The Drug War's Impact on the Mexican Executive Power

Research Paper (undergraduate) 2012 12 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Middle- and South America


Table of Contents

I. Introduction

II. The Drug War

III. Institutional Legacies and Presidential Power

IV. (In-)Formal Extension of Executive Power

V. Conclusion


I. Introduction

Since president Felipe Calderón started his policy of “mano dura” against the drug cartels in 2006, Mexico has seen unprecedented internal violence - with the total number of casualties having exceeded 45.000 in 2011.1 As for the government’s approach of facing powerful drug trafficking organizations by the use of military and federal police still wanting to be understood as original law enforcement, even political science delayed in naming the so-called “Drug War” a war. However, with more than 50.000 soldiers deployed, and the body count still being on the rise, scholars more and more tend to describe and define the situation as such.2

Assuming that the Mexican conflict indeed is a war, subsequent questions can be asked with respect to a classic of political theory. In 1889 already, Alexis de Tocqueville observed the natural tendency of central governments to reach out for more power in times of war. He further specified this statement by claiming that particularly the executive branch gains power in such situations.3 A democratic nation would be subject to this behavior, because it perceives the central executive as “the only power which appears to be intrinsically sufficiently strong, enlightened, and secure, to protect [it] from anarchy͘”4

With a government that demands ever more competences in order to successfully conduct the war, an all the more complex situation is created when the antagonized enemy is of internal quality. The Mexican case provides the analyst with further particularities. Not only follows the country’s executive the logic of presidential system, but also is it still on the democratic recovery from a longterm authoritarian one-party-rule. This paper briefly examines the drug war’s impact on the Mexican constitutional reality and thus aims at answering the question: What effect does the conflict have on the power endowment of the Mexican executive?

In order to validate the hypothesis, that the president’s power is gradually strengthened, the author chose a rather linear approach. After first introducing key data about the Mexican drug war, the institutional legacies of more than 70 years of one-party-rule are discussed. With the president’s power having been on decline since a process of democratization gathered pace in 2000, various aspects of today’s situation are understandable only by scrutinizing the consequences of previous “arrangements” between the ruling party and the drug traffickers͘ The paper’s third part is dedicated to examining the executive’s endeavors to extend its powers via the use of federal forces out of their original jurisdiction as well as via the creation of states of emergency without legal basis - both with dire consequences for the constitutional order of the Mexican state. Finally, the findings are summarized and the conclusion is drawn that the militarized law enforcement notably has power- shifting effects on the Mexican decision-makers and may complicate the further consolidation of the nation’s democracy.5

II. The Drug War

What is meant by the expression “Drug War” or “War on Drugs” in the Mexican context refers to the escalation of a new approach in the country’s counter-drug policy since 2006. As a matter of fact, it is spoken about a multi-layered conflict, with a variety of heterogeneous actors of private and public quality. Nowadays, the violence takes place between five major cartels in Mexico (representing the private actor side) and the Mexican state, represented by the local police as well as by the military and the federal police.

Indeed, Mexico has been a transit route for US-destined South American drugs ever since the ending 19th century.6 The vital fact for the biggest part of the 20th century, is that in the rule of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), from 1929 to 2000, a web of clientelism between politicians and drug traffickers was weaved. It can be claimed that the PRI managed to create “a centralized power structure that permitted and protected drug trafficking organizations throughout Mexico͘”7

With the decline of PRI’s power and the corresponding end of this patronage system, the state’s role as a guarantor for peace between the cartels disintegrated. Agreements among the organizations, regarding distribution channels, transit routes and governmental protection, were not brokered by the state anymore and lost their previous efficacy.8 Consequently, the cartels fell back to the only way of conflict regulation possible in the illegal sphere - inter-gang-violence.9 Accordingly, it can be observed that 90% of the fatalities result from disputes among the cartels about matters that in the past were brokered by the PRI-controlled state.10

Ironically, it thus can be stated that Mexico’s transition to democracy (with the key date of Vicente Fox’ election for the first non-PRI president in 2000) went hand in hand with a steadily deteriorating security situation.11 In order to master this raging security threat, president Calderón in 2006 started to face the cartel violence with the deployment of vast numbers of soldiers and federal policemen and thus lifted the public counter-drug-violence efforts on an entirely new level. Organized crime responded to this declaration of war by opening up a new front against the state as well and thus by combating the now public threat to their profits with further high-scale force.

The conflict now encompasses the cartels and the highly corrupted police as well as the military and federal forces. With more than 50.000 troops deployed and 45.000 people killed since 2006, the still growing violence reaches tremendous dimensions.12 It becomes clear up to now that the conflict constellation is everything but simple. Still, it is worth noting that the civil public also takes its sad part in the clash. Not only do civilians more or less accidentally get harmed during inter-gang fighting, but furthermore journalists are intimidated by the cartels, as for the organized crime trying to prevent them digging too deep into their corruption businesses.13 Moreover, the use of military in domestic affairs against a “private” enemy brings along human rights abuses and makes the civil public somehow victim of the chosen law enforcement approach.

III. Institutional Legacies and Presidential Power

As found above, until the mid 1990ies, the Mexican organized crime situation can be described as „a political-criminal coalition that was maintained by a centralized authoritarian party whose police organizations essentially regulated drug trafficking͘”14 Thus, pronouncedly speaking of a “state sponsored racket” or a “pax mafia”, it is necessary for the analyst to ask for the president’s position within this environment of selective law enforcement.15

Indeed, the president can be located at the top of a cooperating triangle of his office, the PRI and the drug economy.16 With him controlling the PRI, which in turn controlled the Congress, he called the shots not only in the executive, but also was decisive in the legislative.17


1 Webb, Sara/Rueda, Manuel (2011): Mexican group asks ICC to probe president., reuters.com, 25th of November 2011, online: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/11/25/us-mexico-icc- idUSTRE7AO0TA20111125.

2 See: Helwig, Daniel (2011): Pate oder Warlord? Der Drogenkrieg in Mexiko als „Neuer Krieg“., Munich: Grin Verlag, p. 17; Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (2010): Conflict Barometer 2010., online: http://hiik.de/de/konfliktbarometer/pdf/ConflictBarometer_2010.pdf (06.01.2012), p. 48.

3 De Tocqueville, Alexis (2002): Democracy in America., Washington: Regnery Publishing, p. 614.

4 Tocqueville, 2002, p. 614.

5 Lindau, Juan D. (2011): The Drug War‘s Impact on Executive Power, Judicial Reform, and Federalism in Mexico., in: Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 126, Issue 2, p. 177 - 200, online: http://www.psqonline.org/?redir=%2F99_article.php3%3Fbyear%3D2011%26bmonth%3Dsummer%26a%3D01 free (06.01.2012), p. 177.

6 Weeks, Katerina (2011): The Drug War in Mexico: Consequences for Mexico‘s Nascent Democracy͘, CMC Senior Theses, Paper 143, online: http://scholarship.claremont.edu/cmc_theses/143 (06.01.2012), p. 9.

7 Weeks, 2011, p. 10.

8 Farrera, José (2009): Die Einbeziehung des Militärs bei der Bekämpfung des Drogenhandels in Mexiko., in : Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (Ed.): Drogen, Dollars, Demokratie., Schriften zur Demokratie, Vol. 13, p.3 32 - 41, online: http://www.boell.de/downloads/Demokratie_13-Drogen_Dollars_Demokratie.pdf (06.01.2012), p. 34.

9 Helwig, 2011, p. 4.

10 Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, 2011, p. 48.

11 Lindau, 2011, p. 180.

12 Webb/Rueda, 2011.

13 Helwig, 2011, p. 16.

14 Weeks, 2011, p. 11.

15 Michaud, 2011, p. 5.

16 Farrera, 2009, p. 35.

17 Lindau, 2011, p. 181.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
1.5 MB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Economics, Prague
Mexiko Mexico Calderon Drug War Drogenkrieg Exekutive executive Tocqueville power Macht Ausnahmezustand state of emergency estado de excepcion mano dura Machtverschiebung executive power




Title: The Drug War's Impact on the Mexican Executive Power