State of emergency: Mexico's kidnapping epidemic

As the number of kidnappings and homicides continue to rise across Mexico, the government has introduced a new law giving the military broad powers to combat crime.


Since the start of current President Enrique Pe'a Nieto's term on 1 December 2012 up to October 2017, there have been 6,235 cases of reported kidnappings in Mexico according to the Sistema Nacional de Seguridad P'blica (SNSP), a government agency. This is compared to 4,955 during the same period of previous President Felipe Calder'n's six-year term. There are eleven months left in the current presidential term and the number of kidnappings will continue to rise during that period and could reach as many as 8,000 cases. A2 Global notes that the number of actual kidnappings is likely to be higher, as many cases go unreported by victims and their families. States with the highest number of kidnappings during the past four years and ten months are Tamaulipas and Mexico state, with 965 and 928 cases respectively. Veracruz and Guerrero states follow with 628 and 524 cases, followed by Tabasco and Morelos with 432 and 372 cases respectively. Michoac'n state and the capital Mexico City reported 358 and 259 cases. In addition to the record number of kidnappings, the SNSP reported that October 2017 was the deadliest month in 20 years, with over 2,371 homicides. Between January 2017 and October 2017, homicides rose by 23.6 per cent compared with the same period in 2016.


A key cause of the dramatic increase in kidnappings is the fracturing of criminal drug trafficking groups due to arrests or deaths of group leaders as well as military pressure. Such fracturing has forced former members of drug cartels to turn to faster methods for generating revenue, as they now lack the resources to traffic drugs transnationally. As local drug cartels splinter, they have diversified their criminal operations to include kidnapping. Kidnappers target those they perceive to be wealthy, particularly business travellers and their local colleagues, as well as foreigners who are of Mexican decent or have families in Mexico. While large organisations sometimes kidnap their victims only after a prolonged period of surveillance, kidnappings are also at times opportunistic attacks by unsophisticated criminals. Kidnappings are typically accompanied by some degree of violence, and the victims are usually released following the payment of a ransom.

Government response

In 2014, the government created an anti-kidnapping unit called Coordinaci'n Nacional Antisecuestro, or Conase, tasked to counter the rising tide of kidnappings, with a budget of over USD122 million in 2017. However, three years after its creation, the unit has done little to reverse the upward trajectory of kidnappings. Local administrations say that a lack of investment and resources prevents them from tackling the issue, compounded by a lack of specially trained police units.Activists have called for the government to target and disrupt kidnapping groups' financial structures rather than simply making arrests, as the groups easily reorganise following law enforcement operations. Also read:'Ethiopia's garment industry, between high potential and low yield In December, congress passed a contentious new law that will give the military the power to fight domestic crime. The law, known as the Law of Internal Security, gives the president authority to order the military to carry out activities that would rationally fall under the purview of law enforcement, such as arresting civilians and carrying out raids. The law, which at the time of writing awaits the signature of President Pe'a Nieto before coming into force, has galvanised the country and led to widespread protests. Several international organisations, including the United Nations, have condemned the law and urged Pe'a Nieto to veto it. A2 Global notes it is extremely unlikely that he vetoes the law as his ruling PRI party desperately need the crime wave to turn ahead of the 2018 general election.