According to one newspaper account, Mexico is on pace to surpass last year’s record-breaking tally of murders, though the regional distribution of bloodshed is shifting significantly.
As the Trans-Border Institute reports, Reforma, one of Mexico City’s most prominent daily newspapers, counted 7,443 organized crime-related murders between January 1 and July 25, a 20 percent rise from the same period last year.
The federal government hasn’t released its totals for this year, but the number of organized-crime related murders reported by the authorities has for the last couple of years been significantly higher than most media counts. For example, Reforma counted 11,583 in 2010, while the government later said there had been 15,273.
The Trans-Border report implies that the pattern of divergence between the two scores will repeat itself. Looking at last year's figures, this could mean that the government would count more than 20,000 drug killings in 2011 -- an extremely high number. However, the difference between the media and government figures has never been properly explained, so there is no real reason to assume that it will continue; the two counts may simply end up closer together in 2011, for any number of possible reasons.
A more nefarious possibility is that the government might intentionally massage the numbers downward. Organized crime is a vague designation, and the line between this and street delinquency is not always clear. A government intent on demonstrating that violence has plateaued could adopt a stricter definition for organized crime-related killing, and therefore point to a drop in drug violence.
Beyond the numbers themselves, the distribution of the killings is also striking. As Trans-Border stated (and as InSight Crime has noted in the past), the level of violence in Juarez has dropped off substantially in 2011: while 350 people were killed in October 2010, the figure dropped to a two-year low of 150 in May. (The figures have since rebounded, though with 216 murders in July, Juarez is still far less violent today than last year.)
But despite the substantial drop in killings in the city, sometimes referred to as the most dangerous on earth, violence in Mexico as a whole appears to be on the upswing. In particular, the murder rates have spiked in Guerrero, the southern Pacific state where a number of different gangs are gunning for control; Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, where the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have been engaged in a battle for territory since early 2010; and Durango, where internecine battles among different Sinaloa Cartel factions are thought to be behind the discovery of hundreds of bodies in clandestine graves around the state capital.
Such increases count against the government’s assertion that the violence is strictly limited to a few geographic regions.
The Trans-Border report comes days after a report from INEGI, Mexico’s governmental statistical agency, which put the final total of all murders in Mexico in 2010 at 24,374. This represents a nearly 25 percent jump from 2009, in which 19,803 people were murdered across the country, including in killings unrelated to organized crime.
This continues a worrying trend past several years; after a low of 8,867 homicides in 2007, the number of murders has nearly tripled. The increase in violence related to organized crime is the biggest reason for the rise in overall murders -- according to the government data, the number of murders not related to organized crime actually declined in 2010 by roughly 1,000.
The increase in violence, while more severe in some regions than others, is widespread, further undermining the government’s argument that the drug violent is concentrated in a handful of hotspots. According to INEGI, only three of the country's 31 states witnessed a decline in the murder rate from 2005 through 2010.