Mexico’s federal government has published its statistics regarding homicides in 2011, allowing for a glimpse at the changing state of public security within the nation.
According to the data from the National Secretariat for Public Security (or SNSP, for its initials in Spanish), which includes both municipal and state-level statistics, one of the states with the sharpest spikes in murders was Guerrero. After a 2010 in which exactly 1,500 people were killed, 1,530 were killed in just the first eight months of this year.
Leading the trend in Guerrero is Acapulco, the embattled resort town whose travails have attracted international attention. Federal authorities have registered 746 murders already this year, putting the city on a pace for more than 1,100 murders this year. In 2010, the number of murders linked to the drug trade in Acapulco was just 370. (Typically, the number of drug-related murders in the more violent Mexican cities represents the vast majority of the total. The SNSP does not appear to have released the total number of murders in 2010, but rather the drug-related deaths.)
In addition, as InSight Crime has noted, the number of murders has had repercussions in the broader civil society. As a result of attempts to extortion teacher’s salaries in some of the city’s poorer neighborhoods, many of city’s schools have remained closed for much of the current school year. In August, a number of gas stations and retailers in the city’s downtown temporarily closed their doors to protest the robberies and extortion.
Another region where the violence has spiked is Nuevo Leon, where the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have been locked into a battle for territory since early 2010, though with greater intensity in recent months. Through August, just over 1,400 people have been killed in the northeastern state, setting a pace of more than 175 per month. In all of last year, the SNSP recorded 828 murders across the state, and even that was a sharp increase from the past tranquility: in the 10 years previous, Nuevo Leon had never registered more than 283 murders.
The current violence is largely centered around the Monterrey metro area, where an August arson attack on an area casino left 52 civilians dead. According to the SNSP, the metro area (which is divided into a handful of different municipalities) is responsible for almost 1,000 of the state’s murders this year. Monterrey proper has witnessed 489 murders in 2011, which gives it an annualized murder rate of 64.
But while the news is bad in the regions mentioned above, other areas have experienced a significant lessening of violence. The foremost is Juarez, the border city in Chihuahua, which has for the last several years enjoyed the dubious designation of Mexico’s most dangerous city.
While it remains exceedingly bloody, Juarez is far safer than it was in 2010: with 1,065 murders through August, it is on pace for just under 1,600 murders, a murder rate of roughly 120 per 100,000 residents. In 2010, the city registered some 3,000 murders and a murder rate of roughly 250 per 100,000.
The drop in violence in Juarez is driving a broader decline in murders in Chihuahua, though one that is not nearly as marked. With 2,147 murders through eight months, the state is on pace for slightly more than 3,220 murders this year, compared to 3,514 in 2010, according to the SNSP.
Another region where murders have dropped is Baja California Norte, the Pacific border state that is home to Tijuana and Mexicali. With 464 murders so far in 2011, the state, which has long been among the regions most readily associated with organized crime violence, is on pace for 696 murders this year. That would give Baja a murder rate of 22, comparable to the nationwide average. In 2010, in contrast, Baja California Norte was the site of close to 900 murders. Part of this drop may be due to what's been called a "Pax Tijuana," whereby two large criminal forces reach a business arrangement, thus reducing the competition and acts of bloodshed.
Taken together, the picture is one of a nation growing slightly more violent, with the violence growing significantly more dispersed. The Calderon government has long responded to critics by pointing out the violence is concentrated in a relatively small number of areas, Tijuana and Juarez prominently among them. However, even as the violence drops in some of these hot spots, it is more than balanced by the increases in formerly tranquil oases like Monterrey.
This dynamic has long been predicted by the so-called cockroach effect, which holds that the government cracking down in one region will, at best, lead to the criminal actors scurrying to other locales. As they set up shop in their new residence, the criminal exiles are no less violent than before, which means that nationwide impact of flooding a specific area with law enforcement could be negative, even with a positive local impact.