Mexico’s hands. Even with a marvelous lobbying effort on the part of the Mexican government, it’s improbable that a sufficient number of American lawmakers will disregard the wishes of the NRA and vote into being a new assault-weapons ban. The reason is simple, and essentially unalterable: the NRA can mobilize mass numbers of votes; the Mexican government cannot.

Likewise, while calls for the US to address homegrown demand for drugs are reasonable and logically consistent, but, though initiatives like Hawaii’s Hope Program show great potential, demand reduction won’t wash gangs like the Zetas out of existence. Even with a best-case scenario—for instance, I recently attended a talk in which Dr. Mark Kleiman, one of the foremost researchers of demand reduction, estimated that a reduction of 40 percent in illegal drug use in the US was conceivable were Hope-style programs to be implemented nationwide—the US market for illegal drugs will be worth billions for decades into the future. Consequently, Mexican leaders should reconsider how productive it is to place so much emphasis on this topic, especially at the expense of improving the domestic capacity to investigate and prosecute organized crime.  And, as mentioned above, it’s also not entirely clear that reducing demand or arms traffic will have much impact on public security in the near term, as the gangs seek to replace drug income with other activities that more directly harm law-abiding citizens (i.e. extortion and kidnapping).

With regard to the arms trade, it has become the cause du jour for many, but the idea that arms traffic is the source of Mexican violence (rather than a replaceable enabler of violence) fails to explain all of the countries in the world that don’t share a border with the U.S. but suffer from public security problems far more daunting than Mexico’s. With gangs laundering up to $40 billion in drug receipts on annually, it is a mistake to think that foremost gangs won’t find a way to arm themselves, regardless of the zealousness with which American officials crack down on arms traffic.

In reality, what a crackdown on the arms trade would likely do is raise the cost of guns, which would force gangs to devote a higher proportion of their income to weapons' purchases. This, in turn, would price some of the small-time gangs that today are toting firearms out of the gun market altogether. That would be a laudable objective, but not to the extent that every other element of public security policy and the bilateral relationship should be subordinated to it.

Other Concerns

The next president of Mexico should also address two other issues that, while they might not fit as well into the context of institutional improvement, are pressing concerns: first, the lack of respect for human rights by the police and the army. With the army out on the streets in huge numbers since the beginning of the Calderón administration, the number of accusations against soldiers has skyrocketed. Over the course of the Calderón administration, the CNDH has registered just under 5,000 complaints. Specific incidents of abuse—including rape and extrajudicial killings—have been documented in chilling detail by NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The recent Supreme Court ruling ending the military exemption from civilian prosecution in cases of abuse, which the brass adamantly opposed, is a good step in the right direction.

Calderón’s successor should build on the momentum created by the Supreme Court, and urge the military to foster a greater respect for human rights among the ranks, so that prosecutions are rarely necessary. The moral case for addressing the pattern of abuse is obvious, but the operational one is just as strong. The abuses are a product of a lack of discipline and professionalism in the ranks that could have serious consequences. Ultimately, after years of stories of improper behavior by soldiers, the impressive prestige held by the army today would likely be eroded. Furthermore, by murdering or torturing criminals who have already been caught, authorities lose the chance to flip them and use them as undercover agents.

The next president must also begin to attack the political supporters of organized crime. The three signal attempts to do so during the Calderón administration—the michoacanazo, the Jorge Hank Rhon arrest, and the Gregorio Sánchez case—all failed miserably. But, assuming the targets in the three cases were guilty, even if they had succeeded, they would have only represented a minute fraction of the politicians with illicit links to organized crime. Without the credible threat of prosecution, there is very little disincentive against a politician protecting one gang or another. This needs to change. 

Lastly, the Mexican authorities must do more to combat money laundering. Businesses suspected of links to organized crime are a matter of common knowledge in many towns. However, according to a recent report from the American embassy in Mexico, the two nations brought just 165 cases regarding money laundering in Mexico in 2009 and 2010. Bilateral efforts resulted in the confiscation of just $60 million in that period (though US Customs officials seized several times that amount in cash seizures), despite the fact that up to $80 billion of illicit cash entered Mexico during that timeframe. It is impossible to conduct a truly robust anti-organized crime strategy without attacking the profits of the gangs that operate in the Mexican underworld.

After a supposedly landmark asset seizure law was passed in 2009, Mexico should have the tools to increase the pressure on dirty cash. However, because of the interpretation of the law’s language, prosecutors must divulge all of the evidence against a money-laundering case. In essence, this forces the government to risk future criminal cases to seize ill-gotten assets; as a result, not a single case has been brought in the two years since the law was passed.


Organized crime will remain a significant problem for well beyond the next president’s six-year term. The scope of the problem is too large and the drivers of organized crime too entrenched to expect an easy resolution. Furthermore, the best way to address the problem—institutional improvement—is a painstaking process. (One good sign is that the strategies set forth in 2010 by Calderón and earlier this year by his likely successor, Enrique Peña Nieto [PRI], give this aspect of the solution a good deal of attention.) However, while Mexicans will need to have patience, the next president must not wait to begin working in earnest to develop the effective institutions Mexico urgently needs.

[1] Jorge Fernández Menéndez and Ana María Salazar, El Enemigo en Casa, (Mexico City: Taurus, 2008), 39. 

[2] Jorge Castañeda and Rubén Aguilar, La Guerra Perdida. This sort of tacit understanding was dealt with at length in the book by the former Fox administration officials. 

[3] Víctor Ronquillo and Jorge Fernández Menéndez, De los Maras a los Zetas, (Mexico City: Random House Mondadori, 2006), 221-240.  

[4] Malcolm Beith, The Last Narco (New York: Grove Press, 2010), 1-13.

**Patrick Corcoran blogs for the Mexican magazine Este País (in Spanish) at "Norteando," and (in English) at Gancho. He also writes about public security in Mexico at InSight Crime. He is based in Washington, D.C. (Estados Unidos)


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