A homicide scene in Colima

Mexico's security strategy for its 50 most violent municipalities has largely failed to bear fruit after six months, as criminal dynamics are still fueling increasing rates of homicides despite targeted government efforts.

Six months after the launch of a special security strategy for the 50 most violent municipalities in Mexico, the number of homicides registered between September 2016 and February 2017 increased in 37 of the municipalities in comparison to the number of murders seen during the same period of the previous year, reported Animal Político on March 27.

At the end of August 2016, President Enrique Peña Nieto said that 42 percent of all homicides in Mexico so far that year were concentrated in just 2 percent of municipalities. This concentration of violence prompted the launch of a security strategy for the 50 most affected municipalities, with the aim of strengthening social prevention programs and institutions.

The president also said that state governors and local officials should take greater responsibility in public security, while assuring continued support from federal forces and announcing plans for greater coordination between federal and local forces.

But six months after the announcement, the figures revealed by Animal Político show that homicides decreased in only 12 of the 50 targeted municipalities, and stayed level in one of them. Moreover, of the ten municipalities with the highest increase, eight saw their homicide rate more than double, including three municipalities where the figure tripled or more.

17-03-29-Mexico-Municipalities-With-Highest-Homicide-Increases

The municipality with the largest increase in its homicide rate was Tecomán, in the state of Colima. Due to the nearly 300 percent increase in murders in the municipality, the federal government sent 500 military police in February 2017 to secure the area. Colima's Security Secretary Francisco Javier Castaño Suárez said the spiking violence was the result of a war between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG), reported AF Medios.

Last year, the state of Colima as a whole had already suffered spiking levels of violence, with homicide figures registered in April 2016 showing a 940 percent increase in comparison to April 2015. As InSight Crime explained, this outbreak of violence was linked to confrontations between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG.

Similarly, confrontations between criminal groups appear to be the source of violence in the two municipalities of the Chihuahua state, Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. However, in those cases the actors driving the violence are more likely local gangs rather than transnational organizations.

According El Universal, a local judicial official argued that similar turf wars between local gangs dedicated to microtrafficking may have largely fueled violence in the port town of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, which suffered a 159 percent increase in homicides. But a media report from La Jornada argued that the violence in the strategically important area may instead have stemmed from a conflict between the Beltrán Leyva Organization, allied with the CJNG, and the Sinaloa Cartel.

Unconfirmed reports in October 2016 also pointed to an offensive by the CJNG against the Sinaloa Cartel in Baja California Sur as being responsible for the violence that has shaken the state's capital La Paz, which saw a 77 percent increase in its homicide rate.

Many of the most violent municipalities appear in states that have long been some of organized crime's strongest footholds, such as Tamaulipas, where more than 90 percent of homicides are reportedly linked to organized crime.

One of Tamaulipas' two most violent municipalities, Reynosa, is not only located along the US-Mexico border, but also in the Burgos Basin, Mexico's largest gas field, which means the city provides ample criminal opportunities for drug trafficking and fuel theft. Reynosa also remains the epicenter of confrontations between rival groups and security elements targeting criminal leaders.

And in addition to cartel struggles in Tamaulipas, the other violent municipality, Ciudad Victoria, witnessed a local political transition in mid-2016 that may have also contributed to rising violence, due to possible realignments between criminal groups and corrupt officials.

Similarly, organized crime has long been deeply established in the states of Guerrero and Michoacán, which appear along with Tamaulipas in the top five most deadly states for deployed military elements. Several municipalities in both states have experienced rising homicides despite the implementation of the government's 50-city strategy.

Michoacán and Guerrero have both also suffered from the ongoing presence of vigilante groups and competing drug cartels that have fought for control over the states' rich agricultural lands, which are exploited to cultivate poppy and marijuana. Guerrero's State Attorney General recently admitted that the authorities were powerless against organized crime in the state, which has become the epicenter of Mexico's opium poppy cultivation.

InSight Crime Analysis

The targeted security strategy does appear to have been successful in certain municipalities such as Acapulco in Guerrero, Monterrey in Nuevo León or Puebla in the state of the same name. The respective decreases of roughly 15, 33 and 35 percent in the homicide rates in these municipalities are significant, given that these three areas have been at the heart of feuds between rival criminal groups vying for control of illicit economies.

But the few and rather slight security improvements are largely overshadowed by the extreme rise in homicides in numerous municipalities. And this dynamic serves as a reminder that Mexico's security institutions continue to struggle to rein in violence in areas of states that have traditionally been hotbeds for organized crime.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

In October 2016, a report argued that more than half of Mexico's homicides were linked to organize crime. Certain states, such as Baja California Sur, Tamaulipas or Michoacán, not only present very high percentages of organized crime-related murders, but they are also the location of some of the municipalities with the highest increase in homicide rates. In addition and as previously described, recent reports have portrayed various shifts in criminal dynamics in the most violent aforementioned municipalities. This would suggest that, despite government efforts, evolutions in the criminal world are still largely responsible for spiking concentrated violence.

Indeed, the 50-city strategy may have been flawed from the start. Already in September 2016, the special plan was being criticized for being extremely vague with regard to prevention programs, and for resembling earlier policies whose efficiency -- or lack thereof -- had not been rigorously assessed, according to experts cited by Animal Político.

For example, Francisco Rivas, the director of the National Citizen Observatory (director General del Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano), pointed that out that many of the municipalities already received substantial federal funding for strenghtening security institutions, without any evaulation of how efficiently the money was spent. And in addition, security expert Alejandro Hope noted that the policy made no mention of strengthening the Attorney General's Office nor District Attorney Offices, which play key roles in reducing insecurity in the long term.

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