The rocky road to peace in Mexico

By Steve Killelea

Chairman and Founder of the Institute for Economics and Peace

Mexico has been a focus of the presidential race, with candidate Donald Trump’s pledge to construct a wall, if elected, along the border to stem the flow of people seeking better lives in the United States. So what is the level of instability in Mexico, according to the most authoritative research into that country’s peacefulness, released Thursday?

Despite reports of uncontrolled organised crime and the kidnappings of Mexicans, Americans and Australians, the US’s southern neighbor continues to be more peaceful, with a 10 percent decline in the rate of violent crime and an eight percent decrease in organized crime-related offenses in the last year, the 2016 Mexico Peace Index shows.

In fact, it is the fifth year in a row that peace has grown in Mexico, with the country indicating drastically improved levels of peacefulness now than it was at the height of the drug war. Violent crime, homicides and organized crime have all fallen by nearly 30 percent since those times in 2011, meaning 25 out of the 32 states in Mexico have become more peaceful in the intervening years, including four of the five states that ranked at the bottom of the scale back then. These improvements in peace have meant that about 85 percent of Mexicans live in states that are more peaceful today than they were in 2011.

But it’s not all good news. The 2015 figures also show deteriorations in the nation’s homicide rate, the levels of which increased by six percent. The largest deterioration occurred in Baja California Sur where the homicide rate more than tripled, from 5.7 in 2011 to 19.8 in 2015. The rate of weapons crime increased sevenfold.

Also of concern is a trend towards increased impunity, which has deteriorated dramatically from 2007 when there were four convictions for every five cases of homicide. By 2013, there was only one conviction for every five cases. This, combined with increases in detention without sentencing and the over-crowding of prisons, points to an overstretched and under-performing judicial system.

Greater investment in the judiciary and other structures that promote peace — such as education — will reap greater economic rewards for Mexico. Already, improvements in peacefulness have generated a benefit of 802 billion pesos (US$50 billion) in the country for the years since 2011. This represents nearly one and a half times the size of a single year of Mexico’s agricultural production.

The economic impact of violence, including the opportunity cost, is calculated to be 2.12 trillion pesos (US$134 billion) in 2015 alone, which is the equivalent to 13 percent of Mexico’s GDP. This corresponds to 17,525 pesos per person, roughly equal to two months of wages for the average Mexican worker.

The government has been putting money towards violence containment, with rates of expenditure rising. Since the start of the escalation of violence in 2007, Mexico’s spending on the police and military has grown at an average rate of 12 percent per annum. This rate outpaced the average growth in overall government spending, which increased by nine percent in the same period.

The Mexico Peace Index is based on the work of the Global Peace Index, the leading measure of global peacefulness that has been produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace every year since 2007. It is part of a series of national peace indices, which includes the United States Peace Index and the United Kingdom Peace Index.

The Mexico edition provides a comprehensive study of peacefulness in the country from 2003 to 2015 and aims to deepen the understanding of the trends, patterns and drivers of peace in Mexico, while highlighting the important economic benefits that will flow from a more peaceful society.

With that analysis, the 2016 report presents a cautiously optimistic picture for the future of peace in Mexico. However, efforts need to be strengthened to counteract the slowdown in the improvements in peace that occurred in 2015. It is too early to determine if this is a reversal of the trend of improving peacefulness or a brief deviation.

Ideally, the revelations in the report will inform a strategic discussion among policymakers, researchers, business leaders and the public. The intention is to contribute to change and have a positive impact on the efforts to bring about a long lasting, meaningful peace in Mexico.