Texcaltitlán: when a State loses territorial control

Institutional power can boast that it controls the budget of this country, but it cannot claim something as basic as having control of the territory. This is one of the most bitter realities of current Mexican times. The institutions are there, yes, they just go as far as they go and nothing more. And that excludes vast geographic areas where other powers reign, namely organized crime. The scope of criminal groups is astonishing and is not limited to trafficking in illegal substances. They also cover extortion, the collection of urban (to commerce) and rural (to communities) “floor rights,” human trafficking, the “milking” of “common” crime, the appropriation of legitimate businesses, etc.

An example of the population’s fatigue with this type of repeated situations are the events that occurred in Texcaltitlán, State of Mexico, in which a confrontation between residents and alleged members of the Familia Michoacana resulted in fourteen deaths, including an alleged leader of the criminal group, named Rigoberto de la Sancha Santillán, nicknamed the “Clown.”

The people of the Familia Michoacana, according to press reports, came to town to ask for “the floor” of the most recent harvest. But they were attacked by a large crowd of united residents, women and men. Eleven of the alleged criminals died, as did three of the inhabitants of Texcaltitlán.

This is not an isolated story. Extortion, sadly common in large areas of the country, in its four cardinal points, has been joined, with increasing frequency, by uprisings by civilians tired of the inaction of the authorities and the almost absolute control exercised by the gangs. This means a double failure of the institutions and a sign of the shipwreck of the Rule of Law: first, because the authorities are not capable of guaranteeing full security, the right to life and property of the people; second, because they are not capable of acting to prevent lynchings from occurring, but rather they limit themselves to regretting them.

The increase in violent actions, in which citizens take the defense of their assets and lives into their own hands, outside the police corporations and State security forces, continues to grow. According to figures managed by researchers from the Metropolitan Autonomous University and published last June, between 2016 and 2022 there were 1,423 lynchings in the country, plus another 196 that were never completed. The Mexican highlands, that is, the states of Mexico (where Texcaltitlán is), Puebla, Tlaxcala and Hidalgo, with the addition of Oaxaca, in the south, concentrated 75 percent of the cases.

The issue of territorial control is completely off the agenda for the 2024 federal elections and yet it will be one of the biggest headaches for whoever inherits power from the current administration. Because it is an extremely complex problem and is at the heart of the insecurity and wave of violence under which the country has been living for years.

The transformation of the Federal Police into the National Guard, which was carried out in 2019, has not meant much more than a change of letterhead and political control (within a larger scenario of militarization in the country), but it has not resolved any of the underlying problems. Nor has the increase in military presence in Mexican public life.

The government that emerges from the 2024 elections will have to adopt much more effective and focused measures than those if it wants to regain effective control of the territory and avoid more episodes of overflow and civil violence like that in Texcaltitlán. The real question is whether you will want to and be able to do it.

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