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Column 042913 Wall

Monday, April 29, 2013

Crime in Mexico and those Never-ending (and Contested) Statistics

By Allan Wall

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has completed nearly five months of his presidency, and the question of security and the ongoing drug war violence are not going away.

The Peña Nieto administration's plan for law and order has six points (see here):

1. Planning, which includes clear objectives and agreement on responsibilities of different governmental levels.
2. Social Crime Prevention. This involves social spending in the high crime areas.
3. Protection and Respect for Human Rights.
4. Coordination in the Federal Institutions.
5. Institutional Transformation. This includes legal reform.
6. Evaluation and Feedback.

How all this will work out within the rest of the president's six-year term is another matter. It's much easier said than done.
Furthermore, analyzing the violence statistics and finding trends is not easy.

Then there's the political factor. In any country, you can count on a sitting administration to put its accomplishments in the best possible light.

Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong released statistics covering December 1st, 2012 to March 31st, 2013, that is, the first four months of the Peña Nieto administration. According to those figures there were 4,249 organized crime related murders. That would contrast with 5,127 such killings during Felipe Calderon's last four months in the presidency, which would be a 17% decrease.

The Associated Press, however, had a lower figure for Calderon's final four months, which would make it only a 14% decrease.

Either way, a decrease would be good, certainly. However, it may not be so clear-cut, as there are inconsistencies in how the Mexican federal government and various states report the data.

Plus, how does the federal government determine if a killing is an "organized crime-related" death?

There are Mexican periodicals which do their own count. Milenio's figures are compatible with those of the government. But Reforma reported a higher count of "drug-related" homicides in the first three months of the Peña Nieto administration than in the last three months of the Calderon administration. La Jornada reported lower levels of such killings but indicated an upward trend.

Is this the same country we're talking about? Yes it is, but it illustrates the difficulty of getting a handle on the statistics and seeing a real trend.

And then, what about violence unrelated to narco violence? All crimes are not committed by drug cartels.

Data obtained from the Mexican government's own statistics indicates that murders not related to drug cartel violence increased in the new administration's first four months.

Here again, the problem may be, what are the criteria? How is it determined that a killing was cartel-related or unrelated? 

Besides the government security forces, the drug cartels, and assorted petty criminals, other forces in the overall Mexican security scene are local groups organized to fight crime, "vigilantes" if you will. 

Their existence is controversial because they are not official police officers, but have taken upon themselves law enforcement responsibilities in high-crime areas.

In the state of Guerrero, there is an umbrella organization known as the Union of People and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG for its initials in Spanish). Its leader is Bruno Placido.

Just as in our Old West days, civilians were sometimes "deputized" for police work, the Guerrero state government has made an agreement with the UPOEG to legally recognize and regulate the group under the rubric of a "Community Security System." Under the agreement, the authority and responsibility of these groups is to be legally defined and they will receive training from the Mexican army. This may be a good solution for the state of Guerrero.

In the state of Michoacan, however, there have been conflictive relations between "vigilante groups" and the official security forces, and such groups have been accused of cooperating with drug cartels.

Another set of statistics, released in February, attempts to determine the world's fifty most violent cities. Mexico has nine cities on the list, while the United States has five. 

According to the list, the most violent city in the world is San Pedro Sula in the Central American nation of Honduras.

Three Mexican cities made the top ten, with Acapulco at #2, Torreon at #5, and Nuevo Laredo at #8.

These were followed by other Mexican cities: Culiacan (#15), Cuernavaca (#18), Juarez (#19), Chihuahua (#32), Victoria (#36), and Monterrey (#47).

The U.S. cities that made the list were New Orleans at #17, Detroit at #21, St. Louis at #40, Baltimore at #41, and Oakland at #43. 

Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years. His website is located at

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