Sergio Aguayo, professor at El Colegio de México, said Mexico's politics are in "turmoil" because of sharpening income inequality, a fragmentation of political power not accompanied by the emergence of robust civil society, and the institution-destabilizing violence of organized crime. He indicted Mexico's human rights "bureaucracies" as ineffective, criticized "fraudulent" electoral authorities, condemned poor public finance accounting, and blasted a justice system he said favors the rich and powerful.

Aguayo raised concerns about the outlook of Mexico's democratic consolidation process. He pointed to trends indicating continuing income inequality. He warned on the threat of state capture with 40 percent of Mexico especially threatened by organized crime. He added that drug trafficking organizations are becoming increasingly entrenched as they seek to exploit a growing domestic market, fighting over control of regional markets, or plazas, and not only over trafficking routes. He noted that the number of cartel-related slayings in Mexico is on pace to end 2008 at 4,000, a level similar to total U.S. casualties since the start of the Iraq war. Yet he recognized efforts undertaken by the Felipe Calderon administration to make a stand against organized crime. "For all the criticisms of the federal government, they are doing the right thing," he said.

Electoral transition is not an automatic remedy for the structural and systemic deficiencies that developed over the course of one-party rule in Mexico, Aguayo noted. In fact real political plurality has led to unanticipated consequences, such as the state's inability to control organized crime and heightened partisanship that has threatened the inviolability of institutions key to democratic transition, such as the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). Aguayo expressed concern that the political parties have manipulated in an anti-democratic and partisan way the composition of the IFE's governing council, including the one that presided over the 2006 general elections. He wished for a return to IFE's "golden era," from 1994 to 2003, a time when there existed cross-partisan consensus on the need for an elections body with a strong reputation to ensure free and fair elections. Aguayo indicated that Mexico needs political actors who are truly committed to democratic principles, and he indicated that continuing democratic transition requires an invigorated civil society.

By Andrew Selee, Director, Mexico Institute
Drafted by Robert Donnelly, Program Associate, Mexico Institute