Global Ethics Corner: Mexico: Violence and Democracy

Jul 9, 2010

Must governments meet violence with an authoritarian response? In the recent Mexican election, citizens could demand a crackdown on druglords at the price of personal freedoms, or continue to participate at the risk of their safety. Mexicans chose the latter. What would you do?

When violence enters politics, must it be met with an authoritarian response?

Mexico's recent elections were marred by extensive violence. Drug lords played "a visible role in interrupting the process." One candidate for governor was murdered a week before the election. Four bodies were hung from a bridge. Intimidation was applied to citizens, poll workers, and voters. Fear was profound.

A government's basic duty is to protect citizens. The Mexican election makes the polar choices clear.

First, citizens retreat to their homes for safety, demanding protection and harsh government reaction. The government dramatically increases violence against drug lords, eroding individual rights at the margins. Public space becomes empty except for the extremes, while law and order may be restored. The price is more authoritarian politics.

Alternatively, citizens continue to participate, taking public risks. The government responds strongly but usually bounded by all citizens' civil rights. Since drug lords are not bound, violence is curbed but not eliminated, and an imperfect democratic process limps forward.

Mexicans clearly made the second choice. The ruling PRI party won nine of 12 governorships, but was thrown out of power in several states. While turnout was somewhat lower, people participated, voting against corruption and accommodation to violence. The drug lords failed at intimidation.

What would you have done? Would you demand security, and risk infringement on personal freedoms? Would you participate, and risk violence?

Mexicans showed that their democracy is "surprisingly healthy."

By William Vocke

For more information see:

Marc Lacey, "Mexican Democracy, Even Under Seige" The New York Times, July 5, 2010

William Booth, "Two parties claim victory in Mexico after campaign marred by violence," The Washington Post, July 6, 2010


Photo Credits in order of Appearance:

Oscar Alvarado
Ohio R. Angel
¿Es realmente necesario? Todos tenemos uno
Ariel Gutiérrez
Jesús Villaseca Pérez
Stanley Wood
Jesús Villaseca Pérez
Nathan Gibbs
Troy Holden
Omar Bárcena

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