What Peña Nieto Gets Wrong About Mexico’s Improved Security

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Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto has credited his administration’s security strategy for the country’s improved safety, while also asserting that police are underprepared to confront organized crime; both questionable claims worthy of closer inspection.

In a speech to a gathering of police in the state of Mexico — where hundreds of new vehicles and other equipment were presented to security forces — Peña Nieto said his administration’s security strategy has led to an improvement in Mexico’s security that even the most “skeptical and critical” cannot deny, reported El Universal.

Citing reductions in homicides, extortion, and aggravated assault, Peña Nieto said the government’s strategy of “prevention, coordination, and strengthening of security institutions” is showing promising results. And, although “much remains to be done,” Peña Nieto said kidnappings are falling as well.

He also highlighted recent high-profile captures, stating that 92 of Mexico’s 122 most-wanted criminals have either been arrested or killed.

However, Peña Nieto added, Mexico’s criminal groups were “better prepared, equipped” and have “much more sophisticated weapons” which they use against the security forces. 

Implementing his “mando unica” initiative — which would consolidate over 1,800 municipal police into 32 state police forces — would allow the government to more easily equip and prepare the police, he said. 

Mando unico has only been implemented in one state, Morelos, thus far. It is up the the state congresses to decide when and if they will implement this model. 

InSight Crime Analysis

To a certain extent, Mexico is safer, with homicide rates declining some 12 percent since 2012 — when Peña Nieto took office — and cartel violence somewhat subsiding since the bloody drug war heydays under former president Felipe Calderon.

However, it is unclear to what extent Peña Nieto’s security policies were responsible for bringing about this reduction in crime and violence. For instance, despite the president’s claims to the contrary, there is much debate about whether or not kidnapping levels in Mexico are actually falling. Indeed, a recent report by Animal Politico found that overall kidnapping in Mexico rose by 52 percent since late 2012 (an increase potentially related to increased kidnapping of Central America migrants moving through Mexico, or else better reporting of the crime).

Peña Nieto’s assertion that criminal groups are better armed than the security forces is also somewhat puzzling, given the degree to which Mexico has upped its investment in military hardware

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Regardless, while there may indeed be some credence to the claim that organized crime is better prepared than police, this is something of a false comparison, as the two are not symmetrical actors. It is easier for criminals to commit and get away with an illegal act than for police to prevent criminal activity and enforce the law.

Mexico has certainly improved its ability to gather intelligence and carry out operations needed to capture prominent crime kingpins. Nonetheless, Peña Nieto touting the capture of these prominent kingpins as a success is somewhat ironic, given how much he distanced himself from the kingpin strategy of his predecessor upon taking office.

At any rate, the true test for Mexico may be the state’s ability to manage the fallout following these high-profile captures, and whether or not the government can consolidate its security gains and prevent new criminal elements from taking root.

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