Femicide is broadly defined by the World Health Organization as the intentional killing of women because they are women. Mexico has been facing a femicide crisis since at least 1993.
Since the crisis first gained international attention three decades ago, the rate of femicide has only worsened—increasing by 145% since 2015. Today, it is believed that up to 10 women are murdered daily in Mexico. This humanitarian crisis has captured the attention of the international community, with entities like the United Nations and Amnesty International paying close attention to the issue. This increased international attention on Mexico has also led to more scrutiny of Mexico’s status as a democratic state.
Particularly, the femicide in Mexico has exposed the level of impunity that exists. Activists in Mexico have been extremely vocal about the amount of femicide that is not investigated in the country, and it is now estimated that up to 93% of crimes in Mexico go unreported—with 9 in 10 homicides going unpunished. Intense international pressure has led past governments to attempt to control the levels of violence and impunity within the country, but they have been unsuccessful.
This impunity shows the true weakness of Mexico’s democracy because of the amount of corruption that exists within the state. The main reason behind the high rates of impunity in Mexico is the corruption between organized crime and members of government. Crimes that are committed in relation to organized crime are not investigated because members of law enforcement have connections to organized crime groups like the drug cartel. While this example of corruption exists within the judicial system and out of the democratic process, it still hints at a much larger issue at play.
In 2018, current Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was elected in a landslide. His campaign was successful in part because of his promises to end violence in Mexico and to reduce impunity and end corruption in government.
As a response to the promise to end violence and corruption, López Obrador’s government removed traditional law enforcement from many of their duties and installed the national guard in their place. This was an attempt to remove the corrupted, impunity ridden police forces and replace them with a federally controlled military force. While AMLO’s government says that it is going to eventually remove the military from the police forces and reinstall the local police, the budgets for strengthening local police have decreased or been eliminated altogether.
The 2021 midterm elections in Mexico were some of the most violent to date, with dozens of candidates being assassinated and others being scared away from threats of violence. These assassinations and threats came from organized crime groups within Mexico that are still looking to infiltrate the government. Despite the campaign promises made by AMLO, it seems that he has begun to turn a blind eye to this corruption within the political system that continues to weaken Mexico’s democracy. The continued high rates of femicide correlate with this violence, suggesting that there are still high levels of corruption at the local level.
From the beginning of his presidency, AMLO was known for his little regard of democratic norms. The left-leaning populist has done what others like him in Latin America have done before: ignored democratic norms and liberties in an attempt to make good on promises. However, the concern amongst many in the international community now is that the ignorance to these democratic norms is a hint at something more sinister than populist ideology and policy. While AMLO came into office on the basis of ending corruption in the Mexican government, there is some question now as to if he is actually doing the opposite.
A 2018 Vox report highlighted the correlation between efforts to investigate and end corruption and democratic backsliding in Latin American countries. In the article, selective prosecution is named as one of the most concerning aspects of these efforts to end corruption. There is evidence to suggest that the current Mexican government is now guilty of selective prosecution. AMLO’s government filed money laundering charges against a Supreme Court justice that were eventually dropped for lack of evidence, but not before the justice resigned and an AMLO selected justice took their place.
Some may suggest that if the people are satisfied with López Obrador ignoring democratic norms in order to make good on his campaign promises, his actions are permissible and actually not infringing upon democracy. While it may be the people’s will, it does not mean that it is right for the health and survival of the democratic system. A large part of democracy relies on the system in place sustaining and supporting a healthy democracy. What AMLO is doing is the opposite. If his actions turn out to be successful in keeping his promises, he will not be inclined to go back to obeying democratic norms that foster healthy democracy.
Mexico’s democracy is at extremely high risk of collapse. Femicide in Mexico has helped to expose what factor is causing the most democratic backsliding: corruption from organized crime groups and the federal government. The Economist Intelligence Unit index of democracy downgraded Mexico from a “flawed democracy” to a “high risk” democracy. Freedom House also has concerns about Mexico, only giving it a 60/100 or ‘party free’ rating. López Obrador’s government has now made countless institutional changes that directly threaten the future of democracy in Mexico. They have also begun to threaten people that stand in the way with false prosecution and imprisionment—both of which hint at a failing democratic system. In order for Mexican democracy to survive, there needs to be different institutional reforms that do not involve cutting corners and harming democratic norms.