On its face, it would seem that the most substantial challenge to a democratic Mexico is the rampant violence generated by organized crime. In 2011 alone, the number of drug-related homicides shot to 16,600 (Schedler, 6). Unbalanced and inept strategies toward combating the violence, as well as a disinclination to prosecute those responsible for killings, only encourage the situation. When cases of blatantly drug-related homicides go unprosecuted, the government is sending a message that these people can kill with virtual impunity. . Key data point: the incidence of homicide, which as of 2012 stands at 24 per 100,000 people – a shocking figure by all accounts (Flores-Macías, 129). The “criminal insurgency” exhibited by the competing forces (cartels) is met by the government with brute force uninformed by actionable intelligence, bringing the country to what some academics describe as a state of civil war (Schedler, 7).
It could be said that democracy in Mexico is alive and well – meaningful debate is had, elections held, and political parties exist. The essentials all seem to be in place. But when non-state actors can act freely and violently, any legitimacy and authority that the State ostensibly possesses is effectively undercut. Herein lies the greatest threat to democracy in Mexico, what Schedler calls “societal subversion”: when cartels prevent the State from doing its main job of protecting citizens, then democracy has failed, no matter how freely and fairly elected such a government has been (Schedler, 11). He makes the argument that the state abides the oppression of its citizens, “whether by commission or omission” (Schedler, 11).
The available data on rate of prosecution of violent crimes – effectively zero – amounts to a license to kill. Another measure, media freedom, is hampered by aggression against media workers; kidnappings, bombings, machine gun fire on media outlets. In some cases, this control has escalated to control of news sources, an undemocratic feature if there ever was one. These measures, coupled with the political interference that cartels have been well known to take part in, amount to a stifling of the “spirit of democracy” – the State takes on an almost farcical quality in its ineffectuality (Schedler, 11). Any legitimacy it possesses is snuffed out. Not altogether surprising when there are forces operating on a violence-first basis. Municipalities across the country bear witness to gruesome violence, mutilated corpses in the street, senseless kidnappings, and more. The effect is clear: leave enough bodies in your wake, and fairly soon people will learn to stay out of your way.