Crime in Mexico
Crime is among the most urgent concerns facing Mexico, as is the case for many other Latin American countries. Mexican drug trafficking rings play a major role in the flow of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana transiting between Latin America and the United States. Drug trafficking has led to corruption, which has had a deleterious effect on Mexico's democracy. Drug trafficking and organized crime have also been a major source of violent crime in Mexico.
Mexico has experienced increasingly high crime rates, especially in major urban centers. The country's great economic polarization has stimulated criminal activity in the lower socioeconomic strata, which includes the majority of the country's population. Crime continues at high levels, and is repeatedly marked by violence, especially in Mexico City, Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Michoacan, and the state of Sinaloa. Other metropolitan areas have lower, yet still serious, levels of crime. Low apprehension and conviction rates contribute to the high crime rate.
The high incidence of crime in Mexico has also poured across the border and influenced crime in the United States, aggravating problems including drugs, illegal immigration, and gangs. To combat this increasing problem, cross-border cooperation has increased between law enforcement agencies in the United States and Mexico in recent years.
|Crime Rates in Mexico per 100,000 inhabitants|
|2000||2001||2002||2003||2004||USA in 2004|
|Murder with firearm||3.45||4.54||3.66||3.53||2.58||3.25|
|Source: 7th and 8th Survey, United Nations|
Analysis of crime statistics in Mexico indicate that although the crime rate has declined over the last 100 years, there has been a significant upswing within the last two decades led by Mexico City. Since many crimes go unreported, the rates may be much higher than reported by the government.
Rape is rarely reported or punished, owing to old social norms, minor penalties for the crime, and criminal laws. In some rural areas, penalties for rape may consist of a few hours in jail, or minor fines.
Assault and theft make up the vast majority of crimes. While urban areas tend to have higher crimes rates, as is typical in most countries, the United States–Mexico border has also been a problem area. However, with increased awareness and resources, the crime rate along the border has declined faster than in the rest of the country.
The United States is a lucrative market for illegal drugs. The United Nations estimates that nearly 90% of cocaine sold in the United States originates in South America and is smuggled through Mexico. Mexico is the largest foreign supplier of marijuana and the second largest source of heroin for the U.S. market. The majority of methamphetamine sold in the United States is made in Mexico, and Mexican-run methamphetamine labs that operate north of the border account for much of the remainder.
Mexican drug cartels play a major role in the flow of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana transiting between Latin America and the United States. These drug cartels often use Mexican-American gangs to distribute their narcotics.
Mexican drug cartels also have ties to Colombian drug traffickers, and other international organized crime. A sharp spike in drug-related violence has some analysts worrying about the 'Colombianization' of Mexico.
Domestic production of illegal drugs
Some illegal drugs are also produced in Mexico, including significant amounts of opium poppy, and marijuana in the western Sierra Madre Mountains region. Often houses in rich areas are converted into laboratories, producing drugs.
Domestic consumption of illegal drugs
Marijuana, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and other drugs are increasingly consumed in Mexico, especially by youths in urban areas and northern parts of the country.
High levels of corruption in the police, judiciary, and government in general have contributed greatly to the crime problem. Corruption is a significant obstacle to Mexico's achieving a stable democracy.
Corruption in the police force
The organization of police forces in Mexico is complex; each police force has a different level of jurisdiction and authority, and those levels often overlap. The Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Attorney General's office) along with the law enforcement agencies Policia Federal Preventiva and Agencia Federal de Investigación , has responsibility for overseeing law enforcements across the entire country. In addition, there are several police organizations at the state, district, and city level. Since pay is generally poor (US$285-$400 per month), police officers are more likely to accept bribes to protect criminals or ignore crime entirely.
Corruption plagues the various levels of police, and is frequently difficult to track down and prosecute since police officers may be protected by district attorneys and other members of the judiciary. The problem is especially pronounced in northern border areas such as Tijuana, where police are engaged by drug traffickers to protect and enforce their illicit interests.
Corruption in the judiciary
A United Nations Special Rapporteur undertook a mission to Mexico in 2002 to investigate reports by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that the country's judiciary and administration of law was not independent. During the course of his visit to a number of cities, the rapporteur observed that corruption in the judiciary had not been reduced significantly. One of the principal issues is that, because the federal courts operate at a relatively high level, most citizens are compelled to seek justice in the inadequate state courts.
Additionally, the rapporteur expressed concerns about such issues as disorganization in the legal profession, difficulties and harassment faced by lawyers, poor trial procedures, poor access to the justice system for indigenous peoples and minors, and lacklustre investigation of many crimes.
Violent crime against journalists
A significant trend of violent crime against journalists has appeared in the country in recent years. Although the problem has existed since at least 1970, 15 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000 alone. Few of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. One of the more prominent cases was that of syndicated columnist Francisco Arratia Saldierna, a prominent and well-known journalist who wrote a column called Portavoz (or "Spokesman"). The column featured topics such as corruption, organized crime, and drug trafficking.
Arratia's murder, which was particularly brutal, and others like it, have sparked demands from other journalists that President Vicente Fox do more to enforce security and bring those responsible for the murders to justice. In 2004, a group of 215 reporters and editors sent an urgent letter to President Fox and other federal authorities, demanding that they address these concerns. The letter represented a massive communication effort coming from professionals from 19 of the nation's 31 states. The key demand was that violent crimes against journalists be made federal crimes, so they would be investigated and prosecuted by federal officers and not by local officials whom the letter claims could be the same people who commit the crimes.
The effect of these crimes has been the voluntary self-censorship of many journalists, due to fears of retribution from criminals. The situation has earned attention from prominent global organziations such as the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Centre for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET). Amerigo Incalcaterra of the OHCHR advocated the protection of journalists and the preservation of freedom of speech, calling it "essential for the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in this country".
Crime in Mexico City
Mexico City's crime rate has begun rising again, after having previously peaked in the late 1990s. Mexico City's inner core has about 8 million people — about the same number as New York City. However, Mexico City's police force is only two-thirds the size of New York City's and is organized into several ill-co-ordinated forces. Policemen earn less than a quarter of their U.S. counterparts, so many officers turn to corruption to augment their pay. And even in the rare cases where criminals do get caught, the courts are often too corrupt and inefficient to punish them.
Effects on tourism
A significant number of United States citizens visit Mexico; the U.S. State Department estimates it at 15 to 16 million per year. Tourists visiting Mexico face a number of problems related to criminal activity, including:
- Extortion by law enforcement and other officials.
- Kidnappings, particularly in northern border cities, Mexico City, and Chiapas.
- Taxi robberies and armed robbery.
- Purse-snatching and pickpocketing.
Due to crime reaching a critical level in Mexico City and many other areas, tourism to Mexico has suffered.
Efforts to combat crime in Mexico
President Vicente Fox took power in December 2000 promising to crack down on crime and improve a judicial system rife with corruption and ineptitude. Upon taking office, he established a new ministry of Security and Police, doubled the pay for police officers, and committed to other ethics reforms. President Fox also cited drug trafficking and drug consumption as the top cross-border priority issue.
During the first three years of Fox's government, the official number of reported kidnappings showed a slight decrease, from 505 in 2001 to 438 in 2003. The new Federal Investigation Agency (Procuraduria de Justicia) reported dismantling 48 kidnapping rings and saving 419 victims.
Cooperation between Mexico and the United States
In 1996, Mexico changed its policy to allow extradition of its citizens to the United States to face trial. Previously, the Constitution had forbidden its citizens to be extradited.
In 2005, the U.S. State Department defended efforts by the two countries to reduce violence and drug trafficking on the border following decisions by governors in the U.S. states of Arizona and New Mexico to declare an emergency in their border counties. The two governors stated that the federal government's inability to control crime and violence related to illegal immigration had forced them to take matters into their own hands. The Mexican government criticized the emergency declarations.
The U.S. state of Texas and Mexican police officials held a conference in San Antonio to discuss ways of coordinating efforts to stop crime but there are questions about how successful the program will be.
Many Mexican police officials in border towns have been targets of assassination by drug cartels, who have even threatened local law enforcement in the United States. . Drug cartels have even acquired equipment like Mexican Army uniforms, Humvees, grenades and .50 calibre sniper rifles which can penetrate most light armour including armoured cars. The United States ambassador launched a formal complaint with the government on this issue.
Rudolph Giuliani in Mexico City
In January 2003, the security consulting company of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was hired by business leaders to come up with a plan to clean up Mexico City, which has the second-highest crime rate in Latin America.
Protest march against crime
In June 2004, at least a quarter of a million people marched through the capital and other cities to protest the failure of federal and local governments to control crime in one of the world's most crime-ridden countries.
Federal forces at the border
In June 2005, the government deployed federal forces to three states to contain surging violence linked to organized crime. At a news conference in Mexico City, presidential spokesman Rubén Aguilar told reporters that the new deployment was the result of evidence that organized crime has penetrated some local police departments.
Technology in Tijuana
In response to a rise in violent crime in the region of Tijuana, considered one of the five most violent areas of the country by the U.S. State Department, mayor Jorge Hank Rhon deployed a massive technology update to the city's police force in February 2006. The technology includes surveillance equipment, handheld computers, and alarm systems. Since tourism is a staple of the economy in Tijuana, the mayor has tried to make reforms to highlight the safety of tourist areas.
The theme of juvenile delinquency Mexico City was treated in 1950 by Luis Buñuel in his film, Los Olvidados.