Mexico’s struggle with organized crime has consumed much of the policy agenda in the administrations of Felipe Calderón and now, Enrique Peña Nieto.  Academics and policy analysts looking beyond the battles with high-level organized crime groups have identified street gangs in Mexico as a potential looming security threat.  After conducting interviews with gang experts in Mexico, I discovered that security- centric responses often exacerbate the problem.  Mexico would be better served by a long-term development and human rights oriented strategy to address the problem of youths in gangs.  Indeed, at least rhetorically, the new Peña Nieto administration recognizes this and has discussed plans to apply this strategy more broadly.  Whether rhetoric will become reality will depend upon the administration’s commitment to these long-term policies.

Much has been made about the real and potential nexus between gangs and higher-level organized crime groups.  While some gangs have links to cartels, the majority do not.  Gangs such as Barrio Logan (a U.S.-based gang with links to the Arellano Felix cartel in Tijuana) and Barrio Azteca (originally a U.S. gang from El Paso with links to the Juarez cartel) get the lion’s share of the attention because they are well known, violent and connected to cartels in overt ways.  But most gangs in Mexico are low on the criminality spectrum and gang prevention would be better served through development-oriented programs, such as those that generate safe public spaces, and employment programs that include life skills components.

via Youth gang prevention in Mexico | Baker Institute Blog | a blog.