New Justice in Mexico and Wilson Center Report: The U.S. Fentanyl Boom and the Mexican Opium Crisis: Finding Opportunities Amidst Violence?

 

02/11/19- Fentanyl overdoses in the United States have risen tenfold in just four years and are now related to 60% of total opioid deaths. According to a working paper by Romain LeCour Grandmaison, Nathaniel Morris and Benjamin T. Smith, the dramatic increase of fentanyl use in the United State is generating a parallel and rapid collapse in the price offered for raw opium in rural Mexico. In the working paper titled “The U.S. Fentanyl Boom and the Mexican Opium Crisis: Finding Opportunities Amidst Violence?” the authors utilize the case studies of two villages in Nayarit and Guerrero, Mexico, respectively, to analyze the socio-political effects of U.S. fentanyl use on the opium and heroin economy in Mexico. The findings of this study have important implications for public security in Mexico, as well as major ramifications for international counter-drug efforts.

The authors provide historical context to illustrate the trends in the Mexican opium markets. There were various increases and declines in the production of the drug within Mexico before the 1990s. A notable change to opium production came with the introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, which gradually increased price competition until 2008, thereby negatively affecting Mexican rural communities. As a result, many farmers turned to the cultivation of narcotics. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the number of hectares of opium poppies in Mexico increased from 1,900 hectares in 2000 to 44,100 hectares in 2017.

 

The authors illustrate the effects of the shift from heroin to fentanyl through two case studies: Village A, located in Nayarit, and Village B, located in Guerrero. Both villages are poorer than the national average with 61.6% of the population of Village A and 33% of the population of Village B living in extreme poverty. Additionally, both villages are located in states that face high levels of violence.

The people of Village A have traditionally depended on agriculture for their livelihoods. Beginning the in mid-1980s, the inhabitants began depending on the cultivation of opium poppies and, to a lesser extent, marijuana to supplement their income with very little knowledge of the laws prohibiting these narcotics. However, with the fentanyl crisis, the last year has seen a more than 50% decline in the price of opium in Village A from 18,000 – 20,000 pesos ($950 – $1,050 dollars) per kilo in early 2017 to 8,000 pesos ($420 dollars) per kilo by mid-2018. As a result, some villagers have emigrated while other have become wage-laborers for drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) that they previously had little contact with.

According to the authors, 95% of males in Village B are involved in poppy production. While most people are involved in cultivation, a substantial number is also involved in the processing of opium paste into heroin. Local drug bosses sell the pure heroin to bigger organizations that are capable of selling and transporting the drug. Before the fentanyl crisis, a local farmer could make around 80,000 pesos ($4,230 dollars) a year through poppy cultivation. However, between October 2017 and the summer of 2018, prices dropped to 6,000 pesos ($315 dollars) a kilo. As with the case of Village A, locals are concerned that should the decline in prices continue, they would be forced to leave their village. The problems confronting the inhabitants of Village A and B signal larger trends, such as the value of opium to rural communities in Mexico and the radical decrease of value of opium over the past year.

 

 

The authors offer that the current opium crisis may provide an opportunity to shift from their dependency on illicit crops and away from drug trafficking. The high risk involved in the production of narcotics that was previously outweighed by large returns may no longer be worth it as a result of price declines. In their paper, the authors examine two alternatives widely touted by politicians as solutions to poverty and violence: drug legalization, which could convert the cultivation of opium into morphine production for Mexican hospitals, and crop substitution, or the replacement of the cultivation of illicit crops for food cultivation. The authors find neither of these solutions are “silver bullets.” Additionally, although there has been a reduction in heroin production, this will not likely lead to lasting peace, as DTOs are liable to move to other illicit activities. Despite these concerns, if legalization and crop substitution are properly implemented and combined with broader security policies, they could integrate rural areas into the country for good.

 

 

New Working Paper: Immigration and National Security: An Empirical Assessment of Central American Immigration and Violent Crime in the United States

 

January 25, 2019- In his first primetime Oval Office address, President Donald Trump called on Congress to address what he called a “growing humanitarian and security crisis” at the United States’ southern border, spawned in part by the recent arrival of a caravan of 6,500 migrants from Central America’s Northern Triangle region.[1] In her paper, titled “Immigration and National Security: An Empirical Assessment of Central American Immigration and Violent Crime in the United States,” Daphne Blanchard examines the extent of the potential threat by gathering quantitative data of previous Central American migration flows and the impact they have had on violence in American communities. The author contends that as rhetoric from high-level politicians and news media makes connections between violent crime and immigration, political parties’ stances on immigration become more divergent — leading to the inability to agree on comprehensive immigration reform. Not only does this research add to the understanding of the potential threat of these particular migrants to U.S. communities, its findings can be generalized to the overall public debate of the nature of immigration and national security.

 

Foreign-born populations in the US

Data source: U.S. Census Bureau

Ms. Blanchard found that Central American migration has been hyperinflated in scope and potential for insecurity. Migrants from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) region, formed by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, have indeed surged over the past two decades–their numbers more than double the estimated 1.5 million people from that region in 2000–and the number of unaccompanied minors and families crossing the US-Mexico border has dramatically increased since 2008.[2] However, the author argues the importance of putting their numbers in perspective, noting that this subset of immigrants constitutes less than one percent of the share of the overall U.S. population.

 

The evidence compiled by Ms. Blanchard suggests that the surge in migration from the Northern Triangle to the United States has not been accompanied by increases in violent crime that would warrant sounding the national security threat alarm. Not only did overall U.S. violent crime rates descend as Central American migration share rose; but the influx of these foreigners in 27 metro areas showed no correlation when compared to the violent crime rate changes during 2012 to 2017. When compared to homicide rate changes, the weak correlation is even more evident; and in the vast majority of cases, homicide rates declined as immigration climbed significantly. It is interesting to note that the only metro area to experience a reduction in Northern Triangle concentration was Columbus, Ohio, which also experienced a 20 percent rise in homicide rates. Not one of the 27 metros with high concentration of immigrants from the NTCA region is within the top ten of the most violent metros in the United States.

 

Northern Triangle Immigration and Homicides

Data Source: US. Census, FBI Uniform Crime Report

 

The brutal gang of El Salvadoran origins, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and claims of it infiltrating American communities, has received high level attention in social and news media. Ms. Blanchard compiled data to understand the scope and reach of this transnational gang to ascertain its potential ability to disrupt the stability and security of the nation. In her study, Ms. Blanchard found that according to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), approximately ten thousand MS-13 members inhabit the United States, amounting to 0.3 percent of the overall U.S. population.[3] By comparison, there are approximately 1.4 million gang members living in the United States that make up more than 33,000 gangs.[4]  The Cato Institute reports that 0.1 percent of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol arrests at the border mid-year in 2018 were MS-13 gang members, similar to the statistics from prior years.[5] Of the 1.2 million violent crime offenses committed in the United States between 2012 and 2017, 345 were committed by members of the MS-13 gang.[6] Therefore, the author contends that although a legitimate concern for the communities which it inhabits, this criminal organization does not have the potential to disrupt the security of the United States as a whole. She suggests that the violence of this subgroup of a subgroup should be addressed at a local level and separated from the immigration dialogue. Ms. Blanchard contends that the conflating of all immigrants with the MS-13 gang, as has been done repeatedly through President Trump’s tweets and speeches, is unfounded and problematic.

The author offers several policy recommendations to address the surge in Central American migration, to reduce the burden on host countries, and to facilitate balanced immigration dialogue. First, the author suggests engaging media, community, and non-governmental organizations in an effort to balance the dialogue surrounding the migrants and inform the American public of the extent of the threat, thus encouraging fact-based immigration policy-making and aiding in the migrants’ assimilation. The author also urges these groups to highlight the positive results occurring in the Northern Triangle region to audiences in both in the NTCA and the United States. She contends that the hopelessness that drives migrants from their homes could be replaced with increased confidence in local governance and civic action to support the ongoing efforts towards stability and economic opportunities.

Ms. Blanchard calls on the United States government to offer sustained and increasing support to sending communities to reduce the push factors of migration. In addition, Ms. Blanchard urges the United States to support other host countries to create additional safe havens in the region through the offsetting of the onboarding costs and engaging in cooperative security initiatives. She points out that if Mexico is unable to shoulder the burden of absorbing the new arrivals or if the migrants are unable to find safe haven in Mexico, the United States is obligated by international law to hear their asylum claims on U.S. soil. Another recommendation the author offers is to give priority to bilateral workforce development initiatives that have the potential to reduce the need to migrate northward. Finally, Ms. Blanchard suggests that the United States reevaluates the traditional resettlement-based international refugee policy and consider a development-based one, which can transform refugees from a burden to a benefit for the host country.

 

 

Works Cited

[1] Times, The New York. 2019. “Full Transcripts: Trump’s Speech on Immigration and the Democratic Response.” The New York Times, January 9, 2019, sec. U.S. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/08/us/politics/trump-speech-transcript.html.

[2] Lesser, G, and J Batalova. “Central American Immigrants in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute, April 5, 2017.

[3] Cara Labrador, R., and D. Renwick. “Central America’s Violent Northern Triangle.” Council on Foreign Relations, June 26, 2018, Backgrounder edition. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/central-americas-violent-northern-triangle.

[4] “2011 National Gang Threat Assessment.” U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Accessed November 16, 2018. https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/2011-national-gang-threat-assessment.

[5] Bier, David. 2018. “0.1% of Border Patrol Arrests Are MS-13.” https://www.cato.org/blog/01-border-patrol-arrests-are-ms-13.

[6] Vaughan. n.d. “MS-13 Resurgence: Immigration Enforcement Needed to Take Back Our Streets.” Center for Immigration Studies. Accessed October 26, 2018. https://cis.org/Report/MS13-Resurgence-Immigration-Enforcement-Needed-Take-Back-Our-Streets.

Mexico’s crime and violence vis-à-vis the New Criminal Justice System

Map of Mexico with Baja California highlighted

Crime and violence in Baja California increased in 2018. Source: Justice in Mexico.

01/10/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico experienced another record-breaking year in 2018 with high levels of crime and violence. According to data from the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), 27 of Mexico’s 32 states and Federal District saw increases in crime and violence, particularly homicides, in 2018 from 2017. That does not include data from December, notes Vanguardia. Including estimates for December’s projected results, however, SNSP predicts 2018 will close with 34,000-35,000 homicides nationwide. This punctuates the end of former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s sexenio (2012-2018) and the transition to new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024) on December 1, 2018.

Several states saw particularly high levels of violence in 2018, including Guanajuato, Quintana Roo, and Baja California. In the latter, homicides were largely focused in Tijuana, the border-city that has seen dramatic rises in murders the past few years. Initial estimates for 2018 show Tijuana having experienced 2,500 homicides, making it the city’s most violent year on record. As Vanguardia calculates, this equates to seven homicides every 24 hours. In 2017, Tijuana also surpassed Acapulco as the most violent municipality in Mexico, reported Justice in Mexico. This is largely because of an 85% increase in homicide cases over the course of that year. Whereas Tijuana saw 871 homicide cases in 2016, the number rose to 1,618 cases in 2017. Now with the estimated increase to nearly 2,500 homicides in 2018, it is expected to remain one of, if not the most violent municipalities in Mexico.

The New Criminal Justice System

Causes and effects of systemic issues like crime and violence are layered. One factor that plays a role, though, is the criminal justice system that a State has in place. Mexico made historic advances with the approval (2008) and implementation (2016) of the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). Although the goal of the NSJP was not to reduce crime and violence, it was and is expected to do so over time. As the judiciary is fortified and judicial processes become more efficient and effective, it is anticipated to have a positive ripple effect on public security.

Supreme Court

Mexico’s Supreme Court. Source: Supreme Corte de Justicia Nacional

Several voices, however, have recently questioned the NSJP’s role in unintentionally perpetuating insecurity. Attorney José Luis Nasar Da pointed out that the modernization of the public security sector did not parallel that of the justice system. The justice system advanced quickly, while public security has not, creating a gap between the two systems. Justice lags when police and prosecutors’ ability to execute an investigation in a case does not also respect and uphold one’s presumption of innocence. Meanwhile Attorney Carlos Ordaz Rodríguez noted that criminals are able to take advantage of the holes in the justice system. He specifically pointed to the freedom and liberties many accused persons are granted while awaiting investigation and judicial processing, which are tied in with the Attorney General’s limitations in opening and expediting cases.

This connects back with the reporting on increased homicides in Tijuana, Baja California, and Mexico as a whole. As Vanguardia reports, “State and municipal authorities [in Baja California] attribute 80% of homicides to drug trafficking cases and to the New Criminal Justice System.” It continues, “[This] creates a revolving door because it allows the accused to go free even when they were detained in possession of fire arms.”

Response to Critics

In a post from May 2018 titled, “Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico,” Justice in Mexico discussed the counterarguments to such criticisms leveled against the new system. Quoting Karen Silva from the Center of Investigation for Development (Centro de Investigación para el Desarrollo, CIDAC), “The [adversarial] system is not the problem; the problem is the lack of capacity among institutions.” Rather, she argues that the rise in violence can be attributed to a lack of knowledge and skill among criminal justice operators, including police, prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, which perpetuates high levels of impunity. In turn, impunity reinforces a precedent that violent crimes will go unpunished and not be investigated, and it deteriorates citizens’ faith in the judicial sector.

Hence, states across the country, including Baja California, have and continue to make significant advances in the procurement of justice under the new system. This includes the construction of new court rooms, the education and training of justice system operators, and the modernization of judicial procedures, among others to build the capacity of the institutions tasked with implementing justice.

Sources:

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las autoridades mexicanas, incapaces de adaptarse al Nuevo Sistema de justicia.” El País. April 11, 2017.

Sánchez Lira, Jaime Arredondo et. al. “The Resurgence of Violent Crime in Tijuana.” Justice in Mexico. February 2018.

Calderón, Laura et. al. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis through 2017.” Justice in Mexico. April 11, 2018.

“Responses to the Critics of the Judicial Reform in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. May 21, 2018.

“Registra fallas el nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” El Diario de Coahuila. December 8, 2018.

“En el gobierno ya no hay ‘golondrinas en el alambr’: López Obrador.” Informador. December 19, 2018.

Animal Político. “Homicidios crecieron en 27 estados y en 15 alcanzaron niveles récord en 2018.” Vanguardia. December 28, 2018.

La Jornada. “Baja California vivió su año más violento: 2,500 muertos sólo en Tijuana.” Vanguardia. December 31, 2018.

“Usan los delincuentes hueco en código penal.” El Diario de Coahuila. January 3, 2019.

Portal de Obligaciones de Transparencia. “Estadísticas generadas.” Poder Judicial de Baja California. Last accessed January 6, 2018.

Supreme Court determines Law on Internal Security unconstitutional

Supreme Court building

Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation. Source: Wikipedia.

12/30/18 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) made a significant decision in November regarding the proposed Law on Internal Security (Ley de Seguridad Interior). The law was meant to address Mexico’s notoriously high levels of crime and violence. It sought to expand safety on the domestic front, minimize threats towards internal security, and increase the role of the military in domestic affairs. The latter includes the military’s capacity to gather intelligence and evidence in proposed crimes.

On November 15, 2018, however, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional, arguing that it went against both the Mexican Constitution and international treaties to which Mexico is a signatory. The Court also said that Mexico’s Congress, which had approved the law, should not legislate on matters of internal security. When the draft law was published in December 2017, Congress was controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), the party of then-President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). On December 1, 2018, the new government took over under now-President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA) took office.

Critics of the Law on Internal Security

Despite its Congressional support, the law received pushback from civilian institutions and human rights activists. The Washington Office on Latin America shared its concern in a communication just weeks before the Supreme Court’s decision. WOLA noted the control it would have given the military in overseeing civilian authorities in domestic affairs, as well as its expanded role in investigations. “Paired with the absence of effective controls and accountability mechanisms to oversee those actions, this will limit the power of authorities within the civilian justice system, resulting in impunity,” WOLA stated. The law also drew ire from the public. A Change.org petition was submitted a month after the draft law was initially published with over 467,000 signatures urging the Mexican government to reject the law. WOLA summarized that the five main reasons for the public’s rebuke included:

  1. “Lack of accountability mechanisms and civilian oversight;
  2. Expanding the military’s jurisdiction over civilians;
  3. Insufficient regulation of the military’s use of force;
  4. Lack of transparency in how the Internal Security Law will be implemented; [and]
  5. The Internal Security Law disincentives police reform.”

The high court’s decision is one that Esmeralda Arosema de Troitiño, the spokesperson for Mexico’s Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH), argued set a precedent for President López Obrador’s incoming government. The Court’s decision “constitutes an indispensable judicial precedent as the base for the new government to present a concrete plan to gradually draw down military in public security matters…,” she said.

The developments with the Law on Internal Security paralleled President López Obrador’s ongoing push for a National Guard, which has also raised concerns about human rights and public safety.

Sources:

Cámara de Deputados del H. Congreso de la Unión. “Ley de Seguridad Interior.” Diario Oficial de la Federación. December 21, 2017. PDF.

Suarez-Enriquez, Ximena and Maureen Meyer. “Multiple Sectors Push Back Against the Implementation of Mexico’s New Internal Security Law.” WOLA. January 25, 2018.

Joint Statement. “International Observatory on Mexico: The Decision of Mexico’s Supreme Court on the Internal Security Law Will Set a Fundamental Precedent on Militarization in the Country and in the Region.” Washington Office on Latin America. November 2, 2018. 

Ferri, Pablo. “La justicia mexicana tumba la ley del gobierno saliente que perpetúa el papel policial del Ejército.” El País. November 16, 2018.

Roldán, Mariluz. “CIDH celebra invalidación de Ley de Seguridad Interior.” El Universal. November 26, 2018.

“Critics voice concerns over Mexico’s proposed National Guard.” Justice in Mexico. December 24, 2018.

Critics voice concerns over Mexico’s proposed National Guard

infographic, structure / outline of National Guard

Representative Mario Delgado posted this infographic about the National Guard following the sub-committee’s approval. Source: Mario Delgado, Twitter.

12/24/18 (written by kheinle) — The plan to create a National Guard (Guardia Nacional) in Mexico advanced through the first round of congressional approval. On December 20, 2018, the Chamber of Deputies’ (la Cámara de Diputados) Committee on Constitutional Affairs (la Comisión de Puntos Constitucionales) approved the bill 18 votes in favor to 6 against. If full Congress approves, the National Guard would be a 50,000-person armed force created from the ranks of the Mexican military and police. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) proposed the force to address the seriously high levels of crime and violence in Mexico.

The bill would require amending 13 articles of the Mexican Constitution, some of which seek to mitigate concerns of human rights and civilian oversight. As Reuters reported, the constitutional changes “would mean that national guard members receive human rights training, are tried by civil courts and will not be able to move detainees to military institutions.” Initially, the National Guard was also going to be overseen by the Secretary of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA). The bill approved in the Chamber of Deputies’ sub-committee, however, moved much of this control to the Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudana, SSPC). As the Latin America News Dispatch summarized, “While the unit would still be trained militarily, as was originally proposed, jurisdiction would pass to civilian authorities after five years, according to Representative Mario Delgado.” It continued, “The Senate will also be given the power to dissolve the new guard.”

Critics Speak Up

Despite these changes, critics have widely condemned the proposal. Causa en Común, a collective of more than 500 civil society organizations and businesses, among others, delivered a petition to Congress in November 2018 urging their elected officials to reject AMLO’s proposition. For her part, the director of the organization México Evalúa, Edna Jaime, criticized the National Guard in a November 2018 article titled, “No es más de lo mismo, es algo peor” (“It’s not more of the same; it’s worse”). Mexico’s crime and violence, she wrote, is associated with the dysfunctional State, the void of effective governing mechanisms, and a weak institution. The solution “is improving the capacity of the State” and focusing resources at the local levels, Jaime argued. “World peace is sustainable in local-level processes that operate with good mechanisms of global governance.”

DF Mayor speaking at event

Mexico City Mayor Sheinbaum turned down the idea of the National Guard in Mexico City. Source: Vanguardia.

Elected officials also voiced their concern. Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum publicly announced that the National Guard would not be needed in the capital. The police are capable of delivering, she said, adding that the federal and local police forces would work closely together. Congresswoman Lucia Rojas also argued that the National Guard would only deepen the military-focused strategy already in Mexico. “And it’s become clear in the last 12 years,” she said, “that there’s absolutely no evidence that having the army on the streets helps to reduce the violence.” The military’s presence in Mexico’s domestic affairs has also led to an increase in the number of human rights violations perpetrated by members of the military against civilians, an issue that Justice in Mexico explored in a 2012 special report.

At the international level, organizations like the United Nations (UN), Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have expressed concern, too. Jan Jarab of the UN’s Office on Human Rights in Mexico sent a letter to Congress following the Chamber of Deputies’ sub-committee vote. Approval of the bill, he wrote, “would establish at the constitutional level this paradigm of military involvement in security issues, the same one that has contributed to the deterioration of human rights in Mexico.” Jarab continued, “[It] would threaten the possibility of having a capable civil body in the future that could exercise public security in strict accordance with international human rights standards.”

AMLO is not the first Mexican president to pursue the idea of a National Guard. His predecessor, President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), initially called for a 40,000-person force that was eventually scaled down to 5,000. AMLO’s current bill will soon be presented to the full Chamber of Deputies for consideration.

Sources:

Daly, Catherine et al. “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 2012.

June S. Beittel, “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations,” Congressional Research Service, July 3, 2018.

“Mexican president-elect’s party presents national guard plan.” Reuters. November 20, 2018.

Roldán, Maríhiz. “Más de 500 organizaciones manifestan su rechazo a la Guardia Nacional.” El Universal. November 20, 2018.

Angel, Arturo. “Los cambios clave en la propuesta de Guardia Nacional que fue aprobado en comisiones.” Animal Político. December 20, 2018.

Jiménez, Horacio and Alejandra Canchola. “Guardia Nacional arrancaría con mando militar y Senado la podría disolver: Delgado.” El Universal. December 20, 2018.

“Asylum seekers will be sent back to wait in Mexico.” Latin America News Dispatch. December 21, 2018.

“Diputados de México aprueban en comisiones la nueva Guardia Nacional.” RT. December 21, 2018.

Magallán, Antonio. “Sheimbaum se revela contra la Guardia Nacional de AMLO; asegura bastará con la Policía Federal y municipal.” Vanguardia. December 21, 2018.

Sánchez, Citlal Giles. “Preocupa a represenante de la ONU en México creación de la Guardia Nacional.” La Jornada Guerrero. December 22, 2018.