Homicides in Mexico increased last year at the slowest pace since 2007, showing that the nation may be stemming the rise in violence spurred by the war against drug cartels and organized crime.
Murders rose 5.6 percent to 27,199, according to preliminary data released today by the nation’s statistics agency, known as Inegi. The number includes deaths from the drug conflict as well as other slayings. The increase compares with homicides that soared 30 percent in 2010, 41 percent in 2009 and 58 percent in 2008, after falling 15 percent in 2007.
“It’s a positive development that the time of dramatic increases seems to be over,” Michael Werz, a senior fellow on the national security team at the Center for American Progress in Washington, said in a phone interview. “One thing is the numbers, but the other is the perception of fear. The fear is still very strong and very widespread.”
Slayings linked to drug cartels have soared since President Felipe Calderon sent troops to fight crime groups when he took office in December 2006. The fight against organized crime has led to more than 47,000 deaths in the past five years, according to the attorney general’s office, with drug gangs using beheadings and Internet videos of executions to intimidate rivals, the public and police.
Mexico had 24 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011, up from 23 per 100,000 inhabitants a year earlier. That compares with 91.6 killings per 100,000 residents in Honduras, 69.2 in El Salvador, 38.5 in Guatemala and 25 in the Dominican Republican, according to data compiled by the United Nations. The U.S. had 4.2 murders per 100,000 people in 2010, the most recent year included in UN data.
Chihuahua, a northern state bordering Texas and the home of Ciudad Juarez, the most violent city in the drug war, was Mexico’s deadliest region in 2011, with 4,502 homicides, or 131 per 100,000 people. Still, that reflects a 30 percent drop in killings from a peak in 2010.
Enrique Pena Nieto, winner of the July 1 presidential election, has said he’ll change tactics in the drug war, reducing violence by focusing on the worst crimes such as murder and kidnapping and eventually returning the army to the barracks.