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Mexico’s peace potential

Apr 10,2014 - Last updated at Apr 10,2014

International cooperation is rooted in the quest for a more harmonious, prosperous world. But fostering harmony on a global level requires strong national foundations.

To this end, initiatives aimed at building strong education systems, equitable resource distribution, and well-functioning governments — all of which have been found to underpin peaceful societies — are critical.

One country with significant potential for peace is Mexico. Indeed, as the inaugural Mexico Peace Index (MPI) report revealed last year, Mexico ranks above the global average in terms of life expectancy, youth empowerment, and child-mortality rates.

This can be attributed at least partly to its robust business environment, high educational and health standards, and other strong MPI measures, which have collectively improved by 7 per cent over the last two years.

To be sure, it is too early to determine whether this trend will persist. Despite its recent achievements, Mexico remains in the bottom quartile of the Global Peace Index — 133rd out of 162 countries. Since the start of the calamitous drug war in 2007, it has dropped 45 places — not least because of a 37 per cent increase in homicides.

Moreover, compared to global averages, Mexico lags in three other areas that are crucial to sustaining peaceful societies: freedom of information, government efficiency and corruption.

For example, according to the World Press Freedom Index, more than 80 journalists have been killed in Mexico in the last decade, and 17 have disappeared, making it the Western hemisphere’s most dangerous country for the media.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for Mexico is perceived state corruption, which directly undermines the government’s effectiveness.

While World Bank data indicates that the quality of regulation and governance in Mexico has improved since 2003, the country’s key government institutions are rated poorly, especially regarding the rule of law.

Indeed, impunity has been increasing since 2008, with 84 per cent of homicides going unpunished, compared to roughly 45 per cent in the United States.

In some Mexican states, such as Morelos, the impunity rate is as high as 95 per cent.

Meanwhile, incarceration rates have fallen by 38 per cent — possibly a response to the fact that about 50 per cent of Mexican prisons are overcrowded.

In this context, it is not surprising that 90 per cent of Mexican citizens believe that the police are corrupt, placing Mexico above only three countries, all of them in Africa, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Barometer.

Likewise, more than 80 per cent of Mexican citizens polled said there was corruption among government officials and the judiciary.

While businesses and the military rate close to 30 and 40 percentage points better, respectively, on corruption perceptions, Mexico remains below the global average for overall corruption, ranked 106th of 177 countries.

Breaking the status quo will require a strong, targeted effort by business leaders, civil society, and other domestic and foreign actors, including provisions by international aid donors aimed at preventing state corruption.

The first step is to identify the specific areas that need to be addressed.

From 2003 to 2012, Mexico experienced a 117 per cent increase in small-arms crimes, while illegal small arms transfers increased by more than 300 per cent.

These new military-grade weapons, which criminal cartels purchase easily in the United States, have rendered the police, who already lack appropriate military training, unable to make any real headway in the drug war.

A first step towards reversing this trend would be more aggressive action by the US government to fight the gun-smuggling trade.

For its part, Mexico must work to reduce corruption and improve the prosecution rate. This would increase citizens’ confidence in the police force, thereby helping to tackle another key problem: the underreporting of crime. For example, only 10 per cent of extortion cases are reported to the police.

Bringing violence under control would not only bring massive social benefits; it would also boost economic performance considerably.

According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, eliminating violence from Mexico could add a stunning 27 per cent to its GDP. This figure is supported by the fact that, since 2003, per capita income in Mexico’s most peaceful states has risen by at least 20 per cent more than in the least peaceful states.

Mexico is well positioned to overcome its high rates of violence and build a more prosperous and peaceful society. Success there could serve as a powerful example to other violence-plagued countries.

The writer is the executive chairman of the Institute for Economics and Peace. ©Project Syndicate, 2014.

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