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.