Mexico's national government claims homicides have dropped significantly during President Enrique Peña Nieto's first year. However, security analyst Alejandro Hope's* closer examination of the 2013 numbers and their relationship to 2012 show this is not the case.
The year 2013 has been less violent than 2012, but the situation on the ground is not notably less violent than when the current president and his team took office.
For several months, the federal government has boasted of a reduction in the number of homicides. In the first briefing put out by his administration, Peña Nieto claimed the “number of intentional homicides that occurred between December 2012 and July 2013 was 13.7 percent less than in the same period of the previous year.”
In this same vein, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong declared during an appearance in the Senate two months ago, declared: “Between December 2012 and August this year, there have been positive trends in comparison with the same period the year before. We have [seen] a 16 percent decrease in intentional homicides.”
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According to government officials, these results are the product of their security policy. The president said as much in August: “Thanks to the effective coordination and intelligence that distinguishes the new Public Policy of Security and Justice, in the period from December 2012 to July 2013, the number of homicides linked to federal crimes decreased by 20 percent.”
How correct are these claims? Let’s explore the matter:
1. In 2013, the country will register fewer homicides than in 2012. That is, essentially, an incontrovertible fact. According to figures from the Secretary General of National Public Safety, 15,350 preliminary investigations for intentional homicides were registered throughout the country in the first 10 months of 2013. In the same time period during 2012, there were 18,330 preliminary investigations reported. This equates to a decrease of 16.5 percent. Not bad. However, it is necessary to note a subtle difference: the 2012 figures were adjusted (significantly) in an upward direction in May this year. This, which occurs every year, but still has not been done for the 2013 numbers. Therefore, in order to perform a valid comparison, it is preferable to use the unrevised 2012 figures: in that set of numbers, the total for the period January through October is 17,487. The drop between years thus becomes more modest (-12.4 percent), although it remains significant.
2. However, the comparison between the two periods could prove deceptive for gauging the effect of the new security policy on the homicide figures. As can be observed in this graphic, the number of homicides decreased significantly in the final months of the administration of former President Felipe Calderon: in October 2012, the homicide figure was 1,549, according to the unrevised statistics (it jumped to 1,681 after the May adjustment). In October 2013, the total reported was 1,499: that is to say, the October to October comparison shows a drop of just 3.2 percent. If the monthly average in the last trimester of 2012 (in the unrevised set) is compared with the average in the first 10 months of 2013, the difference is miniscule (1,543 vs. 1,531), less than one percent (note: the last trimester of 2012 includes one month of the Peña Nieto administration, but it would be difficult to see the effects of a new security policy in such a short time). There are seasonal effects that complicate the comparison a bit, but, in schematic terms, the situation that the current team was handed when they took the reins was, more or less, the same as it is now.
3. Perhaps I am being unfair. Maybe the upward adjustment of the 2013 figures will be less than that which was registered with the 2012 numbers. However, if this were the case, it would mean that the entire effect of the new policy was concentrated in the first month of the presidential term (see attached graph). Beginning in January, a general stability can be observed in the numbers. In the first month of 2013, 1,522 intentional homicides were registered; in October, there were 1,499. The difference represents a 1.5 percent decrease. In comparison, the drop from January to October 2012 was 4.9 percent. If the rate of decline registered in the first 10 months of 2013 continues, we will not return to the average level seen in 2007 (854 intentional homicides per month) until 2044.
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In conclusion, 2013 has been less violent than 2012, but the current situation is not notably less violent than that found by the Peña Nieto team upon assuming office. If the new security policy has had an effect, it is still not visible in the figures (the national ones, at least). Making claims to the contrary is a perfect mix of arbitrariness and denial. The reality is that we remain at a highly elevated level of criminal violence. And getting out of this fix is going to require something more than the repetition of common phrases about “effective coordination” and “effective intelligence.”
*Translated and reprinted with permission from Plata o Plomo, Alejandro Hope's blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read the Spanish original here. Hope is also a member of InSight Crime's Board of Directors.