BY GEORGE LEHNER
It has been a tough year for Mexico. As Mexico has borne the brunt of combative political rhetoric from north of the border, the country has also weathered economic and political challenges, as well as an uptick of violence. The first weeks of 2017 saw widespread protests throughout Mexico, a sign that the problems that have plagued this country for last several years are continuing, a manifestation of the pressures that saw Mexico tied as the equal most worsened country on the 2017 Fragile States Index (FSI).
In 10 of the 12 FSI indicators, Mexico showed a decline, moving it’s total score by 3.9 points, a significant change over the prior year. Most notably, Mexico worsened in the Security Apparatus, Economic Decline, Refugees & IDP’s, and Group Grievance indicators. Though the economy continued to grow slightly, the overall economic outlook in Mexico, and its ability to sustain meaningful economic progress, was clouded by doubt. This was largely due to fluctuating oil prices and the uncertainty of the impact of the U.S. election on U.S.-Mexican relations.
More troubling than Mexico’s economic performance, however, was the widespread corruption and outbreaks of violent crime that have continued to plague the country without any real sign of abatement. In 2016, across the country dozens of local officials were threatened or killed; during the mid-term parliamentary election, seven candidates were murdered and many more dropped out, citing threats to their safety if they remained in the running. The source of the violence, sometimes perpetuated by criminal cartels, or attributed to public security forces acting with impunity, contributes to undermine trust in the rule of law and perceptions of personal security. This is mirrored in downward FSI indicator scores for the and Group Grievance indicators.
Whether Mexico is able to address these systemic problems will most likely remain an open question at least until next presidential election slated for 2018. President Enrique Peña Nieto is limited to one term, and already the election year jockeying is underway. Mexico is likely to face a stark choice when it votes in the next election – whether to move further left, undoing some of the pro-market and pro-growth strategies that were undertaken by Nieto or to stick with a more tough, anti-corruption but pro-growth, pro-trade program. A move to the left will certainly put Mexico on a collision course with the U.S. and the current incumbent, increasing economic uncertainty for the next Mexican administration. Mexico is already seeing a significant economic impact, largely attributed to the results of the US election, as the peso has plunged to new and dramatic lows against the dollar in the last several months.
Though Mexico tied for most worsened country in 2017, it is yet to be seen whether this forms part of a more worrying long-term trend. After all, up until now, Mexico had actually been improving over the past decade. Though Mexico clearly has domestic challenges of its own, the U.S. relations with Mexico will likely have a heavy impact on its direction going forward over the short term, or as captured once by former Mexican leader Porfirio Diaz: “Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States.”