Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mexico Says Crime-Linked Murders are Down, But Official Statistics are Suspect

On Wednesday, the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto released statistics showing that the number of homicides linked to organized crime has fallen since the president took office. According to the figures presented to the press by Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the country saw 4,249 homicides related to organized crime since Peña Nieto was inaugurated on December 1. This is 685 (about 14 percent) less than the same period the previous year, in which 4,934 such homicides took place.

As the AP notes, however, many analysts are skeptical of the government numbers. While it is compiled by federal authorities, the data is initially gathered by state and local officials, and is subject to inconsistencies or misreporting.  

Another gray issue with the statistics is the matter of what exactly counts as a "crime-related homicide." This is based not on court rulings, but evidence reported by the police working on the case. Officials responsible for the national homicide database have said that the distinction ultimately amounts to “approximation” using factors like the kind of weapon used, evidence of torture and whether the body had been transported.

This method is imprecise, and more importantly, it allows for the manipulation of data in accordance with the government’s interests. There is no way of telling how many homicides may have been described as unrelated to organized crime despite evidence to the contrary.

The potential for politicization of official crime data is only one aspect of a troubling pattern of resistance to transparency emerging in the Mexican government. As InSight Crime has reported, the Peña Nieto administration has been consistently uncooperative towards media investigations into the country’s main drug cartels, allegations of forced disappearances and the recent explosion in PEMEX's Mexico City headquarters. Most recently, the Attorney General's Office (PGR) turned down a request by the newspaper Reforma for information on the number of criminal groups active in Mexico, their leaders, and their respective areas of influence, sealing that information for 12 years.

News Briefs
  • The L.A. Times has more on the Mexican government’s campaign to downplay violence in the country despite a rash of extremely violent and high-profile crimes in recent months, which the paper claims has succeeded in changing the rhetoric used to discuss the violence “from Washington think tanks to local Mexican newspapers.”
  • A Mexican judge has sentenced a suspect accused of the 2012 murder of crime reporter Regina Martinez Perez to 38 years in prison. Proceso magazine, where she worked, doubts the credibility of the suspect’s confession and believes that he has been set up.
  • As the case against Guatemalan ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt begins to hear testimony from defense witnesses, Prensa Libre has an overview of public perception of the trial in the “Ixil Triangle” in the central department of Quiche, where locals have mixed opinions on the former strongman. Also on the trial, indigenous law expert Elisabeth Patterson writes an informative analysis of the incorporation of the Mayan perspective into the hearing for In addition to describing the effect that translation difficulties and cultural differences have on the proceedings, Patterson concludes that the trial has -- perhaps unsurprisingly -- made no efforts to incorporate any aspects of Mayan Ixil customary law.
  • On Tuesday, a Guatemalan appeals court upheld a lower court’s decision to absolve former President Alfonso Portillo of charges that he embezzled $15 million from Guatemala's Defense Department during his 2000-2004 administration. However, Portillo still faces an extradition order from the United States, where he is wanted on charges that he stole $1.5 million in foreign donations meant to buy textbooks for Guatemalan schoolchildren.
  • Venezuelan interim President Nicolas Maduro has announced that, on the counsel of his campaign advisors, he will no longer whistle in campaign rallies, a symbolic act he has taken up after claiming that Chavez’s spirit visited him in the form of a little bird. The Associated Press has more on the symbolism used by his campaign, which includes stressing bird imagery and effectively appropriating a Venezuelan insult meaning “big plantain.”
  • Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, meanwhile, is fervently denying accusations by Maduro that he will end the government’s anti-poverty “missions” in poor areas if elected. Chavista welfare programs are immensely popular in the country, and many even see them as an incontrovertible right guaranteed by the government.
  • The AFP reports on some mining companies’ resistance to a Peruvian environmental regulation requiring a reduction in sulfur oxide emissions beginning in 2014, with the stated aim of causing "zero pollution.” The president of Peru’s National Mining and Oil Society has said that it is “technically impossible” to comply with the regulation.
  • The Financial Times looks at dysfunction in the Brazilian legislature. As examples it highlights the new head of Congress’s human rights commission, who is fighting for office after describing blacks as a “race cursed by Noah” and homosexuality as a “cancer,” as well as the new head of the Senate’s environmental commission, whose support for logging in the Amazon earned him Greenpeace’s Golden Chainsaw award in 2005.
  • Reuters has obtained a copy of former Haitian Finance Minister Marie Carmelle Jean-Marie’s resignation letter, in which the well-regarded official says her abrupt decision to leave the government was caused by “a lack of solidarity of my own peers."
  • Americas Quarterly features two conflicting arguments about the future of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) after Hugo Chavez’s death. Former Bolivian Ambassador to the United Nations Pablo Solon argues that the organization has created a unique platform of regional solidarity for the Latin American social movements, and will continue so long as neoliberal policies are opposed in the hemisphere. Latin American analyst Greg Weeks, on the other hand, argues that Venezuela, ALBA’s main benefactor, will likely be too busy managing internal political and economic conflict to continue devoting as many resources to the project.
  • On its Americas Blog, The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) profiles WikiLeaks’ recent launch of an archive of 1.7 million U.S. internal State Department documents and communications, including 205,901 which relate to controversial former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The archive contains cables, intelligence reports and congressional correspondence from 1973-1976, and is part of a larger searchable database that the transparency advocacy group has termed the “Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy.” As an example of its historically significant contents, the CEPR highlights an October 1973 cable detailing remarks made to U.S. diplomatic officials by Vatican Deputy Secretary of State Giovanni Benelli, in which the archbishop criticized press reports of abuses by General Augusto Pinochet as “exaggerated coverage.”  The cable claims he added that “despite the Vatican’s best efforts, leftist propaganda has been remarkably successful even with [a] number of more conservative cardinals and prelates who seem incapable of viewing [the] situation objectively.”

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