Is Democracy Consolidated in Mexico?

On paper, Mexico is a democracy. “Mexico offers students a fascinating case study of three challenges to a young democracy that are of particular interest to political scientists: the need for the state to establish political order, the need to implement the most effective and fair strategy for economic development, and the need to establish political transparency and the rule of law” (O’Neill 559). From Porfirio Diaz’s authoritarian regime in the 1860’s and the violent Mexican revolution in 1910, to the 1920’s when the first consistent elections were held, to 2000 when Mexico established their first democratic regime, the nation has undergone an immensely long strand of political changes and forms of government rule. Since Mexico first established a democracy, government hostility towards cartels has increased dramatically. In O’Neill’s words: the violence has traumatized Mexican society, raised serious questions about the capacity and autonomy of the Mexican state, and led some domestic and foreign observers to wonder whether Mexico could become a failed state” (O’Neill 559).

In addition to Mexican citizens, the international community shows great concern regarding cartel influence in Mexico. “In 2006, after a close and contentious election, PAN’s (National Action Party) Felipe Calderón assumed the presidency amid a lingering security crisis. During Fox’s term in office, violent competition among drug-trafficking organizations (so-called cartels) had been provoking more than a thousand homicides per year, and the number was rising” (Schedler 5). “Between January 2008 and November 2012, more than 2,500 police officers and more than 200 military personnel were murdered by criminal organizations” (Schedler 7). Calderón made his main objective in office to “defeat” drug cartels. This declaration only made conditions worse in Mexico as military resources were wasted and it became evdident to the public that the government has diverted their main focus from the people to warring with the cartels.

From a structural and procedural standpoint, Mexico is indeed a democracy. It is the presence of the cartels that violates the nation’s legitimacy of democracy. “The generals and privates in this criminal war do not design electoral institutions, rig the vote, bribe electoral authorities, or shave voting rolls. They have neither the means nor the intention to shape formal democratic institutions of electoral governance. But 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). Between 2006 and 2011 Mexico attributed 35,000 murders to drug cartels” (Schedler 11). Free speech is an issue as countless journalists are killed in Mexico every year, which poses the question: why are they dying? Who is killing them? During today’s elections, there is frequent suspicion and cases that Cartels have been influencing political polls. These criminal organizations use scare tactics including threats, and murder to push voters towards the runner of their choice.

Despite Mexico’s historically poor handling of the cartel’s, president Peña Nieto has taken a new stance on the drug war. “Even before he was elected, Peña Nieto had signaled to Mexico’s voters that surrender wasn’t an option, that legalizing drugs wasn’t on the table, and that the fight against the cartels would continue — with different methods and objectives. The new plan was to continue to confiscate the traffickers’ money and drugs while not driving up the body count. Peña Nieto was supposed to focus less on capturing drug lords and more on curtailing violence and protecting the Mexican people” (Navarrette Jr. CNN). President Peña Nieto’s new approach has led to a swift capture of Miguel Morales, a feared Cartel heavyweight in addition to restoring some sense of hope among the people of Mexico. It is too early to tell whether or not democracy is consolidated in Mexico but the young democratic nation has taken big steps towards becoming so.

Cases in Comparative Politics (O’Neil)


5 thoughts on “Is Democracy Consolidated in Mexico?

  1. I largely agree with your analysis. Ever since 2000, Mexico is alternating between parties in power, on both an executive (presidential) and legislative level. Various reforms the Mexican government is taking seem to be improving prospects for democracy, with the PRI likely to never again have near-absolute control over the Mexican government.
    The drug cartels, indeed, are a problem to Mexican democracy, and are a threat to the Mexican state itself. It seems that until the cartels no longer have the ability to perpetuate violence, Mexican democracy cannot be consolidated. While it is a democracy, it is by no means certain that democracy is there to stay in Mexico.

  2. I agree with your analysis of how drug cartels might be damaging and endangering the democratic political process that Mexico has begun to foster after 2000. Specifically, I want to emphasize the way cartels have curbed free speech through violent actions against journalist and the media. If Mexico is unable to prevent the so-called fourth estate from being completely silenced, then the struggling democratic regime might not be left with the biggest voice of opposition it has. Moreover, as you quoted Scheduler in page 10, criminal violence might also influence the political decisions of many citizens, who could be more worried about crime than a democratic opening of the country.

  3. i totally agree with your statement that cartel violence influences polls and the way people vote or who they vote for. Mexican citizens are to an extent afraid of what they put on their ballot. but until Mexico fixes their cartel problem, where people and journalists aren’t killed for expressing or exercising their constitutional rights like freedom of speech, consolidation in Mexican democracy won’t be reached. Future presidents will have a lot of work to do.

  4. I agree with most of this. The only thing I disagree with is the comparison between the “criminal violence” of the cartels and the past and present “political violence” of political parties such (i.e. PRI). Political violence is orchestrated, specific, covert, and mostly with benefit of plausible deniability by the doer(s). In the cases of criminal violence in Mexico, the violence can be aimed at a person, a group of people, an entire neighborhood/city, or in some cases entire states. Furthermore, the violence is overt and almost always ‘tagged’ by the cartel as soon as it happens, so that everyone knows who is taking credit for the bloodshed.

    In addition to the problem with criminal violence, the approach presented by president Peña Nieto and the actual results it yields seem to contradict themselves. There are many cartel leaders are being caught, yes, that’s true. So why is the cartel violence not decreasing? Why is the drug trade stronger than ever? The cartels and their leaders are often underestimated as being mindless, bloodthirsty, or even mentally unstable. However, they are anything but. They are calculated, organized, and prepared, militarily and otherwise. I would argue they exert more power over the government and the people than those in power whether by appointment or “democratic” election.

    I also think that it’s not so much that the Mexican people are afraid of voting for the wrong person in an election. Rather, they are afraid that no matter who they vote for, nothing will change in terms of the violence with the cartels. Which in turn, becomes, “Why should I even bother to vote if nothing is going to change?” That line of thinking can be the most detrimental to the dream of a consolidated democracy, if it is to ever be achieved.

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