More than 34,000 Mexicans have died in drug trafficking-related homicides in the four years since Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, declared war on the drug cartels after taking office in 2006.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Mexican security spokesman Alejandro Poire announced the release of an official government database which catalogs all drug-related killings at both the state and municipal levels from December 2006 to December 2010. Out of the 34,162 deaths listed, 15,273 (nearly 45 percent of the total) occurred in 2010 alone, making last year the bloodiest on record in Mexico’s "drug war."
In the main urban centers of the violence, the database lists 1,667 organized crime-related homicides in Tijuana, 6,437 in Ciudad Juarez, 653 in Mexico City, and 661 in Acapulco over the four-year period.
The data distinguishes between two kinds of deaths: "homicides," in which either the perpetrator or victim is linked to a criminal organization, and "confrontations," in which the deaths result from an armed encounter between authorities and cartels or clashes between the cartels themselves.
Despite the overwhelming number of homicides, the database portrays them as a relatively isolated phenomenon, with 70% of homicides occurring in only 85 municipalities throughout the country over the past four years. According to Poire, "in 2010, out of all the homicides linked to organized crime, half of them took place in only three states: Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas."
Leading up to the database’s release, Mexican government officials have been careful to emphasize recent progress, highlighting various captures and assassinations of cartel leaders as measures of success. In a statement made earlier in the week, Poire told El Milenio that about half of the 37 most dangerous criminal leaders of Mexico have been captured or killed, and said that the administration’s counter-narcotics policy has dealt "severe and irreparable damage to the structures of operations of all organized crime organizations [in Mexico]."
Ultimately, the Calderon government is using the statistics to drum up public support for its relatively hard-line approach towards the drug cartels. A recent survey by the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information (INEGI) revealed that despite the increase in violence in 2010, 81.5 percent of Mexicans are in favor of the federal government’s operations against organized crime in the country.
Still, if violence continues to rise, it may test Mexicans' patience with the administration, potentially costing Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) the presidency in 2012. According to some analysts, the high homicide rate was a major factor in the revival of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in July's regional and local elections. In the elections, the PRI won nine of the twelve governorships up for grabs, as well as control of the lower house of Congress.