02/07/10—Drawing on new data released by the Mexican government, the Trans-Border Institute issued a report today on drug violence in Mexico. The report, titled Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2010, was authored by Viridiana Ríos and David Shirk and builds on a previous study released one year earlier. The new study reviews available data and analyzes the factors that contributed to extreme levels of violence in Mexico through 2010, the worst year on record.
According to Mexican government data, more than 34,550 killings were officially linked to organized crime during the administration of President Felipe Calderón (2006-12). Based on multiple years of monitoring drug violence in Mexico, the 15,000 organized crime killings that occurred in 2010 set a new record as well as an increase of nearly 60% from the previous year.
The new TBI report underscores the geographic concentration of violence, with 84% of all homicides from organized crime in 2010 occurring in just four of Mexico’s 32 states (Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Baja California) and over 70% occurring in 80 of the country’s roughly 2,450 municipalities. The top five most violent municipalities in 2010 were Ciudad Juárez (2,738 killings), Culiacán (587), Tijuana (472), Chihuahua (670), and Acapulco (370), which together accounted for 32% of all the drug-related homicides in 2010.
Despite this concentration, several areas saw sharp increases due to new clashes among drug traffickers. Four states experienced large, sudden spikes in violence during the course of the last year: San Luis Potosí (from 8 homicides per year in 2009 to 135 in 2010), Tamaulipas (90 to 1209), Nayarit (37 to 377), and Nuevo León (112 to 604). Splinter organizations —the Beltran Leyva, La Familia Michoacana, and Zeta drug trafficking organizations—that have broken from the major cartels were contributed to the upsurge in violence in these areas.
The report also notes a qualitative shift in violence over the last year, with an increase in the targeting government officials and civilians. In 2010, there was an unprecedented number of elected officials, police, military, and civilians that were caught in the crossfire, including 14 mayors and 11 journalists. In January 2011, two additional mayors were killed, for a total of more than 30 since 2004.
The report reviews recent successes by the Mexican government in dismantling the leadership structures of major drug trafficking organizations, but warns that these efforts could have unpredictable effects. In 2010, the Mexican government’s counter-drug efforts led to the capture of several high-profile traffickers, including Teodoro “El Teo” García Simental, Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez, and Nazario “El Chayo” Moreno, which authorities believe may help bring a reduction, if not an end to the violence. However, the report notes that the disruption of organized crime groups also has destabilizing effects, including increased violence among traffickers as well as the targeting of government officials and ordinary citizens.
Viridiana Ríos is a doctoral candidate at Harvard University and a research associate of the Trans-Border Institute. David Shirk is the director of the Trans-Border Institute and principal investigator of the Justice in Mexico Project.