4: Democratization and neoliberalism
However, the current situation cannot be understood without also looking at two important societal changes in Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s. One was a transition from a centralized one-party state to a more decentralized democratic system of government . Gradual reforms of the mid-1980s electoral system made it easier for opposition candidates to win. This contributed to the PRI having to relinquish power in 2000, after 71 years of control of the Mexican state.
Furthermore, this meant that the cartels could no longer rely solely on their contacts in the PRI, but had to establish new alliances with the opposition parties. As a result, the last parts of the so-called “regulatory model” disappeared. The state could no longer control drug trafficking; it was rather the cartels that sought to control important state institutions such as the police, prosecutors and politically elected bodies. In different parts of the country, they also competed with the state for supremacy.
At the same time, administrative reforms gave greater power to the states and municipalities . With it, the influence of cartels increased since local institutions have always been easier to infiltrate for the cartels than federal ones. Several police reforms from the late 1990s have sought to centralize control of the police, and transferred authority to the federal level, but in many cases these reforms have primarily weakened local police forces financially. Thus, they have become an even easier prey for money-rich cartels. Attempts at reforms at the federal level have also not prevented a large degree of impunity: in 2007, less than 2 per cent of all crimes led to arrest and even fewer were convicted.
The other major upheaval has been the transition to a neoliberal economy . Like the rest of Latin America, according to HYPERRESTAURANT, Mexico went through a large-scale privatization and liberalization program after triggering a global debt crisis in 1982 . This included the sale of state-owned enterprises, but also the privatization of jointly owned land, lower tariffs and the dissolution of the corporate structure that characterized the PRI state. The reorganization also involved membership in the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA) . It tied Mexico’s economy closely to that of the United States, which now receives 80 percent of all Mexican exports. The economic restructuring created new economic growth in the late 1990s, but also increasing inequality.
The restructuring has had at least two consequences of great importance for the cartels. For the first, it led to increased unemployment and poverty in rural areas . This has created fertile ground for increased migration to the United States, but also for increased cultivation of marijuana and opium poppies as an alternative source of income. Unemployment in rural areas has coincided with the establishment of new, low- wage jobs in the so-called maquila (composition) industry. This has been built up in new industrial centers along the border with the USA and has contributed to a sharp increase in the population in these cities, which have not been able to offer social services or social networks. One of these cities is Ciudad Juárez which in the last decade has been the scene of over 400 grotesque murders of women, and which in 2010 had the world’s highest murder rate (229 per 100,000 inhabitants, Norway 0.6).
The other important consequence of the shift to neoliberalism has been increased trade with the United States . As a result, thousands of trailers of goods are driven across the border daily. Trailers and cars are now the most widely used way to smuggle drugs, money and weapons since the huge number makes them almost impossible to control. The close ties with the United States also meant that Mexico was hit hard by the financial crisis in the United States in 2008. Mexico experienced a 7.5 percent reduction in gross domestic product per capita in 2009. It also led to increased unemployment and poverty, and a steady influx of potential recruits. to the drug cartels.
5: Against a failed state?
The situation in Mexico has led analysts – especially in the United States – to describe the country as a failed state. It is more correct to conclude that parts of the state apparatus have been “hijacked” by criminal groups. Mexico still has a state apparatus capable of formulating and implementing policies in many areas, but is hampered by the fact that central institutions are infiltrated by criminal groups.
The military strategy has gradually come under strong criticism. The strong military presence has increased the extent of human rights violations in Mexico, and it is perceived by many as a setback after decades of struggle for democracy and civilian rule. As long as defections from the military are a significant problem in Mexico, and more of the defectors are likely to be recruited to the cartels, rearmament of the military will also mean an rearmament of the cartels. The Mexican authorities have therefore implemented changes to limit the military’s authority. They have increased transparency about homicide rates and strategies and have sought to place more emphasis on good intelligence than general controls that often go beyond the civilian population.
Nevertheless, increasingly strong voices are calling for a completely new approach to drugs and organized crime, not only in Mexico but internationally. This involves a change from a military strategy, focused on production and sales, to a focus on preventing , reducing demand and decriminalizing parts of the drug industry . However, a new approach requires that the United States also change its strategy. It will require a broad international coalition to achieve this.