Democracy and rights
Mexico is a representative democracy where
power has since 2000 shifted between different parties.
But the rule of law has major flaws. Both political and
civil rights are limited due to corruption, violence and
human rights violations that both state and non-state
actors are guilty of. For journalists, Mexico is one of
the most dangerous countries in the world.
The limitations of democratic freedom and rights mean
that Mexico is classified by the Economist Intelligence
Unit as a "defective democracy" which is just a few
steps from falling into the "hybrid regimes", the third
category on a four-degree scale.
Corruption is widespread, especially at the state and
local levels. Mexico is ranked 130 out of 180 countries
in the Transparency International's (TI) index (see list
here)). The latest listing represents a slight
improvement, after the country has for several years
been declining in terms of the points on which the
ranking is based. Among positive developments, TI
mentions a reform to fight corruption and a new and
independent state prosecutor's office. Otherwise,
however, a number of major corruption scandals have
harmed Mexico, in several cases involving governors. The
civil rights have been eroded, including with regard to
freedom of expression and media. In a new scandal, in
December 2019, a former security minister was accused of
receiving millions of bribes from a leading drug cartel
while he was the chief of the federal police (see below
Offers a comprehensive list of airports in Mexico, including international airports with city located, size and abbreviation, as well as the biggest airlines.
Violence has become a growing social problem in the
2000s. A campaign against the drug powers that began in
2006 has stirred among the well-armed crime gangs but
has led to increased violence instead of diminished.
Corruption and violent crime have also become
increasingly closely related to each other, and legal
security has deteriorated (see further below: The
judiciary and legal security and the war on drugs).
Human Rights Watch has described the human rights
situation in Mexico as "catastrophic" given the many
murders and disappearances that are almost never
The number of victims of the violence decreased in
2012–2014, but the curve has since turned steeply
upwards again. Another new record was struck in 2019
when the number of murdered persons according to
official data amounted to just over 34,500, the highest
figure since statistics began to be conducted just over
20 years earlier.
In total, nearly 275,000 Mexicans have been victims
of deadly violence since 2007. The figure of registered
cases also includes murders that are not directly
related to the drug-related violence. At the same time,
many point out that violence gives birth to violence,
and that the drug war and widespread impunity contribute
to the brutalization of society as a whole. In addition
to those registered dead, more than 60,000 people have
been reported missing (see Calendar).
The violence is often extremely severe, with
massacres, kidnappings and studied forms of torture.
Cutting and truncation are common.
Freedom of expression and media
Freedom of speech and press is guaranteed in the
Constitution, but the widespread violence against
journalists means that freedom is strongly
circumscribed. Relatively severe penalties for advocacy
offenses and for data that are considered to interfere
with the general order also contribute to the
self-censorship of the media becoming commonplace.
President Andres Manuel López Obrador, who took
office in 2018, has raised concerns by throwing dirty
and indirectly threatening media and individual
journalists who are disliking him. He has also directly
asked the leading newspaper Reforma to reveal
The poor security situation - with widespread
corruption, organized crime and political violence -
creates risky working conditions. According to media
organizations, the dangers for journalists are to
compare with the situation in war-torn nations such as
Syria and Afghanistan. Around 150 journalists have been
murdered since 2000, according to the National Human
Rights Commission (CNDH). Reporters Without Borders
(RUG) believes that journalist murders are part of a
systematic campaign and should be investigated by the
International Court of Justice (see Calendar). Very few
murders are cleared up. The country ranks 143rd out of
180 in RUG's index of freedom of the press in the
world's countries (for the full list see here).
Many media workers are also subject to assault and
kidnapping or threats of violence, and many have
disappeared. Not least investigative journalists, as
well as bloggers and activists on social media, risk
getting dangerous enemies. The drug powers are behind a
large part of the abuses, but corrupt police and
military forces also account for part of the violence.
The murders are largely never resolved.
Since 2007, defamation is no longer punishable by
federal law, but criminal offenses remain within
criminal law in several states.
Televisa is a leading media company in the
Spanish-speaking world and exports many programs to
other countries. Televisa previously had close ties to
the long-standing PRI party but is considered to have
become more independent. At the same time, Televisa is
accused of contributing to PRI's election victory in
2012 through selective news reporting and subsequently
uncritically reproducing the PRI government's reality
Judicial system and legal security
The judiciary is formally independent but in reality
politically controlled and ineffective. Lack of
transparency contributes to weak legal certainty, and
few crimes committed by government officials lead to
prosecution and convictions.
Conditions in the country's overcrowded prisons are
difficult. The death penalty was formally abolished in
The widespread violence is devastating for the rule
of law. Harassment and violence to a large extent affect
groups that have nothing to do with drug dealing:
indigenous activists, lawyers, journalists, church
officials and others who have worked for civil liberties
are particularly at risk.
Police and military are not infrequently suspected of
being in contact with the powerful drug cartels and see
between the fingers of abuse that organized crime is
behind. Police officers, who often have poor wages, are
also charged with receiving bribes and for assaulting
suspected criminals. The security forces are pressed to
justify the war and tend to shoot first and then ask.
Arbitrary arrests are common, as are tortures to obtain
"recognition". Accusations of extrajudicial executions
occur. Very few of those involved are held accountable.
Leagues also engage in kidnappings and blackmail,
which often affects civilians. Migrants are a
particularly vulnerable group. An example is a 2010
massacre of 72 Central American migrants who were
kidnapped on their way to the United States (see
Calendar). The cartel behind the massacre, Los Zetas,
has been formed by defected security personnel. Another
notable case concerns 43 teacher students who were
arrested by police after a demonstration and then
disappeared without a trace in the fall of 2014, of all
convicted murdered by a criminal gang.
The war on drugs
Drug trafficking across the border in the north has
been around for a long time, and increased demand in the
United States from the 1970s meant increased smuggling.
When the big cartels in Colombia were destroyed in the
1990s, the handling center was largely moved to Mexico
and the drug leagues there grew ever stronger.
Ironically, democratization in Mexico around the turn of
the millennium (see Modern history) also contributed to
the development. Previously, the state-carrying party
PRI controlled the entire power apparatus down to the
local level, largely through patronage and bribery. When
the PRI's domination broke, the drug cartels could
easily take over and similarly control the mayor and the
When Felipe Calderón took office as president in
2006, he declared "war" on the drug cartels and deployed
the military on a large scale to fight them. He was not
the first Mexican president to use the army against the
drug powers, but the scope was new. Gradually, around
50,000 soldiers patrolled Mexico's streets. The military
was better armed and less corrupt than the police and
was therefore supposed to be able to fight organized
Initially, the "war" won strong favor among the
electorate, but many became increasingly concerned by
the rising violence. In the first few years, tens of
thousands of people were arrested, mainly members of the
four largest cartels, but also police chiefs, military,
mayor, judge and others.
A decade later, more than 150,000 Mexicans have been
killed in violence linked to organized crime, where
drugs are often at the center. The war had the opposite
effect as soon as it was intended, and no illumination
was seen: now new bleak records are being struck (see
Calderón's successor Enrique Peña Nieto (2012–2018)
tried to downplay the talk of war and focus on something
other than crime. But in practice, there were no major
changes. Several of the highest ranking leaders were
arrested during the beginning of the term - a strategy
that, according to critics, only led to the leagues
being split and the violence increasing.
Peña Nieto's successor Andrés Manuel López Obrador is
critical of the military strategy and has advocated
social initiatives, including education for young
people. But he has backed away from previous promises to
withdraw the soldiers from the streets and instead set
up a new military-led police organization, the National
Guard, which, with 50,000 members, will fight the drug
cartels. Many fear it will lead to further
militarization in the fight against the armed gangs. In
addition, it has proved difficult to recruit people to
the National Guard, because the job is dangerous. In
2018 alone, 421 police officers were killed in Mexico.
For a long time the violence was concentrated in some
states, but it has now spread to almost the whole
country. Guerrero has the highest murder rate - with the
classic tourist resort of Acapulco, which is now
Mexico's most violent city. Well-known tourist
destinations such as Cancún on the Yucatán Peninsula and
Los Cabos on the Baja California Peninsula have also
been hit, which risks hitting the tourism industry hard.
One reason for the latest escalation is believed to
be the arrest in 2016 of former drug king Joaquín "El
Chapo" Guzmán, who was followed by a power struggle
within the Sinaloa cartel. The United States has called
Guzmán the most powerful drug king in the world. Guzmán
was extradited to the United States and sentenced in
2019 to life in prison.
Another cause of the escalating violence is increased
demand for heroin in the United States, the world's
largest drug market. Mexican drug cartels are estimated
to make between $ 19 billion and $ 29 billion a year in
sales in the United States.