- The number of homicides in Mexico has risen steadily over the past three years, particularly in areas where drug-related crime is high.
- While much of the violence is related to organised crime, the Mexican government has been criticised for its heavy-handed response, which has led to some high-profile cases of abuse.
- The country’s deteriorating security situation promises to play a significant role in the presidential election next year.
Mexico’s 2,764 homicide victims in October is the most recorded in any month over the last 20 years, according to data collected by the country’s federal government.
The new data puts 2017 on pace to be the most violent year in Mexico since the government began releasing homicide data in 1997.
Federal data also showed that 2,371 homicide investigations, which can include more than one victim, were opened in October – the highest monthly total over the past two decades.
The 23,968 homicide victims reported though October this year are nearly 27% more than the 18,895 recorded over the same period last year.
This year’s total through 10 months was almost 55% more than the 15,480 recorded over the same period in 2015.
Mexican federal data may in fact undercount the number of homicides in the country, however.
Civil-society groups have suggested that state governments, which submit crime data to the federal government, may misrepresent or manipulate the number of intentional killings.
“We don’t know if October was the most violent month in the last two decades. [Federal government] numbers are sufficiently poor to maintain some scepticism,” Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said after the data was released.
“If you want to make comparisons between different periods, you have to contrast using the homicide rate, not the absolute number.”
While 2017’s homicide number looks set to exceed the violent years between 2008 and 2012, when drug-related violence was raged across much of the country, this year’s homicide rate per 100,000 people remains below those years.
2010 and 2012 were both above 18 homicides per 100,000 people, while 2011 approached 20 per 100,000. The rate fell after 2012, bottoming out at just under 13 per 100,000 in 2014. It has risen since: 2016 saw 16.8 homicides per 100,000 people, while 2017 is at 16.9 homicides per 100,000 people through October.
Not all of Mexico’s deadly violence is related to drugs and organised crime, but areas where criminal groups have traditionally been active have seen already elevated homicide numbers increase.
Through October, the strategically valuable border state of Baja California saw a 94% increase in homicide victims compared to the same period last year.
Baja California Sur, home to popular resorts in Los Cabos, has seen the most severe increase in homicides. Its 536 homicides victims through October this year were 223% more than during the same period last year and almost 400% more than during the first 10 months of 2015.
Baja California Sur’s spiraling violence was underscored on Monday, when the head of the state’s human-rights commission, Silvestre de la Toba, and his son were gunned down.
‘Security needs to remain an utmost priority’
While homicides have steadily risien, overall crime has also risen. During the first 10 months of 2017, the Mexican federal government recorded a 13% increase in reported crimes compared to the same period last year. Violent crimes other than homicide are up as well.
Attempted homicides with a firearm over the first 10 months of this year increased 39% compared to the same period last year,according to Mexican news site Animal Politico. In 66.1% of the 20,878 homicide cases opened through October this year, the crime was committed with a firearm.
Violent robberies are up 38% so far this year, with over 50,000 more reported through October than were reported over the same period last year. Within that category, violent robberies of businesses increased 62%.
Extortion cases were up more than 12% through October – though many instances of extortion go unreported. Sexual attacks were also up more than 10% through the first 10 months of the year. Mexico, along with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, is experiencing severe crisis levels of femicide, or homicides specifically targeting women, according to the UN.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has faced mounting criticism over crime rates that have steadily risen over the past three years and his government’s ineffective response. Peña Nieto has pushed for reforms to the country’s current security system, including a “Single Command” plan that would centralize public-security authority and reduce the autonomy of municipal police.
In an appearance before legislators this week, Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong touted the government’s coordinated efforts to capture 108 of the 122 criminal suspects who are considered the country’s most dangerous and defended federal security forces against charges of excessive force and other abuses.
Osorio Chong drew attention to the problem of undermanned and underpaid police forces and responded to criticism of a security law that would formalise the military’s role in domestic law enforcement.
While critics fear the measure could shield military personnel who have committed abuses, Osorio Chong said the law “was to protect citizens” and would determine when and under what conditions the military could be deployed domestically.
Growing criticism of Peña Nieto’s handling of the security situation in the country comes as the president and his party prepare for the upcoming presidential election, scheduled for the middle of next year.
Crime is just one issue that will influence voters, but Peña Nieto himself has acknowledged its importance.
“It has to be said, we’re still not satisfied, and we still have lots more to achieve,” Peña Nieto said in a speech earlier this month. “Security needs to remain an utmost priority for the government.”