Monday, August 25, 2014
Mexican President Lauds Lower Murder Rate but Problems Persist
By Patrick Corcoran
summer, Mexico's statistical agency, Inegi, released its final tally of murders in 2013, finding a figure of 22,732, compared to 26,037 in 2012. Then last week, President Enrique Peña Nieto told a class of graduating naval officers that the murder rate through mid-2014 was 27 percent below the first six months of 2012.
''Although there is more work to do, we are making progress on the commitment I took on before the
Mexican people to reduce the violence and recover the tranquility for our population,” the president told the graduating
It's not clear what statistical agency the
president was using to make his claim since he did not cite a source. Inegi is one of two official homicide counters and only
releases its data once a year. The other, the National Public Security System, typically has a lower count than Inegi
and releases monthly data.
Still, the Inegi statistic
represents a significant improvement in the murder rate since the end of the tenure of former president Felipe Calderon.
The nearly 23,000 murders last year, which equates to a murder rate of 19 per 100,000 residents, dropped
13 percent from 2012 and 16 percent from 2011, the high-water mark of the Calderon era. The rate of 19 is also well below
the average of some of Mexico's neighbors in Central and South America.
The murder rate of 19 per 100,000 is likewise a significant drop from the worst figure of the Calderon era
-- 24 per 100,000 -- and it seems poised to drop further. Mexico's National Public Security System registered 8,101 murders
over the first six months of 2014, which puts Mexico on pace for a further 12 percent drop in murders this year compared to
InSight Crime Analysis
All of this serves as evidence that Peña Nieto's basic bet on security -- reducing both the attention
paid to insecurity and the violence itself -- is paying dividends. In addition to the litany of statistics like those mentioned
above, the international narrative on Mexico has changed dramatically. Stories of economic liberalization and reform are now
as common as tales of beheadings.
rosy picture glosses over a number of lingering challenges. First, the declines in murders do not account for killings when
the body is not found. The several hundred bodies discovered in clandestine graves in Tamaulipas and Durango in recent years
demonstrates that hiding the evidence of a murder is a favored tactic of certain criminal groups, and is likely to be significantly
more widespread than is appreciated.
Over the first year
of Peña Nieto's presidency, the National Registry of Disappeared Persons counted 2,618 missing Mexicans, many of whom may have been murdered. The fact that gangs often have a natural incentive to hide their dead bodies
-- the greater the public outcry, the more likely a robust federal intervention will force a given gang to alter its modes
of operation -- adds further credence to this theory.
Peña Nieto's positive stats ignore the fact that extortion and kidnapping, two violent crimes whose recent upsurge has eroded Mexico's social stability, do not appear to have dropped.
On the contrary, both have continued to rise since Peña Nieto ascended to the presidency in December 2012. The persistently
high levels of these crimes perhaps explain why perceptions of security have not improved despite the marked decline in the
Peña Nieto's Mexico also retains pockets
of severe violence, which have resisted the overall positive trend. While there have been some high profile successes -- Juarez and Monterrey being two of the most prominent -- many areas in Mexico remain under the heel of criminal groups. Guerrero, Chihuahua,
Sinaloa, and Mexico State are all on pace for more than 1,000 murders, with both Guerrero and Sinaloa on pace to roughly triple
the national murder rate.
Furthermore, while many of the specific
rivalries that have driven violence in recent years have subsided, large and aggressive criminal gangs with conflicting interests
remain scattered around Mexico. The rapid disappearance of Sinaloa Cartel leaders like Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman also promises a potentially destabilizing reorganization of the nation's most powerful trafficking
organization, an event that could cause a spike in violence that reverses recent gains.
Such facts open a substantial hole in the happy narrative emanating from Mexico's presidency.
This commentary, "Mexico President Trumpets Lower Murder Rates But Problems Persist," was first
published in InSight Crime, on Aug. 19, 2014, and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization. InSight Crime's objective
is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Patrick Corcoran (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and international relations student who specializes in Mexican affairs.