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Mexico is dan­ger­ously close to becoming a failed state as the cartels grow in power and the gov­ernment weakens. | PanAm Post

Five years ago, I was on a bus in Cordoba, Ver­acruz, located in central Mexico on a mission trip. Winding along the mountain roads, there were regular police check­points we stopped at, where M‑16-toting officers checked the bus. One local pointed out that having the police around should not make me feel safer.

There is no such thing as trusting the author­ities in Mexico. With the extra­or­dinary power of the cartels, there is wide­spread cor­ruption, as many of the police and author­ities work for the cartels.

The vio­lence and cor­ruption of a nation that is largely con­trolled by orga­nized crime syn­di­cates is Mexico’s norm and has been for decades now. Mexico is dan­ger­ously close to becoming a failed state as the cartels grow in power and the gov­ernment weakens. But Mexico is the United States’ third biggest trade partner and one of our biggest oil exporters. The United States has to keep finding ways to work with Mexico.

But Amer­icans are still getting used to the idea of such law­lessness being so close to our own nation, and many were shocked a few weeks ago when women and children, who were dual cit­izens, were caught in an ambush and killed while trav­eling on a road in northern Mexico. Whether it was a matter of mis­taken identity or not, the ambush was most likely part of the con­tinual turf wars between rival Mexican cartels.

Amer­icans are hor­rified by such vio­lence, and though it is a tragedy, it’s simply another day in Mexico. Cartel control and vio­lence are normal, and each new occur­rence in the turf wars shows how the Mexican gov­ernment is giving up sov­er­eignty to the cartels and becoming a failed state.

Amer­icans act as if the murders last week are a sign of Mexico falling into greater vio­lence, but Mexico has been like this for a long time. There is per­vasive cor­ruption at the very highest levels of Mexican gov­ernment, and it’s not uncommon for policemen, politi­cians, and lawyers to be working for the cartels.

Former Mexican Pres­ident Ernesto Zedillo once said that Mexico had three big chal­lenges: “Rule of law, rule of law, and rule of law.” Though Zedillo made that comment nearly twenty years ago, it still rings true today. Just look at Mexico’s 2018 election cycle. Within months of the election season beginning, more than 120 activists and politi­cians were mur­dered and many more threatened by cartels. In Ocampo, Michoacan, politician Fer­nando Ángeles Juárez was mur­dered and the entire police force of the town was detained by federal agents on sus­picion of having been respon­sible for the murder and cor­ruption.

The former Pres­ident Enrique Peña Nieto tried to battle cor­ruption and orga­nized crime by estab­lishing the authority of the state, like his pre­de­cessor Felipe Calderón, but both Calderón and Nieto made little headway. Mean­while, vio­lence and homicide sky­rocketed.

Pres­ident Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected in 2018 on the promises that he would cleanse the country and drive the homicide rates down. But he has since embraced a policy he calls “abrazos, no balazos” — hugs, not bullets. AMLO, as the pres­ident is com­monly known, wants to boost social out­reach to would-be cartel recruits and so end bloodshed and cartel control that way.

But in 2018, Mexico broke a record for murders. Author­ities opened 33,341 murder inves­ti­ga­tions in 2018, which is a 33% uptick from 2017, despite AMLO being pres­ident. Central states like Gua­na­juato have seen murder rates triple since they have become bat­tle­grounds for the com­peting cartels. In the state of Jalisco, there were so many murders that author­ities reported that they ran out of morgue space and had to store victims in a mobile refrig­erated trailer.

The cartels have read AMLO’s new “abrazos, no balazos” policy as weakness and have thus taken even more lib­erties in doing whatever they please as their power and turf wars increase. The Mexican government’s weakness has been high­lighted as it becomes clearer that the cartels hold the most power and sov­er­eignty in Mexico.

This has never been more clear than when the Sinaloa Cartel, which con­trols most of north­western Mexico and the major drug trade routes into New Mexico, Arizona, and Cal­i­fornia, mobi­lized its para­mil­itary wing on Oct. 17 and forced the city of Culiacán to release Ovidio Guzmán, son of the infamous Joaquín Guzmán, better known as “El Chapo.” This was a stunning blow against the Mexican gov­ernment and brought into question its sov­er­eignty and legit­imacy.

What impli­ca­tions does this carry for the United States? Mexico is not yet a failed state, but it is getting closer and closer as the rule of law is aban­doned and the cartels keep gaining sov­er­eignty. It is important for the United States to under­stand that Mexico is a del­icate state and, as a major trade partner, the U.S. influence on Mexico cannot be under­es­ti­mated.

A major part of a state’s failure is eco­nomic failure. The drug trade is one of the biggest markets in Mexico, and the cartels are the pow­erful cor­po­ra­tions bringing in bil­lions of dollars into Mexico every year. Having massive illegal orga­ni­za­tions make up such a large part of the economy, of course, does not bode well for either Mexico or the United States as its trade partner.

Mexico is the United State’s third largest trading partner, and the United States is Mexico’s biggest trading partner. In 2018, U.S. goods and ser­vices traded with Mexico totaled around $671 billion, with about $299.1 billion in exports and $371.9 billion in imports.

It could only be ben­e­ficial for the United States for Mexico to be more stable. There are mul­tiple ways to try to sta­bilize Mexico, but the first and most basic is to keep trading and eco­nom­i­cally investing, but remember that Mexico is in a del­icate sit­u­ation, losing its sov­er­eignty to cartels, and getting closer to a failed state.

Abby Liebing is a senior studying history and a columnist on foreign pol­itics. She is the asso­ciate editor of The Col­legian.