Mexico: A story of progress halted, but not lost.
In 2003, the first year of the Mexico Peace Index (MPI), Mexico was approaching a historic low in levels of violence. The homicide rate had been steadily falling since the late 1990s, life expectancy and per capita income were on the rise, democracy came in the 2000 presidential election, and Mexico reached its most peaceful year in 2004.
But despite promising progress, not all was well. Organized crime groups had built a bustling narcotics trade, moving marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines over land and sea toward the United States. Decades of corruption, impunity and one-party rule had allowed these groups to infiltrate all levels of government. And lucrative drug sales brought US dollars and easily accessible guns from just north of the border. While violence was on the decline for much of the country, political shake ups in state and local government caused tension, and clashes, between incoming politicians optimistic for change and drug-trafficking organizations (DTOs) accustomed to purchasing their plazas, or preferential access to smuggling territory, from local officials.
In December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón declared war on organized crime and deployed the armed forces to the streets of Mexican cities and towns, peace had been gradually deteriorating for two years. The deployment of troops preceded a dramatic escalation of violence across the country. Over the next five years, peacefulness deteriorated 23 percent and the homicide rate doubled, reaching nearly 20 deaths per 100,000 people in 2011. Finally, after five years of war between at least twelve DTOs, multiple Mexican police agencies and armed forces, and their allies the US military, border patrol and Drug Enforcement Agency, the tide began to turn. In 2012, peace began to improve.
Today, Mexico is nearly 14 percent more peaceful than in 2011, after at least a gradual improvement in peacefulness for five consecutive years. However, last year marks both the ten-year anniversary of the declaration of the war on drugs and the first deterioration in peacefulness since recovery began.
Measuring Peace in Mexico.
The MPI offers a multidimensional measurement of peacefulness in Mexico, capturing five indicators of levels of violence and presenting the analysis in the context of nationwide peace research. The 2017 report highlights the need to maintain the peacebuilding work that has taken place, from local programs to structural and institutional reforms, in order to address the recent deterioration.
Yucatán was the most peaceful state in Mexico in 2016, followed by Nayarit, Tlaxcala, Hidalgo and Coahuila. But the concept of peace in Mexico is necessarily relative. Yucatán has the lowest homicide rate in the country, but at 2.8 per 100,000 people, it is still higher than a third of the world.
Guerrero was Mexico’s least peaceful state for the fourth year in a row, followed by Colima, Sinaloa, Baja California and Baja California Sur.
Mexico’s northern region, along the border with the United States, is the least peaceful, but it has also been the site of some of the most significant improvements. In 2016, violence escalated all along the Pacific coast, affecting Baja California Sur, Colima and Guerrero.
Despite the deterioration in 2016, 21 out of 32 states remain more peaceful now than they were six years ago. The violent crime rate is at a 14-year low and the homicide rate is 16 percent lower than in 2011. Organized crime related offenses – kidnapping, extortion and narcotics crimes – reached their lowest point in a decade, having returned to pre-drug war levels.
The rate of crimes committed with a firearm was 10 percent lower than in 2011, although recent trends show an increase in the purchase of guns. Increases in weapons crimes suggest a shift in the dynamics of violence, with a fall in petty crime but a rise in interpersonal and/or organized violence. Predictably, years of violent conflict appear to have increased both the number of available weapons and the propensity to use a gun. Civilian firearms are illegal in Mexico, but weapons are either trafficked from the US and Central America or leak from the military into the civilian black market.
The only MPI indicator that has not improved over 2011 levels is the rate of detention without a sentence, which captures the degree to which state governments over-rely on pre-trial detention. With the country’s prisons at 112 percent of their capacity, nationwide reforms to the judicial system cannot come soon enough. Detention without a sentence did show its first improvement last year – the ratio of unsentenced detention to violence improved by five percent and nearly 11,000 fewer people were incarcerated without trial.
In Mexico’s federal system of government, these types of gains come from the local level up. For example, unsentenced detentions have fallen by more than 40 percent in Coahuila and Yucatán, two of the country’s most peaceful states. Similarly, there have been recent gains in transparency and accountability, with 28 out of 32 states now correctly coding cases of gun violence and a five percentage point improvement in the homicide investigation rate.
The recent increases in homicides are very concerning, affecting 24 states last year. However, long term improvements in peacefulness are rarely linear. A one-year deterioration can be reversed. Hard work is being done across the country to realize these improvements, and it is needed now more than ever if progress is to be maintained. The economic impact of the violence reached 3.07 trillion pesos in 2016, underscoring the call to action. But improvements have been materializing in the domains of positive peace – the attitudes, institutions and structures that create peaceful societies.
Future improvements are likely to come from the bottom up. Federal reforms are starting to materialize, but violence has localized patterns in Mexico and local governments have the most work to do. For example, local police forces are considered the most corrupt and distrusted of all the law enforcement agencies. The 2017 MPI describes four important areas of public policy that are critical to achieving high levels of peace: combating impunity, strengthening the police, implementing strategies to reduce homicide rates and focusing on the role of local governments in solving the problem. Progress has been made in each of these areas, but the 2016 setback highlights that the country still has a long way to go.
Download the 2017 MPI for the complete analysis of peace in Mexico, including the key trends and drivers of peacefulness as well estimates of the economic impact of violence, the full methodology, and IEP’s annual review of the veracity of official crime data.