Weekly briefing: Family shot dead in Mexican cartel crossfire

A weekly round-up of relevant IEP data providing insight into the world around us.

Friday, 8 November 2019: This week, the indiscriminate killing of a group of women and children in Mexico has drawn global attention to ongoing violence in the country. Nine have been left dead after three women, all US-Mexican citizens, were driving 14 children aged between seven months and 13 years in separate cars between the town of La Mora in Sonora, and Pancho Villa in Chihuahua, to visit relatives. Gunmen attacked the SUV convoy on a remote, unpaved mountain road killing six children and all three adult women. Six other children were left with injuries, then left to fend for themselves and find help in the rural and deserted region of the country. Authorities suggest the group had been caught in the deadly crossfires of a drug cartel turf battle. The attack highlights the entrenched violence that plagues Mexican locals and families on a daily basis and has called into question President Lopez Obrador’s “hugs not bullets” strategy to tackle the social roots of Mexican crime.

Mexican violence at historically high levels

According to the Global Peace Index, Mexico ranks at a ‘low’ score of 140 out of 163 countries, between Iran and India.

In recent years, the level of violence in Mexico has been escalating. The Mexico Peace Index (MPI) shows that in 2018 the homicide rate reached historically high levels 27 deaths per 100,000 people, or over 34,000 victims, a level of violence that surpassed the prior peak of 2011 to make 2018 the most violent year on record.

The rise in the homicide rate in 2018 was accompanied by a substantial increase in the rate of gun violence, which rose by 16 per cent, with 24 of the 32 states reporting escalating rates of firearms crimes.

Rivalry and violence between Mexican drug cartels deepened after a Calderón government policy removed 107 of the 122 most influential cartel leaders, fracturing the groups and increasing competition. Los Zetas split from the Gulf Cartel and turned against them before themselves fracturing, leaving a void that Cartel de Jalisco Nuevo Generation has fought to fill; the arrest of ‘El Chapo’ Guzman of the Sinaloa Cartel has encouraged competitors to challenge their control of Mexico’s West Coast. The worst of the cartel violence has taken place in the states of Colima, Zacatecas and Baja California Sur.

Another perceived reason for the rise in violence, is policy and judicial failure. Weak state structures have also been cited, including a lack of resources to prevent different levels of government from addressing issues such as homicide or extortion. An insufficient or ill-trained police force can be a symptom of a weak state. Many citizens feel unprotected by their police force, and have increase increased their private security measures. From 2010 to 2016, nearly 1,000 new security firms entered the market, an increase of 32 per cent over six years.

The MPI also finds that the Mexican government has underinvested in the justice system, given the high level of violence. Currently, government spending on police and the justice system is just half of the average for other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as a percentage of gross domestic product. And yet, only seven per cent of crimes resulted in a criminal investigation in 2017 and less than three per cent resulted in a conviction, leaving an impunity rate of 97 per cent.

In Mexico, the states of Sonora and Chihuahua border one another, and the southern rim of the United States. Sonora ranks 12 out of 32 states on the Mexico Peace Index showing higher levels of peacefulness. Chihuahua ranks 28 out of 32 states showing the lowest level of peacefulness.