“Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015” special report

Drug Violence in Mexico 2015 cover image

On Friday, April 29, 2016, Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2016 special report entitled, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015.”

Drug Violence in Mexico (2016 Special Report)

Thanks to the generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, this is the project’s seventh annual study on organized crime and violence in Mexico. As in previous years, this report compiles the latest available data and analysis to evaluate trends related to drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico.

This year’s report builds on past findings and seeks to provide new insights into Mexico’s recent security situation. The authors draw on the latest available data from multiple sources, with a focus on the rise in organized crime-related homicides in Mexico that reverses a three-year declining trend, as well as the emergence of cartelitos—smaller, fragmented cartel branches—in Mexico’s shifting drug trafficking landscape, and the Peña Nieto administration’s missteps and tone-deaf responses in a series of human rights tragedies and scandals in recent years. In fact, President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) saw the public’s lowest approval rating and highest dissatisfaction rating not just for his first three years in office, but also surpassing that of his predecessors, Presidents Vicente Fox (2000-2006) and Felipe Calderón (2006-2012).

Sources: INEGI, SNSP, Reforma, milenio, Lantia, CNDH.

Sources: INEGI, SNSP, Reforma, Milenio, Lantia, CNDH.


United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2013. Global Study on Homicide 2013: Trends, Context, Data. Vienna: UNODC.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

Among the study’s most important findings is the increase in homicides in Mexico in 2015, up 8.1-8.7% from the number of homicides registered in 2014. The authors also found that between a quarter and a half of all homicides in Mexico in 2015 were attributed to organized crime groups. Meanwhile, there were increases in cases of intentional homicides registered in all but a handful of states, with the highest increase in Guerrero jumping from 1,514 cases in 2014 to 2,016 cases in 2015.

“Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015” was co-authored by Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk.

To read the full report, click here.

New Publications by the Justice in Mexico and CIDE-Wilson Center Collaboration

11/17/15 (written by alagorio) – Justice in Mexico, in collaboration with the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, presents the most recent publications in a series of working papers that analyze how to strengthen the rule of law and improve security in the face of organized crime related violence in Mexico. The newest resources in this series include: “Mexico: The Fight against Corruption,” by Mauricio Merino Huerta and “How to Reduce Violence in Guerrero,” by Victor Manuel Sánchez Valdés.

Mauricio Merino Huerta discusses Mexico’s fight against corruption and reviews the ongoing reforms to promote transparency and curtail corruption. The ongoing transparency and corruption reforms have been the subject of much public debate. These reforms have built upon academic and social organizations’ years of research and dialogue to draft comprehensive, articulate, and coherent public policy on accountability as a way to fight the corruption that has plagued Mexico’s public institutions. Corruption hinders institutions from performing as expected, deteriorates trust and social relationships, violates rights, wastes resources, restricts economic growth and limits income distribution. Corruption is the number one cause of inequality, impunity, and exclusion from Mexico’s political regime. The publication is available in Spanish and English here.

Mauricio Merino Huerta is a professor and researcher for the Center of Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City.

Victor Manuel Sánchez Valdés conducts an in-depth study of each of the factors including homicide rate and law enforcement corruption that have contributed to the spike in violence Guerrero has faced over the last few years. In addition, the article provides several public policy recommendations, such as, designing models to help authorities gather intelligence against organized crime and prioritizing the strengthening of Guerrero’s police forces. This paper is a continuation of the series, Building Resilient Communities in Mexico: Civic Responses of Crime and Violence, a multiyear effort by the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego to analyze the obstacles to and opportunities for improving citizen security in Mexico. The publication is available in Spanish and English here.

Víctor Manuel Sánchez Valdés is a Public Policy PhD student at the Center of Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) with an expertise in organized crime.




States advance in the implementation of oral trials

Oral trials in Mexico. Image: Impacto.mx

Oral trials in Mexico. Image: Impacto.mx

06/30/2015 (written by rkuckertz) – States advance in the implementation of oral trials. According to recently released data, most Mexican states keep progressing in the implementation of oral trials and their overall transition to the New  Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). Oaxaca  in particular has advanced over the past several years in its implementation,  jumping between 2013 and 2014 from 13th to 8th on the national rankings  comparing the degree of implementation of NSJP.


Monitoring Implementation of Oral Trials in Mexico

The Center for Investigation of Development (Centro de Investigación para  el Desarrollo, CIDAC), an independent think tank that presents proposals to further the development of Mexico’s rule of law, recently released data on the 2014 year that demonstrate the state’s progress. CIDAC evaluates each of the thirty-two states on a 1,000-point scale, where 1,000 points represents full implementation and 530 points is the intermediate goal. On this scale, Oaxaca accumulated 387 points prior to 2015–a notable achievement for the southern state, placing it above states such as Durango, Sinaloa, Morelos, Chiapas, and Veracruz.

Various groups have been working to increase the accessibility of this information to the public. Among them, Justice Project (Proyecto Justicia) has published virtual, interactive maps and graphs based on CIDAC’s reports. These graphics illustrate the progress achieved by each state and federal institution. At first glance, Chihuahua, Baja California, and Guanajuato are the high achievers on CIDAC’s 1,000-point evaluation scale, each state rising above the standard 530-point mark. However, in light of the challenges that the NSJP has faced throughout its implementation process, small successes such as Oaxaca’s may also be regarded as achievements for the country’s juridical transition.

Implementation of judicial reforms

State ranking of conditions for the implementation of criminal justice reform. (Source: Proyecto Justicia)

The federal government publishes similar data on the country’s status in the transition process. Its website, overseen by the Mexican Technical Secretariat for Justice Sector Reform (Secretaría Técnica del Consejo de Coordinación para la Implementación del Sistema de Justicia Penal, SETEC), presents figures that describe state rankings and the number of resources allocated to each for the purpose of implementing NSJP. It also includes a list of municipalities in which the reform has been implemented. SETEC utilizes a separate methodology and stratification system from CIDAC that classifies the states into one of seven categories that range from “minimal” to “optimal” and describe the level of implementation of NSJP. Oaxaca sits in the “low” group, while Chihuahua, Baja California, and Guanajuato, the three states ranked highest by CIDAC, occupy the  “medium”, “low”, and “low” categories respectively.

A countdown to the national goal date of completion of the new system’s implementation flashes across the SETEC homepage—just less than a year ahead.

While several states began the implementation process as early as 2005, no state has surpassed the 700-point mark on CIDAC’s evaluation scale. In fact, most states lie between the 250 and 400-point range, according to graphs provided by Justice Project. As a result, the one-year deadline to complete the system’s transition presents a considerable challenge to Mexico’s federal, state, and municipal governments. Alfonso Pérez Daza, Counclimember  to the Mexico’s Federal Judicial Council (Consejo de la Judicatura Federal, CJF), recently released a statement addressing these obstacles. In it, he stressed the importance of the public’s confidence in the new system as well as the long-term nature of the current justice project. Pérez Daza also stated that the federal government will be developing a permanent training system for all parties involved in justice proceedings in order to facilitate the transition to an oral, accusatorial justice system.

Trying to address this need of training, many organizations from Mexico and the United States have developed sustained efforts to help attorneys, judges, defenders, prosecutors, law students and professors to improve their oral advocacy skills. Justice in Mexico has been working to provide the such skills through the ongoing OASIS project, faculty, students, and staff from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) had the opportunity to participate in skill-building workshops over the past several months to learn the ins and outs of the new judicial system. This summer the second phase of OASIS will take participants from UNAM to Washington, D.C, Boston and San Diego to participate in advanced seminars regarding the oral, adversarial justice system, and to learn and compare the U.S. Legal System.



“Recuperar confianza social, núcleo vital de reforma penal: Pérez Daza.” Terra. Jun. 10, 2015. http://noticias.terra.com/mundo/recuperar-confianza-social-nucleo-vital-de-reforma-penal-perez-daza,46f98ce310af9ab4a059e5f5f7bd078cegcpRCRD.html

“Oaxaca entre los primeros estados del ranking en implementación de Reforma Penal: CIDAC.” El Oriente. Jun. 8, 2015. http://www.eloriente.net/home/2015/06/08/oaxaca-entre-los-primeros-estados-del-ranking-en-implementacion-de-reforma-penal-cidac/

SETEC. Jun., 2015. http://setec.gob.mx/

“Nueva metodología para clasificación y estratificación de entidades federativas.” SETEC. Jun., 2015. http://setec.gob.mx/es/SETEC/Nueva_Metodologia_para_Clasificacion_y_Estratificacion_de_Entidades_Federativas

“Reporte de hallazgos 2014 sobre los avances de la implementación y operación de la reforma penal en México.” Proyecto Justicia, 2015. http://proyectojusticia.org/images/Articulos/ReportedeHallazgos2014.pdf

Drug Violence in Mexico (2015 Special Report)

2015 Drug Violence in Mexico-Portada

On Wednesday, April 28, 2015, Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2015 report entitled “Drug Violence in Mexico (2015 Special Report)”.

Drug Violence in Mexico (2015 Special Report)

Thanks to the generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, this is the project’s sixth annual study on organized crime and violence in Mexico. As in previous years, this report compiles the latest available data and analysis to evaluate trends related to drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico.

This year’s report builds on past findings and seeks to provide new insights into Mexico’s recent security situation. The authors draw on the latest available data from multiple sources, with a primary emphasis on the first two years in office for Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). In contrast to his predecessor, Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), President Peña Nieto appeared to deliberately downplay Mexico’s security problems, while at the same time moving aggressively to take out some of the country’s top drug traffickers, including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and top leaders of the Zetas, Gulf Cartel, Knights Templar Organization, and other organized crime groups.

As noted by Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) analyst Maureen Meyer in a recent USA Today article on the report, while there is substantial evidence of a decline in certain forms of crime and violence associated with organized crime, the security situation in Mexico remains problematic. Despite a slight decline, kidnapping and extortion remain at elevated levels. The past year saw a series of security crises for the Peña Nieto administration, including the rise of vigilante self-defense forces in Michoacán, the extrajudicial killing of 20 civilians by the Mexican armed forces in the state of Mexico, and the massacre of dozens of student protestors in the state of Guerrero.

Extortion. Source: SNSP.

Extortion. Source: SNSP.

Kidnappings. Source: SNSP.

Kidnappings. Source: SNSP.


Among study’s most important findings is the apparent decline between 9-15% in homicides in 2014. The authors also found that between one third and half of all homicides in Mexico in 2014 were attributed to organized crime groups, which may signal a slight reduction in the proportion of such homicides. Meanwhile, even as the states of Jalisco and Mexico have emerged as new trouble spots in Mexico’s battle against organized crime there were dramatic reductions of violence in key cities, like Acapulco, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Juárez.

Drug Violence in Mexico (2015 Special Report) was co-authored by Kimberly Heinle, Cory Molzahn, and David A. Shirk.

To read the full 46-page report (21.3 mb PDF), click here.

UNHRC: Torture and abuse in Mexico is “widespread”

UNHRC investigator

UN Special Investigator on Torture Juan Méndez. Photo: Miguel Dimayuga, Proceso.

03/24/15 (written by otawka) — In early March, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) released a report by the Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan E. Méndez, as a result of his investigations in Mexico in 2014. The report was damaging to the Mexican Government, which is already under fire for human rights abuses. Recent events in Mexico, such as the disappearances of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, have brought extra scrutiny and international attention to the Mexican Government’s issues of corruption, forced disappearances, and use of torture by the authorities. In the report, Méndez stated that, “Torture and abuse are widespread in Mexico.” According to the UNHRC, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) reported receiving 11,608 complaints of torture and ill treatment between 2006 and April 2014, but civil organizations generally believe that incidents of torture are likely to be significantly higher than the number of cases reported. Méndez links the use of methods of torture such as beatings, rape, water boarding, suffocation, and electric shock to the Mexican Government’s efforts to combat the country’s drug cartels. He indicates that torture is used by Mexican authorities at all levels: local, state, and federal police, and armed forces. Méndez also reports that those detained are tortured in unknown and secret locations, without access to justice and without trial.

Last year, after the original investigation on torture by Méndez, the Peña Nieto administration pointed to a decline in the recommendations handed down by the CNDH regarding the matter as evidence that the situation is improving. Moreover, the CNDH reported a 30% decline in reported cases of torture between 2012 and 2013, crediting its own National Mechanism of Prevention of Torture in Mexico (Mecanismo Nacional de Prevención de la Tortura en México). Méndez acknowledged that this decline could be a result of fewer cases of torture, but stressed that it could also stem from victims’ underreporting of cases due to a lack of confidence in the authorities to respond. In 2012, the Mexican government reported to the U.N. Committee Against Torture that there have been only six verdicts for the offense of torture during the prior seven years. Furthermore, torture charges, when pursued, are often downgraded to charges of abuse of authority, misuse of public office, or unauthorized exercise of public authority.

In response to the release of the report this March, the Mexican government criticized the statements and claims made by Méndez. Jorge Lomonaco, Mexico’s ambassador to the UN and other international organizations, said in response to the report that the statement that torture is widespread in Mexico, “does not correspond with reality.” He also stated that the report by Méndez does not reflect the efforts of the Mexico to combat human rights abuses and that the incidents of torture were limited to a few cases. According to Milenio, this is third time Mexican government officials have criticized the UN’s for its statements about Mexico, including criticisms regarding a report released this February by the Committee on Forced Disappearances.

Méndez underlines the strong correlation between the use of torture and investigation and the fight against organized crime, including the deployment of armed forces to perform law enforcement functions, with the number of military personnel deployed reaching 50,000 in 2012. According to the report, among the cases of torture reported, between December 2012 and July 2014, the CNDH received 1,148 complaints of such violations attributable to the armed forces alone. The use of militarized law in Mexico continues today, with the use of over 32,000 military personnel still perform task usually assigned to civilian forces.

Representatives from the Miguel Agustín Center for Human Rights (ProDH) presented in Washington, D.C. Photo: Organization of American States.

Representatives from the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights (ProDH) presented in Washington, D.C. Photo: Organization of American States.

In his report, Méndez stated that torture is an everyday tool used by the authorities in Mexico to obtain confessions from detainees, such as social activists and journalists. Many reported being detained by men in plain clothes, sometimes hooded in unidentified cars and who produced neither warrants nor reason for arrest. Detentions last for days, they allege, often in unknown sites such as military bases. During detention, the whereabouts of those detained are not reported to others nor are detainees presented before judicial or ministerial authorities. The forms of torture allegedly used by Mexican authorities include, beatings, insults and threats, electric shock (usually to genitals), sexual torture primarily against women (including groping, rape, gang rape, and forced nudity, among others), asphyxiation with plastic bag, water boarding, and forced nudity, among others. Some victims died from torture or from extrajudicial killing or forced disappearances that followed the torture.

On March 20, members of civil organizations, such as the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Center for Human Rights (Centro de Derechos Humanos, Prodh), presented before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington D.C. The organizations reported that there are at least 128 open complaints of sexual torture, which included sexual abuse, rape, rape threats, forced nudity, and use of misogynistic slurs on those detained. One case presented by Prodh was Yecenia Armenta, who was allegedly sexually tortured for 15 hours and was forced to confess to the murder of her husband. She was then detained for the two years in a correctional facility in her home state of Sinaloa. During the press the conference after the session ended, the civil organizations were outraged when the Assistant Attorney of Human Rights of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) stated that they did not agree that the theme of the session was “sexual torture,” and asked that the terminology be changed to “sexual violence.” Some, including Prodh human rights attorney Araceli Olivos, believed it was a way for the Mexican government to evade the problem and not provide answers to state mandated acts of sexual torture.

One survivor of torture in Mexico, Claudia Medina, who is now a face of Amnesty International’s Stop Torture campaign and was among those women who denounced sexual torture in D.C. in March, spoke on her experience of being sexually assaulted while tortured in Mexico. Members of the Mexican Navy (Secretaría de la Marina, SEMAR) detained Medina in August 2012 in Veracruz, where she was tortured to get a confession incriminating herself and others for drug-related crimes. In February 2015, the last remaining charges against Medina were dropped and her claim of torture is now before the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR). “After this long process I had to go through I felt the need to become a human rights activist, to show that I’m not a criminal, as authorities portrayed me,” stated Medina. “I will not allow even one more woman to be tortured in Mexico.”


“UN Human Rights Visitor Comments on Torture in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. May 31, 2014.

Kilpatrick, Kate. “Report: Torture in Mexico rose 600 percent during past decade.” Aljazeera America. September 4, 2014.

Méndez, Juan. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment.” UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. December 29, 2014.

Machain, Mariano. “Justice in Mexico: ‘I will not allow even one more woman to be tortured in Mexico.’” Amnesty International. February 11, 2015.

“ONU: torturas y malos tratos “generalizados” en México.” La Jornada. March 9, 2015.

Tuckman, Jo. “UN: torture in Mexico occurs with ‘impunity’ at hands of security forces.” The Guardian. March 9, 2015.

Alcántara, Liliana. “UN says that torture is generalized in Mexico.” El Universal. March 10, 2015.

Jiménez, Eugenia. “México y ONU ahora chocan por informe sobre la tortura.” Milenio. March 10, 2015.

Leticia Día, Gloria. “Condenan ONG repuesta de Peña a reported de ONU sobre tortura.” Proceso. March 11, 2015.

“Denuncian ante la CIDH tortura sexual a mujeres mexicanas.” teleSUR. March 20, 2015.

Cimanoticias. “Desconfían mujeres de mecanismo para denunciar tortura sexual.” Veracruzanos.info. March 21, 2015.