The latest figures on violence in Mexico suggest that the country will not see dramatic security improvements this year. Alejandro Hope says that recent mass killings, like the beheading of 49 people near Monterrey, show that the incentives for violence remain powerful.
The Secretary General of National Public Safety has released preliminary statistics on crime in April. Numbers from the Federal District are still missing, but there are already a couple of early conclusions we can draw. Like I say every month, these statistics should be taken exclusively as indications of trends. In all probability, the numbers are significantly under-reported, but the evidence shows that we are dealing with more or less systematic biases.
As in March, the results are mixed, but this time bad news predominates. A list of the highlights:
- There was a slight change to the figures from the first trimester: the total number of homicides rose from 4,998 to 5,037 between January and March. [The opening trimester of 2012 was the first time Mexico has experienced a year-on-year drop in killings for such a period since 2007. It was originally calculated that 2012's opening trimester saw homicides drop 6.9 percent compared to the same period lear year. With these revised homicide statistics, this drop was 6.2 percent].
- In April, it is estimated that there were 1,742 registered homicides, a slightly lower number than in March (1,749). Nevertheless, the daily average of homicides grew from 56 to 58 (equivalent to a murder every 25 minutes). These are the worst numbers seen since October, although they are still lower than 2011's daily average (61).
- The three-month moving average increased for the second consecutive month and, for the first time so far this year, is higher than 1,700. Nevertheless, this is still lower than the levels seen in December.
- Some states that had seen positive signs in the last few months are again seeing an upturn in killings. Chihuahua, for example, reported more than 200 homicides for the second consecutive month. Guerrero had almost 200 homicides, the worst number seen since the beginning of the federal operation six months ago. Veracruz registered 62 homicides, after the first trimester saw a monthly average of 43.
- Extortion continues to rise. The annual rate grew 49 percent in April. This rapid ascent suggests a change in the methodology used to define and count cases, but it is still not a reassuring number in the least.
Now, there are a couple of positive signs, or, at least, reasonably reassuring ones:
- April was the fourth consecutive month with a negative growth in homicides at the national level (down 6.7 percent). There hasn't been a streak of this kind since 2007.
- In the period January to April, the reduction was -6.3 percent compared to the same semester last year. This means during the first four months of 2012, there were 500 fewer homicides than in the same period in 2011.
- Contrary to expectations, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas reported slight drops from the previous month. Even more surprisingly, they both reported a drop compared to the same month in 2011, of -4.2 percent and -9.9 percent respectively.
- Despite the recent rebound, violence in the northwest of the country is much lower than the levels registered a year ago. In April, the difference in number of homicides compared to last year in Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Baja California were -18.8 percent, -42.5 percent, -13.4 percent, and -6.7 percent respectively.
- Kidnapping, as well as violent car robberies, keeps dropping. In comparison with April 2011, the declines are -28.4 percent and -3.4 percent respectively. The numbers for kidnapping are very surprising and it is not unlikely that, as seems to be the case with extortion, there were methodological changes or serious problems with the registration.
In summary, I don't like April's numbers. There wasn't a significant rebound in violence, but the signs of a decline in killings weakened. Violence seems to have stabilized compared to the (very high) levels of 2010. It's likely that in comparison to 2011, things will continue looking good for a few more months and the year will end with a drop of 6 to 10 percent in the number of homicides. But this is not a good result: at this rate, we will not return to the 2007 homicide rate before 2018. Whatever the cause of the reduction of violence in previous months, it's clear that it isn't strong enough to produce a dramatic change in the country's security conditions. As the recent massacres have demonstrated, there are still powerful incentives in Mexico to resort to criminal violence. While this remains, the best we can hope for at a national scale is a gradual and barely perceptible improvement.