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ANALYSIS

Mexico: Not the Most Violent Country in the World

HOMICIDES / 16 AUG 2011 BY RONAN GRAHAM EN

In the tenth and final installment of a series of “myth-busting” blog posts, the Mexican government pointed out that Mexico is not one of the most violent countries in the world.

In the latest post on the presidential blog, where national security spokesman Alejandro Poire has for the last few weeks addressed, one by one, what he describes as “Ten myths of the fight against organized crime,” he dismissed as yet another “myth” the idea that Mexico is one of the most violent countries in the world.

After a weekend in which 35 people were killed in Mexico, Poire pointed out Monday that several other countries in Latin America have considerably higher homicide rates, including Colombia, Honduras and Venezuela. Poire also said that several Mexican cities such as Veracruz, Hermosillo and Mexico City have lower homicide rates than some U.S. cities, including Washington and New Orleans.

murder_rate_mex_us
Source: Mexican Presidency

Poire acknowledged the sharp rise in deaths related to organized crime in recent years, but said that violence is largely restricted to certain areas. He highlighted the states of Tamaulipas, Chihuahua and Sinaloa, which he said have accounted for most of the violence related to organized crime in recent years.

This is broadly accurate, with Mexico’s nationwide murder rate standing at around 22 per 100,000, compared to almost 70 in El Salvador (or 51, according to older statistics quoted in Poire’s blog) and at least 47 in Venezuela. However, Mexico is home to some of the most violent cities in the world, most notably Ciudad Juarez, which has a murder rate of more than 230 per 100,000.

The fact that this sky-high rate of violence is not present in every part of the country, but concentrated in certain areas, does not do much to improve the government’s image, or to bolster its claims of success in the drug war. It is simply a reflection of the fact that Mexico is a large country, and drug violence is clustered around the most popular drug trafficking routes, and near the U.S. border.

Poire insisted that the much criticized National Security Strategy has “begun to yield its first fruits,” pointing to a reported fall in homicide rates in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. However, as InSight Crime has often pointed out, rises and falls in violence in specific regions can often be better explained by shifts in dynamics of criminal gangs in those areas, rather than by the success of government strategies.

Poire’s blog series has been a slick PR exercise on the part of the Mexican government, addressing various other “myths,” each accompanied by a cartoon video to illustrate his point (See below). These have included the perception that the government has no coherent strategy to combat organized crime, that President Calderon’s military strategy against organized crime has caused increased levels of violence, as well as an explanation of why it would be wrong to negotiate with criminal groups.

While Poire has stated his desire to help Mexicans to have “better judgement based on the facts,” there are question marks over his selective use of statistics in some cases, as InSight Crime has pointed out.

Despite its protestations, and this glossy PR drive, the government is showing little sign of making ground in the battle against the drug trade; the number of killings related to organized crime in Mexico was 16 percent higher in the first half of 2011 than in the same period of 2010.

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