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The fluid security situation in Mexico


If you knew the security situation in Mexico last year and think your knowledge applies to the present, think again.

If there is anything clear from a series of presentations yesterday by President Felipe Calderon and his top security people, it is that the climate on security changes about as fast as the weather.

For example, consider the five states in Mexico that suffered the most violence in the year 2006, in descending order: Michoacan, Guerrero, Baja California, Sonora and Nuevo Leon. 

Now look at the list of the most violent states in 2010: Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Guerrero and Durango. Only Guerrero is on both lists.

As different drug groups and syndicates cast new alliances, or enter in turf wars (or do both in different parts of the country), the security outlook in any given area can change quickly. One only has to look at what has happened in Acapulco this year. I’ve just spent three days hanging out at the Acapulco morgue (ugh!) and can tell you some ghastly things are happening in that city. I’ll put the link here once the story is out in a few hours. In short, it’s not just beheadings. It’s mutilations, dismemberments, skinning off of faces and the spreading of entrails on sidewalks. Pardon me, but this is not what I want to hear about or actually see on holiday.

That said, the Calderon administration is very correct in saying that most of the violence takes place in limited areas. Fifty percent of all homicides occurred in three of Mexico’s 31 states: Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas. Chihuahua and Tamaulipas are on the border. Sinaloa is not that far, and on the strategic Gulf of California.

And one can’t even lump entire states as dangerous. If you break homicide numbers down further, more than two-thirds of homicides occurred in only 85 of Mexico’s 2,438 municipalities, according to Calderon’s office.

The government now acknowledges that since Calderon came to office on Dec. 1, 2006, 34,612 Mexicans have been killed in drug-related violence. In that period, the cities with the largest number of homicides are in order 1) Ciudad Juarez 2) Culiacan 3) Tijuana 4) Chihuahua 5) Acapulco 6) Gomez Palacio 7) Torreon 8) Mazatlan 9) Nogales 10) Durango.

So those are cumulative figures. I doubt that Tijuana is as dangerous now as it was a year or two ago. That is what I mean by a fluid situation. 

I must say that even the figures may not be all that reliable. When I arrived in Mexico in late March 2010, the government didn’t provide a running tally of drug-related homicides. Only major newspapers did that. El Universal at that time said there’d been around 18,000 deaths. It was a bit of a scandal in April when a report leaked out of Congress saying the cumulative toll was 22,700 deaths. 

In August, National Security Council pointman Alejandro Poire came out with the cumulative figure of 28,353 homicides. Then in November, Attorney General Arturo Chavez Chavez says it is 30,196. Now, it tops 34,600. How is the number calculated? Bodies that arrive to morgues? Police reports? That level of detail is not provided.



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sean hanny

sorry, Offense, but it is hard for me to think of Calderon as a "hero"...he is an account by trade, way in over his head...he has spent lives like candy and all for what?....what progress has been made?....you know about the 90% failure to convict of crime rate, don't you?...so what is all the blood for?...


President Calderon should be hailed as a HERO to take on such a crisis in Mexico. He knew it was drastic and it would take drastic measures and if there wasnt such a problem then there wouldnt be so much corruption and death. It will one day be just a memory but right now it is as fresh as a vulture flying high over a new carcass.

sean hanny

sorry to say it, but Pres Calderon is full of shiest...what is he?...who does he think he is?...openly and pathetically fighting a losing battle...if he at least went after the crooks and creeps in Justice Deptarment at least he would spare some lives, but no, he goes after an army of psychotic, rich, well armed narcos....Calderon, as Wikileaks pointed out, is a diffident guy, an unsure little guy so he blusters about all mini macho-like, man, he is screwing up big time...there is no security in Mexico, everything is a risk, anything is for sale, including freedom and impunity...rumors about his boozing behind closed doors at night run rampant, I can only imagine him in the fetal position, weeping like a child...also, those death stats?....nobody in the public sector really knows...they say 30K or whatever, but the real number is unknown and most likely higher....

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This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

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