A new report by the Trans-Border Institute documents the major trends in Mexico’s drug war last year, which saw violence dropping in some of the most dangerous areas, and rising in places far from the US border.
The report said that while homicides linked to organized crime in major drug trafficking hotspots along the US border seem to be falling, they are on the rise in Mexico's interior. Whereas in 2010 the five most violent cities in Mexico accounted for around 32 percent of crime-related killings, they now make up slightly less than a quarter. Ciudad Juarez, once widely considered to be “ground zero” in Mexico’s war on organized crime, witnessed the most drastic change: in 2011 the city accounted for just 9 percent of Mexico’s violence, compared to 18 percent in 2010. At the same time, however, crime-related violence was on the rise in other cities and municipalities, with the cities of Acapulco, Monterrey, Veracruz, and Durango all seeing major increases in killings.
This trend has played out on the state level as well. In 2010, crime-related murders in the three most violent states (Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas) made up more than half the total in the country. However, last year violence in the top three (Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Nuevo Leon) accounted for only 41 percent of the total. While homicides fell in the notoriously violent states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Baja California and Sonora, they rose in Veracruz, Guerrero, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila.
The case of Veracruz is especially alarming. Between 2007 and 2010, the state saw only 113 organized crime-related homicides. However, last year it registered an astounding 888, making it the sixth most violent state in the country. In 2010 it was 16th, meaning it rose 10 places in just 12 months. This violence likely stems from a recent dispute between the Zetas, who have held the state for most of the past decade, and the nascent Mata Zetas, or Zeta Killers, a branch of the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG).
However, the report’s authors note that last year may have brought good news: although the number of organized crime-linked homicides continued to grow in 2011, it appeared to grow at a much slower rate than years past. This suggests that the trend may be reversing, a claim that President Felipe Calderon has made in defense of his controversial security strategy, which involves an aggressive assault on drug trafficking organizations. As InSight Crime has reported, last year’s official tally of crime-linked homicides (12,903) was only 11 percent higher than the year before. By comparison, the 2010 total was 70 percent higher than in 2009.
Still, this figure should not be seen as an unalloyed victory for the Calderon administration. It is six times higher than the number of organized crime-linked killings in 2007, and accounts for more than half (53.8 percent, according to the Trans-Border Institute) of all the homicides in the country. For this reason the drop is not likely to quell Calderon's critics, who argue that the strategy generates more violence with few concrete gains.
Interestingly, the Trans-Border Institute argues that the diffusion of violence throughout the country is a reflection of major changes in Mexico’s criminal underworld. Because all the country’s drug trafficking organizations have had to adapt to major hits to their command structure (with the Zetas being the possible exception), the report suggests these groups have added new sources of revenue to their criminal portfolios. The geographical shift in violence could be due to criminal groups using violence to protect their non-drug-related activities, which depend less on access to the border region. This fits with reports of the increasing incidence of human trafficking in Mexico, as well as the growth and diversification of extortion schemes in the country.