Fadlala Akabani Hneide
Minister of Economic Development
Mexico City Ministry of Economic Development
Expert Contributor

Mexico’s New Security Strategy Focuses on Socioeconomic Causes

By Fadlala Akabani | Fri, 08/05/2022 - 11:00

 From the year 2000, when Vicente Fox Quezada became president of Mexico, until June 2022, the country recorded a total of 457,421 intentional homicides. Exactly 40 percent occurred during the two administrations of the political party PAN (2000-2012) and 34 percent during the return of PRI with Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). In those years, the strategy to tackle organized crime was based on direct confrontation, especially against drug cartels. The administration of Felipe Calderon Hinojosa (2006) unleashed a wave of violence and homicides in Mexico when he declared an open war against drug trafficking.

The surge of violence in Mexico has a very clear starting point. Calderon received the country with 10,452 murders in 2006 and handed it over in 2012 with nearly 26,000 deaths, which is an increase of 140 percent. Next, Peña left the presidency with 36,685 homicides in 2018, an increase of 41 percent from the beginning of his six-year term.

In contrast, the current administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has decreased intentional homicides by 9 percent (from 36,661 in 2019 to 33,316 in 2021). Today, there are more violent deaths than when Calderon was in office only because his confrontational strategy failed.

The effects of such a strategy have caused irreparable damage to Mexican society. During Calderon’s six-year term, thousands of young people joined the ranks of organized crime due to the lack of school and job opportunities, or because of death threats from the cartels. After military forces captured a few leaders of drug trafficking organizations, new and more violent leaders emerged. They began to fight each other over smaller shares of territory and diversified into other crimes, such as extortion, kidnapping and car theft. Thus, the result was an exponential growth in the number of crimes and homicides, including those innocent victims considered “collateral damage” by the war narrative.

The explanation of former President Calderon for declaring a war against drug lords was that: “They were allowed, because (previous governments) thought: if I don't mess with them, they won't mess with me. Now they (cartels) are in the kitchen because the door has been open, and they assume ownership. What we must do is to face them and get them out of the kitchen,” he said at a public event announcing the first military operations. In fact, Calderon wrote in his 2020 book that the cartels had already been embedded into Mexican society and institutions since Fox's term, when the latter told him: "You don't have to mess with that." In this same book, Calderon published a letter sent to Lopez Obrador in 2019 stating: “With much due respect, I suggest you, Mr. President, check the house well.”  

Currently, Calderon's former minister of public security is under investigation for having links to the same groups they had declared war on. Genaro Garcia Luna, architect of the war against organized crime, friend, and adviser to Calderon, was arrested in Texas in 2019 after being accused during the last trial of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman. In fact, Jesus “El Rey” Zambada stated that he personally gave García Luna a suitcase with US$5 million in 2006 to allow the Sinaloa Cartel to operate freely. Also, in 2012, another drug lord, Edgar Valdez Villareal, "La Barbie," said in court that Garcia Luna was on the Sinaloa Cartel payroll. It is not hard to see that Calderon’s minister of public security welcomed the Sinaloa Cartel into the kitchen in exchange for multimillion-dollar bribes. Nevertheless, Calderon declared on social media that he doesn’t know the details and is waiting for more information about the charges against Garcia Luna. Meanwhile, prosecutors from the US government are gathering evidence for the next trial.          

At the morning conference on June 23, 2022, President Lopez Obrador answered questions concerning the current security strategy and the García Luna case. He said that: “A problem that has been going on for years cannot be solved overnight. … Calderon's minister of public security was the protector of a criminal group. What happened was very serious, since it was an oligarchy government, which had control over the media. … They say there are more murders now than in Felipe Calderón's time. Yes, but we received high rates of homicides and Calderon did not receive the country like that.” In figures, Lopez Obrador inherited a country with a 313 percent increase in the number of homicides between 2007 and 2018.

Moreover, Lopez Obrador added that the criminal groups “that had an agreement with García Luna could act with impunity. Those who did not have an agreement were confronted. They (previous governments) never understood the causes, they never understood the young people, because they despise the poor, they despise the people, that is the bottom of the matter. They are classist, they are racist. We did not live in a democracy; it was an oligarchy.” The current security strategy precisely recognizes that reality, by mainly addressing the reasons why young people join organized crime. The poorest families are given the opportunity to have more stable sources of income through social programs such as Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro (Youth Building the Future) for training and employment opportunities, Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life), the biggest reforestation program in the world aimed at small farmers, a universal pension for people with disabilities and adults who are 65 years old and older, and the Benito Juarez universal scholarships for public high-school students. After a failed security strategy based on direct confrontation, prioritizing the socioeconomic causes of crime is the only way left to build peace.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum also shares this view. She has implemented since the beginning of her administration in 2018 a security strategy based on four axes: 1) Attention to causes, 2) More and better police, 3) Intelligence and investigation, and 4) Coordination. Some actions in relation to this strategy include: 300 community centers called PILARES, the “Mi Beca para Empezar” (My scholarship to start) universal scholarship for public elementary and secondary school students, the Rosario Castellanos public university, 45 percent salary increase for police officers, police professionalization in investigations, 50,239 new surveillance cameras across the city, and weekly collaboration meetings with federal and municipal authorities. The results to this day are significant: 60 percent reduction in homicide rates, 59 percent reduction in high impact crime, 3,923 detentions of violent criminals, and 171 crime organizations detained. This new security strategy is effectively working, bringing peace to the streets and favorable conditions for economic development.