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Column 012113 Wall

Monday, January 21, 2013

Looking at Mexico's Reported Decrease in the Murder Rate

By Allan Wall

With a new calendar year, and a new president in Mexico (Enrique Peña Nieto took office on December 1st, 2012), Mexico’s abysmal security situation is under analysis. 

To what extent will Mexico’s new president fight crime differently than Felipe Calderon, the previous president?  That remains to be seen.

The analysis of murder statistics in Mexico has become a method of analyzing the situation.  It’s rather morbid when you think about it, as these statistics represent real people who were killed.

What the analysts are looking for is trends. Is the violence going up or down?

At the beginning of 2013, the “good news” is that, for the first time in several years, the murder rate in Mexico actually went down.  Officially there were 12,394 murders in Mexico in 2012.  That’s a 1% drop from the 2011 total.  It’s small comfort for the families of those who did perish, but at least it’s a little bit lower.

Is it a trend or just a glitch?  That remains to be seen.

The violence level varies greatly among various regions and cities of Mexico.  

In the city of Torreon, Coahuila, about 350 miles from the U.S. border, the situation has gotten worse.  The 2012 homicide rate in Torreon was 761.  Compare that to 2006, when the homicide rate was only 39!  But in 2007 the Zetas arrived, to do battle with the Sinaloa Cartel for the coveted drug trafficking routes.  As well, it’s now believed that small local groups are also driving the fighting.

Meanwhile, in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, across the border from El Paso, Texas, the murder rate has actually decreased. 

From 2011 and 2012, the homicide rate in that city actually went down by over 60%, which is astounding.

The 2012 homicide count in Ciudad Juarez was 751.  In the previous year, 2011, the official figure was 2,086.  Not only was the 2012 total lower than that of 2011, but it was the lowest homicide rate for the past five years.

This sounds good, and we all ought to applaud a drop in the murder rate in that troubled city.  But are the figures accurate?

They’ve been questioned due to the fact that they don’t always include the cadavers discovered in mass graves in the area, such as the one found in November, southeast of the city, containing 19 bodies.  Therefore, another analyst puts the figure at 797.  Even so, that would still be a big drop from the previous year.

Doubtlessly there are some murders unaccounted for, but it’s unlikely they would account for the entire 60% drop. It seems certain that there was a decrease in homicides in Ciudad Juarez.

So why did the rate go down?  That’s where analysts aren’t in agreement.  Indeed, it could be due to a convergence of factors.

Some credit the work of the courageous Juarez police chief Julian Leyzaola, who has dealt forcefully with a bad situation.  His division of the city into sectors was somewhat reminiscent of the tactics of Commissioner William Bratton in New York City in the 1990s.

Others give credit to government social programs such as Todos Somos Juarez.  Also, the withdrawal of the Mexican Army in 2010, and the reduction of the Federal Police presence have been credited.

Others have attributed the drop in murders to the Sinaloa Cartel, which was victorious in vanquishing its enemies.  The increase in the violence started in 2007, when the Sinaloa cartel began wresting the drug routes from the Juarez Cartel and local gangs.  In other words, if one drug cartel is in control of a smuggling route, it is likely to be more peaceful.

The homicide rate in the long-suffering city of Ciudad Juarez has dropped, and that’s good.  However, it’s not completely clear why, and it might be due to a combination of factors.  Ironically, the drop in violence might be the result of the dominance there of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Meanwhile, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, the region’s biggest city, crime continues to rise.  It’s sad that northern Mexico, a prosperous region which can contribute to the economic development of the whole country, has been prey to such destructive violence.

NOTE: I was recently a guest of Silvio Canto, Jr., on his “Canto Talk” radio program, along with Michael Prada of the International Center for Democracy.  Topics included my Christmastime trip to Mexico, the situation there, and guns and gun control in the U.S. and Mexico.  You can listen to the interview here.

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Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at http://www.allanwall.info/.


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