Killing Your Way to Power: Drug Violence in Mexico’s Defeated Democracy

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.

Soldiers guarded a display of weapons seized in an operation against the Gulf cartel, which operates in Mexico City. Mexico is desperate for the United States to do more to stop the steady flow of weapons over the border.

Soldiers guarded a display of weapons seized in an operation against the Gulf cartel, which operates in Mexico City. Mexico is desperate for the United States to do more to stop the steady flow of weapons over the border.

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2 thoughts on “Killing Your Way to Power: Drug Violence in Mexico’s Defeated Democracy

  1. I do believe that violence is a major problem presented in modern day Mexican society that suppresses the ability for the Mexican democracy to flourish. The violence surrounding the everyday Mexican develops the people into isolationists. This is a result of their inability to bring meaning to the violence surrounding them. When the citizens cannot label the violence or categorize it, it in turn creates a lack of trust between the Mexican people. With the rise in power of the cartels there is a decrease in the authenticity and legitimacy of the Mexican government in the eyes of its citizens. In order for the people of Mexico to have a successful democracy they must unite around the idea of democracy, and since the democratic system has failed to protect them it doesn’t seem likely that a unification would form around any democratic ideals in the near future. In the end, the violence and inability of the Mexican government to protect its citizens leaves the Mexican people weary of believing in democratic principals. The citizens distrust in the government and their own fellow Mexicans creates a more individualistic society rather than social solidarity, and that in turn hinders their democratic development.

  2. Comment: Emelie has asked me to take a look at her class’ blog.
    The author successfully demonstrates how the democracy in Mexico is defeated. The work reflects a high cognitive intelligence in putting together these substantial elements to support the thesis – defeated democracy.

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