An article published in January by the New York Times, “Why Cartels Are Killing Mexico’s Mayors,” gives some harrowing insight on the obviously violent and corrupt nature of governance in Mexico. The beginning of the article details a newly-elected mayor brutally murdered right in front of her family, a sign that her anti-corruption rhetoric didn’t sit well with the local cartels. As of today, Mexico’s government could be considered one of the most corrupt, if not the most corrupt, governments in Latin America. Drug cartels are either bribing politicians, intimidating existing governments to give them state funds and play by their rules, or are considered to be the governing bodies alongside “legitimate” governments.
For want of more revenue, due especially to some U.S. states’ and countries’ easing their drug laws, cartels have ventured into other areas, such as mining and other heavy industries they can take advantage of. Rob McEwen, CEO of a Canadian gold-mining company, knew of a cartel’s control over a mine from which their gold was being extracted; he broke his silence only when the cartel stole $8 million worth of gold from the mine. Although he and other associates did not speak to the cartel publicly, McEwen noted that they had a “good relationship” with them, just like any other governmental organization for which these companies have a corporate partnership with.
“Corruption in Mexico is as old as the country itself, and traffickers have been bribing politicians during the century that they have been smuggling drugs to America. Mayors, governors and federal officials have turned a blind eye to opium fields and meth superlabs” (Grillo). A reason for why cartels have become so powerful in Mexico is not only due to drug prohibition but can be connected to the shady history of the ruling party, Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). The PRI ruled Mexico as a one-party state and hybrid regime from 1929 to 2000, partly because they were seen as the force that won the Mexican Revolution, giving a sense of pride. “There were no other avenues to power. Criticism was permitted but muted. Repression was used, but cooptation was favored” (Smith, 47).
The party maintained control through patronage and controlling the media; corruption was the norm and became ingrained in the culture, allowing for an easy environment for politicians to be bribed by criminal elements. Once the PRI lost the executive in 2000, these elements were already so implemented within the government that it was impossible to fix. The system of Federalism was a main reason for why cartels could infiltrate the government so easily, as opposed to a Unitary government, making it much easier for them to bribe local politicians from state to city levels.
The police, who are paid little so are open to taking bribes, are also highly corrupt, known for taking part in unwarranted arrests, smuggling drugs, and murder; the most recent example is the apparent killing of 43 students by a cartel, known as the 2014 Iguala kidnapping. A group of students were taking a bus to commemorate the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre of hundreds of students and civilians by government forces, when they were arrested by local authorities, at the behest of government officials, and apparently handed off to a cartel, never to be seen again. Resignations from officials and mass riots have ensued due to the government’s lack of action to investigate what actually happened to the students.
Another aspect of this rise in power by cartels is the demand of drugs from the United States, which could possibly have been made easier due to globalization and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This agreement did not come with political requirements, allowing whichever type of political environment to participate, no matter how corrupt, an example being McEwen’s company cooperating with the cartel that controlled their mine. The continuous flow of goods throughout the continent has made for a much more relaxed economic environment, although mainly for subsidized corporations and farmers in the United States, leaving Mexican farmers to fend for themselves while competing against cheaper goods and/or being lured into and collaborating with cartels out of desperation.
What is clear is that drug cartels act very much the same as any other government, although with intimidation that is much more clear and up front. Even large corporations do not care who is in charge, as long as they receive a deal in exploiting whatever land and resources happen to be taken over by a centralized group. It is hard to imagine the corruption and violence as a result of the PRI’s stranglehold on Mexico, allowing cartels to freely operate, disappearing anytime soon. One development that has come out of this is the rise of armed vigilantes combating the cartels in Mexico due to the failure of law enforcement to either de-escalate the violence or protect them. Whether or not these groups are trustworthy or effective, what is truly telling is the amount of violence coming from both sides to either protect their interests or themselves, caused by not only the War on Drugs, but the crooked environment created by the 70-year rule of the PRI. This political party shows not only the infectious nature of the state, but the ceaseless influence it has on a population to keep supporting them, not even giving second thought to the systematic violence it has caused.