Following a decline in the past three years, Mexico’s murder rate is again on the rise, according to statistics released by the country’s National Public Security System this month.
Over the first eleven months of the year, homicides were up by 7 percent from 2014 with this year likely to finish with the highest murder rate since 2011. In Guerrero, the country’s deadliest state, they rose by a troubling 30 percent.
Elsewhere, the northern border state of Tamaulipas led the country in kidnappings and the western state of Jalisco in cases of extortion. All three states are currently in the grip of brutal turf wars between organized crime groups.
Relatively peaceful Mexico City posted its highest murder rate since the 1990s. Two key events – the murder of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa and the grisly hanging of a body from a public footbridge – drew national attention to the spike.
Conversely, there have been gains in public security in a number of states once ravaged by violence such as Coahuila, Chihuahua and Nuevo León which have seen murder rates tumble.
In November, Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong insisted that institutional reforms at the local level – such as the centralization of police powers under a single state-level command – were key to further progress.
“We require a constitutional reform to be able to strengthen states where, obviously, these crimes are committed,” he said in a radio interview. “We are working with the Congress and are hopeful that… (such) reforms can be achieved.”
Impunity for Disappearances
Meanwhile, on December 21 the federal attorney general’s office released its first official visual map of the country’s disappeared persons. In recent years, more than 25,000 people have been reported missing in Mexico, according to the National Register for Disappeared or Missing Persons.
Yet the new report issued by the attorney general (known as the PGR for its initials in Spanish) exclusively documents 600 cases in which the disappearances have been officially confirmed and investigations by the Specialized Unit for the Search of Disappeared Persons are underway.
Nevertheless, they provide a revealing snapshot of Mexico’s landscape of impunity with 46 percent of cases having occurred in just four of the country’s states – Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Guerrero and Coahuila.
Veracruz has become particularly infamous for the murder of journalists with as many as sixteen media workers violently killed in the past five years. Guerrero was the site of the notorious disappearance of 43 student activists in September 2014 – a tragedy known as “Ayotzinapa” after the school from which the victims came.
Importantly, the PGR acknowledged complicity by Mexican security forces in a number of disappearances. The report documents 17 cases of forced disappearance in the past two years in which federal police, military or local law enforcement played a role.
President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012 vowing a more streamlined approach to combating violent crime. Yet events such as the Ayotzinapa tragedy and the sensational escape of drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán from a maximum security prison in July have seen his approval rating fall as low as 35 percent.