Security Challenges in 2020

Mexico Cartel Violence Terrifies Population

The headlines from Mexico have been plagued with bad news of late, as a social and economic experiment by the AMLO administration is put to the test.

In October of 2019, the national and international press was shocked when the government released Ovidio Guzmán, son of “El Chapo,” after militia from the Sinaloa cartel unleashed a violent offensive against the police and wreaked havoc in the city of Culiacán.

It was an astonishing event that left the country shaken.

A couple of weeks later, in November 2019, tragic news also hit the headlines as nine US-Mexican citizens, identified as being from the Mormon community, were unexpectedly executed in the Northern State of Sonora.

Reports followed that the tragedy was likely a result of mistaken identities in the ongoing battle between the cartels of Chihuahua and Sonora.

And then in December 2019, a two-day battle erupted between militants of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (JNGC) and security forces in the border town of Villa Union, near El Paso, Texas. Over 19 casualties were reported.

The security problem in Mexico has been used by opponents of AMLO to decry his administration’s security policies. In his first full year in office, the homicide rate increased by 2.7% as total confirmed cases reached over 35,000, the highest ever recorded since Mexico started compiling homicide data in 1997.

A culture of fear

Insecurity isn’t a new phenomenon in Mexico.

Between 2006 and 2018, before AMLO became president, there were over 288,000 registered homicides as well as 60,000 cases of “disappearances” in Mexico according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).

The concern stems primarily from the reality that organized crime is becoming stronger despite the initiatives taken by the government, and the threat that this escalating situation may have on the economy.

Between March and April of 2019, a national census called the National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Security (ENVIPE) was conducted to study the impact this wave of insecurity is having on national morale.

More than 100,000 households were surveyed, and 78% of respondents over the age of 18 responded as feeling a high level of risk of falling victim to a crime. Furthermore, 31.7% of those who responded that have been victims of a crime recently admitted to not having reported it either because a) it was a “waste of time,” or b) they “did not trust the authorities.”

A separate survey conducted by INEGI in December 2019 demonstrated that 72.9% of census respondents across 70 cities admitted to feeling “unsafe” in their city of residence.

Initiatives and debate

The fundamental response from the AMLO government has been their investment in increased social programs as the means of fighting street crime. Opponents respond that while these programs might be having some effectiveness stabilizing crime rates from growing further, they do not address the increase in organized crime and have been ineffective in lowering current crime rates.

One of the challenges faced by the AMLO government has also been the increasing migration rates entering the country from Central America. To control this influx of migrants, the AMLO government has created labor programs that offer legal status and employment eligibility to migrants.

Yet, the condition that these migrants remain in the southern states where the labor market is smaller and wages are lower, has mitigated the effect of the policy and failed to prevent these migrants from heading north toward the US border.

Furthermore, the government also established a new National Guard force in 2019, but under pressure from the US, most of these resources have been diverted towards the southern border to focus on the migration situation at the expense of general crime.

USMCA is expected to be an additional channel of cooperation for addressing this insecurity problem in Mexico. The US has continuously offered to help Mexico confront the organized crime groups with military and economic assistance, but the AMLO administration has insisted that this problem remains “a matter of Mexican sovereignty.”

The US has, however, provided support and training for the Mexican program called Iniciativa Merida which addresses female violence and women’s rights. In January 2020, a US diplomatic and security delegation participated in a training expo called “Certification on Police Prevention and Investigation of Feminicide.” So far the Iniciative Merida program has trained over 10,000 members of the police force and citizens on this subject.

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