When speaking of failed states, countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Haiti come to mind: countries that are well-publicized in the news for the complete disintegration of their government structures and economic activity, often accompanied by international intervention and all-out war. Thus, it seems almost incredible for some to say that if nothing is done to staunch the rising tide of blood in Mexico, the second largest economy of Latin America might start to resemble a failed state.
Mexico has now reached a level of violence surpassing that of any other state in the Western hemisphere. Drug cartels have effectively gained control over most of the northern part of the country. Some analysts say that the violence has decreased in certain regions; others maintain that this is simply a lull and that the worst is yet to come. Whether or not Mexico is on the path towards failed statehood is only relevant through the enormity of the scope of simply asking the question itself.
The future of Mexico looks questionable, with certainly not much reason to hope for the strengthening of democratic institutions, which would eradicate the failed state question once and for all. Mexico is perhaps facing its biggest dilemma yet: it must fight one of the most violent and subversive wars on drugs in the world under the leadership of a government many already believe to be corrupt – despite the fact that it has only been in power for a month.
Indeed, the Mexican people have never had much choice to begin with in terms of political parties. Two parties have dominated Mexico since the Revolutionary War, starting with the 71-year dominance of the corrupt Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). The PRI lost control of the country in 2000 to the more conservative Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), who have spent the past twelve years ruling with a much more concentrated approach, decentralizing power across the country in the hopes of imbibing the governors and police chiefs with enough power to take back control of their regions from the drug kingpins.
Most agree that the legacy left by the recently ousted PAN president, Felipe Calderón, is a mixed bag. He promised to take a hard line approach to the drug war, saying, “History will judge and remember those who fought for a free Mexico, free from the yoke of crime and delinquency” as his excuse for his launching counterattacks. Calderón’s efforts at a hard-line approach only increased the number of homicides during his administration, which swelled to 36% higher than during the previous administration. His approach dispatched the military to various conflict regions with the singular task of capturing the cartel heads, splintering the cartels into smaller and deadlier units. It has seen limited success, as his government stopped counting the number of homicides due to organized crime after it reached 47,500; Calderón’s defeated last words of note on the drug war classified it as “impossible” to stop.
Enter Enrique Peña Nieto, who was sworn in on December first as Mexico’s 57th president, and the first PRI president the country has had since 2000. He faces the twofold disadvantage of being elected to Mexico’s highest office through a party that has a distrusted autocratic legacy in Mexico, as well as having to fight an internal war of escalating violence. He has made two promises of immense importance: to halve the murder rate – a task, again, that Calderón deemed impossible, and to ensure good governance by the PRI.
The start of the solution to both of these promises is increased transparency within Mexico’s government. Promises that the PRI “has changed” are all very well as beginner steps towards ensuring a more open democracy in Mexico, however they do nothing to reassure the public that the government has a real commitment towards eradicating the violence that has engulfed the country and eradicating the corruption that caused the PRI’s disrepute. In the all out war between government and cartel that Calderón began, there can be no room for doubt in peoples’ minds that the government truly is on their side.
Measures that could be taken include having investigators, with no political affiliation, as the ones overseeing corruption charges, rather than the political appointees used by Calderón. This will allay fears that the public has of deals being struck between government and cartel, blurring the line between what is just and what is convenient. Judicial reform for open trials needs to be properly implemented, to ensure that the cartel leaders captured during the Calderón presidency have fair and open trials and rule of law does not become a casualty of drug war fanaticism. Nieto has proposed policies in this vein: his goals upon assuming office include creating an anti-corruption panel and a citizen-led agency to oversee spending. By implementing such policies that advance transparency as part of the agenda to fight the drug war, Nieto would be advancing the long-term interests of both the PRI and Mexico.
Mexico faces many challenges in the years ahead. It may not be a failed state, but without the implementation of transparency measures that will help repudiate the PRI as a legitimate political party and strengthen Mexico’s legal system, its democratic future will stay in its current state of jeopardy. Transparency measures would see the PRI leading the charge away from the policies and history that have led Mexico to this particular moment in time, where it, for better or worse, is being considered as a possibility for a failed state. The PRI must prove that they are a valid political party, free from their autocratic and corrupt past, in order to be taken seriously by the cartels as a true force to be reckoned with.
Before deciding whether or not to continue with the violence of the war started by Calderón, Nieto must establish himself and his party as a legitimate agent of change. With this first step towards greater transparency acting as a foundation upon which to strengthen the rest of the democratic institutions, Mexico must inevitably find it easier to make rule of law prevail, and move away from even the question of a doubt that it might ever find itself a failed state. And eventually, hopefully, Calderón will be proved wrong – ending the drug war might not be impossible after all.
– Clara Bonnor
(Featured photo: World Economic Forum, Creative Commons, Wylio)