Feb 182012

Drug war deaths occur in communities of all sizes, but they are a bit more likely in the biggest cities. However, there are gigantic geographic variations. For example, Acapulco, with a population of about 790,000, had 795 drug war deaths in 2011 (Jan–Sept) [note 1] while there were zero drug war deaths in Mérida, with 828,000 residents. Clearly drug cartel battles are very geographically concentrated.

Compared to the rest of the country, Mexico’s 37 largest municipalities with populations of over 500,000 experience about 40% more drug war deaths per 100,000 population than the rest of the country. These big cities account for about 36.5% of Mexico’s population and 44% of the drug war deaths in both 2010 and 2011.

In 2010, Ciudad Juárez was the drug war hotspot with 2,736 deaths for a rate of 206 per 100,000/yr compared to the national rate of 13.6 [note 2]. This dropped by a surprising 41% in 2011 to a rate of 121 [note 3]; but  Ciudad Juárez still led the nation’s death toll with 1,206 deaths. Acapulco’s 795 deaths gave it the highest rate among big cities of 134, up a frightening 186% over 2010. Other dangerous big cities with high drug war death rates include Torreón with a rate 99 (up 100%), Durango with 89 (up 244%), Chihuahua with 65 (down 20%) and Culiacán with 57 (down 17%).

Tijuana used to be a major center of drug violence, but not anymore. Between December 2006 and December 2009, it experienced 1,195 drug war deaths, behind only Ciudad Juárez with 3,699 and Culiacán with 1,303. Its death rate for that period was over four times the national average. But the number of deaths dropped from 472 in 2010 to 183 in 2011 bringing the rate down to 15.6, just above the national average of 15.3. In nearby Mexicali, the rate was only 4.1 in 2011, about a quarter of the average. The state of Baja California is no longer a key battleground in the Mexican drug war.

Drug violence deteriorated most rapidly in Veracruz City which went from 9 deaths in 2010 to 155 in 2011 resulting in a rate increase of almost 2,200%. This increased the rate to 37, nearly two and a half times the national average. Smaller cities in Veracruz State also experienced rapid increases. For example, Jalapa went up 1,066% and Bocas del Rio was up 6,167%. For the state as a whole, the rate was up over 300%. Clearly, the drug war has reached Veracruz.

Drug war violence has also increased rapidly in Monterrey where the number of deaths increased from 179 in 2010 to 399 in 2011, more than doubling its death rate. Deaths in Monterrey’s two large suburbs of Guadalupe and Apodaca also went from 91 to 220. While the rate in Monterrey was just above the national average in 2010, in 2011 it was up to 47, three times the average. Deaths in nearby Saltillo also went up rapidly, from 15 to 50, pushing its rate up by 344%.

Guadalajara also experienced an upsurge in drug violence. While its death rate went up 61% to 7.3 in 2011, this is still less than half the national average. However, the 2011 data do not include the 26 bodies dumped in the city in November 2011. Death rates were also up nearly 50% in Guadalajara’s two big suburbs of Zapopan and Tlaquepaque.

Surprisingly the Mexico City Federal District has been relatively free of drug violence. Total drug war deaths dropped from 191 to 122 pushing its 2011 rate down to only 1.8 deaths per 100,000/yr. This is only about one eighth the national rate. A future post will provide a more detailed analysis of drug violence in Mexico City.

In addition to Mérida, Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas also had zero deaths in 2011. Other big cities with very low drug war death rates include Puebla (0.6), Querétaro (0.8), León (1.9), Toluca (2.1) and Villahermosa (2.5). Apparently drug cartels and their enemies have not been very active in these cities.


[1] All the references for 2011 are for January through September based on the data released by Mexican Government

[2] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, The Guardian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/14/mexico-drug-war-murders-map. For data see: http://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?dsrcid=393962.

[3] The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.

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