Mexico’s monthly murder rate reaches 20-year high

  • Data shows 2,186 murders were committed in May, surpassing May 2011 record
  • Crackdown on organised crime has consumed Mexico for more than a decade

Mexico marked another murderous milestone in its conflict with organised crime as the monthly homicide rate hit its highest level in 20 years.

Government statistics showed that 2,186 murders were committed in May, surpassing the previous monthly high of 2,131 in May 2011, according to a review of records that date back to 1997.

Mexico recorded 9,916 murders in the first five months of 2017, roughly a 30% increase over the same period last year.

The situation has hit such calamitous levels in states such as Guerrero, to south of Mexico City – where armed groups are fighting for control of the heroin industry – that morgues there have been unable to handle the dead bodies.

Analysts say the surging violence stems from various factors, including the increased cultivation of heroin to meet US demand and the legalisation of marijuana in some US states, which has caused cartel profits to plummet and prompted criminal groups to diversify into crimes such as kidnap and extortion.

Last month, the federal government boasted of neutralizing 107 of its 122 top criminal targets since President Enrique Nieto took office in December 2012, though the efficacy of the strategy of killing and capturing cartel kingpins has raised questions.

“Much of the increase in violence is related to the fragmentation of organized crime groups. When leaders are taken out, groups tend to fragment or suffer from battles for leadership,” said Tom Long, an international relations professor at the University of Reading.

“The state response continues to be characterised by a military-first approach” as state governors often pawn off their security responsibilities on federal forces and fail to create proper police departments, Long said. “It is also characterised by impunity. Security forces shoot first and most of the time no one asks questions later.”

A study released Monday by cyber security analysts showed evidence that journalists, activists and human rights lawyers had been targeted with sophisticated surveillance malware that had been supplied to government agencies ostensibly for tracking the activities of suspected criminals, but used instead on critics.

The crackdown on drug cartels and organised crime has consumed Mexico for more than a decade. Then-president Felipe Calderón declared war on the cartels upon taking office in December 2006 and sent soldiers into the streets to stamp out illegal drug activities.

The ensuing conflict has cost an estimated 200,000 lives, left 30,000 Mexicans missing and failed to improve policing, implement the rule of law or stop human rights abuses.

Pacifying the country has proved difficult, though violence had started diminishing in 2011.

When Peña Nieto came to power in 2012, he adopted a new approach on security matters: silence, preferring to talk instead about promising structural reforms and economic issues.

“The increase in violence is a clear sign that the strategy Enrique Peña Nieto sold us has failed,” said Viridiana Ríos, analyst at the Wilson Centre, a Washington thinktank. “He told us it’s a problem of perception and there was too much discussion in Mexico about violence. A year before there are elections, we are [now] seeing the highest levels of violence.”

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