Mexico is settling into a violent status quo
Deadly violence in Mexico declined from January to February this year, with homicide cases falling from 1,941 to 1,838 and homicide victims falling from 2,156 to 2,098.
The month-to-month respite may be little relief, as the first two months year have continued a string of violent records, both exceeding their counterparts last year in terms of homicides.
Moreover, the first two months of this year are the deadliest such period on record.
January’s 2,2156 homicide victims were 38.8% more than recorded in the same month last year, and February’s 2,098 homicide victims were a 30% increase over the second month last year.
The number of homicide cases, which can contain more than one victim, were up in January and February by 34.6% and 24.3%, respectively, over January and February 2016.
The 3,779 homicides cases recorded over January and February are a 29.4% increase over the same period in 2016 and the most experienced in Mexico over that period since the government started releasing statistics in 1997. (It didn’t start releasing data for homicide victims until 2014.)
The first two months of 2011, amid the climax of the “war against narco trafficking,” had a similar number of homicides, 3,554, though, as Mexican news site Animal Politico notes, that is still well short of what was seen overthe first two months this year.
Despite the decrease in monthly homicides between January and February this year, last month’s figures continue the increase in violence that’s been seen in Mexico over the last two years of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term.
Peña Nieto, who took office in December 2012, presided over two years of declines in deadly violence. The government was quick to take credit for those reductions, but 2015 saw an 8% increase in homicides over 2014, and 2016 had a 22% spike in killings over the year before.
“It seems like there was a point about two years ago, a year ago, where the government seemed to be making progress against the drug cartels, but it seems like there’s a resurgence of them,” Howard Campbell, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who studies Mexico and drug trafficking, told Business Insider.
That resurgence appears likely to have been caused, in part, by the ongoing fragmentation of once powerful criminal groups, in addition to jockeying by remaining criminal groups for territorial control, especially in northwest Mexico.
Even as deadly violence churns upward in Mexico, some parts of the country — typically areas with high levels of organized-crime activity — have seen pronounced spikes.
The north-central state of Chihuahua saw a jump in homicides in the latter half of last year, going from 595 in the first half of the year to 875 over the last six months.
The state also jumped from 152 homicide victims in January to 175 in February.
Ciudad Juarez, the biggest city in Chihuahua and a major border city, also saw a jump in the latter half of the year that has continued into this year.
The Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, generally considered the two most powerful cartels in Mexico, are thought to be contesting Juarez’s lucrative trafficking routes.
Farther west, the high level of homicides seen Baja California over the final months of last year has been sustained this year, with January and February recording 139 and 137 homicides, respectively.
Tijuana, another major border crossing, registered its only triple-digit-homicide-victim month of last year in December, with 112. January recorded 103 and February saw 108. Tijuana is also the site of Sinaloa-Jalisco New Generation competition.
In many areas of Mexico, state-level homicide numbers ticked down from January to February, but violence-prone areas of the country saw increases.
Homicides in Guerrero rose from 165 to 175; Michoacan went from 130 to 138; Sinaloa went from 118 to 124; Veracruz jumped from 119 to 142.
Much of southwest Mexico, including Guerrero and Michoacan, has been wracked by drug-related violence.
Christopher Woody/Mexican government data
Nearby Colima, which has the smallest population in Mexico, has seen a surge in homicides as cartels compete for its valuable port. Though between January and February this year the number of homicide victims in the state fell by more than half.
In Veracruz, long a battle ground of the Zetas and Gulf cartels, the Jalisco New Generation cartel has reportedly joined the fray, and 300 skulls have been found in mass graves there over the last week.
While violence over the last two years has not reached the level and nature of the worst cartel-related violence between 2008 and 2012, it has led many to believe the anti-crime strategies of Peña Nieto and his predecessor have failed and that the country is unlikely to see relief in the near term.
“So this is a not a threat to the overall Mexican economy or to the national political structure as far as an overthrow of the government or a destruction of the economy,” Campbell told Business Insider.
“But it’s the kind of nagging, persistent problem that’s very similar to Colombia during the worst of the civil war, where you had an effective, functioning country and economy but with this endless violence in very specific areas that was hard on the tourist industry and made it hard for local businesses and hurt the image of the country.”