01/02/14 – (by cmolzahn) During his campaign and the initial stages of his presidency, President Enrique Peña Nieto promised Mexicans a change in the government’s organized crime strategy, pledging a more creative, less improvisational approach to the ongoing security crisis in certain areas of the country. Nevertheless, his administration has reacted to the worsening public security situation particularly in the Pacific states of Michoacán and Guerrero with a 50% increase in soldiers deployed to carry out public security forces, with several municipalities currently under the control of the Mexican armed forces. According to a report in La Jornada, the 50% increase in soldiers deployed along with a 20% increase in Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) agents involved in public security operations have not translated to a significant decrease in organized crime activity.
President Enrique Peña Nieto (right) takes office in December 2012 from former President Felipe Calderón (left). Photo: Wikimedia Commons
While official data points to a decrease in homicides in 2013 as compared with the previous year, rates of extortions and kidnappings are up in 2013 as compared with 2012. Between December 2012 and October 2013 there were 7,300 complaints of extortion, 606 more than during the same period a year prior. Moreover, Mexico’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) reported that during the first eleven months of 2013 there were 1,583 kidnappings reported to state attorney general’s offices, up from 1,196 during the same period in 2012, representing a 32% increase. The states with the highest incidence of kidnapping in 2013 have been Guerrero, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Morelos, the State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), Veracruz and Tabasco. Of these, Guerrero reported the greatest increase in kidnappings, surging from 69 reported cases in 2012 to 228 during 2013.
In November 2012, Peña Nieto presented his organized crime strategy, which was to involve dividing the country into five regions and the creation of specialized police units to address security issues particular to individual regions, but this proposal has yet to materialize. He also proposed the creation of a National Gendarmerie (Gendarmería Nacional), a police force of 40,000 soldiers from the Army (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) and Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) but with a civilian command, dedicated exclusively to combating crime in the municipalities, which have proven most susceptible to corruption by organized crime groups. The intention was for the Gendarmerie to eventually replace the Mexican armed forces in the public security role they have acquired during the past two presidential administrations. In his first meeting with the National Security Council (Consejo Nacional de Seguridad), however, Peña Nieto announced that the corporation would be launched with 10,000 agents. In June, the initial police body was further scaled back to 5,000, none of which will be soldiers, likely because of resistance from the Mexican armed forces to relinquish highly trained soldiers. Recruits must pass a rigorous series of physical, psychological and confidence exams, which, while universally accepted as a positive, makes finding qualified individuals outside of the armed forces particularly challenging. Moreover, it was revealed that despite initial proposals, the Gendarmerie would be made an additional division of the Federal Police, as opposed to an autonomous agency. The initial contingent of the Gendarmerie is scheduled to be fully operational in July 2014, though Public Security Secretary (Comisionado Nacional de Seguridad) Manuel Mondragón y Kalb announced in December that agents are already operating in tourist areas of Acapulco, the city of Puebla, and Monterrey, as well as several municipalities in the State of Mexico and the Federal District (Distrito Federal, DF).
Eduardo Guerrero, director of public policy consulting group Lantia Consultores, said that the National Gendarmerie was launched without a clear idea of what they would accomplish, a fact he considers unfortunate given the need for a stronger state presence in the rural municipalities. Guerrero believes that in order to be effective, the force must be oriented toward preventing crime, for which the proposed number of agents will be insufficient. Moreover, the federal budget allocated just $4.5 billion pesos ($344 million USD) for the Gendarmerie for 2014, less than 10% of that allocated to the Mexican Army, and roughly 18% of the Navy’s share.
Guerrero’s lack of confidence in the government’s methodology is shared by many Mexicans. According to polling firm Consulta Mitofsky, Peña Nieto had the lowest approval rating entering office (54%) since Ernesto Zedillo in 1994 (42%). His approval rating has since fallen to 49.7%, also the lowest after a year of presidency since Zedillo (43.3%). This low perception of both the security situation in Mexico and of the government’s willingness or ability to confront it has resulted in an unprecedented wave of vigilante groups, particularly in the Pacific states of Guerrero and Michoacán. As a result, 47 of Michoacán’s 113 municipalities have felt the presence of such groups, with their presence continuing to spread, despite the state and federal governments’ continued insistence that they would not. Eduardo Guerrero said that a force like the Gendarmerie adequately staffed and funded and properly implemented will be required to gain the public trust and counter the presence of such groups, and estimates that it will take between eight and 12 months to create the ties with communities necessary to evaluate and respond to their specific security challenges.
Despite these setbacks, the Peña Nieto administration can claim some success during its first full calendar year. Through November, the official number of intentional homicides during Peña Nieto’s tenure was 18,454, down from 21,728 cases from December 2011 through November 2012, a 15% decline. It must be noted, though, that homicides were already in decline during the final months of the Calderón administration; between October 2012 and October 2013 there was a decline of just 3.2%, while the decline in the monthly average of homicides during the last four months of 2012 (which includes one month of Peña Nieto’s administration) and all of 2013 was less than 1%. It is also important to point out that 2012’s numbers were revised upward in May of 2013, as will likely be the case for 2013’s data. Moreover, this spring the Mexican government made the decision to stop differentiating organized crime-related homicides, making it difficult to accurately gauge success in that arena. In the fight against organized crime, several high-profile arrests have been made under Peña Nieto’s watch, including Javier Torres Félix and Manuel Aguirre Galindo of the Arellano Félix cartel; and Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, leader of the Zetas criminal organization. Also arrested during Peña Nieto’s first year were Mario Armando Ramírez Treviño, leader of the Gulf Cartel; and Marcelino Ticante Castro, considered one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s highest-ranking members. Nevertheless, overall organized crime-related arrests are down nearly 33% from 2012.
According to a document the Attorney Genera’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) submitted to the Associated Press, recent anti-cartel efforts have dealt the biggest blow to the Zetas criminal organization. It also details 12 separate drug trafficking organizations operating in Mexico, including several little-known groups, such as the Cartel del Poniente, and the La Corona and Los Rojos criminal organizations. The AP requested the document detailing cartel leaders sought after, captured or killed during the Peña Nieto administration. After losing an appeal before the Federal Institute for Access to Information and Protection of Data (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos, IFAI), the Mexican government turned the document over, though omitted the names of the 53 capos from the list of 122 still being sought after. Of the 69 cartel leaders captured, Los Zetas were by far the hardest hit, suffering 23 arrested and four killed. This focus on the Zetas was consistent with former President Calderón’s priorities, and comes as no shock to security experts. “It doesn’t surprise me, since the final two years of the Calderón government, the Mexican government focused on combating Los Zetas, which are the most violent against the population in general,” said Jorge Chabat, security and organized crime expert at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, CIDE). The second most-impacted group was the Cártel del Poniente, which operates primarily in the northern states of Coahuila and Durango. 17 of its members were detained. The Sinaloa Cartel led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán followed with seven arrests and two killed.
Security analysts Rodrigo Salazar of the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Flasco) and César Velázquez of the Iberian-American University (Universidad Iberoamericana) agree that despite his campaign promises, there has been no significant change in public security strategy between the administrations of former President Calderón and Peña Nieto, both of which center around the use of the military to respond to organized crime activity. Both analysts commented that the most notable change has been a shift in discourse, with the Peña Nieto administration addressing organized crime violence much less in the media than that of Calderón who, according to Salazar, had a communications strategy “centered in the war [against drug trafficking],” which he characterizes as “one of Calderón’s most dramatic errors.”
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