Mexico’s federal government reportedly spent 23 times more on public and national security than last year’s budget allowed, but there is no public information on where any of that money is going — or what kind of impact it’s having on rising levels of crime and violence.
Mexico’s Congress allotted the federal government just 796 million pesos (roughly $41.6 million) in 2016 for budget item 33701, which corresponds to “public and national security expenses.” But according to a report by Animal Político, government expenditures classified as 33701 surpassed 18.5 billion pesos — nearly $1 billion.
Although the government routinely outspends its mandated limit on security, 2016 was an outlier. (See graphic below. Figures are in thousands of US dollars.)
According to Animal Político, spending costs have far exceeded the congressional budget for “public and national security expenses” in every year since at least 2013, the first full year of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term. In 2015, for example, Congress approved only $30 million for national and public safety items. The government spent over $446 million.
During the first four years of Peña Nieto’s administration, Congress allocated approximately $152 million for security under 33701, but government outlays topped $2 billion (all dollar figures are calcuated using current exchange rates). Animal Político reported that the money has gone to eight separate government agencies, with the Interior Ministry receiving the largest share of funds between 2013 and 2015, and the National Defense Ministry receiving the most last year.
How this money is being spent is clouded in secrecy. According to Animal Político, each agency assigns the funds to broad categories such as “intelligence services” or “crime prevention operations.” But the government says it is legally prohibited from providing more details since these items are marked for “national and public security.”
InSight Crime Analysis
The dramatic jump in security spending under 33701 by the federal government in 2016 corresponded with the most violent year of Peña Nieto’s tenure as president, as the homicide rate climbed to heights unseen since the apex of Mexico’s drug war in the early 2010s.
It is more likely that the rising levels of violence spurred more spending on security, and not the other way around. Violence is spreading to parts of the country that had until recently been largely untouched by the drug war, meaning more towns and cities need greater numbers of security personnel and resources. For instance, authorities recently deployed 500 military police officers to the municipality of Tecomán in the Pacific state of Colima after homicides rose by almost 300 percent there between September 2016 and February 2017. As in other parts of the country, local officials say battling drug cartels are behind much of the violence.
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Nonetheless, the simultaneous increases in security outlays and homicide rates cast doubt on the viability of Mexico’s security strategy. The Peña Nieto administration has largely stuck to the security playbook devised by his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, which emphasizes militarization of the security forces. This strategy brought quick results but rarely led to improved security over the long term.
Now, it would appear the government’s militarized approach is having less of an immediate impact. The dismantling of large criminal groups such as the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas has democratized the drug trade and flattened out the distribution of violence. The government has yet to come up with a new strategy that takes into account these shifting realities on the ground.
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Unfortunately for Mexico, that is one of the more optimistic explanations for why increased security spending hasn’t yet slowed the rise in homicides. The lack of transparency surrounding the 33701 funds raises serious concerns about potential malfeasance and misuse of public monies. Without more detailed information about how the money is being spent, it is impossible to ensure that some of it isn’t being siphoned off by corrupt officials. This is especially disconcerting given how prone the Mexican government is to corruption, which has been a root cause of some of the Peña Nieto administration’s most embarrasing security failures to date.