MEXICO CITY, Mexico – According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography of Mexico (INEGI), Mexican citizens have cited insecurity and rampant corruption as their biggest concerns presently, and a majority have said that these issues have worsened under President Enrique Peña Nieto since he assumed the presidency in December of 2012.
The study, which was made public the day before the holding of the United Nations’ International Day Against Corruption (December 9), was fully titled the National Survey on Victimization and Perception on Public Security (ENVIPE).
The survey discovered that the top two concerns voiced by Mexicans are insecurity and corruption. These two issues are fully intertwined; the opinion is that politicians and security forces, i.e. those directly responsible for the public’s safety, are corrupt and do not do their job properly as they are focused on illegally enriching themselves, which leads to impunity and insecurity.
The numbers are damning: INEGI said that homicides reported by the National Public Security System (SNSP), a federal entity linked to the Interior Ministry, in May and June were the most violent on record since 2012 when Mexico was in the midst of its “drug war.”
Drug-related violence skyrocketed when Felipe Calderón of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) took office for a six-year term in 2006 as he took a hardline stance against drug traffickers and cartels.
He ordered state police and military troops to flood Mexican towns and cities as security spending soared, and with the fallout from the violence and power vacuum, the cartels began warring with each other for territory and influence. Well over 80,000 people nationwide have lost their lives in cartel-related violence while 20,000 remain missing since 2006.
When Peña Nieto succeeded Calderón, he cited insecurity as a priority and for a short time, the numbers improved as the murder rate decreased and scenes of extreme gang violence, although still shocking at times, became less commonplace.
Furthermore, one aspect in which Peña Nieto did manage to find success initially was capturing several major cartel leaders, including Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpin Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Guzmán, Miguel Ángel Treviño and Omar Treviño Morales of Los Zetas and Nazario Moreno and Servando Gómez Martínez of the Knights Templar.
The leader’s fortunes soon changed, however, as murder rates and kidnapping cases began increasing once again. In July of 2015, his administration was dealt a massive blow as Guzmán escaped from an ultramodern, high-security prison near the southern city of Toluca. Guzmán’s escape came 17 months after he was paraded by Peña Nieto’s government as its prized capture. Guzmán was captured again in January of this year but the government’s credibility was not regained.
While Peña Nieto finally admitted in November that Mexico is experiencing a “rebound” in violence, he still expressed his belief that his administration is progressing in installing measures of “coordination and professionalization” within the ranks of the various security agencies in order to make the country safer.
According to the INEGI survey, however, Mexican citizens share a different opinion as 75 percent of respondents feel that insecurity has worsened. This is in spite of Peña Nieto’s claims that he has ordered more police onto the streets in recent years.
Certainly the second most pertinent issue cited in the INEGI survey, corruption, effects how Mexicans perceive safety and security given the lack of confidence in police officials and politicians.
In fact, 9 out of 10 surveyed said that corruption is taking place frequently and nationally in police forces and political parties and offices. As was the case with insecurity, a majority of respondents said that corruption has become worse and more commonplace since 2012.
Two out of every ten men (and one out of every ten women) reported experiencing an “episode” of corruption when dealing with a public official in the past year. Furthermore, nearly half of respondents that said they dealt with police in 2015 said they were extorted or asked for a small bribe, with most incidents occurring with smaller police forces in rural areas.
A telling number was one linked to the high level of impunity when dealing with corruption: over 98 percent of respondents said they did not report the instance of corruption they experienced. When asked why, the majority said that they felt that “the process would be ineffective” and that “their complaints would not be followed up adequately.”
The perception that many Mexicans have of police officials being corrupt would explain the fact that a troubling 40 percent considered approaching a police officer for help “dangerous.” This figure was significantly higher when dissected geographically as respondents from small towns and rural areas, regions where drug traffickers and criminal gangs operate and forge strong ties with local law enforcement, found that it was dangeorus to ask law enforcement for help.
Although Peña Nieto continues to tout his various efforts to battle insecurity and corruption, it is clear that Mexicans are growingly concerned about both issues. It is also evident that he must make a stronger effort in tackling these persistent topics during his remaining two years in office in an effort to leave a legacy that will be more than the common Mexican label of “just another corrupt politician.”