Some of the most dangerous parts of Mexico have grown far safer in the last six months, though the gangland rivalries driving much of the violence have intensified and spread to regions that had been relatively untouched by organized crime.
According to a report from Lantia Consultores, a Mexico City firm founded by analyst Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez, Mexico witnessed 7,022 murders linked to organized crime (often labeled “executions”) from January through June 2012. (See graph, below, from the report.) According to the report, which is based on the monitoring of dozens of media outlets, this represents an increase of roughly 10 percent from the final six months of 2011, and a high proportion of the 10,500 or so total murders in the country during that period. (Mexico’s National Public Security System, or SNSP, for its initials in Spanish, tallied 8,662 murders nationwide through May, though the June figures have not yet been released.)
With 510 organized crime-related murders in six months, Juarez remains the Mexican city worst hit by confrontations between criminal groups, but security in the border city has improved immeasurably. It has seen the largest decline in absolute terms of any city this year, down 135 from the final six months of 2011. According to some sources, Juarez, which lies across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, is on course to see its lowest numbers of murders since 2007.
The story is broadly similar in Monterrey, where warring between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel turned the once-safe northern economic powerhouse into one of Mexico's most notorious cities. It ranks fourth in the country in terms of killings linked to organized crime, with 323 killings in the first six months of 2012. But that figure is down from 368 in the previous six months, indicating that there has been an improvement despite ongoing problems.
The murder rate has dropped in these two notorious cities, but violence stemming from criminal feuds has dispersed to neighboring towns. Monterrey’s fortunes have improved, but the violence in many nearby areas, such as Cadereyta Jimenez and Juarez, Nuevo Leon (not to be confused with the more famous Juarez, in Chihuahua), has grown far worse: the number of killings linked to organized crime in these places were 87 and 60, respectively. In Cadereyta Jimenez, the discovery of dozens of bodies in May was an outlier event that could skew the perception of the overall level of violence in the town, but the murder rate in the city has grown significantly even discounting this incident.
In Chihuahua, two states to the west of Nuevo Leon, a similar dynamic appears to be at play. The decline in bloodshed in Juarez has been more than matched by an uptick of 165 murders in Chihuahua City, the state capital which lies just a few hours south of Juarez. As a consequence, Chihuahua has become the city with the third highest number of murders in the country.
On the state level, both Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon saw decreases in murders in June, and much of the violence seems to have transferred to Coahuila, which lies between the two. Torreon, Coahuila’s biggest city, which is a few hours drive from Monterrey and Chihuahua City, witnessed more organized crime-linked killings than any other urban area in Mexico in June, with a total of 83. In the first six months of the year, the city was the site of 275 executions -- the sixth-highest in the country). This is a jump of 104 from the previous six-month period, giving it the country's third-largest increase in killings.
Criminal violence has long been bubbling up in Torreon, and the city has suffered a series of highly publicized criminal acts in recent years, including a gunfight last August outside a stadium that brought a soccer game to a halt as players and fans took cover. However, the current level of violence is unprecedented for the city of some 600,000 people. Should Torreon stay toward the top of the list of murders and executions, it would represent the culmination of a years-long trend that would reshape the map of violence in Mexico.
While the dispersion of violence is driving up the killings in previously calm regions like Torreon, the Lantia report also points to another, longstanding driver of the bloodshed in much of Mexico: fighting between the Sinaloa Cartel on one side, and the Zetas and their allies on the other. While the Sinaloa Cartel is widely seen as the victor in Juarez, the sense of increased calm in that border city has not spread to other towns.
As InSight Crime has reported, a coalition of members of the Zetas, the Beltran Leyva Organization, and the Carrillo Fuentes group (who were the losers in Juarez) have launched an assault on the Sinaloa Cartel's turf in the Sierra Madre region, at the intersection of Durango, Chihuahua, and Sinaloa states. At the same time, the Sinaloa Cartel and its allies have sought to take control of some of the Zetas’ strangleholds, such as Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. This increased·aggression creates a cycle of violence across much of Mexico’s north, eating away at the substantial security gains evident in Juarez and Monterrey.