Violence in Mexico

Violence in Mexico

Escalation of organized crime-related violence in Mexico that spills over into the United States


Mexico continues to experience high levels of violence as a result of illicit drug trafficking organizations and efforts to counter them. Criminal cartels—which traffic ninety percent of the cocaine that enters the United States—have killed an estimated sixty thousand Mexican soldiers, police, politicians, and civilians since 2006. Upon taking office in 2012, President Enrique Peña Nieto promised to combat the cartels by improving law enforcement and public safety. Though official statistics show a drop in homicides, Peña Nieto’s claims to success are tempered by an increase in kidnappings and extortion cases.

Mexico's most-wanted kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was arrested in 2014 among several major cartel leaders, but escaped through a prison tunnel in July 2015. The United States has recently expanded military cooperation with Mexican armed forces, building upon the Merida Initiative partnership to battle organized crime. Still, Mexican law enforcement and criminal justice institutions remain deeply corrupt, leaving Mexico vulnerable to increased violence and the expansion of cartel-controlled areas. The disappearance of forty-three students in the state of Guerrero in late 2014 directed international attention to the deep links between violent gangs and local authorities.

A deeply embattled Mexican state could undermine U.S. efforts to halt the flow of Mexican migrants and contraband across the border. Moreover, the expansion of Mexican criminal networks into Central America and the Caribbean poses a grave threat to the already fragile region.

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  • Shannon K. O'Neil

    Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program