No letup on violence: April crime numbers are as bad as expected

Homicides: Bloody Sunday (and Saturday and Friday)

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Alejandro Hope
Source: El Daily Post

A weekend from hell.  Even by Mexican standards, the past five days have been horrible. In Coyuca, Guerrero, somewhere between 9 and 11 people were executed during a quinceañera party.  In the neighboring state of Oaxaca, a man, his wife, and their seven-month-old baby were shot to death in the middle of a crowded street. In Zacatecas, in north-central Mexico, a group of henchmen entered a bar, mowed down the patrons, and then proceeded to lock up the place and torch it down (while their victims were inside). As of last count, four people were dead and eight more were seriously injured. And those are only the high profile incidents. According to Reforma, a Mexico City daily, there were at least 61 gangland hits over the weekend (and that is most likely a significant undercount).

Searching for an explanation. So what is going on here? Was this weekend just an aberration? Or is this the “new normal”? Here are some thoughts:

1. In a sense, this does not come as a surprise. Violence has been on the rise for at least a year. In 2015, homicides increased for the first time since 2011. Not by much (+7%), granted. But up is up. And in some states, such as Guerrero, things took a massive turn for the worse, with the number of murders increasing by almost a third.

2. Violence can gain momentum on its own, because a) any given murder can unleash an endless chain of vendettas, and b) enforcement swamping, i.e., as murders increase, the likelihood of solving any of them declines, leading to more homicides, etc. That might explain what is going on in some states (Guerrero, for instance, but also Zacatecas).

3. Gang fragmentation is probably accelerating. Almost every week, we learn the name of a new gang fighting for territory somewhere in the country. The very successful campaign to decapitate the larger drug trafficking organizations has created extreme disorder in the criminal underworld. It was probably just a matter of time before that translated into rising violence. After all, that is part of the explanation behind the huge spike in violence between 2008 and 2011. If that happened then, why not now?

4. What is somewhat surprising is the return of very public, very theatrical acts of violence. Between 2012 and 2014, violence not only declined in absolute terms: it also became more discrete. Massacres and high-profile incidents became rarer (that is one of the reasons that explain why Ayotzinapa was such a shock). Why did that happen? I’m not sure, but here’s a theory: the gangs behind the most egregious acts of violence (e.g., Zetas, Knights Templar) were singled out for dismantlement and became the object of a ferocious persecution. That might have created some short-term deterrent effect. But now that effect could be on the wane and gangs are rediscovering the advantages of striking fear with very public acts of savagery.

Bottom line. No, this weekend was probably not an aberration. More likely, it is a sign of a rapidly deteriorating security environment in many regions across Mexico. And we have probably not hit bottom yet. Things could (and might) get much worse before we see any improvement.

This and that

Murdering truth. Mexico has the rather dubious honor of being the third most dangerous country in the world for the practice of journalism. Details here.

Sinaloa blues. The Sinaloa Cartel had a rough January. First, El Chapo is recaptured. Then, 22 members fall into a binational sting operation. Read about it here.

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Things to look for

Big week for police reform. Rumor has it that an alternative to the Mando Único model will be presented in Congress over the next couple of days.

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