The jump in homicides in Mexico is worrying enough, but the frequency of a specific type of violence may also signal a dangerous trend.
In the past few years, clashes between cartels and attacks by cartels on civilians in Mexico drew most of the world’s attention. Recently, however, clashes between Mexico’s military and criminal elements have drawn comparisons between that country and Colombia.
While, as Insight Crime notes, Mexico is twice the size of Colombia, if what has been seen in Mexico over the last three years is the new “normal” level for violence against state forces, then it is comparable to that of Colombia, which has been mired in civil conflict for a half-century.
To be clear, Mexico and Colombia face distinct challenges arising from unique circumstances.
However, the toll that criminal groups have taken on each country’s armed forces “reinforces a fundamental point about modern conflicts: they greatly resemble war in form if not in name,” writes Insight Crime’s Sam Tabory (emphasis ours).
According to Mexico’s Secretariat of National Defence (Sedena), the Mexican military sustained 156% more attacks from drug traffickers and organised crime during the first three years (2012-2015) of current President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term in office than it did during the same period under former President Felipe Calderon, who was in office from 2006 to 2012.
It was under Calderon that Mexico’s war on drugs and drug traffickers was declared. During his first three years in office, there were 361 attacks against military forces, leaving 40 personnel dead and 176 wounded.
Violence against state forces in Mexico grew considerably in the final three years of Calderon’s term. From 2010 to 2012, there were 2,133 attacks recorded, leaving 118 military personnel dead and 762 wounded.
According to Sedena, between January 2013 and July 2015 there were 924 attacks on military forces, leaving 57 personnel dead and wounding 281.
In Colombia, according to statistics cited by Insight Crime, there were 1,737 attacks on military personnel recorded between 2007 and 2009, far exceeding the number in Mexico over the same period.
But between 2010 and 2012, there were 1,204 clashes between the Colombian military and guerrillas; this is much less than the number attacks in Mexico over the same period, but not many more than the number of attacks in Mexico over the last three years.
‘A self-reinforcing process’
Attacks on Mexican military personnel also seem to be mirroring trends in homicides in general.
In 2013, there were 482 attacks on soldiers, leaving 23 dead. In 2014 there were 276 clashes that killed 17, but during the first quarter of 2015 alone there were 166 attacks that left 17 military personnel dead.
In terms of homicides, in 2013, there were 18,331 (a 15% decline from the year before); in 2014, the number fell to 17,342. In 2015, however, there were 18,650 homicides, a number that may only go up.
In 2015, Mexican President Peña Nieto made the dubious claim that “it is a fact that violence is diminishing in Mexico.” But survey results from the previous year found that 73% of Mexicans felt insecure, and the upswing in homicides (in addition to increases in other types of crime) may reveal why.
Violence in 2015 was not at the levels Mexico has seen in recent years. However, the possibility of infighting in Mexico’s largest criminal organisation, the Sinaloa cartel, as well as the continued fragmentation of the country’s other drug cartels, could set the stage for a resurgence of the bloodshed that Mexico experienced during Calderon’s time in office.
“As we saw between 2008 and 2011, violence can be a self-reinforcing process,” Hope wrote last week. “Blood has the rather annoying custom of bringing more blood.”
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