The inability of state governments to maintain order and secure the rights of individual citizens poses the greatest challenge to democracy in Mexico. If the state cannot guarantee public safety to it citizens, civil society looks to other means to secure their safety. In Mexico, the power of criminal organizations and drug cartels to institute their own rules of law and disrupt order challenges the legitimacy of the government to maintain its power. Data on the annual drug-related homicides in Mexico varies based on the source but according to Schedler the number in 2012 was around 14,000 has gone down since previous years, remains at a horrific level nonetheless (16) . However, this number does not include people who may have been “disappeared” by either police forces or drug cartels nor does it account for the rumored “score-settling” that police forces inflict on suspected criminals.
The criminal activities of sub-state organizations endemic to Mexico is not limited to drug trafficking as these groups have diversified their tactics into large scale kidnapping, human trafficking, and extortion, including the “torture and murder of security officials and assaults on police stations” (Schedler 7). The goal of establishing public safety might be more attainable, if it weren’t for the systemic levels of corruption that plague every level of the state. Everyone from police officers to politicians to judges have been rumored (and sometimes known) to receive bribes or be blackmailed by criminal organizations. As a result Citizens are left with little power to protect themselves from the violence or pursue legal reparations for injustices which the war between the military and the cartel inflict upon their communities.
While in 2008 certain states introduced constitutional amendments that would provide “public trials with oral testimony and the presumption of innocence”—provisional rights taken for granted in places like the United States—Mexico has a long way to go in order to have these reforms work to ensure democracy and stability (Kesselman). Another concerning development is the federal government’s policy agenda on tackling crime—or the lack there of. What Schedler refers to as a “politics of silence”, where the new government has taken issues of violence and crime off the public agenda in order to focus on “positive reform” is very concerning. This suggests either that the government might be greatly influenced by criminal organizations or that they have given up real efforts to combat the problem. The most recent case of the 43 disappeared students exemplifies the corruption that plagues Mexico’s institutions and the public distrust of even the highest levels of authority in the country. Below is a link to a short documentary about the abductions and the search for the students’ whereabouts.
*Warning: it may be graphic at parts*
Kesselman Krieger and Joeseph, Introduction to Comparative Politics, ed. 7, pp. 403-446.
Schedler, Andreas, “The Criminal Subversion of Mexican Democracy”, Journal of Democracy, vol. 25, 2014.