Mexico has for years been a stable regime under one political party with similar ruling patterns from president to president. However underneath this regime grew an increasingly influential and sophisticated crime syndicate that has become an international presence and has become known as the drug cartels. With the money and power that these cartels gained and exploited they began to work their ways into local governments that are easier to infiltrate than better-financed national officials (Zapata, 2012). As the power and influence of these cartels expand the ability of the Mexican government to react and respond to their influence over the general population. Is the Mexican government in danger of becoming a failed state and allowing the cartels to take significant power in Mexico?
In order to classify whether a state is failed one can follow several components of Max Weber’s theory regarding failed states (Clark & Golder, Golder, 2009). The first of these components is that a nation must have a given territory by which they can rule and collect taxes etc. Mexico has gone over several border control issues over their years since independence from Spain but have never had any serious issue with loss of their or inability to tax certain parts of their nation. In this sense the nation of Mexico seems to be holding its own and the national government is doing what is expecting by keeping a large landmass under political and governmental power.
The next component regards the use of legitimate force by the state however many scholars have found this definition to be difficult to quantify as the term legitimate has to do with who is viewing the action (Clark & Golder,Golder, 2009). For example from the view of the cartels or one on the payroll of some of the cartels the use of force to protect your rights to operate freely within the nation of Mexico would seem like a legitimate use of force.
The third component of Weber’s definition of as state is it must have a monopoly over the use of force (Clark & Golder, Golder, 2009). This aspect is where Mexico becomes interesting with respect to the cartels and their power. Just recently in March of 2012 police officers were ambushed by an organized group of gunmen working for a cartel and 12 of the officers were killed (Booth & Kaphile, 2012). This organized killings shows that while the Mexican army and police force has the man power, funding, and intelligence edge on the cartels, they don’t have the monopoly of force as people are killed nearly every month in cities all over Mexico and the government has no ability to stop it.
The start of this war on drugs in Mexico doesn’t have a clear beginning but one can start with President Filipe Calderon taking office in December and mobilizing 6,500 troops to fight the cartel threat. This event was the first time that a political leader had taken a stand against the cartels and made an effort to combat their violence. However, despite the action by president Calderon, the killings don’t stop and by December 2008, just two years after his stand against the cartels, the town of Ciudad Juarez experienced 1,600 homicides in just a year. This statistic makes Ciudad Juarez one of the most dangerous places in the entire world (Booth & Kaphile, 2012). The raise in the killings show that not only can a political change do nothing to stymie the cartels ability to operate but introduces a backlash that results in more violence and death.
The killings and assertion of violence by the cartels is always accentuated during the months and weeks leading up to an election or major political action. The political desires and influence by use of violence can be seen in the street of every major city as elections and political actions flare in Mexico City. While to accurately quantify the amount of people killed in order for cartels to make a political statement, the BBC estimates 12,903 have been killed by January 11th 2012 (Mexico’s Drug Related Violence, 2012). This number increases every year and cities become less safe during election time when the cartels make their presence known.
The war on drugs within Mexico has brought about problems with security with officials being killed like the recent murder of Mayor Gorrostieta on November 17th (Mexican Mayor Maria, 2012). Mayors and local officials have become the target of the violence and brutal methods of coercion to keep local governments scared and submissive to the cartels whims. All these events happening right under the nose of the national government and police forces that are plagued by corruption.
With the start of the campaign against the cartels and the trafficking of drugs came a new concern, some of the worst corruption in a modern law enforcement system. In recent months violence has been at its peak and Ted Galen Carpenter reports:
In another incident, a bloody gun battle ensued in downtown Tijuana when police attempted to stop a drug trafficker’s armed motorcade. The commander of the police unit and three officers were killed by the trafficker’s bodyguards. Those bodyguards, it turned out, were local police officers.
The real plight of the war against drugs has turned out to be, how well can the Mexican government as a collective entity work towards a similar goal. This has proved to be a more trying task then originally anticipated by the Calderon administration when they took their stand in 2006. The fight against drugs has been plagued by the corruption of police and law enforcement agencies that work for, or provide crucial information to, the cartels that ravage the country with violence. Not only is this a fundamental problem in controlling drug trafficking and violence within the Mexican state, but also a larger issue of being in control of their personnel, and having the ability to in turn control their nation. The inability to trust personnel has caused several reforms that have slowed and staggered the process of fighting drugs and has transferred focus internally. Scott Stewart (2012) writes about these reforms:
In addition to consolidating the federal police forces, Calderon's 2008 police reform plan also called for existing agents and new recruits to undergo a much more thorough vetting process and to receive higher pay. The idea was to build up a more professional force less vulnerable to corruption and better able to fight the cartels.
Its speaks to the control that the government has due to the necessity to raise pay and perform more intense and focused cleansing process to ensure loyalty to their duty spells trouble immediately. The new professional force is the culmination of distrust and internal struggle that has marred the process that has become known as the Mexican drug war. In the fight against an organized and deeply influential crime syndicate like the cartels, the last incident that is needed, is to have internal issues regarding your own organization and where law enforcement officer’s loyalties lie.
The state of Mexico’s state is teetering on the edge of becoming a failed state due to their inability to control and tame the violence that has been consistently displayed by the crime organizations that hold so much power in their cities. The monopoly of force is apparently lacking in Mexico as it has been proven for nearly 7 years that the Mexican government is incapable of maintaining this drug war and effectively stopping the cartels. While the government has been able to fulfill the first two conditions to be a successful state, the manner in which the cartels have taken the violence to the street exemplifies the fact that there is not a monopoly of force being exercised by the Mexican government whether it is legitimate or not.
Booth, B. , & Kaphle, A. (May 9, 2012). Timeline: Mexico’s drug war. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
Carpenter, T. G. (September 4, 2012). Corruption, drug cartels and the Mexican police. The National Interest. Retrieved from
Clark, W., Golder, M., Golder, S. (2009). Principles of comparative politics. Washington, DC: CQ Press
Mexican Mayor Maria Santos Gorrostieta killed by gunmen was defiant to the end. (November 28, 2012). Fox News Latino. Retrieved from. http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2012/11/28/mexican-mayor-maria-santos-gorrostieta-killed-by-gunmen-was-defiant-to-end/
Q&A: Mexico’s drug-related violence. (October 9,2012). News Latin America & Caribbean. Retrieved from
Stewart, S. (April 9, 2012). Mexico’s plan to create a paramilitary force. Stratfor Global Intelligence. Retrieved from
Zapata, E (June 29, 2012). Drug cartels ready themselves for Mexico elections. Fox News Latino. Retrived from