Mar 222011

The Trans-Border Institute (TBI) at the University of San Diego has published a very informative analysis of drug violence in Mexico which goes into far more depth than our short blog posts. The report is part of the TBI’s Justice in Mexico initiative, which is focused on crime, policing and the legal system in Mexico. The Justice in Mexico website provides public access to several books and working papers, databases and specially-drawn maps, produced by the project’s researchers.

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2010, authored by Viridiana Ríos and David Shirk, takes a close look at both the patterns and trends relating to drug violence. The full text of the 21-page report (as a pdf file) is available here.

The report includes numerous maps showing the pattern by municipality for several successive years; when seen in sequence, the shifting focus of drug violence is clearly apparent. A large number of additional maps showing state-level values can be accessed from the Resources on Drug Violence page. These maps use total values for each state, whereas most of the maps and statistics we have included in previous posts (here, here and here) use rates/100,000 people.

Ríos and Shirk balance the bad news about the increase in drug violence in Mexico with their assessment that Mexico’s war against the drug cartels is beginning to show some signs of (limited) success. They point, for example, to the gaps created in the leadership structures of several cartels, due to the capture or killing of high-profile traffickers such as Teodoro “El Teo” García Simental, Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez and Nazario “El Chayo” Moreno.

The TBI report on drug violence includes a brief discussion of some of the  methodological issues connected to alternative and overlapping definitions, and to the various alternative sources of data. In particular, they consider the relative merits of official government figures and those compiled by Reforma, a national daily. Ríos and Shirk acknowledge that the recent provision of more comprehensive statistics by Mexico’s federal authorities represents a major improvement as regards transparency. Interestingly, the figures released by the government in January 2011 are far higher than those compiled by Reforma.

The TBI investigators are not alone in puzzling over the quality of the data for drug-related violence. A recent Spanish-language article elsewhere, by José Merino, compared the number of drug-war deaths recorded in the government figures to the total number of homicides (drug-related or not) in a database managed by INEGI, the National Statistics Institute, based on death certificates in each municipality. Merino identified 105 municipalities (out of 2,456 nationwide) where the total number of drug-related homicides appeared to be higher than the total number of all homicides. The most extreme case in Moreno’s comparison was the discrepancy of 199 homicides in the case of Culiacán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa. The INEGI database showed 1,104 homicides in total, while the federal government figure, for drug-related homicides only, was 1,303.

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