One perennially conflictive northern Mexican state has seen a sudden drop in murders, a happy development that officials attribute to the state government's response to violence.
As Milenio and other outlets reported in April, Durango Governor Jorge Herrera Caldera recently trumpeted a 60 percent drop in the homicide rate in the state.
"We have seen how the number of homicides related to organized crime has dropped, we have made important advances against kidnapping and have captured a large number of people from criminal groups in the Comarca Lagunera, an achievement we share from our side in Durango with Coahuila," Herrera said. (The Comarca Lagunera is the metropolis formed by Gomez Palacio and Lerdo, in Durango, and Torreon, in the bordering state of Coahuila.)
Herrera did not offer a time frame for the 60 percent drop he mentioned, but the federal statistics largely corroborate his analysis. In 2013, according to the National Public Security System (SNSP), Durango saw 476 murders, a homicide rate of just under 30 per 100,000 residents. Of that total, 132 killings took place during the first three months of 2013.
Through the first three months of 2014, Durango witnessed just 76 murders, 40 percent less than the corresponding figure the previous year. This puts the state on pace to register just over 300 murders by the end of the year, which would represent a 36 percent drop.
While Herrera Caldera's figure of 60 percent, offered during a visit by Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, appears to be slightly inflated, there is little doubt that the crime rates have turned favorably in Durango.
InSight Crime Analysis
Durango is at a disadvantage with regard to public security. The state shares borders with Sinaloa and Chihuahua, and houses part of the mountainous Golden Triangle region, famous for the cultivation of marijuana and poppy. The state also lies in the middle of popular contraband transit routes, both from the Pacific Coast to border crossings like Juarez and Reynosa, and also from Mexico City northward.
As a consequence, Durango has given birth to many criminal groups, and has long suffered bouts of intense violence related to their operations. In 2010, for instance, the SNSP registered 1,024 murders in the state, for a statewide rate of roughly 60 per 100,000 residents. In 2012, the number of bodies pulled from clandestine graves since the previous year climbed to nearly 350, suggesting that the registered number of murders may have actually been low.
There are a number of possible explanations for the decline in Durango. One is the lessening of tensions between different groups operating in the region, which had previously been a major driver of violence. A prominent example of this is the end of the war in Juarez. While Juarez is a day's drive from Durango, the tensions between the Juarez Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel and their various allies and offshoots spilled over into neighboring states. Indeed, as InSight Crime reported in 2011, the mass graves in Durango were attributed by some to infighting among different Sinaloa factions operating in Chihuahua.
SEE ALSO: Juarez After the War
Equally beneficial is the decline of the Zetas, who had previously been locked into a long-term conflict with Sinaloa in the Laguna region, with the Zetas occupying Torreon and their adversaries based in Gomez Palacio. Thanks to takedowns of Zetas leaders Miguel Angel Treviño and Heriberto Lazcano, as well as a series of other arrests, the Zetas have lost power in Torreon, which has lessened the violence in the neighboring municipalities in Durango.
But Herrera Caldera is not entirely incorrect in attributing the advances to government activities. The improvement in Durango has coincided with Operativo Laguna Segura, which aimed at driving down the murder rate across the area. Not coincidentally, the rate of homicide in Torreon has also dropped in recent months. Likewise, the federal government's Todos Somos Juarez has also helped oversee a dramatic reduction in violence in Juarez, and has created benefits that trickled down to Durango as well.
SEE ALSO: Zetas News and Profile
However, the fundamental cause of all the improvements in and around Durango appears to be the relationship between the gangs themselves. If the federal government has -- in fits and spurts at least -- done well to take advantage of the opportunities this has presented, it is not clear that it is in a position to engineer such pacifying shifts on its own. That doesn't make Herrera Caldera's satisfaction inappropriate, but it should temper the sense of celebration in analyzing Durango or any other region where the underlying dynamics remain challenging.