After a bloody weekend in Ciudad Juarez, a new analysis of government statistics sheds light on the patterns of violence along Mexico’s northern border, “ground zero” in the country’s war on organized crime.
In the latest wave of violence to strike Ciudad Juarez, fifty-three people, including at least four police officers, were killed within a 72 hour period, according to CNN. Arturo Sandoval, the spokesperson for the Chihuahua state attorney general went so far as to call this weekend the “worst violence of the year.”
Ciudad Juarez is the site of one of the most bitter feuds between Mexican cartels, as both the Juarez and Sinaloa organizations are currently battling for control of the city. The two groups were once allied, and cooperated in attacks against their rivals, the Gulf Cartel. However, the Sinaloa boss, Joaquin Guzman, alias 'El Chapo,' broke his pact with Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, alias 'El Viceroy,' of the Juarez cartel in 2004, killing Vicente's brother Rodolfo and sparking the conflict that is still playing out today.
In response to the recent wave of homicides, Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia is expected to name a new city police chief on Monday. Although it is unclear who he has chosen, the Heraldo de Chihuahua newspaper reported on Sunday that Julián Leyzaola, the Tijuana police commissioner who conducted a massive overhaul of the city’s security forces, is a likely contender.
The city is just one flash point of the border region. As a recent report by Mexico’s Excelsior shows, nearly a third of all crime-related homicides in 2010 occurred in just 37 municipalities located in the six northern states that border the United States (Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas).
Although the 37 municipalities identified in the Excelsior investigation only represent 1.5 percent of the total number of such divisions in the country, they account for 10,203 of the 34,162 drug-related deaths that have occurred since President Felipe Calderon took office four years ago. The figure comes from an official government database, which catalogs all drug-related killings from December 2006 to December 2010.
The report also notes that “nine out of ten murders that occurred in the northern border took place in municipalities governed by the PRI,” a clear jab at the corrupt legacy of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional - PRI), which held power in the country until 2000, when it lost the presidential election for the first time in more than 70 years.
Last year's uptick in borderland violence has caused Felipe Calderon’s to announce deployment of four new army battalions to Mexico’s northeast this week. Ultimately, however, this may not result in an immediate increase in security. As a recent statistical analysis by noted sociologist and crime analyst Fernando Escalante shows, the homicide rate spiked in places where Calderon deployed the military in 2010. He argues that the arrival of army troops to these areas only served to intensify the conflict with criminal elements, and did not make people living in these areas any safer. If Escalante is correct, the residents of the embattled border region may have reason to be less optimistic about the prospects for violence this year.