Crunching the Numbers in Mexico’s Drug Conflict

This story was featured on BBC last week:

The launch this week of a comprehensive official database of drug-related killings around Mexico provides a new insight into the complexity of the conflict with criminal groups that traffic drugs into the United States.
Until now, the public relied mostly on tallies elaborated by national media outlets or on sporadic – and sometimes confusing – figures released by different government institutions. Many in Mexico have therefore welcomed the publication of a unified set of data that for the first time includes not only fallen gang members, but also police, soldiers and innocent civilians killed in the fight against the cartels.

Here’s some of the highlights that BBC pulled from the report?

  • According to the new database, the total number of people killed in the conflict between December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon came into power, and the end of 2010, stands at 34,612. Last year was by far the bloodiest since Mr Calderon launched his head-on military confrontation with the cartels, with 15,273 deaths.
  • At least 89% of the fatalities are suspected gang members killed in turf wars between the different organisations that compete for control of trafficking routes into the US. The government argues that this shows the cartels are feeling the heat of the government’s crackdown.

(Most of the remaining 11% is made up of  soldiers or police killed fighting the gangs.)

  • Mexican officials have repeatedly said that the overall per capita murder rate in Mexico (including those not related to the drugs conflict) is lower than rates in other Latin American countries like Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.
  • … in states like Tlaxcala, only 13 people have been killed in the conflict since 2006; in Yucatan, the total figure is 26. This is a point that the Mexican government seems keen to highlight – the violence is confined to very specific areas and other regions are almost completely spared from the killings.
  • In fact, 70% of the homicides, the database shows, have taken place in only 85 of the 2,500 municipalities around Mexico.
  • From a list of 37 “wanted” drug barons issued by the government in March 2009, 17 were captured or killed by government forces – including Arturo Beltran Leyva, head of the Beltran Leyva cartel, in December 2009 – while two were killed in clashes between criminal groups.
  • Security forces have confiscated almost 100,000 weapons from the cartels, while the value of the seized narcotics amounts to more than $10bn (£6.3bn).
  • The authorities say they are purging corrupt local police forces and they are also hitting the cartels where it hurts them most: their finances.
  • Government security spokesman Alejandro Poire points out that the number of drug-related murders decreased by about 10% in the last quarter of 2010, and officials hope this will become a long-term trend.

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