Security analyst Alejandro Hope gives his thoughts about what Mexico's security situation will look like in 2014. Overall, the outlook is none too promising.
As Yogi Berra said (or maybe Niels Bohr), it is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. Nevertheless, the calendar forces us to get out the crystal ball in these days of alcohol and vacation. And so, here are my five predictions for the coming year:
1. Homicides will not decrease greatly in 2014. When the fog surrounding the figures clears, we are going to be confronted with the fact that between 23,000 and 24,000 people were murdered intentionally in 2013 (national statistics institute INEGI will confirm this number around July or August). This is an improvement on the 26,000 victims in 2012, but it is not radically better. And recent numbers indicate that things are not going to greatly improve. According to my calculations as a great alchemist, we had, on average, approximately 62.4 victims per day in January and 61.8 in November (again, these numbers will be confirmed or refuted when INEGI puts out its figures). That is to say, the situation is similar to that which prevailed a year ago. Nothing indicates that this is going to change much in the immediate future. My prediction: 22,000 to 23,000 intentional homicide victims in 2014, which is equivalent to a rate of approximately 19 per 100,000 residents.
2. Kidnapping will be a dominant theme in 2014. Between January and November 2013, 1,583 kidnapping reports were registered; this is 19 percent more than in the same period of 2012. By now, not even the government is prepared to argue that this reflects an increase in reporting rather than an increase in kidnappings: in the most recent meeting of the National Public Security Council, President Enrique Peña Nieto recognized the problem and instructed the Interior Ministry (SEGOB) to draw up a specific strategy to address this crime. And the strategy was created, but probably will not have much effect in the short term. As a result, it is highly probable that kidnapping numbers will remain close to the current levels during much of 2014. Add the fact that the coming year will mark the 10-year anniversary of the great march against insecurity in 2004 (spurred in large part by the issue of kidnapping) and this is an explosive combination for the federal government and the authorities in various federal entities (including the capital district and the state of Mexico).
3. Michoacan will continue its spiral of deterioration. I have argued before, and I will reiterate now: Michoacan is wrapped in a political-military conflict between various illegal armed groups. The recent advance of the self-defense forces (tolerated by the federal forces) has accelerated this dynamic. The risk of an escalation in violence is more than latent: if and when the self-defense forces decide to newly attempt the takeover of Apatzingan (a principal area of influence of the Knights Templar criminal organization), a battle of more than trivial dimensions could ensue. And meanwhile, we are going to see purges, killings and plundering on all sides. My prediction: Michoacan will be among the three most violent states in the country in 2014 (perhaps only surpassed in homicide numbers by Guerrero and the state of Mexico).
4. The first effects of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington will begin to be felt in Mexico in 2014. The emergence of nearly legal suppliers of the drug in the United States (I say nearly because the drug continues to be illegal at a federal level) could lead to a drop in Mexican exportations of marijuana. My intuition is that we are going to see the first signs of this phenomenon in the coming year, with a decrease in seizures of marijuana at the border. At the same time, it is likely that we will feel the political impact of legalization in Uruguay. It would not surprise me in the slightest if, for example, the Legislative Assembly in the capital district moved to: a) increase the legal personal dosage or b) permit the creation of cannabis clubs (for something more radical, we will have to wait a few years).
5. At least one important change will take place in the security cabinet. After a year of average to poor results, it would not be surprising if the president began to consider some replacements. Nor would it be strange if the interior minister looked to strengthen his control over security matters, both within and outside of his department. In this vein, I have my eye on the National Security Commission, but a change in the Attorney General’s Office would not surprise me either. Who will be the substitutes? No idea.
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In sum, I have the impression that, in regards to security, 2014 will be depressingly similar to 2013: some improvements here or there, various serious crimes increasing, few institutional changes, and some regions painted crimson red. Nothing new, unfortunately.
*Translated and reprinted with permission from Plata o Plomo, Alejandro Hope's blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read the Spanish original here. Hope is also a member of InSight Crime's Board of Directors.