What do the Mexican people think about the government's war on organized crime?
President Fox's increased efforts to destroy the drug cartels in Mexico met with strong public approval. He decided to significantly increase the role of the Mexican armed forces, given the inadequacies of local, state, and federal police in dealing with the cartels. The Mexican public has consistently maintained a high degree of confidence in the armed forces; thus, it was likely that Mexicans would view their use against the cartels in a positive light. By contrast, the police receive little support or votes of confidence from Mexicans. Fox had some success in his campaign against the major cartels, but Felipe Calderon decided to pursue them much more aggressively than any of his predecessors, arguing that the cartels posed an increasing threat to Mexican governmental sovereignty, national security, the rule of law, and general well-being. After 2007, drug-related violence and murders increased dramatically, but they declined in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and appeared to be on the rise in 2016. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reported that violence has contributed to a hundred thousand deaths in the past ten years. There are two related reasons for this. First, the government's strategy resulted in the arrests of a number of top cartel leaders, creating a vacuum in the leadership. Second, the drug cartels' violence was directed largely against each other in an attempt to wrest control of certain regions. Because the armed forces and the government federal police have taken much more aggressive actions against drug traffickers, cartels have killed many more representatives (and family members) of the military, the police, and the public prosecutor's office than previously.
In 2007, approximately 44 percent of Mexican municipalities had no homicides, representing a historic low in Mexico's homicide rate. From 2000 to 2007, fully 40 percent of all municipalities reported no murders. However, by 2012, only 30 percent of municipalities were murder free. Despite the fact that the overall number of homicides began to decline under Pena Nieto, the actual level and perceived level of criminal violence have produced a significant shift in public support for the government's strategy. Given the fact that the cartels rapidly began diversifying their criminal activities into such crimes as kidnapping, extortion, and human trafficking, it is more accurate to label them "organized crime." By 2010, more citizens believed the government would not be able to defeat organized crime than believed it could succeed. By 2015, however, 55 percent believed organized crime would win, while only 17 percent chose the government. By the fall of 2010, important institutions and the public increasingly expressed the view in polls or to the media that the government should consider other strategies to cope with drug traffickers, including negotiating with the cartels. Former presidents Zedillo and Fox have both called for the legalization of some drugs, believing that the interdiction strategy is not working in Mexico. The Mexican Supreme Court opened the door in 2015 for the legalization of marijuana for personal use in a decision that would allow a small group of individuals to grow marijuana. Uruguay has already legalized it. Since 1988, the National Addiction Survey has reported an increase in the number of Mexicans who have tried any illegal drug at least once, and marijuana accounts overwhelmingly for the most likely choice. Regardless of the court's decision and Mexicans' increased desire to try a drug, as well as overwhelming support (by seven out of ten Mexicans) for permitting the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, Mexican public opinion is overwhelmingly (two-thirds) against legalizing marijuana. The governor of Guerrero, one of the states with the highest level of drug-related violence, in 2016 made the first serious public proposal to legalize the production of opium poppies for medical purposes. Pena Nieto sent a bill to the Chamber of Deputies in 2016 requesting legislation that would legalize marijuana for medical use, a decision that represents a significant change in the attitude of the presidency. The Catholic Church has also begun to express doubts about the wisdom of Mexico's war on drugs, as human rights violations by the military and security forces have increased significantly and the violence continues unabated. Complaints of torture more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, reaching 2,403. From 2006 through 2014, there were 11,499 complaints of abuse brought against the army and navy alone, and only 137 resulted in legal cases. For the first time, in an extraordinary admission, the Mexican secretary of national defense, General Salvador Cienfuegos, issued a public apology for the behavior of soldiers caught on video physically beating a woman lying on the ground. Bishop Salvador Rangel Mendoza of Guerrero even suggested that the governor's plan might offer a way out of poverty for many communities in his diocese. Nearly half of all Mexicans are afraid to go out at night, and one in four has stopped visiting friends or relatives.