Skip to main content

A New Female President and the Same Old Strategies for Enhancing Mexico’s Rule of Law

Peniley Ramirez

Mexico is on the verge of a historic election this year. In October, its first-ever female president will assume office. Regardless of who wins—Claudia Sheinbaum, the ruling party’s candidate, or her main opponent, Xóchitl Gálvez—there’s a pressing reality to confront: Mexico grapples with a staggering 96% impunity rate, about 30,000 homicides per year, and a workforce numbering between 160,000 to 185,000 individuals directly working for the cartels

Tackling organized crime in Mexico inevitably means confronting one of the nation’s largest employers—a sector requiring a constant influx of around 350 new recruits weekly. The economy intertwined with drug-related activities holds significant sway in certain cities. For instance, in places like Mazatlán or Culiacán, everyday citizens unwittingly partake in an economy fueled by illicit funds. Whether as customers in local shops, diners at restaurants, or investors in real estate, the criminals launder billions of dollars through Mexico's formal economy

In more impoverished, rural regions, taking drug-related jobs often appears as the sole pathway out of poverty. Despite governmental efforts over the past six years, spearheaded by the current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, aimed at alleviating poverty and dissuading individuals from resorting to criminal organizations, the impacts on reducing violence, abductions, and drug seizures remain marginal

Since López Obrador assumed office in 2018, Mexico has witnessed a surge in fentanyl production, alongside record seizures of illicit substances by US authorities at the Mexican border. According to CBP, “fentanyl seizures have increased more than 860% from fiscal years 2019-2023, and fentanyl seizures nearly doubled from fiscal years 2022-2023.” Despite Mexican authorities denying domestic fentanyl production, the overdose crisis persists, with more than 150 people dying by overdoses every day in the US, as acknowledged by health authorities

Opposed to his campaign promises of reducing militarization, López Obrador bolstered the military presence across the nation, building new bases and extending military authority beyond security operations to include civilian tasks like airport management. Now, his successor, the frontrunner candidate Sheinbaum, has said she is ready to continue this militarized strategy while maintaining the social programs López Obrador pushed. She's suggesting judicial reforms to tackle crime rates and impunity, but some are worried they might infringe on judicial independence. 

Sheinbaum proposes sticking to López Obrador's playbook: ramping up intelligence and information-gathering, enhancing teamwork between police and prosecutors, strengthening the National Guard, and offering financial aid to impoverished youth. Yet, her rhetoric and plans fall short of presenting a robust and innovative approach to pacify Mexico. Instead, they point toward maintaining the modest progress in reducing homicide rates over the past few years, registered in official records. 

Opposition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez, a former senator, also offers little change from the old strategies that haven't done much to curb crime or protect innocent lives. Despite her critiques of militarization, she wants the military to step back from non-security duties but stay on the streets. Her plans include building a maximum security prison, duplicating the number of prosecutors, and increasing the use of technology for intelligence tasks. 

Notably, she has said some tactics from the Felipe Calderon administration's "war on drugs" are “worth taking into account,” despite the record levels of violence during that government period and the subsequent convictions of key security figures on drug charges in the US. 

As Mexico braces for a new era under a female president, it's clear that the frontrunners' approaches to tackling security issues lack innovation. While Mexico continues to struggle with daily violence, a woman will assume the presidency. Yet, about ten women continue to fall victim to domestic violence or drug-related crimes daily, with perpetrators often going unpunished. Mexico truly needs a fresh, inventive strategy to address these security concerns, one that, so far, hasn't surfaced in the plans of the leading candidates. 

About the Author

Peniley Ramirez

Peniley Ramírez

Executive Director and Head of News & Investigations of Futuro Media 
Read More