Today, Mexico is well into a decade of drug violence that’s killed over 60,000 people. But ten years ago, the map of the country’s trouble spots looked jarringly different than it does today.
Here’s what the “level of peace” throughout Mexico’s 32 states looked like in 2003, with the most violent state highlighted, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace’s interactive Visions of Humanity report.
Here’s what it looked like in 2012:
These maps should be viewed with a certain scepticism. In 2003, Mexico was emerging from decades of single-party rule and was still hampered with endemic corruption. There could be some reporting bias at play here, and crime stats in Mexico are notoriously difficult to pin down. One possibility that jumps out: Quintana Roo is the center of Mexico’s tourist industry. More tourists could mean a greater density of competent security forces, which could result in more accurate reporting of violent incidents.
It’s also somewhat odd that places with a longstanding distrust between citizens and state are turn out to be so calm: Chiapas, on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala, has long been a hotbed of anti-government activity. Less trust means less reporting of violence — which means the place seems calmer in the official numbers. The 2003 map says it’s Mexico’s second-safest state.
Still, these maps capture a much larger story that transcends the numbers themselves. Ten years ago, it was at least plausible that a place known for package tourism, American spring breakers and Mayan ruins was Mexico’s most dangerous state.
Over the next decade, Mexico would move away from the legacy of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s seventy years of rule, and the central and border states would become the most violent parts of the country. Mexico’s then-president Felipe Calderon launched his “war on drugs” shortly after his term began in 2006, sending federal troops to areas where drug trafficking organisations operated with near-impunity. The efforts helped end the Mexican government’s long-standing and deeply corrupting detente with drug traffickers. But it also caused a spike in violence and disrupted a previously-stable drug trade.
Drug violence has arguably calmed down in recent years, but the violence has now taken on a circular and self-perpetuating character. As the Small Wars Journal recently explained, the capture of Gulf Cartel super-trafficker Chapo Guzman in February of 2013 has only opened up opportunities for other, even more violent groups.
For reasons both troubling and encouraging, the map of Mexico isn’t going to be totally green any time soon.
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