Extortion in Mexico: Challenges and Implications for Public Policy

This article discusses the widespread and complex issue of extortion in Mexico, including statistics on its prevalence and low reporting rates, as well as various forms of crime. It highlights the challenges and implications for effective public policies and calls for action to combat the problem.

Extortion in Mexico: Challenges and Implications for Public Policy
Extortion is a major problem in Mexico, with high rates of unreported incidents and little progress in building a sustainable system to combat the issue. Image by rgaymon from Pixabay

The National Survey of Victimization and Perception of Public Security reported that in 2021, there were 4,910,206 home extortions, but only 246,138 of them were reported. Out of those reported, only 52.4 percent were investigated, and 59.6 percent of the investigations concluded that the extortion did not occur, while 26.3 percent were still ongoing.

In a mere 2.8 percent of cases, the alleged offender faced a judge or received a pardon. Asset recovery occurred in only 0.3 percent of cases. These findings were presented at the National Forum on Extortion: Legal and Public Policy Perspectives, hosted by UNAM's Institute for Legal Research (IIJ).

Additionally, the National Business Victimization Survey found that in 2021, approximately 1.2 million economic units fell victim to a crime, with extortion being the most frequent crime at 28.9 percent. Small and medium-sized companies were most vulnerable, with large companies being the least.

At the Forum, coordinator Roberto Ochoa Romero thanked the National Citizen Observatory for co-organizing the event, whose aim is to promote a general law to combat extortion. During the round table discussion, Francisco Rivas Rodríguez, the general director of the Observatory, noted that banking deception is becoming increasingly prevalent, in addition to face-to-face extortion by criminal groups demanding periodic payments to avoid attacks. Another form of extortion involves prohibiting the sale of certain consumer goods, thus controlling the market and generating monopolies.

Extortion and the Need for Legislative Measures in Mexico

Various forms of internal extortion occur within government and companies, including "sextortion," where women are asked for sexual favors to avoid extended work hours, and employees have to pay for vacation approval. Francisco Rivas highlighted that this is not a one-sided crime and is not limited to a single medium. He stressed that, in addition to a failing state and society that accommodates the problem, a network of protection and impunity that protects crime adds to the issue, even capable of extorting from prisons.

In terms of security matters, little progress has been made in building a sustainable system, and what has been accomplished has often been destroyed, requiring a restart each time. Public prosecutors are overwhelmed, with each handling 250 investigation files at once, and working conditions in prosecutors' offices are often subpar.

Over the last few decades, crime has evolved, yet legislative measures have not kept pace. Furthermore, diverse classifications and sanctions among localities impede the creation of a national structure or strategy. For extortion, regulatory instruments must be developed to address the phenomena involved, with proposals for a law informed by prosecutors' needs and working in tandem with legislators. Regulations are not an endpoint but a starting point that will require periodic revision to remain relevant to reality.

Decisive action is necessary to combat crime, as Mexicans are increasingly overwhelmed, and building a country where no one is left behind or feels isolated and abandoned is critical. Rivas Rodríguez emphasized that any one of us can become a victim today, highlighting the need for collective action to address the issue.

The Extent of Extortion and Impunity in Mexico

According to journalist and CEO of México Media Lab, Rossana Fuentes Berain, the current situation in Mexico reflects a multiplicity of actors, both public and private, committing crimes, with citizens responding with limited means and self-blame ("what a fool I was, I should not have paid the money they asked me for").

Extortion is a widespread and complex crime, making it difficult to classify based on the means of commission and hindering the design and implementation of effective public policies. Criminals take advantage of opportunities with minimal risks ("total impunity") and unlimited benefits.

Impunity is astounding, with over five million cases detected and around 120 thousand investigation files, with only 0.3 percent concluding. Fuentes Berain notes that in 1995, she wrote about Mexico 2020, envisioning four scenarios, but today, the country finds itself in the most precarious one, on the verge of or already in a failed state.