Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mexico's presidential election campaigning against crime

By The Economist

Each governed by a presidential hopeful, Mexico City and Mexico State seem safer than the rest of the country. What lessons do they offer?

THE spring getaway in Mexico sees long lines of cars escaping the fug of Mexico City for the breezy Pacific coast. But recently traffic has been going the other way. Mexico is in its fifth year of a ramped-up war against organised crime, which has caused violence to flare in states that find themselves on the drug route to the United States. Many of those who can afford it are moving to the capital, where the murder rate last year was half the national average and much lower than that in some big American cities, including Washington.

The policing of Mexico City will come under particular scrutiny as next year’s presidential election nears. That is because governance of the sprawling capital is split between Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of the Federal District, which encompasses the heart of the city, and Enrique Peña Nieto, the governor of the surrounding Mexico State, which mops up just over half of the capital’s 20m residents. Mr Peña is the front-runner for the presidential nomination of the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, whereas Mr Ebrard is vying to carry the flag of the left-of-centre Party of the Democratic Revolution. (His main rival for the nomination, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is himself a former mayor of the capital.)

Mr Ebrard argues that mob recruitment can be stifled by getting young people into school and jobs. Mr Peña wants to hit gangsters’ finances by shrinking the informal economy. But voters may take more note of their records in office than of their campaign promises. Miguel Mancera, the chief prosecutor in the Federal District, boasts that the murder rate there is now lower than in several states that were previously considered much safer than the metropolis. Alfredo Castillo, his opposite number in Mexico State, points out that the homicide rate there is lower still.

The reality is not as rosy as it sounds. The Federal District has indeed moved down the murder league, but only because other places have deteriorated faster. In fact it saw 25% more murders last year than in 2006, when Mr Ebrard came to power. In Mexico State, a statistical revision a year into Mr Peña’s governorship in 2007 saw the murder rate fall by a startling 59%. Thousands of non-criminal deaths had been misclassified, the chief-prosecutor at the time says. Officials stand by the new numbers, but others are not so sure. Mexico State’s criminal statistics are “not very orderly, reliable or even available,” says Juan Francisco Torres Landa of Mexico United Against Crime, a pressure group.

Nine out of ten crimes go unreported in both territories, which means even accurate data on recorded crime would be of limited value. Surveys by ICESI, a research organisation, suggest that whereas the Federal District still has a higher incidence of crime than Mexico State, the latter has been hit harder by drug mobs. Residents there now worry about security almost as much as those in the Federal District; criminals are more likely to carry weapons than in any other state.

Whereas in 2007 there were many more narco-linked murders in the Federal District than in Mexico State, last year Mr Peña’s territory saw three times as many such killings as Mr Ebrard’s. Comparable neighbourhoods seem to do better in the Federal District: Iztapalapa, probably its grittiest barrio, with 1.8m people, had less than half as many narco-related murders last year as Nezahualcóyotl, a district of similar average income with 1.1m people, which lies the other side of the state line.

Saturation policing helps maintain order in the Federal District. Mexico has more cops per head than the United States. In the capital one person in 100 is a police officer. Even when those guarding public buildings are removed from the total, there are more than twice as many police per person as in Mexico State. There are several army bases, and 11,000 new CCTV cameras keep watch.

It helps, too, that the city has a single police force, whereas in all other states there are also dozens of often-corrupt municipal forces (Mexico State has 125). Pressure from mayors has stalled the federal government’s plan to abolish municipal forces. Mr Castillo envies his counterpart’s ability to summon 5,000 officers to police a football match, for instance. “When they captured La Barbie [Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a narco kingpin arrested in Mexico State last year], they asked him why he hadn’t gone to the Federal District. He said it was attractive but operationally difficult simply because of the presence of all the police,” says Mr Mancera.

“Organised crime does not necessarily involve violence,” cautions Ernesto López Portillo of the Institute for Security and Democracy, an NGO. The Federal District may see relatively few mafia-linked murders, but it hums with illegal business, from the pirate-DVD vendors on every street corner to the enormous Tepito market, where everything from exotic animals to automatic weapons freely changes hands. The city’s airport and banks attract plenty of shady custom. There is “no doubt” that the gangs which run the capital’s illegal markets are linked to the drugs “cartels”, Mr López Portillo says.

Corruption makes this possible. The police and prosecutors of both Mexico City and State are the most open to bribery in the country, according to the Mexican branch of Transparency International, a Berlin-based NGO. This month Mr Castillo’s office arrested 16 municipal policemen on suspicion of working with a local criminal gang called “The Hand with Eyes”. Tip-offs from corrupt officers cost as little as 1,000 pesos ($85), he says. Little wonder, then, that under 10% of residents of Mexico City and State trust their local officers, among the lowest rates in the country. Civic organisations have taken to going in groups to report crimes and setting up advice booths outside prosecutors’ offices.

The records of both Mr Ebrard and Mr Peña on security are greatly flattered by the failures of their counterparts in some other parts of Mexico. It is worrying that despite lying far from the centres of the drugs business they preside over such thoroughly corrupt criminal-justice apparatuses. If Mr Ebrard has a slight edge in keeping a lid on violence, that is mainly because he has a big, unified police force. That is something both men might bear in mind on the way to the presidency.


  1. The Economist talks about the 2012 selection and mentions only the PRI and PRD? And where is the PAN in this analysis? And really, where also is the PRD?

    All observers of this election should know that the PRI and PAN are only going to allow one of their own two parties' politicians to take presidential office. No PRD man need apply. And Calderon has now sunk the PAN therefore it will be the PRI that Mexico's elites and the US government will allow into power for the next 6 years. They will not allow the PRD entrance even if they were to win the actual vote.

    From this starting reality stems the basic corruption of Mexican society. It simply is not a real democracy and the corporate elites run that country without much regard to the peoples' actual will. And the Mexican military guarantees that elite power must remain unchallenged without blood flowing freely. It is the Catholic Church, Mexico's business community, the US government, and the PRI and PAN against the Mexican people. Dictatorship, supported by international outside players, who run Mexico for their own profit. The drug cartels are like barnacles on this ship of the powerful. What are the common people to do?

  2. Mexico is a third word country DUH! For the forseable future it will remain such,super upper class,puppet politicians,corruption,massive abuse of power, the BIG deal is Mexico is unsafe. China and a handful of Asian countrys are 3rd world BUT they are safe,They have effective law enforcment. I don't care who the Preasident is or what party takes power so long as the REFORMS started are expanded and Mexico starts crawling out of the stinking mess it is.

  3. that's an easy one, all the bad guys live in D.F., and everyone know that you don't shit where you eat.

  4. Mexico a third world country? Have you ever traveled outside of the familiarity of your own country? Anyone who has, or that has any awareness of the world outside the US and Europe knows that Mexico is not a third world country. Mexico has a working democracy, it is a country that in most places is much safer than Washington DC (our nation's capital city if your unaware), and it is amongst the wealthiest nations in the world both in terms of GNP as well as on a per capita basis. Mexico has a working legal system that in most cases functions without corruption, and as an American doing business in Mexico for more than a decade has benefited from the law and order that their courts have provided. Mexico also has a working government that collects taxes and provides a level of services for its people that third world countries do not.

    There is doubt that Mexico has a lot to correct and address, but the country is full of men and women that are working to continually improve their country and many have given their lives in this effort. Making such uninformed generalizations as "Mexico is a third world country" and "the BIG deal is Mexico is unsafe" is unfair, inaccurate, and unproductive. I've traveled to Mexico two or three times every month since the late 1990s, and throughout the current "drug war". I have never seen a shoot out, been kidnapped, or been a victim of any of the crimes that are sensationalized in our media (but I did get my suburban stolen in Dallas last March). Most of Mexico is very safe and full of good people. Rather than kicking a country while its down, or rather, while the country begins to enforce its drug policy and address corruption; lets recognize that Mexico is a continuously improving country that has already achieved more for its people than what most countries in the world have, and encourage the country.

  5. I am Angry with Mexico therefore the harsh words,I am also in fear that Mexico will stop its reforms,I hear Journalists Mexican and American bashing Calderon "THE WAR ON DRUGS" It disturbs me deeply that I do not see overwhelming public support for what I see as an attempt to Overhaul Mexicos INSTITUTIONS. I don't mean to kick Mexico I mean to challenge to create action.

  6. Jensen at May 29- 2:26 PM: Your depiction of Mexico does NOT square with the daily reports from Mexico as found in BorderLandBeat, La Polaka, El Blog del Narco, etc.. I am guessing that your frequent trips to Mexico make you an expert in avoiding problems. You also must have some expertise in whatever you do down there. You give no info on your trips in and out of Mexico or your background.

    You sound like and apologist for Mexico. I agree with some of what you write positively about Mexico. But, I think it is a "failed State" in that so-called justice is unavialable except for those that can buy it. In Mexico, one can muder, rape, assault, cheat, steal, blaa blaa without fear of the law. It is why vigilante groups form (too few) and try to deal with the crime and corruption at official levels.

    Why, don't you do us a favor and read the several years of BorderlandBeat postings (including gruesome videos and pictures) and then get back to us with your modified "apologist's" perspectives.


  7. Good article GG.

    Jasen the Mexican legal system does not work. Corruption and impunity are rampant and institutional. If you have seen Presunto Culpable and you still think it works, you are hallucinating. If you haven't seen it, please see

    Mexicans have little confidence in their public institutions, legal and otherwise, with good reason. You can get away with anything in Mexico including murder. The police do not catch criminals they collect bribes. Same with judges, politicians, prosecutors and anyone in a position of power in a public agency. Plata o plomo is alive and well. However, things are changing for the better and there is every reason for hope.

    Whether Mexico is a 3rd world country or a failed state is a meaningless, racist conversation. Mexico is the US's southern neighbor and the US has never helped Mexico enough much less understood Mexico from any viewpoint other than imperialist. Obama seems to be trying but he doesn't understand foreign relations and he is kind of star-struck by Europe.

    In my opinion, US foreign policy and aid should focus on Canada, Mexico and Central America - then comes everybody else.

    I hear one reason crime is a bad idea in the DF is that they have surveillance cameras everywhere. The last time I was in DF they were installing more cameras around the Auditorio Nacional. I believe progress is being made. More US help and trust.

  8. @May 30, 2011 12:31 PM

    WTF are you talking about? "It disturbs me deeply that I do not see overwhelming public support for what I see as an attempt to Overhaul Mexicos INSTITUTIONS." Maybe you should read this and restate your opinion:

    @May 30, 2011 1:01 PM
    Your a moron. "Your depiction of Mexico does NOT square with the daily reports from Mexico as found in BorderLandBeat, La Polaka, El Blog del Narco, etc.. "

    Well no shit Sherlock. When all you read is BB, blog de narco your going to get a grim picture, when its not. I bet you probably think all this violence is happening all over Mexico right? When its not. The violence is located in some states. I wonder why you couldn't even mention some credible newspapers in Mexico? Oh yeah I forgot, its not yellow journalism the way you like. So before you call Jensen out, maybe you should actually do some research before you open your mouth. You don't have a clue what is happening in Mexico. Americans think they know whats happening in Mexico from reading a few blogs hahahahhaha...freakin pathetic.

    -A person who actually lives in Mexico.

  9. @ 1:52 "Credible newspapers in Mexico"? You mean like the ones that got together and agreed publish as much positive news about Mexico as possible and to de-emphasize news about the drug war, narcos, cartels, etc?

    You sound like you have joined the head-in-the-sand crowd. "Everything is just fine. Those chopped up, tortured bodies, heads cut off, mass graves of 100-200 bodies, attacks on public buses are just isolated incidents." Well, I'm so relieved to hear that from someone who lives in Mexico and reads all those great newspapers who are not intimidated by the cartels and certainly don't take their money.

  10. @May 31, 2011 2:30 AM

    Credible newspapers in Mexico, yes those credible newspapers that refuse to publish narco propaganda like all these little blogs do. So narcos can't get their message across and not knowingly actually work in favor of them in the process and encourage the barbaric actions they commit. The same newspapers who look after the interest of Mexico and not decide to publish yellow journalism. YES those credible newspapers which actually have ETHICS!!

    "You sound like you have joined the head-in-the-sand crowd." No I actually know whats going on very clear in MY COUNTRY and know where not to travel in certain parts of Mexico. But the overall majority of Mexico "is just fine." But of coarse its hard to convince a dumba** American who gets all their news about Mexico from narco blogs right? Oh yes Americans are such experts on Mexico after reading BB and blog de narco, give me a f**kin break? You don't have a clue gringo, you're lost in the sauce as you can ever be moron. How about you stick to your county and stop trying to tell me how bad things are in mine WHEN YOU DO NOT EVEN LIVE HERE! WHEN YOU ACTUALLY LIVE HERE THAN MAYBE YOUR OPINION WILL MATTER BUT FOR NOW PUT A PUT A CORK IN IT. JAJAJA AN AMERICAN TRYING TO TELL ME HOW MEXICO REALLY IS JAJAJAJA...VERY PATHETIC.

    -A person who actually lives in Mexico.


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