75% of Mexico Municipalities Susceptible to Organized Crime: Official

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Three quarters of Mexico’s municipalities are vulnerable to infiltration and corruption by organized crime, according to a top Mexican official, in a sign of the challenges authorities face in attempts to stamp out corruption.

The claim was made by the head of legal affairs at Mexico’s Interior Ministry (SEGOB), David Arellano Cuan during a public hearing before Mexico’s senate, which is currently debating the proposed implementation of “mando unico” or “single command.” Mando unico aims to curtail local corruption by temporarily handing municipal police responsibilities to Mexico’s 32 state police departments. The initiative would require modification of the country’s constitution.

Citing “various studies,” Arellano said at least 1,900 of the country’s 2,457 municipalities have little or no tools to combat criminal influence. In some cases criminals have positioned favored candidates into municipal government, allowing them to influence and access the revenues of basic services like water and waste processing, he added.

Arellano urged swift approval of mando unico as a response to organized crime’s corrupting influence. However he also stressed the measure is not aimed at permanently eliminating municipal police.

At the same public hearing, the Attorney General’s Office criminal investigations head Tomas Zeron de Lucio called attention to the “alarming” level of municipal police corruption. In October, Mexico’s central government ordered the army to take over the security of 13 municipalities in southwestern Guerrero state, after the Attorney General’s Office identified irregularities in the local government and police.  

InSight Crime Analysis

Low pay and the ease with which threats can be issued because of their accessibility make municipal police and public officials particularly susceptible to organized crime’s influence. However state police and members of the military are by no means invulnerable to corruption.

In the face of the ongoing scandal surrounding local police involvement in the disappearance of 43 student protesters in Guerrero in September, the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto is at pains to show itself to be effective in the fight against corruption, though those efforts have been hampered by an ongoing scandal over a property purchase by the president’s own wife.

While the implementation of mando unico may succeed in initially purging municipal forces of officials with criminal ties, it is not clear how the government intends to avoid them returning once those forces are reinstated. An obvious element of the solution would be to implement better pay and conditions, as El Salvador’s government is being urged to do by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani as part of his ongoing role attempting to overhaul the police force and drive down violence.

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