Parts of Mexico Show Signs of ‘Failed State’

Parts of Mexico Show Signs of ‘Failed State’

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Editor's Note: On Thursday night, gunmen killed the mayor of the town of Doctor Gonzalez in the state of Nuevo León, the latest in a series of murders of Mexican mayors. Four Mexican mayors have been killed in the past five weeks alone.

MEXICO CITY—For two months, at least a dozen cities on the northern border of the Mexican state of Tamaulipas have had no acting mayor. Eight of the mayors were killed; others disappeared or are working remotely, by mail or Internet, from the United States.

"The lawlessness is really critical in Miguel Alemán, Mier, Camargo, Guerrero, Díaz Ordaz and Abasolo," said Omar Tapia of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) Executive Committee in Tamaulipas.

"There are no city police officers because they’ve been killed or they’ve fled and been replaced by rural police officers, who belong to the state—and they’re being killed, too," Tapia said. "[On Wednesday], six were gunned down in Padilla. There's no civil registry, no permits for construction, events, or anything. We are hand in hand with crime."

Tapia said the lack of authority has allowed drug traffickers to control the movement of people in the villages and on roads: they carry out raids, confiscate trucks, kill anyone they want.

Not even the governor will travel through the area, and materials for construction projects have stopped flowing to the area, Tapia said, describing the lack of security in his state.

According to the Washington, D.C.–based Fund for Peace, which publishes a "Failed State Index," symptoms of such a state include: the loss of physical control over a territory or loss of a monopoly in the legitimate use of force; the erosion of legitimate authority in decision making; and the inability to provide basic services or interact with other nations.

The Fund's 2010 Index ranked Mexico 96th out of 177 countries evaluated, or on the verge of alert. But local observers say some parts of Mexico show signs of already having tipped over the edge.

“If we understand that a ‘failed state’ is a lack of guarantees of basic services, and the loss of territorial control and the likely imposition of policies by criminal organizations, the clear example is parts of Sinaloa,” said Ernesto Hernández Norzagaray, an analyst with the Universidad Autónoma de Sinaloa.

“There are areas that are hard to get to, where the drug traffickers decide who can enter and who can’t, like Badiraguato, home of the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, and San Ignacio, Sinaloa,” he said.

“They’ve also documented links between the former candidate for governor, Jesús Vizcarra, and the Pacific [Sinaloa] cartel, and the authorities never clarified anything,” Norzagaray said.

Further south, in the state of Guerrero, Javier Monroy, president of the Committee of Family and Friends of the Kidnapped, Disappeared and Murdered, believes the 260 unsolved killings in the last five years show that the government has lost the ability to dispense justice.

“During the administration of Governor Zeferino Torreblanca, they changed the attorney general four times, and each time they had to resume all the previous investigations because each time the files mysteriously disappeared," he said. "The functionaries took the archives on their way out as if they were taking their suit jacket or their appointment book."

Monroy laments that local authorities “wash their hands” of criminal investigations by blaming the drug cartels without any proof. "The violence related to these groups is affecting people’s right to justice and only serves to cover everything up."

It was under these peculiar circumstances that activist Victor Ayala disappeared last week. Ayala, who had asked the city authorities of Papanoa, near the Pacific coast, to provide information on the cost of local construction projects, was kidnapped by masked men.

“We don’t want them to file this or any other case away, and if along the way they find something out that they can demonstrate, we’ll accept it, but we don’t want them to shelve it away,” Monroy said.

Crimes have been committed with the same impunity in the border city of Juarez, which saw 2,600 homicides last year, of which only 13 drew the attention of Mexico's attorney general. The rest were filed with the state attorney.

"The security system in [the state of] Chihuahua is guaranteed in large part by the criminals you pay for protection," said Juárez journalist Luis Hinojos. "Over the weekend, two suspected thieves were hanged below a bridge, with their hands cut off, with a message blaming them for burning down a business that had been under the protection of the retaliators."

The Mexican government has repeatedly denied that the country is facing a situation reminiscent of a failed state. President Felipe Calderón said in a news interview last year that such comparisons are not only false, but also cause “tremendous damage" to the nation's leadership.