Mexico may make serious headway in its fight against organized crime by designating one criminal group as the "most violent," and then focusing most of the government's resources against them, according to a new report by the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Doing so may create more incentives among Mexico's criminal groups to reduce violence, in order to avoid being designated as the "most violent" threat to public society, the report argues. If Mexico is able to focus its law enforcement efforts (with US support) against the "most violent" group, this could also weaken the designated group's economic power, if those involved in the group's criminal network seek to distance themselves.
The proposal forms part of an impressive compilation of assessments of the current state of criminal enterprises in Mexico by the Center's Mexico Institute.[Get pdf version of full report]
InSight Crime Analysis
The report's argument appears to support Mexico's designation of the Zetas as their top security priority, as the Zetas are frequently described as Mexico's most aggressive criminal organization. But as the Mexico Institute points out, this approach also brings several key risks. The first is that the government would have to use some solid criteria for determining which group is truly the "most violent," especially considering that many of Mexico's murders go unsolved, attributing a given amount of violence to a single group brings its difficulties.
The report states that the "most violent" designation should be "clear, publicly announced, and transparent," but it is unclear whether the government can make a strong enough case for singling one group out above the others. In Acapulco alone, there may be as many as 14 different groups fighting for control of the drug market, the report notes, "making it hard to assign blame for the violence to any specific group."
The other risks of this approach is that it would justify criticism that Mexico is pursuing one group while "favoring" others. This carries echoes of the accusations that President Felipe Calderon's administration took a "soft" approach to the Sinaloa Cartel, something which the government strongly denies. And considering that Mexico's underworld is already so fractured, it is unclear whether focusing law enforcement efforts against one group would be enough to significantly change the balance of power.
Nevertheless, the report argues, Mexico still has a fairly limited capacity to confront its organized crime problem. From a practical standpoint, it might be in the government's best interest to prioritize one group above the rest, although the risks of such an approach may outweigh the potential gains.
A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.