Publish in Perspectives - Monday, January 7, 2013
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at an event to look at security progress in the state of Chihuahua. (photo: Mexican President's Office)
Mexico is expected to see a decline in kidnappings and drug-related killings.
BY CARLOS CAICEDO
On December 17, 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto formally announced his public security strategy focused on police reform and rapid reduction in crime levels. Although the new policy points to significant departure from the previous Calderon administrations' approach, several of the initiatives will take several years to be implemented. In the interim, Peña Nieto needs to continue to rely on Army deployment to guarantee security and contain the threat of drug cartels violence.
However, we expect the declining trend in drug-related killings observed since mid-2012 to continue, largely because inter-cartel turf wars in hotspots such as Chihuahua and Sinaloa appear now to be settled. These two states saw the sharpest drop in drug-related murders in 2012, falling by about 45 percent and 25 percent respectively compared with 2011.
The declining murder trend provides some respite to the Peña Nieto administration, which came to office promising to reduce criminal violence. Under the new policy crime prevention will be granted top priority; this amounts to a clear departure from the Calderon administration's policy of killing the top cartel leaders (the so-called 'kingpin targeting' strategy). This has ultimately been counter-productive because it resulted in the proliferation of smaller, more violent gangs that have diversified their pursuits into criminal activities such as kidnapping, extortion and 'protection' rackets.
The new approach is being backed by an initial budget appropriation of $9 billion for 2013, with the stated goal of tackling kidnapping and extortion. Peña Nieto's policy of focusing on reducing common criminality will also reduce military engagements with the drug cartels. In light of the new approach we expect kidnapping and extortion attacks to decline in the 12-month outlook.
Peña Nieto announced the creation of a new civilian police force, the Gendarmerie, as part of a drive to clean up the police. The Gendarmerie will, in due course, take responsibility for the policing of the country's major crime spots, a task currently being carried out by the military. However, the new force is unlikely to become operational for another two years. The Gendarmerie, which would be under civilian command, would recruit initially some 10,000 officers from the military, but would increase steadily to 40,000 by 2015.
Police reform is also a key component of the new security policy. This aims at purging the local and regional police, which has been heavily infiltrated by the cartels. Under the new strategy all police forces will be placed under a unified command. Significantly, state governors have given their assent to this strategy increasing the likelihood of its success.
Carlos Caicedo is head of the Latin America division at Exclusive Analysis, a UK-based global risk consultancy recently acquired by IHS.