Thursday, January 12, 2012

Questioning Mexico’s Tally of Drug-Related Killings

Mexico’s Attorney General Office released an official count for how many people were killed in drug-related violence in 2011, a tally reaching into the tens of thousands. The question now is how much these numbers reflect the reality on the ground.

According to government figures, Mexico registered nearly 13,000 drug-related killings, an 11 percent increase from the same period in 2010. According to the New York Times, this brings the total number of people killed in drug-related episodes to 47,515 since President Felipe Calderon assumed office in 2006. The AP notes that this rise in killings follows an increase of nearly 70 percent between 2009 and 2010, in which the government recorded 9,616 and 15, 273 murders, respectively.

The Times reports that this number may be unreliable, as the national homicide count is based, in part, on data collected from state prosecutors’ office. At the state level, methods used to track and record those homicides defined as related to organized crime can vary widely.

The other issue is how the Mexican government categorizes which homicides are related to organized crime. As Molly Molloy points out on the Frontera listserve, less than 2 percent of crimes are investigated or solved. Molloy finds that based on data from INEGI, the statistical bureau, and the National Public Security Secretariat, the actual homicide count since 2007 may be closer to 84,000.

Other independent counts have come up with different numbers. Mexican publication Zeta magazine estimates that over 60,000 have died in the past five years.

Besides releasing a count for drug-related murders, the Mexican government has used other categories to break down these homicides, including classified as “execution-style” killings versus “shootouts between gangs” versus “attacks on authorities.” But because these categories are defined so nebulously, the government has been criticized for its lack of transparency in monitoring the violence.

As InSight Crime points out, the 2011 crime-linked homicide count very nearly went unreleased, which earned the government further criticism this year. The picture painted by the data -- that of drug-related deaths continuing to escalate with no end in sight -- is one potential explanation for the delay.

El Universal has a breakdown of drug-related homicides by state. According to the government data, over 70 percent of homicides are concentrated in just eight states, the majority of them near the US-Mexico border.

Coverage from the Wall Street Journal examines what this rise in murders could mean for Calderon’s party, the PAN, in the 2012 elections.

More analysis on the murder count from the LA Times and Bloggings on Boz.

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan police agency the CICPC released a national homicide tally that paints another grim picture, counting 18,850 murders in 2011, up from 16,094 in 2010. Human rights NGOs Provea and the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), two groups which have kept independent tallies of homicides in the past, have not yet released their findings. But according to El Universal, the government homicide tally is in line with an estimate previously released by the OVV, which predicted that Venezuela would end 2011 with 18,000 to 19,000 homicides. In the past, the government has also kept separate counts for murders classified as “unresolved deaths” or those killed in clashes with police. This has led groups like Provea to argue that the government is undercounting murders.
  • The AP reports on efforts by Guatemalan President Otto Perez to lobby for military aid from the US. Due to human rights violations conducted by the army during the decades-long civil war , US Congress restricted military aid to Guatemala in 1990. In 2007, these restrictions were relaxed somewhat, enabling Guatemala to buy military equipment intended to be used to fight drug trafficking. Since then, authorities in Guatemala have continued to lobby that the US relax these regulations even further, arguing that more military aid is needed because of the worsening drug conflict. Perez’s campaign to pressure the US into more military cooperation may ensure that Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, widely seen as an effective and incorruptible figure, may keep her job for now. During his political campaign, Perez indicated that he may remove Paz y Paz. This was interpreted as an attempt to limit the Attorney General’s Office ability to investigate war-era crimes. But if Perez is intent on requesting more US military aid, his government will have to prove willing to shine a light on the military crimes, which would make the firing of Paz y Paz quite unpopular with US human rights observers.
  • The AFP reports that Ecuador discovered another semi-submersible, build by drug traffickers, capable of carrying up to eight tons of material. Ecuador discovered its first semi-submersible in May 2010; two months later, authorities found the first ever fully submersible “narco sub.” Such finds point to the continued popularity of this smuggling tactic, as well as Ecuador’s importance as a transit country for cocaine.
  • An Op-Ed in the Miami Herald argues that Republican presidential candidate Mick Romney will have a tough time winning over the US Hispanic population, citing a Univison poll that finds Romney earning only 24 percent of the vote. There has been some talk that Romney could improve his chances by picking Florida Senator and Cuban American Marco Rubio as his vice presidential candidate. But such discussions ignore the fact that the Hispanic vote is hardly a homogeneous bloc; the Cuban voters whom Rubio won over in Florida generally vote along more conservative lines than voters of Central American or Mexico descent. The AP notes that because Romney’s father was born in Mexico, the presidential hopeful could theoretically apply for citizenship. Foreign Policy makes a similar argument.
  • The AP reports that eight people, half of them children, were killed in Honduras’ Aguan region, where peasant groups are fighting large landowners over property rights. These killings follow the ambush reported last Friday, when a military and police patrol was allegedly attacked by “guerrillas.” Elsewhere, Upside Down World has an on-the-ground report from the region.
  • The AP on the ouster of Venezuelan diplomat Livia Acosta Noguera, who was dismissed after participating in a Univision documentary on cyber attacks.
  • Blogger Julia Michaels at Rio Real reflects on the controversial death of a Rio de Janeiro street dancer, killed in suspicious circumstances that point to brutality by local security guards.
  • The Washington Post reports from Haiti two years after the island’s devastating earthquake, finding some signs of recovery, including a popular free education program. Only half of the $4.5 billion in aid promised by donor nations has actually been delivered, according to the Post, meaning reconstruction may continue to move slowly. Meanwhile, the Miami Herald reports on the many informal memorial walls built by the Haitian diaspora in Florida.
  • IPS on the rise of the construction industry in Brazil and fears of a real estate bubble.
  • The Wall Street Journal reports that Brazilian growers used an unapproved fungicide on orange tree plantations, affecting juice products sold by Coca Cola Co. in US stores.