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What is wrong with Guerrero?

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Alejandro Hope@ahope71Security and justice editor at El Daily Post.
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The warrior state. Guerrero is the sick man of Mexico. Its homicide rate, the highest in the country, is three times the national average. That might be an undercount: disappearances abound (as with the 43 students at Iguala) and mass graves are a common sight. And things are not getting better: over the first nine months of 2015, murders are up 30% from last year. Moreover, it produces a very large portion of Mexico’s heroin, its criminal underworld in highly fragmented and extremely violent, its political class is famously corrupt (even by Mexican standards), and it is one of the few states with an active guerrilla movement. A mess by any metric.

A new hope? Yesterday, a new governor, Héctor Astudillo, took office in Guerrero. He is vowing to do things differently and the federal government seems willing to help: Interior Secretary Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced a new security strategy for the state. Few details were provided, but it will probably involve a) the deployment of more federal troops, and b) additional assistance (including, apparently, the construction of a new highway). Will that be enough to turn the state around? My educated guess: not in the short term.

1. Past federal interventions in Guerrero have been mostly futile. Since 2007, there have been no fewer than five announcements similar to yesterday’s. Less than a year ago, in the wake of the Iguala massacre, President Enrique Peña Nieto ordered a massive operation in the Tierra Caliente region of the state. Over the past year and a half, the Federal Police has been fully in charge of public safety. And yet, Guerrero is having one of its bloodiest years of the past decade (maybe the second worst after 2012).

2. Even by Mexican standards, law enforcement and criminal justice institutions in Guerrero are terrible. As everyone knows by now, the municipal police forces of Iguala and Cocula were direct participants in the abduction of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college. The state police is not much better: on most metrics, it is ranked near the bottom of the country’s league tables. Moreover, the state has been a laggard in the implementation of the new criminal justice system and its prisons are one of the closest things to hell on Earth. Even if the new governor is truly committed to reform, it will be many years before changes become visible.

3. Social and economic conditions are horrible by any standard. Guerrero is one of Mexico’s three poorest states. Almost two thirds of its population is below the poverty line (and a quarter is characterized as living in conditions of extreme poverty). Infrastructure is extremely poor and many rural communities are highly isolated. Its modern economic sectors are small and mostly concentrated in Acapulco. That more or less precludes a business-led pacification efort on the Ciudad Juárez/Monterrey mold. What it has in the way of civil society is very fractious and, in some cases, tied to radical causes. Thus, even with good will, good ideas, and lots of resources, progress will be elusive in the short term.

4. There is a heroin epidemic in the United States that is sending ripples down Guerrero’s spine. The heroin trade has become extremely lucrative over the past five years, feeding a violent conflict over control of production areas and traffic routes between several rival gangs (Guerreros Unidos, Los Rojos, Los Ardillos, etc.). Until the epidemic runs its course north of the border, that situation is likely to continue. And that may not happen for several years.

Bottom line. Guerrero is a mess and will continue to be a mess in the foreseeable future. Yet there might be some reasons for hope. The state has lived in a power vacuum since the Ayotzinapa massacre more than a year ago. The arrival of a newly elected governor might starting solving that political component of the crisis. Also, since things are so bad, there is a lot of low-hanging fruits. With some effort, the state police could improve somewhat in a relatively short term. Likewise, prisons are also a potential target for improvement. And some well-thought infrastructure projects could make a difference in some regions. But we should all keep our hopes down: Guerrero is not in for a quick turnaround.

This and that

Narco history. Our friends at Animal Político launched yesterday a massive data journalism project: Narcodata. With very attractive visuals, you can navigate through 40 years of Mexico’s drug trafficking history. There is nothing like it on the web. Be sure to check it out. And it’s available in English here at El Daily Post.

Money bags. Awesome investigative piece by Reuters, reprinted here at El Daily Post, on money laundering in a Calexico bank. Well worth your time. 
The interactive section

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Things to look for

Today, Mexico’s Supreme Court will decide whether (some) marijuana self-grows and consumer coops are legal. Or maybe not. Rumor has it that the justices will kick the issue upstairs, from the Primera Sala (the courtroom deciding on criminal law cases) towards the Pleno (i.e., the full Court). That could delay the decision until 2016.

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