Headlines about the security situation in Mexico rivet the US media. Statements, questions, policy assessments and more questions echo from Capitol Hill and the White House, feeding a constant video and audio stream of punditry. Is Mexico a national security threat to the US? Does criminal violence constitute a narco-insurgency? Will drug cartels team up with Al Qaeda?
Is Mexico on the verge of collapse? Is the Calderon administration making progress in dismantling criminal syndicates and restoring peace to conflictive regions of the country? Will more guns, police and jails bring the situation under control? To help put some perspective on the overall situation, it might be useful to consider the following:
1. Even before the intensification of violence at the end of 2006, the ranks of the Mexican armed forces had grown from 189,000 members in 1995 to 283,000 in 2006.
According to the most recent report from the auditing arm of Mexico’s federal government, the total number of federal, state and municipal police in the country reached 514,638 officers in 2009. The number represented a personnel increase of 5.2 percent in comparison with 2008.
In less than ten years, the Federal Police quadrupled from 7,614 personnel in 2001 to 30,380
in 2009. Mexico has 479 police officers for every population group of 100,000 inhabitants.
2. The size of police forces does not include the burgeoning private security sector. In September 2006, three months before the Calderon administration assumed power, the federal government allowed 375 private security firms to operate in two or more states.
By January 2011, the number of companies with multi-state permits had almost doubled to 714. Mexico City, Mexico state and Jalisco, in that order, were the three top locations for home offices of the inter-state firms. The companies’ employees more than doubled from 57,947 people in September 2006 to 144,490 in June 2010.
Issued by the Ministry of Defense, 51 collective permits allowed the companies to legally possess 29,072 firearms. Unnamed industry sources cited in the Mexican press asserted the actual number of weapons owned byprivate security companies could be much higher.
Additionally, 1,642 other private security agencies were permitted to operate in only state.
Yet the number of private security outfits is even larger than the total registered to do business at either the multi-state or state level. For example, a June 2010 state-federal inspection of 56 security gates at residential subdivisions in two cities of Mexico state revealed that of
the 12 security companies controlling acess to and from homeowners’ properties, only two had legal permits to operate.
3. According to a recent study sponsored by the Transnational Institute and the Washington Office on Latin America, Mexico has the sixth largest prison population in the world; the country is surpassed by India, Brazil, Russia, China and the United States, in that order.
While the number of Mexican prisons decreased from 445 facilities in 1998 to 433 in 2009, the actual number of inmates soared from 128,902 to 227,021 during the same time period in question.
An estimated 40 percent of prisoners were locked up for petty thievery or small-scale dealing of illicit drugs. While only 15 percent of men incarcerated in Mexican prisons are serving time on drug charges, 43 percent of the women behind bars are processed for drug-related offenses.
Women make up approximately 10 percent of the Mexican inmate roll.
4. The last official National Addiction Survey (2008) sponsored by the federal Ministry of Health reported at least 5.2 of respondents admitted to using an illicit drug at least once in their lifetimes. The percentage was up from 5.03 percent in 2002. Some states, however, registered a greater preponderance of drug use history than others, especially the northern border states of Baja California, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas.
With slightly more than 10 percent of the respondents acknowledging previous drug use, Tamaulipas came in at the top of the state chart. The survey was based on a sampling of people aged 12-65 in more than 50,000 households across the country.
5. Violent crime rates for murder, kidnapping and robbery all showed increases from 2006 to 2009, the first three years of the Calderon administration. Kidnapping increased from 0.6 incidents per 100,000 people in 2006 to 1.1 incidents per 100,00 people in 2009, while
violent robberies jumped from 140.8 incidents per 100,000 population in 2006 to 185.3 per 100,000 population three years later.
The rate of homicide leaped from 11.2 murders per 100,000 people to 15 murders per 100,000 during the same time frame considered, which coincided with the escalation of the so-called narco war.
Statistics compiled by the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children reported that 1,066 minors were slain in drug war-related incidents from December 2006 to December 2010. Increasingly targeted for killing, children also fell victim to cross-fire in the streets and slippery
triggers at military checkpoints. The trend continues in 2011. For example, three teenagers were among nine victims executed gangland-style in Acapulco on the morning of February 18. The young victims included Oscar Daniel Meneses, 17; Juan Carlos Luna Ortiz, 16; and Jose Armando Gonzalez, 17.
Sources: El Sur/Agencia Reforma, February 17 and 19, 2011. Tribuna de la Bahia/Agencia Reforma, January 16, 2011. Article by Jesica Zermeno Nunez. El Universal, December 31, 2010. Article by Esther Sanchez. Transnational Institute/Washington Office of Latin America, December 2010. “Systems Overload: Drug Laws and Prisons in Latin America.” Ana Hernandez.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
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