Surge in violence in Mexico’s drug war? Figures are inconclusive

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MEXICO CITY -- A recent string of deadly incidents tied to Mexico’s drug war does not appear to indicate a surge in the violence but does suggest a new flash point as the fearsome Zetas cartel shows signs of splitting apart.

Fourteen bodies were found dumped in San Luis Potosi state on Thursday, and the mayor-elect of the city of Matehuala in the same state was killed in an attack along with one of his campaign aides as they left a party Sunday.


The incidents are rare for relatively peaceful San Luis Potosi. One journalist’s account, yet to be confirmed by authorities, says the Zetas are facing an internal struggle between a camp following its leader, ‘Zeta 40,’ and one following ‘Zeta 50’ (link in Spanish).

New figures show a steady and unrelenting pace in drug-related homicides as Mexico approaches six years of the government’s fight against cartels, which are themselves battling one another over trafficking routes.

Deaths allegedly related to organized crime have remained steady in 2012 in the states already identified as Mexico’s most violent: Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Nuevo Leon, Jalisco and Coahuila, according to a July report by Lantia Consultores in Mexico City.

Lantia analyst Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez (link in Spanish) reports that homicides in Mexico tied to organized crime grew by 10% in the first half of the year over the last half of 2011.

In contrast, President Felipe Calderon said earlier this month that such homicides have dropped by 15%. The president compared figures in the first half of the years, however, not the second.

Such contradictions over the numbers are reminders that accurately counting the victims of Mexico’s conflict will always be a murky process and, inevitably, a political one.


With less than four months to go in Calderon’s six-year term, his administration is under pressure to convince the public that the security strategies have worked. Calderon hands power in December to President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, who has pledged to maintain the offensive against Mexico’s cartels.

The federal attorney-general’s office has counted drug-related homicides only through September 2011, and that figure stands at 47,515 since December 2006, when Calderon took office. Separately, the National Security Council said in a report last month that 10,604 aggravated homicides occurred across the country in the first half of 2012.

But crucially, these figures are not yet divided into drug-related and non-drug-related.

Moreover, the federal government relies on figures sent to Mexico City by local and state governments, whose methods for counting are notoriously unreliable or motivated by political interests.

In another estimate, the Ciudad Juarez newspaper El Diario said on Aug. 4 that it found that 83,541 people were killed in Mexico, in both drug-related and non-drug-related homicides, from December 2006 to December 2011, citing figures it gathered using a freedom-of-information request (link in Spanish).

Last week, grisly massacres dotted the country from the port of Acapulco in the south to Coahuila state in the north. On Tuesday, authorities said nine people were killed overnight in a shootout in a bar in the increasingly troubled city of Monterrey, Mexico’s wealthiest.

Security analyst Alejandro Hope writes that any uptick in recent days may be at least partly attributed to high summer temperatures in many regions of the country, and to patterns in drug-producing harvests in Mexico (link in Spanish).


Meanwhile in the United States, Mexican poet and activist Javier Sicilia has launched a Caravan for Peace, along with victims and survivors, in an effort to bring attention to the consequences of Calderon’s war on cartels.

The caravan is scheduled to visit a string of U.S. cities and arrives in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10, where it plans to stay for three days. It was in Los Angeles this week.


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-- Daniel Hernandez