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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Mexico’s Lynching Problem

State of the Union: Who is actually running our southern neighbor?
Mexico,City,,February,8th,2019.,Andrés,Manuel,López,Obrador,,President
(Octavio Hoyos/Shutterstock)

A new study from Mexico City’s Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana has found that, over the past seven years, 1,600 lynchings or attempted lynchings have occurred in Mexico. 

The abstract of the study is blunt: “The crisis of authority constitutes one of the basic causes of social violence, which shows itself in the lynchings we see in recent times; the absence which the authorities have generated is occupied by violence in different forms.” The authors do not examine or attempt to classify the individual episodes, but they are unambiguous in laying the blame at the feet of the state.

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An interesting point: While there is a reporting bias to keep in mind, the majority of lynchings and attempted lynchings counted by the authors occurred in the populous central states of Puebla, Mexico City, Mexico State, and Hidalgo, rather than the remote regions dominated by the cartels. That is to say, people felt the need to take justice into their own hands in the places where Mexican state power is strongest.

As we’ve written, a basic problem in American policy towards Mexico is that we are dealing with a weak state. Andres Manuel Lopez-Obrador has provoked entrenched interests by using the military rather than civil authorities to enforce order, but the lynching study suggests the Mexican civil authorities are failing in their own home turf. While some might carp about the “authoritarianism” creeping into our southern neighbor, we find ourselves wondering, as we have before: Why make the perfect the enemy of the good?