December 19, 2022
2022 in Review
In many ways, a recap of 2022 would sound very similar to that of any other year in Mexico’s recent history: a major cartel leader was captured, an emerging drug took center stage, homicide rates changed slightly, and high-profile episodes of violence raised questions about the future. At the same time, the past twelve months have not been simple repetition of history, and it is worth examining some of the most significant developments to understand what 2023 might have in store.
The year began and ended with attacks on journalists—the killings of Margarito Martínez and Lourdes Maldonado in Tijuana in January and an assassination attempt on Ciro Gómez Leyva in December. In between, however, and despite international outcry, little was done to ensure that next year will not be similarly lethal for Mexico’s press. Impunity remained an issue: the convictions of Martínez and Maldonado’s killers fell short of accountability for autores intelectuales, and the prosecution of those charged with killing María Elena Ferral in Veracruz in March of 2020 has been marked by irregularities, for example. Yet it is the weakness of journalist protection structures that became most painfully apparent, with basic diagnostics of risk not translating into effective policies.
Also recurrent was news about the deterioration of the US-Mexico relationship on matters of security cooperation. In May, news broke that DEA operations in Mexico had been severely curtailed, and in December reporting from both ProPublica, the New York Times, and the Washington Post detailed DEA grievances with the current Mexican administration. In this context, the capture of Rafael Caro Quintero in July was an obvious sop to US authorities. The public narrative from top levels on both countries, however, hardly engages with these grievances and instead touts the reconfiguration of the high-level security dialogue and a strong partnership in particular in the context of U.S. and Mexico celebrating 200 years of diplomatic relations this December.
Lastly, while homicide rates appear to have declined in the second half of the year, this popular metric obscures certain realities about Mexico’s many violences. Crucially, while homicides on average have decreased, this change is driven by a drop in male homicides alone: murders of women and femicides continue to increase. Civil society organizations documented how the pandemic led to increases in certain forms of gender-based violence, but arguably this unrelenting violence against women has much to do with the erosion of the social safety net under the current administration.
To help further understand the events of the past year, we turned to our friends and Mexico-experts for snapshot analyses of what mattered in 2022, and what to look for in 2023. Here is a sampling of what they said, and you can read their full responses at https://www.mexicoviolence.org/news/2022-recap-roundtable
1. What was the most significant trend in violence, crime, or security policy that you observed in 2022?
Jorge Peniche, Justicia Transicional México: The continued trend in the country’s “militarization” i.e., the Armed Forces involvement in many aspects of public life. Not only in terms of performing law enforcement duties but also covering aspects such as infrastructure or administrative tasks. Additionally, there have been some isolated efforts to pursue accountability for gross human rights violations (the presidential commissions for Ayotzinapa and the Dirty War), but overall 2022 showed us that, so far, there is no true option for pursuing justice in the country in terms of landmark situations.
Teresa Martínez , Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey: due to austerity measures or as measures inherited from precedent administrations, the federal government has almost completely dismantled some policies, for instance, police forces vetting processes or financial incentives for reinforcing municipal institutions. Although perfectible, they deserved a better another chance
Victoria Dittmar, InSight Crime: Criminal organizations are increasingly invested in the domestic drug consumption market in Mexico, resulting in new violence dynamics. Disputes over street corners, prices, and rights to sell drugs are increasingly linked to homicides in cities like Tijuana and forced disappearances in Culiacán. Moreover, the territorial expansion of certain criminal actors to build more methamphetamine labs is displacing entire communities, especially around the states of Michoacán, Jalisco, and Colima.
2. What important development was overlooked or missed?
Luis Herrán Ávila, University of New Mexico: Perhaps due to the partisan political noise around security policies, the erosion of the role and effectiveness of the CNDH has not received the attention it deserves. It used to be the case that the Commission’s recommendations would serve as a soft but potentially effective check on violations committed by security forces, but this is no longer the case. While there are advances in human rights policy (such as the creation of a Truth Commission, and the investigations on the Ayotzinapa case), there is a wide gap between government discourse and policy, and the CNDH could be playing a more active and productive role in these processes.
Jorge Peniche, Justicia Transicional México: I think the Mexican government lawsuits brought against US gun manufacturers was wrongly read. The real battle wasn’t at courts but in politics and diplomatic relations. I think this could be a game changer for the future in the bilateral relations. Although there were some important discussions in academia, civil society organizations in Mexico tended to overlook it or disregard it, missing the chance to take advantage of the potential momentum to push a broader agenda in this realm.
3. What will you be watching for in 2023?
Teresa Martínez, Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey It is true that some measurements of violence show improvement (such as the rates of intentional homicides going slowly down). Still, there are regions in which specific manifestations of violence persist (the west side of the country or El Bajío) or are becoming more visible (Chiapas). This last point is essential if we focus on extortion and racketeering, which tend to expand to different regions and entrains significant levels of actual or potential violence.
Luis Herrán Ávila, University of New Mexico: I will definitely be paying attention to the role that discourses around crime, impunity and corruption will be playing as the country prepares for the 2024 elections. In other parts of Latin America, conservative and right-wing parties have thrived on “tough on crime” platforms that then they capitalize by tying corruption and crime to Leftist parties and politicians. If this gets picked up in Mexico by political actors that then use it to gain traction in public opinion, in the longer run it can accelerate and deepen the trend toward further militarization and an exclusively punitive approach to public safety issues. This would be a tremendous setback after a decade and a half of multiple social and political actors contesting the "war on crime” policies set by the Calderón administration.
In case you missed it: How has the legalization of marijuana in much of the U.S. impacted dynamics in Mexico? Mexico Violence Resource Project co-founders Cecilia Farfán and Michael Lettieri worked with InSight Crime to help untangle how criminal groups have responded: https://insightcrime.org/investigations/end-illegal-marijuana-criminal-dynamics-mexico/
Celebrations: Two Mexico Violence Resource Project comrades and collaborators, were honored in Mexico's National Journalism Awards. Marcos Vizcarra, won for his co-authored work on Guanajuato´s increasingly powerful attorney general. Read the award-winning work here. Alejandra Ibarra received an honorable mention for the co-authored investigation into the way Mexico's Victims Commission has failed the families of murdered journalists.
What we’re reading:
This thoughtful examination of how local contexts—such as irregular taxi permit processes—are essential to understanding how violence unfolds in a place like Nayarit. As Jorge Peniche explains, within the homicide numbers that are used to describe the larger phenomenon of the drug war, “there are a series of histories and arrangements where the boundaries between the public, the private, and the criminal become blurry and produce chronic violence.”
Irene Álvarez’s provocative exploration of how the arrival of organized criminal groups shifted the nature of community violence in the Costa Grande of Guerrero. Álvarez argues that where once violence practitioners were employed as an individual means of resolving grievances (and channeling rage), the monopolization of violence by criminal groups altered how such conflicts were resolved and created troubling non-monetary debts for members of the community.
A powerful, personal appreciation of Mexico’s nota roja crime journalism from María Fernanda Ruiz, observing that while coverage is sometimes sensationalized and salacious, the work of these journalists also serves to document events in a way that prevents erasure and demands accountability.