Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016

Drug Violence in Mexico 2017 report Cover

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016 (2017)

Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2017 special report entitled, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016.”

Drug Violence in Mexico (2017 Special Report)

Click here to download the full report. DOWNLOAD

Thanks to the generous funding of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, this is the project’s eight 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 find that after a decline in 2012-2014, homicides began to rise again in 2015 and jumped 20% in 2016, and the worsening of security conditions over the past two years has been a major setback for President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who pledged to reduce violence dramatically during his administration.



Comparison of Homicide and Organized Crime Homicide Data for Various Sources, 1990 through 2016

Notably, the largest increases were registered in Colima with a 600% increase from 2015 to 2016, Nayarit (500% increase), and Zacatecas (405% increase), all of which have an important role in drug production or trafficking and are contested by rival organized crime groups. Meanwhile, several states registered noticeable decreases, including Querétaro with a 69% decrease in intentional homicides and Campeche with a 24% decrease. Authors also found that “El Chapo” Guzmán’s arrest and extradition appear to be partly fueling violence. What is particularly concerning about Mexico’s sudden increases in homicides in recent years is that much or most of this elevated violence appears to be attributable to “organized crime” groups, particularly those involved in drug trafficking. While there are important methodological problems with compiling data on organized crime-related killings, tallies produced over the past decade by government, media, academic, NGO, and consulting organizations suggest that roughly a third to half of all homicides in Mexico bear signs of organized crime-style violence, including the use of high-caliber automatic weapons, torture, dismemberment, and explicit messages involving organized-crime groups. In 2016, there was greater disparity in the estimated number of organized crime-style killings documented by some sources (6,325 according to Reforma newspaper and 10,967 according to Milenio), but the proportion of total homicides was at least 25% and perhaps greater than 40%.

The analysis in this report suggests that a significant portion of Mexico’s increases in violence in 2015 and 2016 were related to inter- and intra-organizational conflicts among rival drug traffickers in the wake of Guzmán’s re-arrest in 2016.


Authors believe that, as the U.S. President Donald Trump wants to push the Mexican government to reinvigorate its counter-narcotics efforts and also work to increase U.S. security measures along the 2,000 mile Southwest border, tensions between the two countries could undermine the close law enforcement and security cooperation achieved under the administrations of presidents George W. Bush (2000-2008) and Barack Obama (2008-2016).

“Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016” was co-authored by Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk.

Click here to download the full report. DOWNLOAD

Octavio Rodríguez Discusses Mexico’s Violence in International Journal

12/5/16 – (Written by Rita Kuckertz) In October of this year, the International Journal of Conflict and Violence featured an article by Justice in Mexico Program Coordinator Octavio Rodríguez that explores the complexities of Mexico’s recent upsurge in violence. The article, entitled “Violent Mexico: Participatory and Multipolar Violence Associated with Organised Crime,” examines the six-year period from 2007 to 2012 during which Mexico experienced a significant increase in extreme violence. As Rodríguez notes, more than 120,000 deaths were recorded and intentional homicides increased by over 200 percent during this timeframe.

Mexico as an Extremely Violent Society

In order to characterize this wave of violence in all of its complexities, Rodríguez employs Christian Gerlach’s “extremely violent societies” (EVS) methodology —a descriptive framework that may be used to understand violence where multiple groups, including the state, participate in and become victims of said violence. As Rodríguez explains, in an EVS, various social groups participate in the violence due to a wide array of motives or interests. Additionally, a society that is characterized as an EVS often experiences high levels of state imposed violence and organized crime.


Rodríguez first contextualizes Mexico’s current violence by presenting a brief overview of past violence that has occurred throughout Mexico’s recent history. For instance, he describes armed conflicts such as the Mexican Revolution that characterized the first half of the twentieth century as well as state-generated violence (SGV) of oppositional social movements in the latter half. However, as Rodríguez explains, following a series of economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s, the nature of violence began to change. Robbery and theft increased, and by the mid-1990s violent crimes such as rape and assault also began to increase.


During this time, new organized crime groups (OCGs) were also coalescing following state-run counter narcotic measures that led to the dismantling of the once hegemonic Guadalajara cartel. As a result, many of these restructured organizations began to compete amongst each other for control of certain territories and drug routes. In response to this violence, President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) intensified militarized efforts to dismantle OCG leadership structures. This strategy, however, seemed to only exacerbate the problem of OCG violence by breaking existing OCGs into smaller, unpredictable, and more violent organizations.


Rodríguez argues the resulting violence occurring from 2007 to 2012 is uncharacteristic of past violence in Mexico. While past upheaval may be traced to ideological, religious, or ethnic conflicts with identifiable actors, the violence that characterized the period from 2007 to 2012 was “participatory and multipolar”; that is, it was perpetrated by many different groups for many different reasons against many different people. Thus, traditional terms or concepts used to characterize incidents of mass violence are not applicable here. For instance, the term “war” is not an accurate characterization in this case, as it implies that all violence is state generated and that its victims are combatants. However, as Rodríguez points out, there are numerous other actors that engage in this violence, including OCGs and even the citizenry, who indirectly perpetuate OC practices or directly participate in them.


Rodríguez argues that the EVS framework is useful in making sense of Mexico’s multipolar violence, as an EVS is marked by various actors, including the state, that engage in violence for a variety of reasons. For instance, while a large portion of Mexico’s recent violence is believed to be related to OC activity, it is estimated that there has also been a substantial increase in non-OC related intentional homicides.


This methodology is also helpful in explaining the wide range of victims involved in Mexico’s recent violence. In an EVS, the majority of the violence that occurs is directed toward several groups of people, rather than just one. Similarly, Rodríguez observes that while violence in Mexico is often directed against OC members, it has also increasingly targeted public officials, journalists, media workers, police, and members of the armed forces.

Geographic “clusters”, as identified by the author using INEGI Data. Source: Rodríguez 2016.

Geographic “clusters”, as identified by the author using INEGI Data. Source: Rodríguez 2016.

Furthermore, Rodríguez observes that the phenomenon is dispersed geographically throughout Mexico. He identifies seven geographic regions, or “clusters”, that feature similar patterns of violence using data compiled by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). Rodríguez offers a separate explanation for the violence occurring in each cluster, pointing to conflicts between regional cartels and state-led security operations intended to reduce OC. While the violence in these regions is often associated with OCG fracturing and state intervention, Rodríguez maintains that the causes of violence in each cluster are independent of one another—a phenomenon that is characteristic of an EVS.


Rodríguez concludes that there is no existing narrative that properly characterizes the violence that has occurred and continues to occur in Mexico. The author’s final recommendation is to avoid attempts to define the problem as a whole and instead focus on understanding the various forms of violence that are occurring simultaneously throughout Mexico. He emphasizes that there is no “one size fits all” solution to this widespread problem, and as a result, the state and civil society must address each component of this problem individually when considering possible actions. Rodríguez concludes that Mexico must “[consider] the different actors, the different “violences” and their motifs independently, but comprehensively.”





Rodríguez Ferreira, Octavio. “Violent Mexico: Participatory and Multipolar Violence Associated with Organised Crime.” International Journal of Conflict and Violence. Vol. 10 (1). 2016.

“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