Key takeaways

Homicides are expected to break another yearly record in 2020, as turf wars between rival cartels have intensified despite the pandemic and movement restrictions. The lack of a clear and structured government policy to stem soaring violence and counter cartels’ expansion will contribute to a worsening business operating environment in violence-prone states like Guanajuato, Chihuahua, Baja California and Jalisco.

Against this backdrop, the most likely (70%) scenario for the remainder of the year will build on government performance this year to date, characterised by lax government action, widespread impunity and endemic corruption. Risks to foreign companies operating in violent hotspots will include opportunistic acts of criminality (e.g. kidnappings, extortion, muggings) and collateral damage arising from turf wars. Increasing levels of cargo theft from trucks and trains is also a concern.

The implementation of a structured “hugs not bullets” approach will be made unfeasible by worsening indicators. A deteriorating economic environment will limit the government’s room for manoeuvre in promoting economic policies aimed at alleviating poverty and reducing recruitment opportunities for cartels. The cartels have also used social-support initiatives, like food kitchens and
cartel-branded food parcels, to promote community loyalty in many areas. A war-like military stance against organised groups remains unlikely owing to repeated failed precedents and President López Obrador’s electoral promise of not waging war against cartels.


After six years of rising murder rates, Mexico is heading for another annual record. In the first six months of 2020, homicides totalled 17,493, marking a 1.7% increase compared to 2019. The previous year had already been confirmed as the most violent on record. Guanajuato continues to lead rankings as the most violent state in the country, with 2,293 killings between January-June, followed by Chihuahua, Baja California and Jalisco. Unsurprisingly, these states, along with Puebla, also head the list for increases in cargo thefts of all types. Between May 2019 and April 2020, Puebla recorded 1,100 truck thefts and assaults on drivers.

Intensified cartel violence has been the main driver of growing violent crime, as cartels have taken advantage of the Mexican government’s relatively passive stance to intensify the settling of turf wars. During the pandemic, they have been helped by the fact that security forces have been depleted through virus infections as well as duties guarding health facilities and depots. Meanwhile, pandemic restrictions barely impacted the extent of cartel smuggling activity, with seizures at the US Border and in European ports running at record levels this year.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had initially promised to avoid the violent and unsuccessful enforcement strategies pursued by his predecessors…..

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