Despite Mexico’s strengthening democracy and booming economy, the country’s security crisis rages on. Fifty thousand people have been killed in the past five years due to drug and organized crime-related violence.
“The sense of fear and the sense of helplessness has extended beyond the areas that are mostly affected by the increasing violence,” says Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence officer. “It has changed the national conversation in Mexico, and it has changed the way Mexicans think of their country.”
The crisis has been driven by many factors, experts say, including the Mexican government’s offensive against drug-trafficking organizations, which began in December 2006. And while the country has enjoyed steady economic growth in recent years, economic inequality has left millions of Mexicans on the margins. “Those are the types of populations that the drug cartels or gangs look to and often recruit from,” says Shannon K. O’Neil, CFR’s Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies. Meanwhile, Mexico’s weak security and justice institutions, prone to inefficiency and corruption, have been “quite unable to deal with this level of violence,” argues Hope.
While Mexico is unlikely to become a truly failed state, its drug war has had a destabilizing impact on the region, says Stewart M. Patrick, director of CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance Program. Yet the international community has done very little to address Mexico’s security crisis.
The United States can play a big role in helping Mexico, says O’Neil, by improving border security, cracking down on money laundering and gun trafficking, and also by embarking on “a real discussion” about drug demand in the United States, which is a major market for Mexico’s drug trade.