Before several Mexican cities became more dangerous than many Baghdad neighborhoods, the country once experienced fewer annual murders than the United States. Back in 2005, Mexico recorded 9,921 homicides, compared with 16,740 murders north of the border. By 2011, Mexico reported 27,199 annual murders, vastly surpassing 14,585 in the US.
Though Mexico’s 2005 murder rate of 9 per 100,000 people exceeded the US rate of 5.6 per 100,000, the concentration of homicides in the Southern United States and urban areas, had made several portions of the country more dangerous than Mexico.
But homicide in Mexico has risen steadily, ever since President Felipe Calderon kicked off the drug war with Joint Operation Michoacán in 2006, dispatching 6,500 soldiers to free the president’s home state from the grips of powerful drug traffickers.
Despite the estimated 50,000-60,000 drug war fatalities since 2006, Mexico maintains a much lower murder rate than many Central American countries, as well as Venezuelan (67), Colombia (33), and Brazil (26). In 2011, Mexico recorded 18 homicides per 100,000.
However, Mexico surpasses the world average of 6.9 murders per 100,000 people. This reality reveals a larger phenomenon of high crime throughout the Americas. In 2011, though the region accounted for only 14 percent of the world’s population, it produced nearly one third of all homicides. By contrast, Asia constitutes 60 percent of the global population with only 27 percent of all murders.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) correlates high crime – most easily measured by homicide rate – with high levels of income inequality and a low Human Development Index (HDI). However, countries with the second highest level of HDI have equally high murder rates, as do countries with the lowest level of HDI. This discrepancy is in fact explained, by rampant homicide in many Latin American countries with relatively high levels of development – most notably, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela.
Latin America’s propensity for violent criminal activity stems largely from persistent poverty and unemployment, juxtaposed with extreme wealth – rising internally and ever present to the north. Poor law enforcement and the resulting entrenchment of organized crime have not been very helpful either. Likewise, bellicose policies have further provoked violence from often highly disciplined and well organized criminal operations. The Cartels have intensified their methods in the face of extinction at the hands of government forces. As the first graphic illustrates, a de-escalation of the war in Iraq corresponded with fewer homicides; while an escalation of the drug war in Mexico corresponded with a surge of violence.