The murky underbelly of crime and politics

El Universal
November 01, 2005

The Citizen's Institute for the Study of Insecurity, known by its Spanish acronym ICESI, has issued one of largest and most comprehensive surveys about crime and violence in Mexico.
The report provides relevant information for policy makers. Although official statistics report that there are 1,336 crimes committed in Mexico per 100,000 inhabitants, the ICESI survey highlights the vast underreporting by victims, pointing out that the true rate is closer to 11,246 crimes per 100,000 and that 88 percent of the criminal acts are simply not reported to the authorities.

This underreporting rate is explained, in part, by the perception of 35 percent of the victims surveyed who refused to deal with the relevant law enforcement agency (Ministerio Publico) because they believed it would be a waste of time. Another 18 percent said that they simply did not trust the authorities.

The ICESI survey also identified the country's biggest danger spots. Twenty three percent of the nation's criminal activities are concentrated in four states, it said. Baja California is the most dangerous state, followed by Mexico City, Quintana Roo and the State of Mexico. Sixty percent of the violent robberies in the nation are concentrated in Mexico City and the State of Mexico. The states with the least number of crimes are Chiapas, with 2,000 crimes per 100,000 people, followed by Veracruz (4,110 per 100,000), Zacatecas (4,313) and San Luis PotosÃ* (4,345).


Domestic violence continues to be one of the most daunting public health and public security issues facing Mexico. According to the ICESI, among the women who were victimized in sexual crimes, 70.5 percent were assaulted in their own homes and 26.9 percent were sexually assaulted on the street.

There is much more information in this report we could analyze. However, the ICESI report provides us with a better understanding as to why so many of the recent surveys of potential voters in the 2006 elections identify crime and order concerns as the most relevant campaign issues. How will the candidates address the problem?

Law and order concerns probably present the most difficulties for the likely Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known by his initials, AMLO). The National Action Party (PAN) candidate, Felipe Calderón and the likely Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate, Roberto Madrazo will undoubtedly try to undermine López Obrador by reminding the electorate of the former mayor's inability to reduce crime and violence in Mexico City during his watch. Both the PAN and the PRI candidates will ask AMLO during the presidential debates if he plans to implement his failed anti-crime policies nationwide.


Even though the PAN's Calderón is already campaigning under the slogan "Mano Firme" (meaning "Hard Hand," a reference to the firmness with which he would deal with crime and those who do not respect the rule of law) this is clearly not enough. Calderón will have to figure out how to distance himself politically from President Vicente Fox, a fellow PAN member, whose policies translated into an acute ineffectiveness to control crime and violence during his administration. How will Calderón assure the electorate that he is not like Fox when it comes to fighting crime, but that instead, he will protect the legacy of a president who continues to do well in popularity surveys? Additionally, the Mexican right is not known for its ability to effectively address gender issues and violence against women. This stereotype will also be one of Calderón's major campaign challenges.


Some polls and analyses presented at the beginning of the year indicated that the PRI actually had a chance of having one of its members become the next president. It all depended on who was the candidate. The relatively high grades received by the PRI as a political party were due in part to the multiple mistakes and errors by the Fox Administration and its reluctance to face those who openly challenged the government. The PRI loves to remind voters that "they do have experience governing," and some analysts believed that voters were willing to ignore much of the PRI´s antidemocratic and corrupt past if the PRI president could ensure a government that would address insecurity and unemployment.

The Arturo Montiel debacle, which saw the potential PRI candidate forced to step down from the race in order to face possible corruption charges, along with the very public spat between party President Madrazo and former Secretary General Elba Esther Gordillo, has ruined any possibility of the PRI running on a "law and order" platform. Both Calderón and López Obrador will constantly remind the voters of the criminals who ran the PRI in the past and the need of that party to first clean-up their ranks before they try cleaning up the rest of the nation.