“Internal Warfare”- Organized Crime Challenges Mexico’s Democracy

For seventy-one years, Mexico was ruled under the PRI, Or the Institutional Revolutionary Party. The PRI, set in place by Plutarco Elias Calles, was a single party system. This authoritarian style rule controlled Mexico’s politics on the national, as well as the state levels. It was not until 2000 that the PRI lost presidency. Vincente Fox won the election, marking the official transition of Mexico into a democracy. For the first time in seventy-one years, Mexico existed under the PAN, or National Action Party. Unfortunately, there were challenges right from the start. Fox realized how difficult it was going to be to bring about the changes that he had promised to the people of Mexico. The first challenge to this democratic rule was simply the lack of experience. Fox and his administration had no model to go off of. Additionally, Fox lacked the close relationship with his party that PRI parties once experienced.

Following Fox’s term came the second National Action Party President, Felipe Calderon. One of the greatest challenges to democracy during Calderon’s term was the increasing cost of fighting the war on drugs and organized crime.

From the outside looking in, Mexico’s democracy appears sufficient. Proper elections take place, citizens vote, and “all the needed democratic institutions are in place.” (Schedler 10). However, the threat to democracy was abundantly present due to the drug war and organized crime. This drug violence still exists as the biggest challenge to democracy in Mexico. This “internal warfare” (Schedler) may not be classified as a typical attack on a political system. However, “the practical effects of the criminal violence that they wield can be just as damaging to the democratic integrity of elections as the political violence that openly antidemocratic ideologues might employ.” (Schedler 10).

The violent crimes seen in Mexican society reveal the inability of the Mexican state to protect its people. The countless acts of torture, kidnappings, and murders that take place are bad enough, but the way Mexico handles these horrible crimes is equally as disappointing. Not only does Mexico seem indifferent to these attacks, the state appears unable and even unwilling to do anything to improve the situation.

Statistics from the Journal of Democracy state “According to figures collected by Human Rights Watch, between December 2006 and January 2011, Mexican authorities attributed about 35,000 homicides to organized crime. Of these, 2.8 percent led to formal criminal investigations, 0.9 percent led to formal criminal charges being filed, and 0.06 percent led to firm convictions.” (Schedler 12). The lack of punishment is only letting this crime persevere. Additionally, Due to the 74 journalists and media-support workers killed in a five-year span, studies have listed Mexico as one of the most dangerous places in the world for media personnel and reporters. (Schedler)

Putting myself in the position of an innocent Mexican citizen, I would be disappointed in the democracy of my country, but more importantly I would be terrified for my safety. A democratic government should, if nothing else, provide public safety.

This epidemic of violence that has taken over the democracy of Mexico has finally resulted in citizens longing for the relatively peaceful country that existed in the years before the PAN replaced the PRI in presidency.



Works Cited

Flores-Macías, Gustavo. “Mexico’s 2012 Elections: The Return of the PRI.” Journal of Democracy: 128-41. Print.


Schedler, Andreas. “The Criminal Subversion of Mexican Democracy.” Journal of    Democracy: 5-18. Print.













4 thoughts on ““Internal Warfare”- Organized Crime Challenges Mexico’s Democracy

  1. I agree that the surge in violence in Mexico has challenged democracy regarding the government’s ability to protect its citizens and hold the perpetrators accountable. However, it is important to note that the violence has affected democracy on an even deeper, more significant level. You mention how the rise in violence highlighted the insufficiencies of the two presidencies of parties that broke the electoral dominance and authoritarian style rule enjoyed by the PRI for seventy-one years. This is true, but one must observe that these same insufficiencies are what led to the presidential re-election of the PRI. Gustavo Flores-Macías shows us that “Mexico had Latin America’s lowest percentage of people who were willing to say that they were satisfied with the way in which democracy was working in their country (137),” and Andreas Schedler states “…a quarter of the respondents to one 2011 survey declared themselves willing to ‘vote for candidates related to drug trafficking in order to establish peace and security’ (14).” It appears as if the Mexican people were disappointed with the new parties in power due to their inability to curb and provide protection from the violence, and chose the stability the PRI offered in the past over important democratic development. The re-election of the PRI is not only the greatest threat to democracy in the country because it may revive the PRI’s electoral dominance, but also it brings a party to power who is known for evading accountability and while participating in criminal activities, as well as buying votes and other forms of electoral corruption. These faults undermine even the most basic definitions of democracy. Therefore, although the violence has hindered the ability of the government to protect its citizens, it has now succeeded in completely reversing the democratic progress made at the turn of the century by leading the Mexican people to turn back towards corrupt and undemocratic leadership.

  2. Good points — both of you. One way to think about this is going back to Weber — does the Mexican state have a monopoly on the use of violence?

  3. I find Mexico’s democracy to be an example of why a country would not want to continue a democratic legacy. The state capacity of Mexico has been abysmal in recent decades. After decades of relative peace and security under an authoritative regime, in the span of two democratic presidencies violence has skyrocketed and immersed Mexico in an internal war (Schedler, 2014). 52% of Mexican civilians believe that the drug cartels / organized crime are winning the war against them, which indicates that Mexican citizens do not believe that the state has the capability of winning (Flores-Macias, 2013). The purpose of a democracy is that, ideally, citizens have the right to actively participate in politics, equality under the law, protection by human rights, and fair and free elections. This is why how we define democracy is important. Under the Shumpeter definition and perhaps under the Dahl definition, Mexico is a democracy. They have regular elections, there is competition for votes, the media is not constrained by laws, and citizens have the freedom to organize. However, if we look at Mexico from a substantive view, under which to be fair, most countries would not be considered democratic, Mexico fails. Regular elections and competitions for votes are often swayed by direct and indirect involvement from organized crime. The media is not constrained by laws, but rather are constrained due to fear of violence and retaliation. Citizens do have a high percentage of voting (63% in some areas) however that number varies depending on the perception of crime in that particular municipality.

    To me, it logically makes sense why Mexican citizens would opt to return to authoritative roots. Since 2006 homicides attributed to organized crime has increased nearly exponentially, people disappear regularly, and silence has become the only way to remain safe. People may be more willing to opt for security rather than freedom when plagued with extreme violence. The practical effects of organized crime in Mexico undermines democracy and influences citizens to make choices based on track record. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, while perhaps taking away from democracy, offered its citizens relative peace in the past. The National Action Party, while democratic, has a failed track record of improving safety in Mexico. I think that order for democracy to be successful a sort of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs must be met. First, citizens must be fed and have shelter, that is there must not be extreme abject poverty and homelessness. Second, citizens must feel safe. When these are not met, the political structure does not necessarily matter because issues in daily life are profound and debilitating. People will then choose political systems that will enable them to climb the triangle of needs.

  4. Comment: Emelie has asked me to take a look at her class’ blog.
    The paper accurately addresses the entrenched challenges Mexico is facing. It looks that its chance of conquering them is very limited due to the lack, as the paper clearly points out, of strong leadership and proper experiences on the one hand, and of effective, proper resources to deal with those challenges, such as violent crimes and war on drugs. The paper is also correct by giving the country’s democracy a dark picture – a mess.

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