08/31/20 (written by kheinle) — Femicides continue to increase in Mexico, registering their highest monthly total on record. According to data from Mexico’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), 101 cases were reported in June. This brought the total for the first six months of the year to 566. This comes on the heels of a 130% increase in cases of femicides documented from 2015 to 2019.
Mexico has long grappled with the problem of targeted killings of women. Nearly half (45%) of all women in Mexico reported being victims of violence at the hands of their partner, according to a 2018 survey by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía e Informática, INEGI). More recently, another 18% specified that they were victims of physical abuse. Since the pandemic began in March 2020, the National Network of Shelters, a group that supports at risk women and children, reported an 80% increase in calls and a 50% increase in the number of women and children to their shelters.
The Government’s Mixed Response
With the rise in femicide cases, there has been increased attention from national and international critics imploring the Mexican government to step up its efforts. However, the reaction from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his administration is mixed.
The Right to Demonstrate
On the one hand, the administration is at least superficially backing women’s rights and the public’s constitutional right to protest in support of protections for women. For example, following several demonstrations in Mexico City and León, Guanajuato in August, the president used his platform to denounce efforts to silence the public. He vocally supported the protestors’ right to protest, but urged them to do so peacefully. “We have to respect the right to dissent and the freedom to protest, to respect and to be tolerant, but more than anything to respect [the right],” he said. “There should not have to be repression.” [Author’s translation]. He then stressed upon demonstrators to protest and gather non-violently, drawing on non-violent icons like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. to drive home his point.
An Insufficient Response
Yet President López Obrador has also come under fire for what protestors have long argued has been his insufficient response to the inequities that women face. In 2020, there have been numerous public protests denouncing the government’s ineffective and inadequate response to femicides. Critics argue that the president is dismissive of both the femicides and protests that have ensued this past year. He often undermines the severity of the issue, attributing the violence to a loss of values and morality, notes media reports. In fact, he recently claimed that “Mexican women have never been as protected as now,” a point against which demonstrators continue to push back.
Reports also show the López Obrador administration proposing to cut funding to women’s shelters in July of this year, the same shelters that support the women facing femicide, domestic violence, and other targeted violence. As The Guardian reports, in early July, “the government approved a 65% budget cut for the federal women’s institute, and the president has also proposed to withdraw state funding for women’s shelters operated by NGOs, suggesting that women fleeing violence could instead be given a cash payment.”
07/30/20- (written by jhale)- Justice in Mexico has released the second edition of Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico, coordinated by Laura Y. Calderón, Kimberly Heinle, Rita E. Kuckertz, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. Initially titled Drug Violence in Mexico, the report was reissued under a new name beginning last year with the tenth edition. The switch reflects recent shifts in the nature of organized crime, including the diversification of criminal activities. In an ever-changing world, Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico works to compile important statistics regarding key trends while providing insight to help understand an uncertain future.
Diversification of criminal enterprise
The report cites two factors that have contributed to recent patterns in crime: infighting amongst splinter groups and diversification of revenue sources. As larger criminal organizations disband, smaller groups are left in their wake. These small enterprises often lack the logistical capacity to form trans-national criminal partnerships, and instead turn to predatory crimes to maintain revenue. Robberies, kidnappings, and territorial violence can all be linked to the actions of low-level criminal organizations as they fight to increase their market share.
Meanwhile, crime syndicates have sought to diversify their streams of income as competition increases for a stake in the drug trade. Groups such as the Zetas cartel (los Zetas) have paved the way for the transformation of drug trafficking organizations into trans-national criminal organizations. These reiterations of existing groups pose a novel threat to Mexican internal security. In addition to trafficking drugs, criminal organizations have expanded into sex trafficking, fuel theft, and illegal trade of exotic animals. The constantly shifting strategies of organized criminal groups have made law enforcement increasingly difficult for Mexican authorities.
Homicide rates and organized crime
A key topic addressed in the report is Mexico’s homicide rate, which rose to record levels in 2019. The Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) reports that 29,406 cases of murder occurred in 2019, affecting 34,588 victims. While Mexico’s homicide rate has climbed since late-2014, the rate of increase has seemingly subsided. There was a 2.5% increase in homicides from 2018 to 2019, compared with a 20% jump from 2017 to 2018. Regardless, homicide remains a pressing issue in Mexican society. At present, homicide is the leading cause of death among individuals from the ages of 15-39. Mexico’s homicide crisis has caused incalculable suffering in families and communities throughout the country, stifling progress and cutting short the lives of thousands of young people.
Two Mexican media organizations, Milenio and Reforma, have attempted to quantify homicide as relating to organized crime. Figures reported by Milenio suggest that there were 23,393 homicides linked to organized crime groups in 2019, while Reforma has published a more conservative estimate of 15,108 such incidents. The numbers imply that 44% to 80% of homicides can be attributed to organized crime groups.
Although there are some methodological challenges to proving connections between homicide rates and organized crime, the report notes that many of the same regions frequented by organized criminal groups experience higher levels of violence. The report identifies five urban regions with over 450 homicides and a homicide rate exceeding 100 per 100,000 inhabitants: Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Culiacán, Acapulco de Juárez, and León. The report also highlights the three most violent regions in Mexico: the North-East border region; the mid-Pacific coast; and the so-called Golden Triangle of Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Durango, a hotbed for opium production. In addition to having high homicide rates, these areas have also served as de facto centers for drug trafficking and criminal activity. According to the report, the geographic correlation of crime and homicide allows researchers to better understand how organized crime can affect violence throughout Mexico.
In addition to homicide, the report provides insight regarding trends in crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, and robbery. The report found that the number of cases of intentional injury in Mexico increased in 2019 for a fourth year in a row. According to SNSP data, 1,856 of Mexico’s 2,326 municipalities reported at least one intentional injury. Reported kidnappings steadily rose over the years but leveled off in 2018 and 2019 with an increase of roughly 15% with 1,329 reported kidnappings in 2018 and 1,323 reported kidnappings in 2019. Extortion has also been on the rise with an increase from 5,072 cases in 205 to 8,500 cases in 2019. While official statistics provide valuable insight into crime rates, the report’s authors point out that crimes of lesser import are significantly underreported and may not be a reliable indicator of predatory crime trends observed from year to year. For example, an estimated 91.2% of kidnappings are uninvestigated and remain off the official record.
Gender violence and sex crimes
In light of recent social movements highlighting gender violence, the report has included a section dedicated to the topic. Almost half (45%) of women in Mexico report having been the victim of relationship violence. Femicide, or the murder of a woman because of her gender, has seen a 130% uptick since 2015. The authors note that statistics pertaining to violence against women are skewed by the impunity of abusers and a lack of funding for local attorneys general. President López Obrador himself has come under fire for his apparent dismissal of violence against women and his use of rhetoric which pundits have described as “tepid at best”.
The report points out that women may be more empowered to report incidents of violence and sex crimes in the wake of recent protests seeking to hold abusers accountable. Furthermore, the report notes that increased scrutiny of gender violence by authorities may reflect a shift in law enforcement objectives to reflect current issues. This may help explain recent increases in sex crimes, including sexual harassment, abuse, and rape. Despite advances in prosecuting violence against women, the report’s authors note that 77% of women in Mexico feel unsafe as the overwhelming majority of crimes continue to go unreported or uninvestigated.
Politically motivated violence and high-profile targets
The killings of high profile targets such as mayors, police, military officers, and journalists has also increased. In what the report describes as a threat to the rule of law, 25 current, former, or aspiring mayors were assassinated in 2019. Statistics drawn from Justice in Mexico’s Memoria database suggest that mayors are 13 times more likely to be murdered than the average individual. Police and military leaders were also frequently targeted for their role in law enforcement, sometimes at the behest of criminal groups. Lastly, although the number of journalists murdered decreased slightly in 2019, Mexico still ranks among the most dangerous places for journalists to go about their line of work. In Justice in Mexico’s estimation, 13 journalists and media workers were killed in 2019.
This chart, from Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset, illustrates the gradual increase in killings of journalists.
Diversification of violent crime
This report sets itself apart from previous editions by analyzing other predatory crimes perpetrated by small organized crime groups, such as intentional injury, kidnapping, and extortion. The report found that the number of cases of intentional injury in Mexico increased in 2019 for a fourth year in a row. According to SNSP data, 1,856 of Mexico’s 2,326 municipalities reported at least one intentional injury. Reported kidnappings steadily rose over the years but leveled off in 2018 and 2019 with an increase of roughly 15% with 1,329 reported kidnappings in 2018 and 1,323 reported kidnappings in 2019. Extortion has also been on the rise with an increase from 5,072 cases in 205 to 8,500 cases in 2019. The authors note that crimes such as kidnapping and extortion are chronically underreported, suggesting that official data may not be a reliable indicator of predatory crime trends observed from year to year. However, these data are useful in illustrating the aforementioned diversification of criminal enterprise.
Looking to the future
A multitude of causes and contextual factors have contributed to rising crime rates in Mexico. It is difficult to understand and easy to place blame for a problem tugging at the seams of Mexican society. Through an exhaustive overview of the data, statistics, and trends pertaining to crime in Mexico, Justice in Mexico’s Organized Crime and Violence aims to demystify a difficult subject. The authors of this report seek not only to assist in our understanding of the topic, but to paint a picture of crime in Mexico extending beyond the numbers.
The agency reported 17,608 killings in the first six months of 2019, which is 894 more than the number recorded during the first half of 2018 or a 4% increase. If that number repeats in the second half of the year, Mexico could expect to see more than 35,200 homicides for all of 2019. That could be almost 1,900 more homicides than SNSP reported in 2018. For more information on 2018’s official numbers, check out Justice in Mexico’s “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018.”
Geographic Dispersion of Homicides
The majority of the homicides from January through June of 2019 were concentrated in 18 of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities. Nuevo León had the highest increase (70%) in the number of homicides during that time period compared to that in 2018. Sonora saw a 65% increase, followed by Hidalgo (52%), Morelos (43%), Tabasco (42%), Jalisco (31%), Tlaxcala (30%), Coahuila (26%), and the State of México (21%). Another six states had increases at lower levels, falling between 10% and 20% compared to 2018. Guanajuato, which had the single largest increase in all of 2018 from the year before, fell into this category for 2019. Three other states – Puebla, Zacatecas, and Querétaro – had increases less than 10%.
The remaining 14 states all saw decreases in homicide levels, most notably that of Baja California Sur, which experienced a 66% decline in recorded killings in the first half of 2019. This continues the downward trajectory that Baja CA Sur had in 2018. During that year, the state registered the largest decrease in homicides nationwide with a 74% decline, dropping from 448 cases in 2017 to 162 in 2018. In the first six months of 2019, Nayarit followed Baja CA Sur with a 64% decrease, then Guerrero (30%), Tamaulipas (29%), Sinaloa (27%), and Durango (20%).
A member of Mexico’s military sports the National Guard insignia while on patrol in El Manguito, Mexico. Photo: Oliver de Ros, Associated Press.
The increase in homicide rates in 2019 continues a multi-year upward trend that began in 2015. Eyes are now on the López Obrador administration for its response since taking office in December 2018.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took a significant, yet controversial step to implementing his strategy to address crime and violence when he launched the National Guard in June. Created from the ranks of the Mexican military and police, the National Guard will serve as a means to combat the record-breaking levels of crime and violence. President López Obrador is also approaching crime and violence through economic policies. Writes Reuters, “[the President] has blamed the economic policies of previous administrations for exacerbating the violence.” He has taken a hard stance on cultivating fiscal austerity in the country, revamping previous policies while trying to decrease the deficit and increase incoming funds.
Time will tell if the López Obrador administration’s militarized and economic strategies affect Mexico’s staggering levels of crime and violence. As the administration nears the end of its first year in office, however, the upward trend on homicide rates continue.
04/04/18 (written by Michelle Lara Olmos)- The murder of 19-year-old Mara Fernanda Castilla in September of 2017 elicited a fitting response; outraged citizens marched across Mexico demanding government action against the often recognized, but rarely addressed trend of femicide in Mexico. Less than six months later, Mexico’s National System of Public Security (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Publica, SNSP) released statistics ranking January 2018 as the month with the third highest number of femicides in Mexico’s recorded history, with 64 femicides.
Femicide, the murder of a woman, in particular committed by a man, on account of her gender, is not new to Mexico. The majority of femicides victims are stabbed, beaten to death, or strangled. The interpersonal violence against women in Mexico has staggered over the past ten years, catching the attention of many civil society organizations, both inside and outside of Mexico. Human rights efforts are often dedicated to building public-will to address and resolve gender related crimes. According to the Telesur television network, a representative from the United Nations Human Rights to Mexico, Jan Jarab, condemned Mexico’s lack of federal action against rising femicides, which only reinforces a culture of gender-based violence. He commented “Impunity is very high so you can not see the deterrent effect of the [femicide] sanction” (Telesur). Continuing, he urged Mexico’s government to reevaluate its efforts and seek solutions to protect their women.
According to United Nations statistics, around 64,000 women and girls are killed annually. Moreover, 14 of the top 25 countries with the highest rate of femicides resides in Latin America and the Caribbean. Specific to Mexico, UN statistics show that an average of seven women are murdered daily. Some attribute the recent spike in Mexico’s femicides to the rise in violence between organized crime groups. Regardless, Mexico’s rate of femicides reflects the level of impunity characteristic of Mexico’s culture even today.
“Violence against women isn’t an epidemic, it’s a pandemic in Mexico,” said Ana Guezmez, a United Nations Women on behalf of Mexico (Reuters). A 2017 joint report from the National Women’s Institute in Mexico and the UN Women’s agency highlighted the increase of femicides from an annual rate of 3.8 femicides per 100,000 women in 1985 to 4.6 in 2016. Other statistics, like those released by Mexico’s National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women, report that the number of femicides increased by 500 percent between 2001-2010. According to the Guardian, the rise in femicides relatively corresponds to former President Felipe Calderon’s military strategy against organized crime, which led to an overall rise in homicides. Relatedly, the states with the highest levels of femicide are often those with a high organized crime group presence. For example, the state of Guerrero has been particularly affected by organized crime presence and in 2016, the city of Acapulco in Guerrero suffered 107 femicides, the highest number of femicides than any other municipality that year.
Due to international pressures and civil society efforts, Mexico’s chamber of deputies (Cámara de Diputados) passed counter-femicide initiative by way of legislation in 2007. This legislative sanction categorized femicide as the most serious form of gender violence, taking an important step towards preventing violence against women. The legislation also established the practice of gender violence alerts, a tool intended to provide emergency measures to women and also to bring attention to the issue of gender-based violence. In 2017, 10 Mexican states enacted a gender alert for violence against women. Out of the 671 femicides occurring in 2017, 6 out of 10 occurred in a state where an alert was activated.
Unfortunately, the National Citizen Observatory on Femicide (Obervatorio Nacional contra el Femicidio) released figures that out of the 800 femicides between January and June 2017, only 49 percent were investigated. An unidentified Reuters source commented,” Violence against women is so rife that there’s no political cost for those who don’t deal with the issue.” The Citizen Observatory, an alliance of civil society organizations partnered with UN Women, actively campaigns for increased accountability and transparency of information on the issue of femicide. According to UN Women, femicide is often the culmination of widespread gender-based violence.
Source: Daphneé Denis
In a UN Womens’ Report “The long Road to justice, prosecuting femicide in Mexico,” the authors explain a direct correlation between Mexico’s “patriarchal, misogynist mindset and gender violence and girls which can result in death is perpetrated, in most cases, to conserve and reproduce the submission and subordination of them derived from relationships to power.” According to the authors of the report, misogyny is still very relevant in Mexico. A survey released by Reuters ranked Mexico City the fourth most dangerous city for women. According to a collaborative report, La Violencia Feminicida en México, Aproximaciones y Tendencias 1985-2016, there has been little change to the overall cultural mindset, which marginalized women as “disposable” and permeating gender-based violence, and ultimately, femicide. In 2016, there were 2,746 femicides in Mexico and in the last decade there was 23,800.
Notable organizations working towards ending the system violence against women in Mexico include: Nuestras Hijas Regreso a Casa, Red Mesa de Mujeres, El Closet de Sor Juana, Las Hijas de Violencia, etc. These activists organize campaigns, rallies and marches in order to keep femicides in the limelight and seek a solution. For example, Juarez Imelda Marrufo Nava, a women activist, works with the families of the femicide victims in order to get justice for their daughters. She began her organization, Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juarez, in 2001, following the discovery of a nearby mass grave. Her organization focuses on attaining legal support for the victims’ families as well as bringing more attention to the issues of impunity and gender violence.
Marches are a particularly effective advocacy mechanism for raising awareness of femicides and impunity in Mexico. Recently, on March 8th, large crowds of women protested in the streets of Mexico City, demanding greater attention and accountability for women’s rights abuses. Women held signs that read, “Not one more femicide,” “I want to live without the fear of thinking that my daughter will not return.”