Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Geographic Distribution of Mexico Violence More Widespread: Report

Violence connected to organized crime decreased in some keys areas, but has spread more widely across Mexico, according to a new report on 2011 violence trends released by the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute. Most noticeably, violence appears to be moving away somewhat from the border states, and is rising in Mexico’s interior.

In 2010, over half of Mexico’s organized crime homicides were concentrated in just three states:, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas. However, now those three states (with Nuevo Leon replacing Tamaulipas) account for just 41 percent of the violence. While Sinaloa saw the largest reduction of violence in Mexico, organized crime-related murders rose dramatically elsewhere. Veracruz registered just 113 alleged crime-related homicides between 2007 and 2010. In 2011, that number rose to 888 murders, making it the sixth most violent state in Mexico. Previously, Veracruz was the 16th most violent, meaning it rose 10 spots in the space of a year. Other states saw a noticeable increase in violence, including Nuevo Leon, Guerrero, and Coahuila.

Violence also became more dispersed across Mexico’s cities. Previously, the top five most violent cities in Mexico accounted for about 32 percent of crime-related killings. Now they account for a little less than a quarter. Ciudad Juarez saw the most dramatic drop: the city accounted for just 9 percent of Mexico’s violence in 2011, compared to 18 percent in 2010. But violence grew more widely distributed to a larger number of cities and municipalities, with Acapulco, Monterrey, Veracruz, and Durango all seeing significant increases.

If violence is becoming more dispersed, this is partly a reflection of the reconfiguration of Mexico’s major criminal groups, the Trans-Border Institute says. Virtually all the major groups have experienced a split in their structure, with the possible exception of the Zetas. If violence has now moved south, outside the traditional states used to produce or smuggle drugs, this may also be a reflection of how criminal groups have diversified their sources of income outside the drug trade, to the point that that criminal organizations may be using violence to protect their interests in non-traditional drug-trafficking areas.

As the Trans-Border Institute points out, counting the number of crime-related homicides in Mexico must come with a caveat. The report uses homicide data from January to September 2011, the most recently available. While the government previously used to classify select homicides as “linked to organized crime,” in 2011 that category was changed to “homicides allegedly caused by criminal rivalry.” To be placed in this category, a murder must meet six criteria, including if the murder involved a high caliber-weapon, if the victim carries evidence of torture, if the body was found in a vehicle or found taped or gagged. As the Institute states, because this criteria is not based on formal police investigations or other legal criteria, it’s possible that many of the so-called “organized crime-related” murders have been mischaracterized.

According to the report, the government counted 12,903 crime-related murders between January and September 2011. By the Trans-Border Institute’s tally, this brings the number of crime-related murders registered between 2007 and 2011 to over 50,000.

News Briefs

  • President Hugo Chavez said that Venezuelan intelligence agencies knew of a plot to assassinate opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, reports Reuters. “It’s not the government, not at all, on the contrary,” Chavez said. According to the AP, he said that “foreign groups or sectors” were involved. Capriles responded on Twitter, stating that he found Chavez’s comments borderline irresponsible.
  • 12 policemen in Mexico were killed after a reported ambush by gunmen in Guerrero state, reports Reuters. At least another 11 police were injured. Both federal and municipal police had been deployed to Teloloapan municipality, following the discovery of 10 human heads left outside the town’s slaughterhouse on Sunday. At the scene of the decapitations, police reportedly found a text which suggested that the victims were supporters of the Familia Michoacana, described as “filthy kidnappers,” La Jornada reported. A state security spokesman said the police ambush would not deter investigations into the beheadings.
  • The LA Times reports that as early as May 2010, federal agents detained a key suspect in a case involving the smuggling of ammunition and weapons from the US into Mexico. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) let the suspect walk after he promised to become an informant. The suspect did not stay in touch and instead continued to smuggle weapons into Mexico, in a case that became synonymous with the shortcomings of the ATF’s “Fast and Furious” operation, which was supposed to trace Mexico-Us weapons-smuggling networks.
  • Yesterday saw another long day of protests in Peru as thousands of miners blockaded the Panamerican highway in the southern Ayacucho region, BBC Mundo reports. The road block was meant to coincide with Monday’s meeting between miners’ representatives and the government. Miners say that the government is out to destroy small-scale, unlicensed mining, while the government argues that the industry needs much stricter regulations. According to EFE, the two sides apparently came to an agreement, and miners have promised to call off future protests. Elsewhere, Americas Quarterly argues that the mining activity prevalent in areas like Madre de Dios, the Amazonian region which saw some of last week’s most violent clashes, is unsustainable and causes significant damage to the environment. Bringing in the private sector, if they answer to strict environmental standards, is the most sustainable option for Peru’s southern Amazon, AQ argues.
  • El Salvador’s Minister of Security told online newspaper El Faro that they were “at risk” after publishing an investigative piece suggesting that the government struck a deal with gang members, according to editor Carlos Dada. "If he knows where the threats come from, he should also know how to protect us from those dangers, but so far we have not received any offer to protect us in any way,” Dada told the Knight Center. The government has denied El Faro’s allegations, and reportedly met with other media outlets to inform them that El Faro was at risk. During the meeting, the Minister of Security reportedly referenced the death of documentary filmmaker Cristian Poveda, killed by gang members in 2009. Dada told the Knight Center that by doing so, the government was implying that El Faro was facing the greatest risk from gang members, which may not be the case “especially since we have not been offered any protection.”
  • BBC Mundo with a feature on the “awkward brothers” of presidents in Latin America: Fabricio Correa, a businessman accused of overcharging the Ecuadorian government for contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars; and Antauro Humala, serving a 19-year prison sentence for leading an attempted military rebellion in 2005. The piece notes that the relationship between the Correa brothers is openly hostile. President Rafael Correa has said he has barred Fabricio from visiting the presidential palace. Correa has also said that he will not sue his brother out of respect for their mother, after Fabricio claimed that he lost some of his business contracts for refusing to pay a bribe to the government. Fabricio recently intensified the feud when he registered a political party and said he planned to run for president in 2013. In contrast, President Ollanta Humala has been much quieter about his relationship with Antauro. The other most infamous brotherly relationship in the relationship -- between President Hugo Chavez and Adan Chavez -- is not mentioned; the Chavez siblings are reportedly very close, in apparent contrast to their counterparts in Peru and Ecuador.
  • Ciper with an op-ed contribution that critiques a proposed measure by the Minister of the Interior which would limit the right to assemble in Chile. The measure is widely interpreted as a move intended to quell the student protest movement for education reform. Cipher argues that such an act will restrict many, even though it is intended to limit the violent activity of a minority. Following irregularities involving a prominent retail company, La Pola, “did the minister suggest a law which would restrict the right to free trade?” the writer asks rhetorically.
  • IPS News with an interview with Guatemalan peace activist Rosalina Tuyuc, the first indigenous woman to receive the Niwano Peace Prize. Tuyuc states that she believes Guatemala is on its way to “overcoming impunity” but President Otto Perez must also issue a formal apology for the military abuses committed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war.
  • Cuba released the approximately 70 members of the Ladies in White dissident group, who were detained before the Pope’s visit next week, the BBC reports.
  • Some 300 commanders of the Honduran police will begin undergoing lie detector tests, in a US-backed program intended to aid Honduras in cleaning up the force. From the AP.

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