Is Mexico unraveling?

Here are some excerpts from Stratfor’s weekly “Mexico Security Memos”, perhaps the best window (in America) to the events in our southern neighbor. Mexico’s internal security situation continues to deteriorate, another “Decline of the State” in progress (as described by Martin van Creveld in Rise and Decline of the State). These are just a sample, but they are all like this, to a greater or lesser degree.


The situation is far gone when gangs hit police chiefs and Army colonels with impunity. This has serious implications for America, and our mainstream media have not covered this story adequately, imo.

21 May 2007: Mexico: A Deteriorating Security Situation

About 150 state police officers in Mexico’s northern Nuevo Leon state went on strike May 21, demanding higher salaries and more resources to fight organized crime, which has claimed the lives of six state police officers in the past four days. Given that drug cartels have increasingly targeted police, army and government personnel in response to a federal campaign to combat organized crime — and are showing no signs of stopping — the security situation in Mexico likely will continue deteriorating.

11 March 2008: Organized Crime in Mexico

Organized crime in Mexico centers on drug trafficking into the United States and the control of the most lucrative trade routes. As long as the drug trade thrives, organized crime in Mexico will continue.

11 May 2007: Mexican Drug Cartels: Targeting the Military

Suspected drug cartel enforcers killed two state police officers May 11 as the officers patrolled the town of Villahermosa in Mexico’s Tabasco state. The attack occurred two days after a Mexican sailor was gunned down in the Pacific resort town of Ixtapa. Although attacks against police officers and their chiefs are becoming quite common in Mexico — a response to President Felipe Calderon’s efforts to crack down on the country’s drug syndicates — the cartels now are upping the stakes by targeting the Mexican military.

26 August 2007: A Slow End to the Cease-Fire

Less than a week after the abduction and killing of two federal law enforcement agents in Nuevo Leon state, two Transit Department employees and a police officer were abducted Aug. 20 in the Monterrey suburb of Santa Catarina. The employees were found several days later barely alive and apparently tortured and beaten. Authorities have yet to confirm finding the police officer.

Later in the week, a mechanic was kidnapped in Ciudad Guadalupe and a car salesman was abducted in San Nicolas de los Garza, both in Nuevo Leon state. The mechanic has yet to be found while the car salesmen’s body was discovered several days later. He had been shot to death. Law enforcement agents were the victims of targeted killings in the states of Aguascalientes and Sinaloa, where six police officers were shot to death Aug. 26.

26 November 2007: Family Violence

At least 11 homicides associated with organized crime were reported across Mexico on Nov. 23, so far one of the deadliest days in the country this month.

Sinaloa state authorities reported one particularly brutal hit – even by Mexican drug-cartel standards – in which a former federal agent was shot to death after gunmen entered his home in the town of Los Mochis. In the process, they also killed his wife and three daughters, ages 13, 12 and five.

24 March 2008: A Tumultuous Good Friday

The 23 drug-related homicides in Mexico that occurred March 21 made Good Friday one of the deadliest days so far this year in the country’s continuing drug war. The killings were widespread across Mexico.

… During the last several weeks, the normally violent tourist cities of Cancun and Acapulco had seen relatively little violence. Drug gangs have been maintaining a low profile in the cities ever since the Mexican government ordered several hundred troops to the cities to ensure the safety of foreign visitors during the spring break season. So far, the move has cut the average number of homicides by more than half in the two cities. No violence affecting foreign tourists – who have brought Acapulco to nearly 100 percent capacity this season – has been reported.

21 April 2008: Deteriorating Security in Tijuana

While violence was widespread throughout Mexico this week, the city of Tijuana stood out due to its deteriorating security situation, which has included a kidnapping wave that appears increasingly out of control. Extortion-related kidnappings are estimated at more than two per day in the city; many are not reported to the authorities. A series of kidnappings of doctors and medical workers led the city’s health care providers to go on strike April 18, demanding greater protection from the authorities.

Civilian and military officials in the city held an emergency meeting this week, during which they confirmed there has been a rise in kidnappings in Tijuana, though they elected to not change the current anti-crime strategy. In general, the government offered a grim outlook on the security situation this past week; the state attorney general said publicly that more crime is expected, and that the government cannot contain or prevent it.

The statement, which did little to calm the city’s fears, represents an accurate assessment of the situation.

Update:  Mexico army ops allow crime surge in border city“, Reuters (21 April 2008) – “Mexican troops are failing to provide basic security in the violent border city of Ciudad Juarez, residents say, testing support for President Felipe Calderon’s army-led assault on drug gangs.”

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

Other articles about Mexico

  1. Is Mexico unraveling?  (28 April 2008) — summary of Stratfor’s warnings about Mexico.
  2. High Stakes South of the Border  (13 May 2008)
  3. Mexico: On the Road to a Failed State?“, George Friedman, Stratfor (13 May 2008)
  4. Mexico: Examining Cartel War Violence Through a Protective Intelligence Lens“, Stratfor (14 May 2008)
  5. Crime and Punishment in Mexico: The big picture beyond drug cartel violence“, posted at Grits for Breakfast (18 May 2008)

10 thoughts on “Is Mexico unraveling?”

  1. Mexico has been a semi-failed state for a long time. I can remember in high school starry eyed idealists waxing poetic about Subcomandante Marcos, among other “hilarious and inspiring” (and so on) figures in the Mexican political fringe.

    I’d also suggest searching John Robb’s site for more on the state failure implications of Mexico’s slow implosion. Two initial posts are here and here, but there’s more with searching.

  2. It’s somehow funny. The entire “failed states” discussion comes from North America. I’ve never read or heard anything like that in Europe. For us, such states are less or least developed states or simply developing states. That’s the U.N. nomenclature as well.

    It’s especially funny that Americans identify a failed state based on criminal activity. So what’s the USA then in comparison to Europe and Japan? A quarter-failed state?

  3. Sven Ortmann,

    How nice that the elegent Euro-folk refer to areas wrecked by geocidal civil wars, suicidal government policies, and kleptocratic leaders as “less or least developed states.” We bow before their sophistication.

    Also note that US crime rates are falling, while theirs are rising (esp rape, for reasons of which they dare not speak). For example, US rates of most crimes are below those of the UK, except for murder (which in the US is to a large extent intermural among gangs and crime networks).

    The net effect of crime patterns is not obvious from the statistics. For example, the BBC is no fan of the US, but note this story: “America’s ‘safety catch’” (22 April 2008) — Excerpt:

    … Why is it then that so many Americans – and foreigners who come here – feel that the place is so, well, safe?

    A British man I met in Colorado recently told me he used to live in Kent but he moved to the American state of New Jersey and will not go home because it is, as he put it, “a gentler environment for bringing the kids up.” This is New Jersey. Home of the Sopranos.

    Brits arriving in New York, hoping to avoid being slaughtered on day one of their shopping mission to Manhattan are, by day two, beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about. By day three they have had had the scales lifted from their eyes.

    I have met incredulous British tourists who have been shocked to the core by the peacefulness of the place, the lack of the violent undercurrent so ubiquitous in British cities, even British market towns.

    And this is Manhattan. Wait till you get to London Texas, or Glasgow Montana, or Oxford Mississippi or Virgin Utah, for that matter, where every household is required by local ordinance to possess a gun.

    Folks will have guns in all of these places and if you break into their homes they will probably kill you. They will occasionally kill each other in anger or by mistake, but you never feel as unsafe as you can feel in south London.

    It is a paradox. Along with the guns there is a tranquillity and civility about American life of which most British people can only dream.

    What surprises the British tourists is that, in areas of the US that look and feel like suburban Britain, there is simply less crime and much less violent crime. Doors are left unlocked, public telephones unbroken.

    One reason – perhaps the overriding reason – is that there is no public drunkenness in polite America, simply none. I have never seen a group of drunk young people in the entire six years I have lived here. I travel a lot and not always to the better parts of town.

    It is an odd fact that a nation we associate – quite properly – with violence is also so serene, so unscarred by petty crime, so innocent of brawling.

    Virginia Tech had the headlines in the last few days and reminded us of the violence for which the US is well known. But most American lives were as peaceful on this anniversary as they are every day.

  4. If one wants a European example of a “failed state,” may I suggest the Holy Roman Empire, which Talleyrand famously characterized as “Neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”

    As for which states are mostly likely to endure, for the benefit of geographic chauvinists out there I would place my bets on Australia and New Zealand.

    As for semantic quibbling about whether certain entities are called “failed states,” “developing states” or whatever, you could call them “quarks” or “fragberts,” for all I care – just so long as the terms are sufficiently well defined and related to the underlying subject matter that meaningful information is exchanged with minimal distortion.

  5. If drug cartels are the major source of disorder in Mexico, then it seems the US has the power to completely eliminate the problem with the stroke of a pen: end prohibition and the cartels go bust overnight.

    Of course “we” will fail to see the danger and react rationally, yet again. Ah, what a spectacle it is to watch an empire destroying itself…

  6. Fabius, it’s interesting how you accomplished to let me look like the arrogant guy here.
    I was hinting at the fact that the whole “failed state” discussion is probably arrogant on part of Americans. There’s no such discussion in other areas of the world afaik.

    If high crime rates and unsuccessful police are already taken as evidence for a “failed state”, then how many states did not fail in this world? See List of countries by homicide rate

    The “failed state” idea sounds to me like an ideology that declares as many states as fair game for interventions/invasions as people like Barnett want it. It’s not helpful at all.

    Btw, if America is such a feel-safe place, then why do German policemen not wear bulletproof vests, in average don’t fire their gun in anger in their whole life (and those who do do so quite often against animals), don’t behave cautiously when approaching others for inspection and still have a murdered-in-service rate of about 2/year… nationwide (among 82 million people).

    German murder rate is one sixth of the American one – if crime rates and policemen fearing for their lives are an indication for failed states then the U.S. has indeed a problem. That’s why I meant that this metric should not be used, especially not as stand-alone.
    Fabius Maximus replies: My apologies! No personal comment intended, and I wrote that with too little care. Your objection is not (as was my initial reaction) just cosmetic, but substantive. On the other hand, I do not believe anyone seriously considering the issue uses homicide rates as a stand-alone metric. In fact, that the basis of my objection! (“Great” minds think alike, but sometimes collide while doing so)
    Two notes — first, trivia. First, most US police officers never draw their guns. All of the US is not like Miami Vice (in fact, neither is Miami)! The violence is concentrated geographically. That and the low overall violence rate was the point of the BBC article.
    Second, I believe (not sure of this) that EU crime rates are rising. Perhaps for the same reason as accounts for some of the higher US crime rates. Immigration. A stable monocultural and largely single ethnic society can be (but is not necessarily) more peaceful than one formed from wave after wave of immigrants — each from different cultures. That is destabilizing in many ways, although of course with offsetting advantages.

  7. “there is no public drunkenness in polite America, simply none. I have never seen a group of drunk young people in the entire six years I have lived here.”

    There is public drinking in America, but Americans do not transform from p.c. snobs into football hooligan yobs when they drink. The key difference is humility. Americans are humble enough to know that even though they are drunk, they must back up their provocations with actions. The Brits know that no amount of disrespect will provoke a duel, and so they descend from insult to assault to mob violence. Cf. Tacitus, Germania:”They transact no public or private business without being armed. …” Cultures which duel are polite: cultures which forbid dueling are cesspits. America is sliding towards cesspit status with political correctness, but it remembers what honor used to be.

    Sven, I don’t think you look arrogant. Duncan makes a good point about needing terminology.
    My definition is that a government fails its citizens when it fails to deliver public goods, including public safety, fire departments, state-licensed monopolies such as power companies, etc.

    I submit that most states protect the rich and fail to protect the poor. The poor sectors of any country are likely to resemble “failed states” in that the people who live in slums often do not receive the public goods of the state, such as order, a sense of participation, public utilities, etc.

  8. Much as I hate wikipedia, I looked at:
    and noted the slums of the USA have all but one of the political indicators of failure:
    7. Criminalization and/or delegitimisation of the state:…
    8. Progressive deterioration of public services…
    9. Widespread violation of human rights: an emergence of authoritarian, dictatorial or military rule in which constitutional and democratic institutions and processes are suspended or manipulated. Outbreaks of politically inspired (as opposed to criminal) violence against innocent civilians. A rising number of political prisoners or dissidents who are denied due process consistent with international norms and practices. Any widespread abuse of legal, political and social rights, including those of individuals, groups or cultural institutions (e.g., harassment of the press, politicization of the judiciary, internal use of military for political ends, public repression of political opponents, religious or cultural persecution.)[11]
    10. Security apparatus as ‘state within a state’…
    11. Rise of factionalised elites…
    12. Intervention of other states or external factors:

    There are no blue-helmeted UN peacekeepers patrolling America, but the poor of America suffer from #7 through #11. Further, some Americans, e.g. gun owners writing about UN and WTO meddling, argue that America’s international elites amount to #12, external intervention.

  9. The failure of many states to provide services and to discipline their servants is in most cases simply the result of the inability to raise enough income for the state. Policemen and other servants need to be corrupt if their pay isn’t enough for their family.

    Most nations simply don’t have the economy to meet Western expectations concerning state performance. It’s a bit too tough to call them “failed state”; that’s usually used in a way that denies respect or even sovereignty. “Failed states” are often considered fair game for interventions in discussions.

    So I’d call states only a failure if their borders prevent ethnic cohesion and if that’s a real problem or if a resource-rich state still fails to provide basic services despite easy income. And even then I’d think twice about calling that “failed”; in the latter case it’s simply a poor government.

    Lists of indicators like the official (NGO-official) one are too long. That list is no indicator list for failed states; it’s an indicator list for states with challenges/problems. (This quasi-official list is quite questionable anyway. Argentina/Canada/Belgium are rated too well, much of Europe deserves a better rating imo.)

    Btw, hat list shows Mexico in 2nd highest category, the U.S. in the next category. No Latin-American state is marked as highest category in 2007.
    Fabius Maximus replies: These are valid points. On the other hand, the cause-effect relationship often goes the other way. As in Africa. Many states with the potential to be rich (or *were* rich) are desperately poor due to poor political or social organization. Weak political structures, or outright social violence and war. This is the dynamic that the concept of “failed state” attempts to capture.
    As you said earlier, these things are too complex to with any single set of buzz-words. These exist to illuminate key relationships, but cannot be taken too seriously.

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