A mass grave in Mexico

Ciudad Juarez, once one of Mexico's most notorious and violent cities, saw its homicide rate drop over 60 percent between 2011 and 2012, a decrease which may have more to do with organized crime dynamics than security policy. 

According to Diario de Juarez's count, which is based on figures from the State Attorney General's Office, the border city finished 2012 with a total of 751 homicides. This is compared to the 2,086 murders officially registered in 2011. 

As noted in the Frontera e-mail list, kept by New Mexico State University librarian Molly Molloy, this is the lowest annual total reported for Juarez in the past five years. During this period, Juarez -- a city with a population of 1.2 million -- accounted for 11 percent of the total homicides in Mexico, Molloy writes. 

2007 320 Less than 1 murder a day
2008 1,623 4.4 per day
2009 2,754 7.5 per day
2010 3,622 9.9 per day
2011 2,086 5.7 per day
2012 797 2 per day 

InSight Crime Analysis

There are several theories on the security gains in Juarez, which can be roughly divided into two camps: things improved thanks to the government, or things improved due to changes in organized crime. 

The government made several strategic decisions that arguably helped pacify the city. Juarez saw the expansion of social programs like Todos Somos Juarez (We Are All Juarez), a $50 million initiative that channeled funds into after-school programs and community events. The program has been compared to Brazil's community policing program, known as the UPP. 

Another key move was the withdrawal of the army and the scaling back of the federal police. Corrupt elements in both forces were blamed for carrying out extrajudicial killings, and participating in drug trafficking and kidnapping. The army, deployed to Juarez in 2009 and gradually phased out over 2010, had been strongly criticized for committing abuses and contributing to the city's most violent era. 

Tougher policing also may have played a role in reducing the crime rate. The local police force, under the command of Chief Julian Leyzaola, has been credited with implementing a more effective citizen security strategy, as Al Jazeera reported last year. Police divided the city into quadrants and focused on bringing down crime levels section by section. Still, the force continues to struggle with corruption and abusive officers

There are other theories that the decrease in violence in Juarez had little to do with the actions of the security forces or government. As outlined in a report released last October by Southern Pulse, the peace was arguably achieved because the Sinaloa Cartel took control of the city. Violence first began to surge in 2007 after the Sinaloans attempted to take over Juarez's highly prized drug trafficking routes. Local enforcer gangs like La Linea and the Aztecas fought a bitter war, often using unrestrained violence that targeted civilians and drove up the murder count. Southern Pulse argued that these local gangs will likely continue fighting over turf, but the larger conflict between the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartel has already come to an end. 

And as Molloy argued to Proceso magazine, Juarez's murder statistics may not be telling the whole story. The homicides registered by the State Attorney General do not always account for victims found in mass graves. One such grave discovered 25 kilometers southeast of the city in November 2012 containing 19 bodies. Without accounting for the number of Juarez's disappeared, the city's current homicide rate may be deceptively low. 

Even as violence in Juarez is apparently dropping, other cities across the country continue to struggle with spiking homicides. Acapulco, Monterrey, and Culiacan have all seen rising crime. Mexico as a whole registered 12,394 murders over the past year, a one percent drop from 2011. Other parts of the country looking to follow Juarez's example would do well to absorb the fact that, disappointingly, there may be only so much that the government can do to dramatically improve security in the short term. 

 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...