Local Perspective: Mexico's Evolving Security Dynamic
May 5, 2018
Although some cities in Mexico have implemented reforms and reduced security problems over the past five years, in many parts of the country violent crime is still a major risk. In 2017 the killing of a senior executive at Televisa, one of Mexico’s most important corporations, was an unpleasant reminder that overall Mexico is moving backwards precipitously in the area of public security. Adolfo Lagos, the CEO of Televisa’s telecom subsidiary IZZI, was riding his bicycle on a highway outside Mexico City when he was assaulted. (A coroner’s investigation determined Lagos was actually killed by a bullet fired by one of his own bodyguards after the robbery turned into shoot-out.)
The incident highlights the fact that violent crime is on the rise again in Mexico. While Trump and the future of NAFTA have dominated the news the security dynamic in Mexico has quietly but rapidly deteriorated.
During the first ten months of 2017 there were 20,878 murders in Mexico. Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has been criticized for not defining a clear national security strategy. Most recently he has tried to dismiss criticism of his record on crime as unfair “bullying” of Mexico’s law enforcement agencies.
Still, there’s a growing awareness in Mexico about the country’s worsening security dynamic.
According to security analyst Alejandro Hope, “October  was an extraordinarily violent month: on average almost 90 people were killed per day… that’s equivalent to four per hour or one every sixteen minutes.”
Mexico’s federal government has succeeded in capturing or killing many of the senior leaders of notorious organized crime groups such as the Zetas, the Beltran Leyva Organization and the Sinaloa Cartel. Overall, however, the general application of rule of law and the ability of local police forces to maintain law and order, are still dismal in many regions in Mexico. Organized crime groups have been disrupted but in many parts of the country smaller gangs of violent criminals have emerged to replace the old generation of cartel capos.
On November 25, 2017 gunmen on motor scooters fired at the occupants of a late model Mercedes sedan in the parking lot at Arena Mexico, a popular “Lucha Libre” wrestling venue in Mexico’s gritty Doctores neighborhood. One person was killed.
By the end of 2017 it’s likely that six different states in Mexico will have individually logged over 1,500 murders within their borders. Three of the worst states in Mexico are Guerrero, Estado de Mexico, and Baja California Sur. In one particularly jarring incident in August a group of gunmen carrying automatic weapons attacked beachgoerson a popular stretch of shoreline in Baja California Sur. Three men were killed and two other people were injured.
In Tijuana the homicide rate is now over 100, a level similar to the murder rate in El Salvador, one of the world’s most violent countries.
It’s possible that 2017 will be the most violent year in Mexico’s modern history. Under the leadership of President Peña Nieto Mexico’s federal government worked hard to shift the narrative about Mexico away from security issues.
Thanks in part to Trump and the emergence of new concerns about the future of NAFTA, the world’s attention has drifted away from the problem of violent crime in Mexico. Right now Mexico's federal government is focused primarily on fighting to save NAFTA. It isn't likely we'll see any new major initiatives on security over the next few months. But, as Mexico moves into its 2018 presidential election campaign the issues of crime, security, and impunity are likely to be on voters’ minds.
In 2018 the candidates aspiring to succeed Peña Nieto are going to have to clearly explain how they hope to tackle the problem of violent crime and improve security for Mexico’s citizens. For companies looking to invest and expand in Mexico, violent crime is still one of the most important political risks at the local level. Investors doing due diligence need to understand the specific dynamics in each section of the country.