Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, November 01, 2013

Mexican government failures once again on display

Last spring, groups of Mexican civilians made news fighting back against drug gangs. The incidents exposed the failures or lack of capacity of the government to provide adequate public safety. (Of course, it's always possible that rival gangs armed and organized people to take on rivals. With decent public relations planning, that could look like spontaneous citizen uprising.)

Well, citizen efforts are in the news again. What does that say about government capacity? legitimacy? and rule of law?

Mexican vigilantes take on drug cartels - and worry authorities: Militias spring up across Mexico to defend communities but authorities fear 'rebel force' and an 'undeclared civil war'
With their scuffed shoes, baggy trousers and single shot hunting guns, the eight men preparing to patrol their hillside barrio in the southern Mexican town of Tixtla hardly looked like a disciplined military force. But this motley collection of construction workers and shopkeepers claim to have protected their community from Mexico's violent drug cartels in a way the police and military have been unable – or unwilling – to do.

"Since we got organised, the hit men don't dare come in here," said one young member of the group, which had gathered at dusk on the town's basketball court, before heading out on patrol…

Over the past year, vigilante groups like this have sprung up in towns and villages across Mexico, especially in the Pacific coast states of Guerrero and Michoacán. They make no pretence to be interrupting drug trafficking itself but they do claim to have restored a degree of tranquillity to daily life.

In a country where the police are commonly felt to commit more crime than they prevent, the militias have won significant popular support, but they have also prompted fears that the appearance of more armed groups can only provoke more violence…

Rubén Figueroa, a Guerrero state deputy who heads the local legislature's security commission is one of the few politicians who openly expresses these fears. "I have reliable information that some of these [vigilante] groups have been infiltrated by subversives.

"They are trying to take advantage of the power vacuums that exist in isolated areas."

The vigilantes deny any such links but, whether true or not, they appear to distrust the army almost as much as the cartels. That hardly bodes well for the government's efforts to bring the Guerrero self-defence groups under control…

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