Mexico’s bloody drug-related violence has surged to a new record

Mexico homicide crime scene police Villahermosa TabascoREUTERS/Luis Manuel Lopez

The bloodshed related to Mexico’s decade-long fight against drugs and organized crime has surged to a new record.

The 2,566 homicides victims recorded in June were a 40% increase over the same month last year, and the most recorded in a month since the Mexican government started releasing that data in 2014.

June’s 2,234 homicide cases (a case can contain more than one victim) were the most registered in a month since the government started releasing crime data in 1997.

Over the first half of the year, Mexico saw 13,729 homicide victims nationwide, a 33% increase over the same period last year. The 12,155 homicide cases through June this year were a 31% increase over the first six months of 2016 and the most seen during the first half of a year in any year for which data is available.

Past periods of drug-related violence have generally been localized; between 2008 and 2012, Ciudad Juarez on the border with Texas was home to much of the country’s killing. The rise in killings in recent months appears to be taking place across a broader swath of the country.

In January, 25 of Mexico’s 32 states saw increases in comparison with January 2016. The surge has now spread to 27 of those states.

Mexico City marine soldier crime sceneREUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Killings remain high in places that have traditionally struggled with homicides.

Baja California state saw 210 homicides in June. That was 128 more than it saw in June last year, and, according to state data, 152 of June’s killings happened in Tijuana, a border city that is the subject of a turf war between the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.

In Chihuahua – home to Ciudad Juarez, which is now reportedly being contested by the Sinaloa cartel, Jalisco New Generation cartel, and remnants of the Juarez cartel – the 220 homicides last month were more than double the 109 in June last year.

Mexico state level homicides June 2016 June 2017Christopher Woody/Mexican government data

Of the 970 homicides in the state from January to June, 365 took place in Ciudad Juarez, according to El Diario – though that includes both intentional homicides and incidental ones.

Farther south, Guerrero – 206 homicides last month – saw a 10% increase in homicides the first six months of this year over the same period last year.

Sinaloa state, ground zero of the fight for control of the Sinaloa cartel, saw a 68% increase in homicides from the first six months of 2016 to the same period this year.

Homicides nearly doubled in Veracruz, long a battleground for the Gulf and Zetas cartels, rising 97%.

The Gulf and Zetas cartels have also seen their own internal feuds flare up. Fighting between factions of the latter group has increased in Reynosa, a border city in northern Tamaulipas state, in recent months.

In Tamaulipas as a whole, homicides rose just under 6% between the first six months of last year and the first half of this year, but May and June were well above any other month this year.

But the bloodshed appears to have spread to areas that have been spared from the violence.

There were 25% more homicide victims in Mexico City over the first six months of this year compared to the same period last year. While the drug trade is present in the city, recent outbursts of violence point to the growing presence and militancy of organized-crime groups there, even if politicians avoid describing them as “cartels.”

In Quintana Roo in the southeast and Baja California Sur in the northwest – home to tourist havens of Cancun and Los Cabos, respectively – drug-related killings have gone up as well.

Mexico nightclub shooting Playa del Carmen blue parrot police(AP Photo)

In Quintana Roo, killings more than doubled, rising 106% over the first half of the year compared to the January-June period last year. Baja California Sur – where the Sinaloa cartel’s weakness is also believed to be driving the violence – saw a 342% jump in homicides from the first half of last year to the first half of this year.

While much of the violence is related to the drug trade – particularly competition over the heroin and synthetic-drug trade in western Mexico – other factors appear to have allowed it to fester. The fragmentation of criminal groups, wrought in part by the government’s “kingpin strategy” targeting cartel leadership, has led to more groups fighting over the same territory and products.

Deficiencies in the criminal-justice system have also contributed to the violence.

Mexico Sinaloa Culiacan crime scene soldier military(AP Photo/Rashide Frias)

Some officials claim the country’s new justice system, under which people caught with illegal weapons are sent jailed automatically ahead of trial, allows criminals to stay on the streets.

Others, like Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope, attribute the wave of killings to impunity, blaming officials who say the rising body counts come from fighting between criminals and allow them to go unpunished.

Many security officials and politicians have also been found to be complicit in organized crime, allowing it operate or even participating in it.

Even police who aren’t on the take may not be equipped to deal with cartels and gangs. A considerable number of police and other members of Mexico’s security forces have failed tests of their competency in recent years. In Sinaloa in particular, more than half of police failed such exams this year but continued working.

Sinaloa state’s deputy security secretary has admitted that the state doesn’t have the resources it needs to fight criminal groups there and that local police are insufficiently trained.

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