Threats to the traditional Tarahumara way of life, part two

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Sep 132012
 

In the first part of this two-part article – Threats to the traditional Tarahumara way of life, part one – we looked at the threats to traditional Tarahumara life posed by alcohol, deforestation and the construction of new or improved roads in the Sierra Tarahumara (Copper Canyon) area.

In this part, we consider the impacts of drug cultivation, mining and tourism.

Drug cultivators and drug cartels

The incursion of drug cultivators seeking land for growing marijuana and opium poppies into the Canyon country has further marginalized the Tarahumara, sometimes labelled “Cimarones” (“Wild Ones”) by the newcomers. Drug cultivators have sometimes registered parcels of land as theirs and then ejected the Indians by force. Obviously, they choose the best available land, and their cultivation methods are designed to produce quick results, rather than sustainability.

Alvarado (1996) divides anti-drug policy into various time periods. First came an emphasis on catching those responsible, then came exhaustive efforts to eradicate the crops. Crop eradication has its own serious environmental downside, since it involves the widespread and indiscriminate use of aerially-applied herbicides, alleged to include Agent Orange, Napalm and Paraquat.

Alvarado’s study is an interesting analysis of the incredible, quickly-acquired wealth (and accompanying violence and corruption) that characterizes some settlements on the fringes of the Sierra Tarahumara. In some towns, for example, there are few visible means of economic support but the inhabitants are able to purchase far more late-model pick-ups than can their counterparts in major cities. Murder rates in these towns are up to seven times the Chihuahua state average. Violence even has a distinct, seasonal pattern, with peaks in May-June (planting time) and October-November (harvest time).

The levels of violence and injustice led Edwin Bustillos (winner of the 1996 Goldman Prize for Ecology) to change the focus of CASMAC, the NGO he directed, from environmental conservation to the protection of Tarahumara lives. In 1994, CASMAC was instrumental in stopping a 90-million-dollar World Bank road-building project that would have opened up still more of the Sierra Tarahumara to timber companies.

Mining

Besides deforestation and its resultant impacts, mining has had several other adverse effects on the Tarahumara and the local landscape. Mining activity has increased in the past decade as metal prices have been high and the federal government has encouraged foreign investment in the sector. Mining leads to a reduction in wildlife and to the contamination of water resources. The most damaging pollutants are heavy metals.

Tourism

Even tourism poses a potential threat. In the past decade, investments totaling 75 million dollars have been made to improve infrastructure (highways, runways, drainage systems, water treatment facilities, electricity) in the Copper Canyon region so that the area has the hotels, restaurants and recreational activities to handle six times the current number of visitors. The plan includes three remodeled train stations and a cable car that is already in operation. Sadly, the Tarahumara were not consulted. The plan essentially deprives them of some communal land with nothing being offered in exchange. Clearly, they are in danger of losing control over even more of their natural resources, especially since improved highways will benefit other groups such as drugs growers.

Anthrologist María Fernanda Paz, a researcher in socio-environmental conflicts at UNAM’s Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, argues that these recent conflicts in the Copper Canyon region have stemmed from the federal government’s support for inflows of foreign capital, helped by modifications to the land ownership provisions enshrined in article 27 of the Constitution, changes made in 1992 during the administration of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. In her view, the developers behind contentious projects first do everything possible to hide the project from public view until it is well advanced. Once people start to object, they then identify the community leaders and do everything possible to get them on their side. Before long, they have succeeded in creating a massive rift in the community, paying some very well indeed for their land, and others next to nothing.

Finally, the good news

The  Tarahumara recently (12 March 2012) won one of the greatest victories to date for indigenous peoples in Mexico. The Tarahumara (rarámuri) community of Huetosachi in the state of Chihuahua has now been recognized by Mexico’s Supreme Court as having long-standing indigenous territorial rights (but not formal ownership) that must be respected by the Copper Canyon Development Fund (Fideicomiso Barrancas del Cobre). This is truly a landmark victory. The Tarahumara have been guaranteed the right to be consulted over all Development Plans, and to select the benefits they will receive in exchange for any loss of ancestral territory. Finally, this juggernaut of a tourist development plan must respect the territories and natural resources of the Tarahumara.

This was truly David against Goliath. Huetosachi is a tiny settlement of only 16 families, about 10 km from where the main tourist complex is being built near the Divisadero railway station. The village has no water, electricity or health services.

The Copper Canyon Development Fund is now obligated to create a Regional Consultative Council allowing the villagers of Huetosachi and other settlements a say in the negotiations to decide what level of development is acceptable, and what the villagers expect in return. This council is expected to include representatives of 27 indigenous communities in the immediate area between Creel and Divisadero.

This landmark court decision could well be the first of many as indigenous groups elsewhere in Mexico fight their own battles against developers of various kinds. There could still be more court cases concerning the Copper Canyon region since it is widely expected that this initial success will lead to a legal challenge against the siting of the cable car. The villagers are also reported to be discussing how best to deal with water contamination allegedly resulting from existing hotels, and the possibility of a golf course being built on the canyon rim.

Sources:

  1. Alvarado, C.M. (1996) La Tarahumara: una tierra herida. Gobierno del Estado de Chihuahua. Somewhat repetitive academic analysis of the violence of the drug-producing zones in the state of Chihuahua, based in part on interviews with convicted felons.
  2. Merrill, W.L. (1988) Raramuri Souls – Knowledge and Social Progress in North Mexico. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  3. Nauman, T. (1997) “Tala ilegal para la siembra de mariguana y opio en Chihuahua” p. 50 in El Financiero, May 12, 1997. Describes the Arareko project.
  4. Plancarte, F. (1954) El problema indígena tarahumara. INI. Mexico. Spanish language description published by National Indigenous Institute.
  5. Shoumatoff, A. (1995) “The Hero of the Sierra Madre” pp 90 – 99 of Utne Reader (July-August, 1995), reprinted from Outside (March 1995). An account of the determined efforts by Edwin Bustillos to prevent further environmental destruction in the Copper Canyon region.

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Mexican attitudes on the drug war, violence and crime

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Jul 162012
 

Mexican drug cartels and related violence have received enormous attention. For an overview, see Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas of operation, a 2012 update. All Mexicans are aware of the issue and millions have been affected directly. What are their current views and attitudes? A face-to-face survey in April 2012 by the Pew Research Center of 1,200 Mexicans in Mexico sheds light on this issue.

Most Mexicans (80%) support President Calderon’s decision to use the military to fight drug traffickers. On the other hand, less than half (47%) think the campaign against drug traffickers is “making progress”. Fully 30% feel the government is losing ground. While they support use of the military, 74% indicate that human rights violations by the military and the police are a “very big problem”.

Mexicans are not sure which political party is better for dealing with Mexico’s drug problems. Just over a quarter (28%) think President Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) (28%) would do a better job compared to 25% for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and only 13% for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Fully 23% said that none of the three major parties is capable of resolving the issue. A possible reason for this is that only 14% blame mostly Mexico for the problem, compared to 22% who mostly blame the USA and 61% who blame both countries.

In general, Mexicans want the USA to help solve the drug problem. Fully 75% favor the USA training Mexican police and military personnel and 61% also approve of the USA providing money and weapons to the country’s police and military. On the other hand only a third favor deploying USA troops within Mexico, while 59% oppose this.

Mexicans feel that their country is facing some serious problems. Three-quarters of Mexicans think cartel-related violence (75%) and human rights violations by police and military (74%) are “very big problems”. The related issues of crime (73%), corruption (69%) and illegal drugs (68%) were also identified as “very big problems” by most survey respondents. Apparently, Mexicans do not feel very safe. More than half (56%) said they were afraid to walk alone at night within a kilometer of their home, 61% for women and 51% for men. Unfortunately, Mexicans are not very optimistic that the country’s drug violence problems will go away any time soon. On the bright side, 51% of the surveyed Mexicans felt their economy would improve in the next year compared to only 16% who thought it would worsen.

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How much drugs money is laundered in Mexico each year?

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Apr 212012
 

Despite this being an obvious question, there is no simple or generally accepted answer! However, a document published last month by Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública de la Cámara de Diputados (CESOP), entitled Lavado de dinero: indicadores y acciones de gobierno binacionales (“Money Laundering: bi-national indicators and government actions”) does offer some clues and estimates.

For example, according to Mexico’s tax authorities (SHCP), the nation’s financial system “gained” at least 10 billion dollars last year from unrecorded, presumably illicit, activities such as drug trafficking. North of the border, the US State Department believes that money laundering in Mexico accounts for between 8 billion and 25 billion dollars a year, while figures as high as 29 billion dollars have been offered in the US Congress.

Financial models developed by Global Financial Integrity and Columbia University in the City of New York suggest that the total “gains” from all forms of illegal activities in the USA are about 196 billion dollars (1.36% of US GDP), and that about 90% of this amount is laundered each year. The same models, applied to Mexico, suggest total crime-related profits of 38 billion dollars (3.6% of Mexico’s GDP), only 10-14 billion dollars of which is laundered into the formal economy.

If the models are to be believed, in the USA, 46% of the total amount laundered derives from drug trafficking, 32% from people trafficking, 15% from pirated goods and 7% from fraud. In Mexico, 41% of laundered money originates from drugs, 33% from people trafficking, 20% from pirated goods and 6% from fraud.

Despite the considerable variation in numbers, most of the figures and calculations fall within, or close to, the range of values (between 2 and 5% of global GDP) that is estimated by the International Monetary Fund to be laundered each year around the world.

How does money laundering work, and what is being done about it?

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Mar 152012
 

How is drugs money laundered?

Drug funds have allegedly financed hotels, car dealerships, bus companies, airlines, casinos, beauty salons, skyscrapers and restaurants, as well as the lavish lifestyles of individual cartel members who acquire gold jewelry, expensive cars, vehicles, yachts and planes.

Trade-based laundering” is on the rise. Drug cartels are reported to be increasingly using regular cross-border trade to launder their ill-gotten gains. Profits from the sale of drugs in the USA and elsewhere are used to purchase truckloads of goods such as fruit, toys and fabric, which are then sent south to Mexico to be sold for pesos. This cross-border trade effectively changes US dollars into pesos with few questions being asked.

In a variation on the theme, the dollars are used to buy things such as toys or fabric from a third country such as China. The goods are then exported to Mexico and resold. The net effect is the same: dollars become pesos, ready to help pay for the next shipments of drugs. Trade-based laundering is hidden in the massive regular trade-flows between Mexico and the USA which total almost 400 billion dollars a year. Authorities always seem to be one step behind the cartels, partly because, as this LA Times article points out, cartel bosses are “among the world’s most expert transnational entrepreneurs”. Indeed, the sheer scale of the drug money flows threatens to overwhelm Mexico’s police and security forces.

Drug money is being transferred via a variety of means, from cash transfers (formal or informal) and deposits in bank accounts to the purchase of goods and services (including pirated merchandise).

How can money laundering be reduced?

In recent years, Mexican authorities have focused more attention on chasing the money involved in the drugs trade. Government officials claim that more than $50 billion in drugs money is laundered each year, more than the value of Mexico’s oil exports and equivalent to 3% of GDP. Mexico’s laws are barely keeping up with the ingenuity of money launderers, and convictions for money-laundering are rare.

What has Mexico done to try and prevent money laundering? There are now strict limits on the use of US dollars in Mexico, and on cash deposits into bank accounts. The latest tightening of the rules extends the reporting of higher value US dollar transactions to all real estate offices, car dealerships, betting parlors, art galleries and public notaries. Any purchases using cash for items such as vehicles costing over about $14,000, and for real estate over about $70,000 are now automatically reported to federal authorities.

As Mexico tightens its accountancy rules, drug gangs may have to keep more of their funds in the USA or go elsewhere. Mexico is becoming a much less friendly place for the drug cartels’ informal “retirement funds”.

Mexico City has largely escaped drug violence

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Mar 082012
 

Previous posts have analyzed drug war death rates in Mexican states, cities over 500,000, the most violent municipalities and areas of particular interest to expatriates. This post focuses on Mexico City or D.F. (Distrito Federal). We focus on D.F. because the rate of drug war deaths is exceptionally low there, less than one eighth the national average.

In all of 2010 there were 191 drug war deaths in D.F. [note 1] compared to 122 in the first nine months of 2011. [note 2] While this might sound like a large number of deaths, we must remember that there are almost nine million people in D.F.  The 2011 drug war death rate per 100,000/yr in D.F. was 1.8 compared to a national rate 15.3 and a rate of 134 in Acapulco. [note 3] The rate for D.F. declined 15% from the 2010 rate while the rates for all of Mexico and Acapulco increased by 13% and 187% respectively. Today, people seeking better security are moving into D.F. from other cities in the country.

Why are the rates in D.F. so low? In previous decades D.F. was thought to be one of the most violent places in the country, but this is no longer the case. The total murder rate for D.F. is half the national rate [note 4] and less than a third that of Washington, DC. [note 5] A major reason is that D.F. has a more competent, better organized, better paid and less corrupt police force than any of the other cities. The fact that the national government is in D.F. also helps as do more effective youth programs. That D.F. has higher overall income levels is also a factor. Some even speculate that major cartel bosses have family in D.F. and have an unspoken agreement to avoid violence in the capital [note 6].

The drug war death rates are quite low in all parts of the city. The wealthy delegation of Cuajimalpa in western D.F. had zero deaths in 2011 compared to 11 a year earlier. In 2010 it had the city’s highest rate of 5.9, but this was still less than half the national average. Relatively sparsely populated Milpa Alta in the southeast also had zero deaths in 2011. Cuauhtemoc and Venustiano Carranza, two central delegations, had the highest rates in 2011, but they both less than a third the national average.

The 13 suburban municipalities adjacent to D.F. in the State of Mexico experienced 331 drug war deaths in 2011, almost three times the number in D.F. These suburbs with a total population of just over six million had a combined drug war death rate of 7.3, four times as high as D.F. While the death rate in these municipalities increased 42% over the 2010 level, it was still less than half the national average. Based on the data presented above, it is not surprising that people worried about drug violence would rather live in or near D.F. than in most other cities, especially those in northern and western Mexico.

Notes:
  1. “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.
  2. “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/822078.html.
  3. The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.
  4. “Is Mexico City safe from drug cartel war – or the next target,” CNN, January 17, 2012, .http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/17/world/americas/mexico-city-security/index.html
  5. “Mexico’s violence not as widespread as seems,” USAToday, 3 August 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2010-08-03-Mexico-drug-violence_N.htm.
  6. Is Mexico City safe from drug cartel war — or the next target,” CNN, January 17, 2012, .http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/17/world/americas/mexico-city-security/index.html.

Drug war death trends in areas of Mexico of interest to foreign tourists and retirees

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Mar 022012
 

Non-Mexicans are far more interested in some parts of Mexico than others. These areas of interest may be well-known tourist destinations, have thousands of expatriate residents or are located on major expatriate travel routes. Mexico’s major cities, which are also of interest to foreigners, were discussed in a previous post. This post focuses on 24 municipalities of less than 500,000 population. (These are listed alphabetically in the table linked to at the end of the post.)

Drug war death rates vary enormously among the 24 communities. Data released by the Office of the President [note 1] indicate that some of these municipalities have extremely high drug war death rates. The number of deaths in Zihuatanejo went from 16 in 2010 [note 2] to a startling 90 in the first nine months of 2011. This results in a rate of 115 deaths per 100,000 population/yr or over seven times the national average of 15.3 [note 3]. This places Zihuatanejo among the 20 most dangerous communities in Mexico (see earlier post) along with the other famous Guerrero beach resort of Acapulco.

Other dangerous municipalities listed in the table are Tepic, Nayarit at 69 (4.5 times the average); Mazatlán at 58 (3.8 times the average) and Nuevo Laredo at 50 (3.3 times the average). Thousands of expatriates live in Mazatlán while thousands drive through Tepic and Nuevo Laredo. The temporal trends in these dangerous cities vary widely. Between 2010 and 2011, the rate for Zihuatanejo went up 650% while Nuevo Laredo’s increased by 67% and Tepic edged up 14%. The rate for Mazatlán was down 20%.

The most worrisome trend is the very rapid drug violence increase in Veracruz State. From 2010 to 2011 the death rate for Xalapa went up 1,066%. In 2010 there were a total of 15 drug war deaths in Xalapa, Boca del Río and Veracruz City combined; but in the first nine months of 2011 this went up to 284. It remains to be seen if this dreadful trend will continue into 2012 and beyond.

Other cities in the table with rates significantly above the national average include Nogales with a rate of 28, down 68% from 2009. The rate for Playas de Rosarito (Baja California) was up 41% to 28, nearly double the average of 15.3. Matamoros’ rate increased 13% to 20 while Cuernavaca’s was down 49% to 19.

The death rates in towns near Lake Chapala varied markedly. The rate for Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos dropped from 34 in 2010 to 16 in 2010, but was still above the national average and twice the rate of neighboring Chapala. The rate for nearby Jocotepec of 13 was between the other two. Though local media suggest a growing drug violence problem in these three communities, the actual number of deaths dropped from 24 in 2010 to 12 in 2011. The death rate for the three communities dropped from 34% above average in 2010 to 33% below average in 2011.

The great news is that three of communities in the table—Bahia de Banderas, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende—had zero drug war deaths in the first nine months of 2011, compared to 27 in 2010. Bahia de Banderas, in Nayarit just north of Puerto Vallarta, is of particular interest because it had 19 deaths in 2010. If this precipitous drop is not a statistical anomaly it represents a major anomaly because the number of deaths in the adjoining community of Puerto Vallarta almost doubled from 15 in 2010 to 28 in 2011; furthermore there were 196 deaths in nearby Tepic.

Several tourist areas had drug war death rates less than a sixth the national average. These include Ensenada, La Paz and Los Cabos on the Baja Peninsula as well as Oaxaca City. Not far behind was Playa del Carmen with a rate about one quarter of the average. These data suggest that tourists worried about drug violence and seeking a beach resort vacation might lean toward Baja California Sur or the Maya Riviera instead of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo or Mazatlán.

Notes:

[1] “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/822078.html.

[2] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, Theguradian, 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.

Drug war impacts extend to child arrests, border tunnels and stressed zoos

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Feb 252012
 

More children being arrested

One extremely unwelcome development in the war on drugs is that an increasing number of young adolescents (aged 11 to 17) are involved in drug smuggling and related activities, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most of the children are Hispanic, and many hold US citizenship. They are enticed by the lure of “easy” money and know they that, if caught, they can be tried only as juveniles. The Gulf cartel and the Zetas reportedly pay adolescents an average of $500 to smuggle drugs, and $1,000 to guard a kidnap victim for a month. In southern California, the number of arrests of adolescents has risen sharply, with charges ranging from drug trafficking to extortion and kidnapping.

Where are most drug tunnels?

Several major cross-border drug tunnels have been unearthed in the past few months, including one linking warehouses in Tijuana and San Diego which contained 32 tons of marijuana. This tunnel, 600 meters long, was particularly sophisticated and used electric rail cars. More than 70 cross-border tunnels have been found since October 2008.

Significant clusters of tunnels have been found in three main areas:

  • San Diego,
  • California’s Imperial Valley, where the clay soil makes for easy excavation
  • Nogales (Arizona), a city underlain by a network of existing underground drainage canals

Mexico’s zoos struggle to cope with unexpected influx of exotic animals

Press reports such as Captured Drug Kingpin’s Pets Strain Mexican Zoos have highlighted the problems resulting when rare and dangerous animals are confiscated from drugs cartel leaders. Several major cartel figures have amassed extensive private collections of exotic animals, from ostriches and parrots to monkeys, tigers, lions and giraffes. For example, when Jesús “The King” Zambada, a powerful member of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in mid-2011, authorities had to find new homes for several hundred animals, many of them exotic species. The nation’s zoos are struggling to cope with the influx of so many unexpected new arrivals.

Drug capos do not view animals only as a status symbol. They are also a means to hide drug shipments. Animals have also regularly been used in drugs trafficking. In recent years, grisly finds have included frozen sharks stuffed with cocaine, cocaine-fed snakes, and even liquid cocaine in shipping containers used for tropical fish.

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Which Mexican communities have the highest drug war death rates?

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Feb 232012
 

In a previous post we noted that big Mexican cities with populations of over 500,000 have drug war death rates about 40% higher than the rest of Mexico. However the highest rates of all are in small northern municipalities which have experienced very high levels of drug violence.

Mier, Tamaulipas was the most dangerous municipality in 2011 as it was in 2010. Though the number of drug war deaths in the town of 4,768 (2010) decreased from 93 in 2010 [note 1] to 50 in the first nine months of 2011 [note 2], it still led the country with 1,398 drug war deaths per 100,000/yr [note 3]. This is 91 times the rate for all of Mexico which was 15.3 in 2011 and also over ten times as dangerous as Acapulco, the large city with the highest rate of drug violence. Actually the death rate per population for Mier is probably higher because the mayor estimates that a third of the population may have fled the violence-prone town [note 4]. Mier is only about eight kilometers (five miles) from the Texas border and roughly midway between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. The municipality may be a bit more peaceful now that the Mexican military has occupied the town.

Guerrero, Mier’s immediate neighbor to the northwest with a population of 4,468, ranked second with a death rate of 1,045 or roughly 68 times the average. Both Guerrero and Mier are located between two warring drug cartels, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. Mier’s other neighbor along the Rio Grande, Miguel Alemán, fared somewhat better. Its death rate dropped from 407 in 2010 to 114 in 2011; but its 2011 rate was still over seven times the national average. The data reveal that municipalities along the border between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa are among the most dangerous in all of Mexico. Interestingly, the rate for Reynosa itself was only 11 or about 27% below the average.

In third place is San Fernando, also in Tamaulipas, with a death rate of 680, about 44 times the average. This community of 57,220 suffered 292 deaths in 2011. Over half of these deaths were discovered in mass graves of Central Americans who were trying to immigrate to the US, but were kidnapped and murdered by drug cartels.

Next on the list are three small municipalities in Chihuahua – Guadalupe (rate of 496), Gran Morelos (373) and Cusihuiriachi (369). The 2011 death rates in these towns were 24 to 32 times the national average. While the rate for Guadalupe declined 42% since 2010, the rates for Gran Morelos and Cusihuiriachi were up 50% and 150% respectively. As mentioned in an earlier post, the State of Chihuahua had the highest 2011 drug war death rate among Mexico’s 32 states.

Drug war death totals in small communities can change dramatically from year to year. For example, Saric, Sonora with a population of 2,703 had 30 deaths in 2010 and zero in 2011. General Bravo, Nuevo Leon had 18 deaths in 2010 and zero in 2011 while Yecora, Sonora had 18 deaths in 2010 and only one in 2011. The number in General Treviño, Nuevo León went from 21 down to only two, but it still had the 8th highest rate among Mexico’s municipalities.

On the other hand, drug war deaths in Boca del Rio, Veracruz went from 2 in 2010 to an alarming 94 in 2011. This resulted in a rate increase of 6,167% and a rate six times the average. The rate for Zihuatanejo de Azueta, Guerrero increased by 650%; that of Yurécuaro, Michoacán went up by 452% while that for Cosalá, Sinaloa was up 317%, giving it a rate 13 times the average.

Zihuatanejo de Azueta is different than many of the other communities with very high drug war death rates because it has a rather large population of 104,609 and includes the famous international resort of Ixtapa. The number of drug war deaths in the municipality went from 16 in 2010 to a very disturbing 90 in 2011, giving it a death rate of 115, almost as high as Acapulco’s rate of 134. Certainly, the high drug war death rates in Zihuatanejo and Acapulco have damaged their tourism industries.

Twenty municipalities had drug war death rate in 2011 higher than 100 per 100,000/yr or about seven times the national average (see table). Two of these are the large municipalities of Ciudad Juárez and Acapulco. The 20 communities are spread across six northern and western states: six in Chihuahua, five in Tamaulipas, three in Guerrero, two in Sinaloa and Michoacán, and one each in Sonora and Nuevo León. Before randomly traveling in areas of these states, it would be a good idea to check local media and bulletin boards for indications of recent drug violence.

Notes:

[1] “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.

[2] “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/822078.html.

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

[4] Christopher Sherman (AP), “Drug War: Despite army takeover, fear grips Mexican town”, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA, Dec 7, 2011. http://www.presstelegram.com/breakingnews/ci_19488405

Drug war deaths in Mexico’s biggest cities

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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.

Notes:

[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.

Mexico’s crime statistics: fishing for the facts

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Feb 152012
 

Diego Valle-Jones’s blog, “Food and Fishing“, is actually more about Mexican crime rates than food and fishing! The blog, described by the author as “mainly about data analysis, programming and statistics, with the occasional interspersed post about food” has numerous posts analyzing the drug war in Mexico. These posts focus partly on geographic patterns of where most activity has occurred but mainly on the quality of the data available and its many deficiencies.

Valle-Jones’ analysis of drug war data is especially enlightening for anyone not familiar with the vagueries of crime-related data in Mexico. Most of his posts are illustrated by well-conceived and well-executed graphics, worthy of close examination in their own right. Posts in the past twelve months on “Food and Fishing” have included:

All are worth reading. It is unfortunate that, unlike Valle-Jones, so many mainstream  journalists have simply repeated facts and figures without any real understanding of where they came from, or what their strengths and weaknesses might be. Food and fishing?  Fishing among the statistics should give them food for thought…