The Mexican Drug War Isn’t Getting Any Worse, Now Here’s the Bad News

Homicides decline in 2013, but the total number of drug war deaths could exceed 100,000

The Mexican Drug War Isn’t Getting Any Worse, Now Here’s the Bad News The Mexican Drug War Isn’t Getting Any Worse, Now Here’s the Bad News

Uncategorized October 25, 2013 0

Mexican army troops during an exercise in February 2013. secretariat of national defense photo The Mexican Drug War Isn't Getting Any Worse, Now Here’s... The Mexican Drug War Isn’t Getting Any Worse, Now Here’s the Bad News
Mexican army troops during an exercise in February 2013. secretariat of national defense photo

The Mexican Drug War Isn't Getting Any Worse, Now Here’s the Bad News

Homicides decline in 2013, but the total number of drug war deaths could exceed 100,000

by ROBERT BECKHUSEN

Murders in Mexico have gone into decline this year. That’s the good news, considering its the first time homicides have dropped since the Mexican military’s war against the drug cartels began more than six years ago.

Here’s the caveat.

The situation is not nearly as rosy as what Mexico’s political leaders are saying. Homicides are still well above the levels seen in the early years of the war when Mexican troops began to hit the streets — and when violence began escalating sharply.

The total number of people killed in the drug war is also likely higher than commonly reported and is comparable in loss of life to recent and ongoing Middle Eastern conflicts.

These are some of the conclusions arrived at from data compiled by Molly Molloy, a research librarian at New Mexico State University and an analyst of homicide statistics in Mexico. Nearly every day since 2008, Molloy has chronicled Mexico’s killings at Frontera List, a discussion board widely read by border and drug war reporters.

There are two primary sources for homicide statistics in Mexico — an important distinction. There’s the National Institute of Statistics and Geography or INEGI, which functions as the state census and statistics agency, and the Executive Secretariat of National Security or SESNSP, which is Mexico’s equivalent of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Molloy used the law enforcement statistics for the monthly totals. So far in 2013, there has been an average of 1,537 intentional homicides per month, a 14 percent drop from 2012's record high of 1,808 intentional homicides per month — a year when roughly 30,000 people were killed.

That’s a real decline, but lower than 18 percent decline credited by the administration of Pres. Enrique Peña and still substantially higher than in the early years of the Mexican army’s war against the cartels.

Pres. Felipe Calderón, who led Mexico from 2006-2012, ordered the military onto city streets shortly after taking office. Kidnappings and running gun battles became a fact of life in many of Mexico’s larger cities, and the homicide rate immediately began rising. This year’s average is only slightly lower than the overall monthly average since 2006.

Worse, this means the total number of people killed in the war is much higher than commonly reported.

Mexican navy helicopter during a demonstration in August 2013. Secretariat of National Defense photo

Statistics used in media reports commonly cite a total of 80,000 people killed in the war. But Molloy added 2013's law enforcement records to the census bureau’s annual records and came to an estimated 135,517 deaths. That’s possibly more deaths than the Syrian civil war.

Why is there a difference between the two numbers? According to Molloy, reporters have been relying too heavily on a second set of inaccurate and outdated numbers provided annually by the SESNSP.

This was a “poorly-defined subset of 50-60 percent of the actual number of homicides in the country, along with a narrative designed to criminalize the victims,” Molloy writes in the Houston Chronicle.

But splitting the total in half turned out to be no better than guesswork. No official statistics were kept for “organized crime” homicides that made up the 50-60 percent figure, and the government ended the practice in 2012, according to El Diario.

“What has happened is that the epicenters of extreme violence have dispersed around the country, making it more difficult to know how many people are dying,” Molloy writes. Mexican media outlets have also increasingly self-censored reports about violence, fearing retaliation from the cartels.

After taking office, Pres. Peña moved to reform Mexico’s military strategy by moving troops fighting the cartels back to their barracks — soldiers were seen as worsening the violence instead of preventing it — and replacing them with police. But the troops have moved to the countryside and now appear to be digging in.

Earlier this month, press reports disclosed a new base is being built in Chihuahua state to house an army rifle battalion of about 600 soldiers.

“Mexico’s military commanders are concentrating their efforts in the Mexican sierras where law and law enforcement are at premium, leaving the cities and the highway to Mexican civilian security forces,” wrote Borderland Beat’s Chris Covert.

Correction 10/27: This article’s intentional homicide statistics were incorrect. There was an average of 1,808 homicides in 2012, which dropped to 1,537 in 2013 according to the Secretariat of National Security.

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