Violence in Mexico has been on the rise in recent months, as fragmented criminal organizations clash around the country, competing with Mexican authorities and each other for control of illegal enterprises.
Data released by the Mexican government reveal that homicides, perhaps the most visible aspect of the country’s violence, reached an ugly milestone in July.
The 2,073 killings recorded that month were the most of any month since the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, entered office in December 2012, and it was the first time the country exceeded 2,000 homicides in a month since August 2011.
2011 was the bloodiest year in the six-year term of Filipe Calderon, Peña Nieto’s predecessor who launched a heavily militarized crackdown on drug cartels and criminal organizations throughout the country.
July’s total tops the previous high registered under Peña Nieto — the 1,895 homicides recorded in May this year, which were the most since he took office in December 2012.
As noted by Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope, these numbers appear to be part of an upswing.
While some parts of Mexico have experienced more violence than others, the trend in homicides has been felt around the country.
“In July, 22 federal entities registered an increase in the number of victims and in many cases, the rate of increase was double digits,” Hope wrote at El Universal on August 22.
The spike in bloodshed has been most pronounced in the southeast state of Veracruz.
The 168 homicides recorded there in July were 68 more than in June, and more than three times than in the 55 recorded in February, the lowest number so far this year.
Veracruz’s 643 homicides in the first seven months of this year are more than the 615 registered for all of last year. The state’s governor, Javier Duarte, has been heavily criticized for allegations of corruption that have swirled around his administration as well as for violence against journalists that has taken place during his tenure.
The 132 homicide investigations and 168 victims are both the highest levels recorded since the state started keeping official records for them in 1997, according to Animal Politico.
West of Veracruz, the state of Michoacan had 187 homicides in July, more than double the 87 recorded in the same month last year, and the most the state has seen in almost a decade, according to El País.
Michoacan has been a intensely contested battleground for several years, as civilian-led (but often criminal-infiltrated) community groups fought criminal groups that ran roughshod over the state, while federal police and troops attempted to contain the violence.
Guerrero state, which borders Michoacan to the south, has seen some of the most elevated violence in the country, as criminal groups, fragmented by infighting and pressure from security forces, have struggled for control of the state’s lucrative drug production and trafficking areas.
The 215 homicides in Guerrero were the most the state has seen since the end of 2012. Violence in Acapulco, a tourist mecca on Guerrero’s Pacific coast, has filled the morgues and dimmed the luster of a once idyllic oceanside getaway.
And in Colima, nestled next to Michoacan on the Pacific coast, the 345 homicides recorded through July this year were a huge jump from the 79 that occurred over the same period last year.
Colima, Mexico’s smallest state by population and size, is home to the country’s largest west coast port, Manzanillo, a vital outpost for any organization intending to smuggle drugs internationally.
Indeed, drug-related violence has helped drive up homicides around the country.
In Baja California, home to strategically valuable smuggling routes through Tijuana, homicides are up 34% this year. Earlier this year, it was reported that the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel, Mexico’s two most powerful cartels, were fighting over Tijuana.
Turmoil within the Sinaloa cartel may have contributed to the rising violence in Chihuahua state, which borders Texas in north-central Mexico.
Reports earlier this year indicated that Rafael Caro Quintero, a top leader in what would become the Sinaloa cartel, but was jailed from 1985 to 2013, had emerged from the shadows and was making a play for control of the cartel.
Caro Quintero has denied the ambitions attributed to him, but violence in the state has increased, rising more than 40% from January through July this year.
In Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua’s main US border crossing and a crown jewel of narco trafficking, July had the most homicides of any month since December 2013.
Juarez is far from the levels of violence it saw in 2010 and 2011, at the height of the cartel war for control of the city, but, as Hope notes, that violence is likely to continue until it reaches a level high enough to prompt a political response.
Across the country, in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, infighting in the Zetas and Gulf cartels, as well as those two cartels’ clashes with each other, has driven violence to frightening levels. The 106 homicides there in July were 31 more than recorded in June.
The Zetas, who broke from the Gulf cartel to form their own criminal organization, have been behind some of the worst atrocities in Mexico in recent years, including the killing of 72 helpless Central American migrants in 2010 and the torching of a casino in Monterrey in Nuevo Leon state (where homicides are up 52% this year) that left 52 people dead in 2011.
While organized-crime activity is an important factor driving the rise of violence in Mexico, the heavily fractured and opaque nature of the country’s criminal landscape make analyzing and combatting that activity hard.
The fact that violence has gone up in so many parts of Mexico — coupled with missteps and bad practices by authorities — makes it harder for the government to respond effectively.
“State and local governments haven’t been doing their part, and the federal government, [the violence] is so widespread, their resources are spread very thin,” Hope told Insight Crime in June.