Things That Matter

Mexico’s Drug Violence is Only Getting Worse During the Coronavirus Pandemic and It Doesn’t Show Signs of Stopping

As much of the world stays indoors to combat the pandemic, crime has fallen drastically in many places. In Chicago, drug arrests have dropped by 42% in the weeks since the city shut down, the Associated Press reports, while in Los Angeles, the rate of key crimes plummeted 30% after March 15. There are similar reports coming out of cities from across Latin America.

Unfortunately, the drop in violence hasn’t occurred in Mexico – a country that recorded its deadliest month ever in March (not counting the deaths caused by Coronavirus). While many Mexicans have followed the strict social-distancing guidelines promoted by the government, this hasn’t translated to a drop in crime.

Violent crime reached record highs across Mexico in March.

March was one of the deadliest months in Mexico’s modern history – and it wasn’t because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Drug-related violence continues to rage out of control across much of the country, suggesting that coronavirus-related social distancing measures were not enough to curb the violence. Other countries in the region saw a sudden fall in crime as the virus spread.

The country saw 2,585 murders in March, an average of around 83 per day, according to data on victims reported by state prosecutors and the federal government. That was the highest monthly number since June 2019. 

President Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who took office in December 2018, acknowledged on Friday that violence driven by organized crime had persisted in March, despite the government’s introduction of measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, such as suspending classes and urging residents of the capital to stay home. 

“It seemed in late March, when the coronavirus had become more widespread, that we would have a considerable reduction (in violence),” he said during his regular morning news conference.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.”

Violence has flared throughout the country, but it has been especially intense in the central state of Guanajuato.

In this central state, home to two major tourist attractions (the pueblos of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende), criminal groups have battled over lucrative territories rife with theft from oil and natural gas pipelines.

The bloodshed has hit shocking levels in the city of Ceyala – home to a major automotive manufacturing plant – with gunmen engaging security forces in shootouts, blockading streets and torching businesses.

Experts blame the growing violence on the recent crackdown by government forces against fuel theft. The crackdown has weakened local cartels and caused the powerful Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG) to move in and attempt to take its territory.

AMLO came into power on a platform of “Abrazos No Balazos” but many are doubting that as an effective strategy against the violence.

The president promised to solve Mexico’s security woes by tacking what he considered the root causes of crime: poverty and corruption. But the strategy has so far failed to rein in the violence.

In a statement to The Guardian, Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizen Observatory, said “The [anti-crime] strategy isn’t a strategy. The national guard isn’t pulling its weight because building an institution is difficult and expensive. Budget cuts to public security have been brutal. These all have serious effects.”

Then AMLO stirred up even more controversy when he decided to visit the mother of drug kingpin, Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán. He even broke social-distancing protocols by greeting her with a handshake. The president downplayed the meeting as little more than a courtesy to a mother who hasn’t seen her son in years.

Some Mexicans worry that coronavirus will only add to the likelihood that more and more of the nation will slip into lawlessness.

Billions of dollars are at stake as the economy winds down: Some tourist destinations, including Los Cabos, are closed temporarily because of coronavirus restrictions.

All-important remittances — money sent from migrants working in the U.S. back to their often-struggling families in Mexico — are being affected. Remittances reached an estimated $35 billion in 2019, or about 2.7% of total GDP, and they are expected to decline by at least 10 percent this year. Plummeting oil prices are a factor, too.

Meanwhile, crime rates rise.

“As millions of Mexicans lose their incomes, as kids potentially lose their parents, the social fabric will further fray,” said Shannon O’Neil, a senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan foreign-policy think tank and author of Two Nations Indivisible. “The same goes for police forces and the national guard, if members fall ill. The combination may increase lawlessness in a country already teetering.”

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