Business Leads on Tackling Violence in Mexican City

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The damaging affects of crime and violence can ruin a city. They act as a drag on efforts to increase wealth and improve living conditions, and a city that gets a bad reputation, especially in the age of the Internet, will lose investment opportunities.

The North American nation of Mexico has been struggling against drug and gang-related violence that has left an estimated 47,000 people dead over the past five years. It is a casualty rate worthy of a war.

In Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon state (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuevo_Le%C3%B3n), an innovative initiative has brought together local businesses to tackle the root causes of violence and crime. The initiative – called Red SumaRSE, which means ‘joining a network’ – was born from anger and disgust at the situation in the city. And it was ignited by a prominent member of the business community expressing this frustration on the social media outlet Twitter (twitter.com).

The chief executive of the Cemex cement company had had enough one day. Lorenzo Zambrano tweeted a blunt message to other companies in the city: “He who leaves Monterrey is a coward.” It was to be a rallying cry for the campaign to take back the city from the violent gangs.

Monterrey is embroiled in violent drug-related gang crime. Just one incident shows how bad the situation had become. In August 2011 members of the Zetas drug gang torched a casino over a dispute over non-payment of extortion money, killing 52 people.

Law enforcement measures can often only go so far to curb violence in a community. Little impact can be made without addressing the underlying economic causes of much of the violence – poor employment opportunities, drug turf wars between rival gangs, economic instability and more.

“Violence is an expression of social inequality,” Zambrano told The New York Times.

Tragedies like the casino fire provoked the city’s business community to take action. Private companies in the city have stepped up to design and fund a recruitment campaign for the police force and are paying part of the cost for government-backed community redevelopment plans.

Corporate philanthropy in Mexico has a history of being very limited. Apart from distribution of gifts at holiday time,there was little else. But this is changing, with Red SumaRSE showing the way.

“In the last five or 10 years there has been progress both in terms of the quantity of the money and the quality,” Michael Layton, director of the Philanthropy and Civil Society Project at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico, told The New York Times. “But I don’t think Mexico has caught up to Brazil and other countries where the business sector has taken corporate philanthropy to heart.”

The Red SumaRSE alliance of Monterrey’s companies is directing support to non-governmental organizations working on community development. Examples include telephone company Axtel and the tortilla maker Gruma (gruma.com/vEsp) taking charge of 20 other companies to invest in schools, building up infrastructure and reversing drop-out rates.

The Oxxo company (oxxo.com/index.php), Mexico and Latin America’s largest chain store, has started to work at improving conditions in the neighbourhood immediately behind its headquarters. The company is working on building parks, increasing job opportunities and finding ways to prevent teenagers from joining gangs in the first place.

Cemex has also opened a new community centre in a violent neighbourhood where shootings were a regular occurrence. It was based on some Latin American knowledge sharing: inspired by the case of the Colombian city of Medellin, where libraries were strategically located in violent slum areas.

And there is more good work in the pipeline. The business community has drawn up a list of 70 neighbourhoods in the city needing re-development.

Red SumaRSE has not been without its critics. They have attacked the focus on security, education and victims while ignoring corruption, which many believe is the source of many of the city’s problems.

Resources

1) Medellin: Walking between slums and dreamworlds of neoliberalism: More on the complexities of the situation in this Colombian city.Website: http://www.a0n.com/medellin/dreamworlds.htm

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