Skip navigation
Disciplinary Self-Help Litigation Manual - Header

Drug Violence in Mexico, Justice in Mexico Project Report, 2015

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
Drug Violence in Mexico
Data and Analysis Through 2014

SPECIAL REPORT
By Kimberly Heinle, Cory Molzahn, and David A. Shirk

Justice in Mexico Project
Department of Political Science & International Relations
University of San Diego

APRIL 2015

About Justice in Mexico:
Started in 2001, Justice in Mexico (www.justiceinmexico.org) is a program dedicated to promoting analysis,
informed public discourse, and policy decisions; and government, academic, and civic cooperation to
improve public security, rule of law, and human rights in Mexico. Justice in Mexico advances its mission
through cutting-edge, policy-focused research; public education and outreach; and direct engagement with
policy makers, experts, and stakeholders. The program is presently based at the Department of Political
Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego (USD), and involves university faculty,
students, and volunteers from the United States and Mexico. From 2005-2013, the project was based at the
USD Trans-Border Institute at the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, and from 2001-2005 it was based
at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California-San Diego.

About the Report:
This is one of a series of special reports that have been published on a semi-annual basis by Justice in
Mexico since 2010, each of which examines issues related to crime and violence, judicial sector reform,
and human rights in Mexico. The Drug Violence in Mexico report series examines patterns of crime and
violence attributable to organized crime, and particularly drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. This
report was authored by Kimberly Heinle, Cory Molzahn, and David A. Shirk, and builds on the work of
past reports in this series. The report was formally released on April 29, 2015 and was made possible by
the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. This report does not
represent the views or opinions of the University of San Diego or the sponsoring organization.

Copyright Justice in Mexico, 2015.
ISBN-10: 0996066330
ISBN-13: 978-0-9960663-3-4
Justice in Mexico
Department of Political Science & International Relations
University of San Diego
5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110

Drug Violence in Mexico
Data and Analysis Through 2014

SPECIAL REPORT
Kimberly Heinle, Cory Molzahn, and David A. Shirk

Justice in Mexico
Department of Political Science & International Relations

University of San Diego

TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST%OF%FIGURES%....................................................................................................................%iii!
LIST%OF%TABLES%......................................................................................................................%iii!
LIST%OF%ACRONYMS%...............................................................................................................%iv!
EXECUTIVE%SUMMARY%...........................................................................................................%vi!
I.%INTRODUCTION%...................................................................................................................%1!
II.%UNDERSTANDING%MEXICO’S%RECENT%VIOLENCE%..................................................................%2!
A.#Mexico’s#Violence#in#Perspective#............................................................................................................#2!
B.#The#Role#of#Drug#Trafficking#and#Organized#Crime#in#Mexico#.................................................................#5!
III.%FINDINGS:%DRUG%VIOLENCE%IN%MEXICO%.............................................................................%6!
A.#While#Still#Moderately#High,#Homicide#Levels#Continue#to#Decline#........................................................#7!
B.#OrganizedLCrimeLStyle#Killings#Still#Constitute#a#Major#Share#of#Homicides#...........................................#9!
C.#Shifting#Geographic#Patterns#of#Violence#..............................................................................................#12!
1.#The#Geographic#Dispersion#of#Intentional#Homicides#Reverses#Slightly#............................................#12!
2.#Distribution#of#OrganizedBCrimeBStyle#Homicides#.............................................................................#18!
3.#Significant#Decreases#in#Local#Centers#of#Violence#............................................................................#20!
D.#Victim#Characteristics#............................................................................................................................#21!
1.#General#Population#............................................................................................................................#21!
2.#Changing#Modes#of#Violence#.............................................................................................................#22!
3.#Mayors#...............................................................................................................................................#22!
4.#Journalists#..........................................................................................................................................#24!
5.#Police#and#Military#Personnel#............................................................................................................#26!
E.#Comparing#Administrations#...................................................................................................................#27!
V.%ANALYSIS%OF%DEVELOPMENTS%IN%2014%.............................................................................%28!
A.#CounterLDrug#Efforts#.............................................................................................................................#28!
B.#Public#Security#Crisis#and#SelfLDefense#Forces#in#Michoacán#................................................................#29!
C.#The#Next#Generation:#Jalisco’s#New#Cartel#............................................................................................#32!
D.#The#Continued#Problem#of#Political#Corruption#....................................................................................#34!
E.#Increased#Scrutiny#on#Disappeared#in#Mexico#.......................................................................................#36!
F.#Analyzing#Peña#Nieto’s#Second#Full#Year#in#Office#.................................................................................#38!
VI.%CONCLUSION%...................................................................................................................%39!
APPENDIX:%DEFINITIONS,%DATA,%AND%METHODOLOGIES%.......................................................%41!
A.#Defining#the#Problem#............................................................................................................................#41!
B.#The#Available#Data#Sources#and#Their#Limitations#.................................................................................#42!
1.#Government#Data#on#Homicide#.........................................................................................................#42!
2.#OrganizedBCrimeBStyle#Homicides#.....................................................................................................#43!
3.#Analytical#and#Methodological#Concerns#..........................................................................................#45!

%

LIST%OF%FIGURES%

Figure'1:'National'Homicide'Rates'(per'100,000'inhabitants)'for'Selected'Latin'American'Countries'in'2012'........'2!
Figure'2:'Homicide'Rate'in'Mexico,'1995H2013'.......................................................................................................................................'3!
Figure'3:'Total'Homicides'in'Selected'Neighboring'Countries,'1995H2012'.................................................................................'4!
Figure'6:'Total'Annual'Intentional'Homicides'in'Mexico'as'Reported'by'INEGI'&'SNSP'(1990H2014)'...........................'8!
Figure'7:'Total'Monthly'Homicides'(2006H2014)'....................................................................................................................................'8!
Figure'8:'Comparison'of'Intentional'Homicide'and'Organized'Crime'Homicide'for'Various'Sources,'1990'through'
2014'..........................................................................................................................................................................................................................'10!
Figure'9:'Comparison'of'Intentional'Homicides'and'Organized'Crime'Homicides'for'Various'Sources'in'2014'.....'12!
Figure'10:'Distribution'of'Homicides'at'the'Municipal'Level,'1990H2013'.................................................................................'13!
Figure'11:'Geographic'Distribution'of'Homicides'Per'100,000'Inhabitants,'by'Municipality,'2005H2013'...........................'14!
Figure'12:'Geographic'Distribution'of'Homicides'by'Total'Number'(Red)'and'Homicide'Rate'(Blue)'at'the'
Municipal'Level'in'2014'...................................................................................................................................................................................'15!
Figure'13:'Intentional'Homicides'by'State,'Comparing'2013'to'2014'........................................................................................'17!
Figure'14:'OrganizedHCrimeHStyle'Homicide'Map'for'2014'............................................................................................................'18!
Figure'15:'OrganizedHCrimeHStyle'Homicides'by'State,'Comparing'2012'to'2013'................................................................'19!
Figure'16:'Mayors'&'ExHMayors'Killed'in'Mexico'(January'2006HDecember'2014)'..............................................................'23!
Figure'17:'Map'of'Mayors'&'ExHMayors'Killed'in'Mexico'(January'2006HMarch'2014)'.....................................................................'23!
Figure'18:'Journalists'and'MediaHSupport'Workers'Killed'in'Mexico'(January'2006HDecember'2014)'......................'25!
Figure'19:'Map'of'Journalists'and'MediaHSupport'Workers'Killed'in'Mexico''(January'2006HDecember'2014)'.....'26!

LIST%OF%TABLES%
Table'1:'Percentage'of'INEGI'and'SNSP'Homicides'Attributed'to'OrganizedHCrimeHStyle'Homicide'in'Reforma'and'
Milenio'Tallies,'2006H2014'.............................................................................................................................................................................'11!
Table'2:'Total'Number'and'Rate'(Per'100K)'of'Overall'Homicides'by'Municipality,'2012H2014'...................................'21!
Table'3:'Estimated'Homicides'and'OCGHstyle'Homicides'by'Presidential'Administration'.................................................'27!

#

%

LIST%OF%ACRONYMS%
AFO
AK-type
AR-type
BC Sur
BLO
CDG
CENAPI
CIDA
CIDE
CISEN
CJNG
CNDH
CONAPO
CPJ
CPS
CSN
DEA
DTO
ENVIPE
Edomex
FBI
INEGI
KTO
LFM
OCG
PAN
PGR
PRD
PRI
SCJN
SEDENA
SEGOB
SEMAR
SNSP
SSP
UNODC
U.S.
USA

#

Arellano Felix Organization, an organized crime group from Tijuana
Avtomat Kalashnikova, assault rifle used by organized crime groups, e.g., AK-47
Assault rifle typically used by organized crime groups, e.g., AR-15
Baja California Sur, a state in western Mexico
Beltran Leyva Organization, an organized crime group
Cartel del Golfo (Gulf Cartel), an organized crime group
Centro Nacional de Planeación, Análisis e Información Para el Combate a la Delincuencia
(Mexican National Center for Planning, Analysis and Information for Combating Crime)
Cartel Independiente de Acapulco (Independent Cartel of Acapulco), an organized crime
group
Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, a Mexican center for teaching and research
in the Social Sciences
Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional (Mexican Intelligence Agency)
Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, an organized crime group
Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission)
Consejo Nacional de Población (National Population Council), a national agency for
population estimates
Committee to Protect Journalists
Cartel del Pacífico Sur (South Pacific Cartel), an organized crime group
Consejo de Seguridad Nacional (National Security Council)
Drug Enforcement Agency, an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice
Drug trafficking organization
Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública (National
Victimization and Public Security Perception Survey)
Estado de México, a state in central Mexico
Federal Bureau of Investigation, an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice
Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía, e Informática (National Institute of Statistics,
Geography, and Information)
Knights Templar Organization, an organized crime group based in Michoacán
La Familia Michoacana, an organized crime group
Organized crime group
Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party), a Mexican political party
Procuraduría General de la República (Attorney General's Office)
Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Democratic Revolution Party), a Mexican political
party
Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party), a Mexican political
party
Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional (National Supreme Court of Justice), Mexico’s supreme
court.
Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (Mexican Secretary of Defense, Army and Air Force)
Secretaría de Gobernación (Mexican Interior Ministry)
Secretaría de Marina (Mexican Secretary of the Navy)
Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (Mexican National Security System)
Secretaria de Seguridad Publica (Public Security Ministry)
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
United States
United States of America

%

EXECUTIVE%SUMMARY%
•

Violence is lower in Mexico than elsewhere in the Americas, but average for the region.
Levels of violence are relatively lower in Mexico than in several other countries in the Americas,
but are about average for the Western Hemisphere. Mexico’s 2012 homicide rate of 21.5 was just
above the region’s average of approximately 21.4 homicides per 100,000 people. However, this
was up nearly threefold from Mexico’s rate of 8.1 per 100,000 in 2007. No other country in the
hemisphere has seen such a large increase in the number or rate of homicides over the last decade.

•

Homicides had been declining through the mid-2000s, reaching a record low in 2007.
Continuing a long-term trend, the number of intentional homicides documented by Mexico’s
National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Information (INEGI) declined significantly
under both presidents Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and Vicente Fox (2000-2006). Under Zedillo,
the number of intentional homicides declined fairly steadily from 15,839 in 1994 to 10,737 in
2000, totaling 80,311 homicides. The annual number of homicides fluctuated somewhat under
Fox, but continued to decline generally, with a total of 60,162 homicides. Moreover, the number
of homicides actually reached a record low of 8,867 intentional homicides in 2007, the first full
year in office for Felipe Calderón (2006-2012).

•

Violence grew dramatically after 2008, with the number of homicides peaking in 2011.
After Calderón’s first year, the number of intentional homicides documented by INEGI climbed
sharply, with year-over-year increases of more than 58% in 2008, 41% in 2009, 30% in 2010, and
5% in 2011. As predicted by last year’s Justice in Mexico drug violence report, the number of
intentional homicides documented by INEGI declined somewhat in 2012, Calderón’s final year
in office. Specifically, our March 2013 report predicted that INEGI would register a modest
decline for 2012 (no greater than 8.5%). According to figures released in late-2013, the number
of intentional homicides documented by INEGI for 2012 declined about 4% to 26,037. All told,
throughout the Calderón administration, INEGI reported 121,669 homicides, an average of over
20,000 people per year, more than 55 people per day, or just over two people every hour.

•

The total number of homicides appears to have declined by nearly 15% again in 2014.
While INEGI’s figures are not available for 2014, preliminary data from Mexico’s National
Security System (SNSP) suggests that the total number of intentional homicides in 2013 declined
again this year by about the same proportion as in 2013. However, some analysts are skeptical
about SNSP’s data because of concerns about possible political manipulation by the Peña Nieto
administration, so these findings should be viewed with caution. Keeping such concerns in
mind, at the time of this report, SNSP’s tally of all intentional homicides in 2014 was 15,649,
down 13.8% from the 18,146 reported for 2013 the same time last year. The authors estimate a
more modest rate of decline (about 9%) for INEGI’s figures, to be released later in 2015.

•

Mexico’s recent violence is largely attributable to drug trafficking and organized crime.
A large part of the sudden increase in violence in Mexico is attributable to drug trafficking and
organized crime groups. Tallies compiled independently by media organizations in Mexico
suggest that at least a third and as many as half of all intentional homicides in 2014 bore
characteristics typical of organized-crime related killings, including the use of high-caliber
automatic weapons, torture, dismemberment, and explicit messages involving organized-crime

groups. The Mexican newspaper Reforma put the figure at 6,400 organized-crime-style homicides
in 2014 (though its coverage appeared to be less complete and less consistent with other sources
than previous years), while Milenio reported 7,993 for the year.
•

Amid declining violence, serious security crises continued in central & Pacific states. Even
amid the overall reduction in violence, there were serious security crises in central and Pacific
states, notably the states of Guerrero, México, and Michoacán. In early 2014, clashes broke out
between the Knights Templar Organization (Caballeros Templarios, or KTO) and local “selfdefense” (autodefensa) groups in Michoacán, causing the federal government to intervene and
deputize some self-defense groups, creating official Rural Defense Forces. In late 2014, there were
a series of violent crackdowns by authorities that resulted in the deaths of scores of people —
including both alleged criminals and innocent civilians—in the states of México and Guerrero,
provoking national and international condemnations. In particular, when municipal authorities in
the town of Iguala, Guerrero allegedly turned over dozens of student protestors to a local
organized crime group known as the Guerreros Unidos, the perceived corruption and ineptitude of
government officials led to massive protests and even acts of violence throughout the country.

•

The Mexican government arrested major drug traffickers, including “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) has continued the previous administration’s
efforts to arrest major organized crime figures. In early 2014, the Peña Nieto administration
succeeded in arresting Mexico’s most notorious drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán
(head of the Sinaloa Cartel). In 2014, federal authorities also eliminated key leaders of the
Knights Templar Organization, killing Nazario Moreno González, a.k.a. “El Chayo” (who had
been previously presumed dead) and Enrique “El Kike” Plancarte Solís. In early 2015,
authorities continued to make important arrests targeting the Knights Templar Organization, the
Gulf Cartel, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, and the Zetas.

•

Recent organized crime arrests have not appeared to produce large spikes in violence.
Some experts say that destroying leadership structures leads to greater violence because it
contributes to infighting, splintering, and/or encroachment by rival criminal organizations.
However, compared to previous years, the Mexican government’s arrests of high-level members
of organized crime groups have not resulted in such dramatic surges in violence due to
infighting, splintering, or encroachment by rival criminal organizations. This may be attributable
to a number of factors, including the dwindling size and capacity of criminal organizations in
Mexico, the reduction in competition over drug production and trafficking routes, and/or the
possible collusion of government officials to broker a peace.

•

Mexican security efforts appear more focused on prevention and criminal justice reform.
While President Peña Nieto continued the same strategies of the previous administration during
his first year in office, he also began to emphasize crime prevention and judicial system reform
more strongly than in the past. Indeed, both the federal and state governments have moved into
high gear in the effort to transition Mexico to a new oral, adversarial criminal procedure—
popularly referred to as “oral trials” (juicios orales)— that proponents believe will provide
greater transparency, efficiency, and fairness in the Mexican criminal justice system. In 2014, the
Peña Nieto administration moved these efforts forward considerably by approving a Unified
Code of Criminal Procedure that will be implemented at the federal and state levels throughout
the country by June 2016.

Drug Violence in Mexico
Data and Analysis Through 2014

I.%INTRODUCTION%%
This report summarizes the best available data at present on crime and violence in Mexico,
particularly as it relates to organized crime. This is a topic of both enormous complexity and also
urgent concern, not only to Mexican government officials and citizens but to the United States and
Mexico’s southern neighbors, as well. Unfortunately for all concerned, 2014 brought mixed results,
at best. While Mexico’s homicide rates continued to fall for the third year in a row, levels of violent
crime remain unreasonably high by the standards of most ordinary Mexicans. Meanwhile, important
successes in combatting organized crime—including the arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán,
arguably the world’s most wanted drug trafficker—were coupled with major setbacks, including
terrible massacres, and enormous public outrage over Mexico’s security situation.
The Justice in Mexico program based at the University of San Diego has worked for over a decade
to provide a detailed analysis of crime and security issues in Mexico. Justice in Mexico first began to
compile data specifically on organized crime related homicides in 2007, as human rights and media
organizations started to publish such information. This data was incorporated into our regular
monthly reports and disseminated to U.S. and Mexican security specialists. As violence continued to
rise, Justice in Mexico produced its first annual report on “drug violence” in Mexico in 2010, in an
effort to help make sense of the limited and confusing data available on the country’s security
situation. Since then, Justice in Mexico’s annual Drug Violence in Mexico reports have compiled the
latest available data and analysis to help inform a U.S. and English language audience, since
international news media coverage of Mexico tends to be fleeting and gravitates toward sporadic,
sensationalistic incidents rather than the analysis of broader issues and longer-term trends.
As the sixth report in this series, this analysis builds on past findings and seeks to provide new
insights on Mexico’s security situation. The authors draw on the latest available data from multiple
sources, with a primary emphasis on the second year in office for Mexican President Enrique Peña
Nieto (2012-2018). While President Peña Nieto appeared to deliberately downplay Mexico’s security
challenges during his first year in office, 2014 tragically brought those problems to the forefront. As
we discuss in this report, during 2014, the Peña Nieto administration was under enormous public
and international pressure as a result of the rise of vigilante groups in the southern Pacific state of
Michoacán and elsewhere; a surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America passing through
Mexico to the U.S. border in order to flee violence in their home countries; and continued high

1

profile violence, including the extrajudicial killings of dozens of civilians ordered by Mexican
government officials. What became particularly notable in 2014 was the growing impatience of
ordinary citizens in the face of the seeming complacency, ineptitude, or even complicity of Mexican
government officials in relation to problems of crime and violence. In 2014, this resulted in both
local militia-style activities by “self defense” forces, as noted above, and spontaneous violent
protests throughout the country. Thus, even as there have been significant improvements on a
number of indicators, the overall security situation in Mexico remains quite precarious and major
improvements to strengthen the rule of law are urgently needed.

II.%UNDERSTANDING%MEXICO’S%RECENT%VIOLENCE%%
A.%Mexico’s%Violence%in%Perspective%
As in previous years, it is important to note at the outset that how one measures violence is
contingent on many, often highly subjective factors. By some measures, the level of violence in
Mexico is “modest,” particularly within the Western hemisphere. As Justice in Mexico has noted in
previous reports, the latest data on homicide rates—one of the most commonly used indicators for
comparing levels of violence—are much higher in other countries in the Americas. As illustrated in
Figure 1, in recent years, Honduras has had nearly four times as many murders per capita as Mexico,
El Salvador’s rate is three times as high, and Venezuela’s is more than twice as high. Even Colombia,
which is frequently referenced as a “success story” in efforts to reduce crime and violence, has a
homicide rate that is nearly 50% greater than Mexico’s.

Figure 1: National Homicide Rates (per 100,000 inhabitants) for Selected Latin
American Countries in 2012
100.0
90.0
80.0
70.0
60.0
50.0
40.0
30.0
20.0
0.0

Honduras
Venezuela
Belize
El<Salvador
Guatemala
Jamaica
Saint<KiEs<&<Nevis
Colombia
Bahamas
Trinidad<&<Tobago
Puerto<Rico
St.<Vincent
Brazil
Dominican<Rep.
Saint<Lucia
Mexico
Panama
Guyana
Grenada
Ecuador
Bolivia
Nicaragua
AnVgua<&<Barbuda
HaiV<
Paraguay
Peru
Costa<Rica
Uruguay
Bermuda
Barbados
Suriname
USA
Cuba
Chile
Canada

10.0

Note: This chart uses the latest available UNODC intentional homicide data for each country from 2012. See UNODC
Global Study on Homicide, released March 2014.

2

Yet, this comparison offers little cause for celebration. Contemporary Latin America has some of
the highest rates of criminal violence in the world, in many cases matching or exceeding the levels of
violence seen during the civil conflicts that plagued the region decades ago. What is different today
about violence in Latin America is that rather than fighting and dying for revolutionary ideologies,
the region’s young men are fighting and dying for little more than a fistful of dollars. Indeed, some
reports in recent years suggest that paid gunmen and assassins working on behalf of organized crime
groups earn as little as a few hundred dollars a month. In a sad twist on Francis Fukuyama’s vision
of our times, the “end of ideology” has wrought violence and conflict in Latin America on a scale
and with a savagery that is perhaps even more horrific because there is no cause or deeper meaning.
While Mexico’s violence is about average when it comes to the rate of homicides per capita, its
security challenges are arguably of significant concern for a number of reasons. First, the rate of
homicides in Mexico escalated quite dramatically in recent years, reversing a multi-decade downward
trend. Historical data suggest that homicide in Mexico generally declined from the 1930s into the
mid-2000s.1 However, from 2007 to 2011, Mexico’s rate climbed sharply, increasing threefold from
roughly 8.1 to 23.5 homicides per 100,000, according to figures from Mexico’s National Institute of
Statistics, Geography, and Information, INEGI.2 By World Health Organization standards, a
homicide rate over 20 per 100,000 is considered to be at “epidemic” levels. While current data suggest
a decline in homicides and the overall rate, the elevated level of homicide has provoked enormous
alarm both domestically and internationally about the problem of violence in Mexico.

Figure 2: Homicide Rate in Mexico, 1995-2013
25.0

23.5
22.5
22.3

20.0
15.0

18.4
16.6

17.1

17.5 17.0
16.5

15.1

17.5
13.9

13.9
12.3

10.0

10.6 10.1
9.8 9.6

18.7

12.6
9.6
8.8 9.3

8.1

5.0
INEGI HOMICIDE RATE x100k
0.0

Source: INEGI. Authors’ calculations based on INEGI homicide data and CONAPO’s 2010 population estimates for
all years. Results vary when revised CONAPO population estimates from later years are applied.
Shirk and Ríos (2007) use data from homicide prosecutions to show the longer term, downward trend in homicide
cases from the 1930s to the mid-2000s. Escalante (2009) uses actual homicide data to demonstrate that this trend
continued from the 1990s to the late 2000s. See David A. Shirk and Alejandra Ríos Cázares. "Introduction: Reforming
the Administration of Justice in Mexico." In Reforming the Administration of Justice in Mexico, edited by Wayne A. Cornelius
and David A. Shirk. Notre Dame; La Jolla: University of Notre Dame Press; Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, 2007;
Fernando Escalante Gonzalbo. "Homicidios 1990-2007." Nexos, 2009.
2 It is important to note that these INEGI figures do not differentiate between intentional homicides and unintentional
homicides (e.g., car accidents).
1

3

A second reason why Mexico’s violence has provoked such enormous concern has to do with the
sheer number of murders in the country that resulted from these increases. Because Mexico had an
estimated population of nearly 120 million people in 2014—the third largest population among all
countries in the Americas, after United States and Brazil—even a modest increase in Mexico’s#
homicide rate translates into the loss of thousands of lives.3 Indeed, during the four-year rise in
violence from 2007 to 2011, the number of murders increased from 8,867 to 27,199. No other
country in the Western Hemisphere saw such a large increase either in the homicide rate or in the
absolute number of homicides over the last two decades.#

Figure 3: Total Homicides in Selected Neighboring Countries, 1995-2012
60000
50000
40000
30000
20000
10000
0
1995
 1996
 1997
 1998
 1999
 2000
 2001
 2002
 2003
 2004
 2005
 2006
 2007
 2008
 2009
 2010
 2011
 2012
Dominican<Republic

El<Salvador

Guatemala

Honduras

Mexico

United<States<of<America

Brazil

Colombia

Venezuela<(Bolivarian<Republic<of)

Source: UNODC, homicides (1995-2011).

Of course, as we noted in last year’s report, not all forms of death provoke an equal sense of
concern and alarm, and there is little doubt that Mexico’s violence has provoked greater attention
than other troubling problems around the world. For example, South Korea has had a suicide rate of
29 per 100,000 people in recent years; thus, more South Koreans died by their own hand than the
number of people murdered in Mexico even amid the worst of its violence. More broadly, as a
matter of human security, nearly two thirds of deaths around the world are attributable to noncontagious diseases, like coronary disease or diabetes, and roughly 16% of deaths are attributable to
infectious diseases that are largely preventable, like AIDS and malaria.4 Thus, ordinary people
around the world should be much more concerned about the possible dangers associated with
cheeseburgers and mosquitoes than about being killed by other people, in Mexico or anywhere else.

The estimated population of Mexico in 2010 based on INEGI’s national census was 112,336,538. The Consejo
Nacional de Población (CONAPO) revised estimate for Mexico’s national population by mid-2014 was 119,711,492.
4 “10 Facts on Noncommunicable Diseases,” World Health Organization,
http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/noncommunicable_diseases/facts/en. Center for Strategic & International
Studies, “Infectious Diseases: A Persistent Threat.” http://www.smartglobalhealth.org/issues/entry/infectious-diseases
3

4

Of course, such everyday hazards are considered too mundane to grab headlines. Violence, on the
other hand, is difficult to ignore precisely because it is—thankfully—outside the normal range of
acceptable human conduct and experience. Murder, in particular, is a form of violence for which
there are very low levels of tolerance in most societies around the world. When there is a sudden
increase in the number of homicides, it is appropriate to pay attention and try to address the
problem. What is particularly concerning about Mexico’s sudden increases in homicides in recent
years is that much or most of this violence is attributable to organized crime groups (OCGs),
commonly defined as groups of individuals acting in concert over a sustained period of time with
the objective of deliberately violating established law, often with trans-national organizational
capabilities and influences. Still, as scholars of organized crime have demonstrated, violence is not
necessarily the norm even in the underworld.5 Thus, Mexico’s recent surge in violence requires some
understanding of recent dynamics among Mexican organized crime groups, particularly those
involved in drug trafficking.

B.%The%Role%of%Drug%Trafficking%and%Organized%Crime%in%Mexico%
In addition to understanding the scale and rate of crime and violence in Mexico in recent years, it is
also necessary to underscore its sources. As this and past reports have demonstrated, recent
increases in violence are closely connected to the problem of organized crime, and especially drug
trafficking and related activities. Mexico’s contemporary organized crime groups have their roots in
the advent of alcohol and drug prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s. While alcohol smuggling from
Mexico faded away almost immediately after prohibition was repealed in 1933, the smuggling of
heroin and marijuana—both produced in Mexico—has continued into the present.
Drug trafficking became dramatically more profitable and well consolidated in Mexico when it
became a major transit point for cocaine trafficking from Colombia to the United States in the 1970s
and 1980s.6 With the decline of Colombia’s major drug-trafficking organizations, Mexican criminal
organizations came to dominate the business by the late 1980s. As they did, Mexican traffickers also
became involved in producing and trafficking synthetic drugs, like methamphetamines and MDMA
(Ecstasy). Like the Colombians that they superseded, Mexican traffickers were commonly described
as “cartels” because they employed some of the same practices as business organizations that seek to
generally reduce market competition (e.g., explicitly or implicitly negotiating territories for operation
and distribution). Indeed, the lack of market competition was key to the success of Mexican drug
traffickers, who are believed by many experts to have been directly involved in protecting and
regulating the illicit drug trade.7
This relatively harmonious arrangement changed in the aftermath of the 1985 murder of U.S. Drug
Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, which led to intense U.S. pressure on
Andreas, P. and J. Wallman (2009). "Illicit Markets and Violence: What is the Relationship?" Crime, Law, and Social
Change 52: 225-229.
6 See, for example: Elaine Shannon, Desperados: Latin Drug Lords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War America Can't Win. New York:
Viking, 1988; Luis Astorga and David A. Shirk, "Drugs, Crime, and Violence," in Peter H. Smith and Andrew Selee
(eds.) Mexico and the United States: The Politics of Partnership. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013.
7 See, for example: Astorga Almanza, L. A. (2000). “Traficantes de drogas, políticos y policías en el siglo XX mexicano,”
in Claudio Lomnitz (ed.), Vicios públicos, virtudes privadas: La corrupción en México, Mexico City, CIESAS; Carlos Flores
Pérez, “Organized Crime and Official Corruption in Mexico,” in Robert A. Donnelly and David A. Shirk. San Diego:
Trans-Border Institute, 2009.
5

5

Mexican authorities to arrest the three main leaders of the so-called Guadalajara Cartel. Both
Ernesto Fonseca and Rafael Caro Quintero were arrested within months of Camarena’s murder,
while Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo managed to continue the cartel’s operations until he was arrested
in 1989. Thereafter, the splitting of the Guadalajara cartel into rival, regionally based factions set in
motion a competitive struggle for supply routes that has continued into the present. Starting in the
early 2000s, that competition grew significantly more intense and more violent due to a series of
government crackdowns, internal power struggles, and splits among Mexico’s organized crime
groups.
Over the last several years, the accumulated toll of this violence has been the loss of tens of
thousands of lives, and the problem has become a central preoccupation for both government
officials and ordinary citizens. Moreover, as the level of violence in Mexico grew, it also became
more diffuse in a number of ways. While there is now considerable evidence that the number of
homicides in Mexico has begun to subside over the past few years, violence remains relatively high
and the security situation remains highly problematic in certain parts of the country. As such, careful
monitoring and study are still needed to understand the manifestations, root causes, and possible
solutions to the problem of violence in Mexico.
This report examines Mexico’s drug-related and organized crime-style violence in substantial detail,
drawing on over several years of data gathering and research, as well as the latest available data from
a variety of sources. A full discussion of the data and methodology employed in this and previous
reports can be found in the appendix. What must be said at the outset is that the information
available to evaluate organized crime and violence in Mexico are highly imperfect and must be
considered an approximation, at best. There are significant limits, gaps, and distortions found in the
available data, and too often there is insufficient transparency about how data are compiled.
As in previous years, part of the purpose of this report is to sift through and analyze the available
information in order to begin to make sense of what we know and what we do not. Thus, all of the
claims presented are therefore necessarily tentative, and the authors have done their best to temper
any claims, conclusions, or recommendations accordingly. Perhaps the most important
recommendation that follows from this report is that the Mexican government and experts working
on the problem of crime and violence in Mexico should work to increase the reliability, frequency,
and timeliness with which data is made available for public scrutiny. Doing so will help to inform
both the public and policy decisions in ways that will ultimately help to address the problem of
crime and violence more effectively.

III.%FINDINGS:%DRUG%VIOLENCE%IN%MEXICO%
Previous Drug Violence in Mexico reports prepared by Justice in Mexico discuss the general trends in
organized crime homicides for years prior to 2014 in considerable detail. The purpose of this report
is not to revisit past discussions, but to examine the relevant findings for 2014.

6

A.%While%Still%Moderately%High,%Homicide%Levels%Continue%to%Decline%%
As noted earlier, homicide levels in Mexico spiked dramatically from 2007 to 2011. The overall
number of homicides nationwide appeared to decline starting in 2012, and has continued to fall each
year since then. Both of Mexico’s official data sources on homicides—INEGI and the National
Public Security System (SNSP)—have been consistent in documenting these trends (See Figure 4). It
is important to note that INEGI’s homicide data for any given year are made available in the latter
part of the following year, so Figure 4 provides a projected figure for 2014. In 2014, INEGI released
its 2013 homicide figures showing a decrease of about 12% and confirming the projection used by
the authors in last year’s report. Specifically, the authors estimated that INEGI would report
approximately 22,131 homicides for 2013, and the final tally reported by INEGI for 2013 was
22,732, a marginal difference of about 2.5%. This year, we estimate that INEGI’s tally for all
homicides will decline by approximately 9%, bringing the total number of homicides reported for
2014 to roughly 20,670.8 While still a far cry from 8,867 homicides reported by INEGI in 2007—
Mexico’s historic low point—such a decline for 2014 would still be very significant, sparing roughly
two thousand lives compared to 2013.
SNSP, meanwhile, has reported its figures for intentional homicides in 2014, which indicate a 13.8%
percent drop in 2014, Mexico’s second double digit percentage annual decrease in homicides since
2007. Once again, while homicide levels remain quite elevated according to SNSP figures, thousands
of lives were spared in 2014 compared to the year before; while SNSP reported 18,146 intentional
homicides for 2013, that figure fell to 15,649 for 2014.9

This is an approximation based primarily on the trajectory of SNSP’s figures for intentional homicide. This report has
offered such approximations — within a 2.5-5% margin of error—for INEGI’s figures for 2012 and 2013. Rather than
an identical rate of decline for both INEGI and SNSP, we suspect that as SNSP’s intentional homicides decrease they
will likely represent a declining share of all homicides reported by INEGI. Thus, we estimate that the rate of decline
reported by INEGI will be somewhat less than the 13.8% decline reported by SNSP this year. For 2014, the authors
settled on a figure of about 9.1%, a decline of roughly in proportion to the previous year’s comparison of INEGI and
SNSP data.
9 Here we must underscore that there is a significant difference in the methodologies for INEGI and SNSP, both in the
type and method of data gathered. The fact that INEGI includes all homicides and SNSP focuses only on intentional
homicides helps explain the higher figures reported by the former, at least since 2007. The authors have no explanation
for why SNSP’s figures consistently exceeded those of INEGI up to 2007, except the possibility that there may have
been a change in methodology in either organization.
8

7

Figure 4: Total Annual Homicide Data in Mexico as Reported by INEGI &
SNSP (1990-2014)
30,000
INEGI (Total Deaths by Homicide)
25,000

SNSP (Total Intentional Homicides)

20,000
15,000
10,000

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

1998

1997

1996

1995

1994

1993

1992

1991

0

1990

5,000

Sources: INEGI and SNSP. Note: Justice in Mexico based its estimate for INEGI in 2014 upon a rate of decrease of
approximately 9% (compared to the roughly 14% decrease reported by SNSP).

Disaggregating these data by month reveals some trends that might be missed in reviewing annual
totals. First, since 2007, Mexico’s homicide levels have been subject to relatively larger spikes and
declines than in years past. There is also some variation within a given year, particularly at the peak
of violence between 2010 and 2012, as the number of homicides documented tended to be relatively
lower in the first six months of the year, while surging in the second half of the year.

Figure 5: Total Monthly Homicides (2006-2014)
3000!
2500!

INEGI!

SNSP!

2000!
1500!
1000!
500!
0!

J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!J!A!J!O!
1990! 1991! 1992! 1993! 1994! 1995! 1996! 1997! 1998! 1999! 2000! 2001! 2002! 2003! 2004! 2005! 2006! 2007! 2008! 2009! 2010! 2011! 2012! 2013! 2014!

Sources: INEGI and SNSP. Note: Justice in Mexico based its estimate for INEGI in 2014 upon a rate of decrease of
approximately 9% (compared to the roughly 14% decrease reported by SNSP).

8

Of course, past trends are not necessarily a good basis for future predictions, so it is impossible to
say whether the current downward trend in the number of intentional homicides will continue into
2015. Still, there does appear to be a structural shift in the violence in Mexico, as the number of
homicides in certain highly conflicted parts of the country has subsided substantially. If the current
downward trend continues, it is plausible that the number of homicides could even return to their
historic lows within the next five to ten years. However, as reported last year, since Mexico’s
violence accelerated more quickly than it has been decelerating, the number of homicides will not
reach 2007 levels until well after 2020, if the current rate of decline continues.10

B.%OrganizedZCrimeZStyle%Killings%Still%Constitute%a%Major%Share%of%Homicides%
A review of data generated by various independent sources shows that a large proportion of
homicides in recent years bears characteristics typically associated with organized crime-style
violence: gun battles, group executions, torture, dismemberment, high powered weaponry,
beheadings, “narco” messages, mass graves, and other methods used by drug trafficking and
organized crime groups. About a third—and as many as half—of all homicides identified in 2014
bore such characteristics. The solid lines in Figure 6 plot the available data on organized-crime-style
homicides from SNSP (2007-2011), Reforma (2006-2012 and 2013-2014), and Milenio (2007-2014),
while the dotted lines show the authors’ projections for SNSP (2012-2013) and Reforma (2013).11 All
available figures and projections on organized-crime-style homicides are plotted against the official
tallies of intentional homicides reported by both INEGI and SNSP originally shown in Figure 4
above (including the authors’ 2014 projections for INEGI).

More specifically, from 2007 to 2011, the average annual rate of increase in the number of intentional homicides was
greater than 20% according to SNSP and greater than 33% according to INEGI. While INEGI data are not available for
2014, the average annual rate of decline reported by SNSP since 2011 has been about 10%.
11 As noted in the methodological discussion in the Appendix, one of the limitations of both official and nongovernmental tallies of organized-crime-style homicides is that there are significant gaps in reporting by some sources,
notably SNSP and Reforma.
10

9

Figure 6: Comparison of Homicide and Organized Crime Homicide Data for
Various Sources, 1990 through 2014
30,000
25,000
20,000
15,000
10,000
5,000
0

INEGI
SNSP (OCG)

SNSP
REFORMA (OCG)

CNDH (OCG)
MILENIO (OCG)

Sources: INEGI, SNSP, Reforma, Milenio. Note: Dotted lines constitute estimates. Multi-data point projections calculated
with assistance from economist Topher McDougal.

The last complete annual dataset from the Mexican government on organized crime-style homicides
was released in 2010, so there has been no publicly available official annual figures on such killings
since then. However, based on the trajectory of figures released in recent years, the authors estimate
that the government’s official tally for organized-crime-style homicides came to roughly 8,000 deaths
in 2014.12 Milenio, which produced its figures throughout the year, reported 7,993 organized-crime-style
homicides for the same year.13 Meanwhile, in 2014, Reforma put the figure for organized-crime-style
homicides at 6,400, the lowest number reported by that newspaper since 2008. However, it is notable
that Reforma’s tallies have appeared to be less complete and less consistent than in previous years.
Determining the approximate proportion of homicides resulting from organized-crime-style
violence depends upon which sources are used to calculate each figure (See Table 1). Based on the
estimated number of INEGI homicides provided above, in 2014 organized-crime-style homicides
represented approximately 30%-40% of the total number of all homicides, according to figures from

In 2011, SNSP refused to release its data for organized-crime-style homicides for the last three months of the year.
For this reason, in our 2012 report, Justice in Mexico calculated a projection for those three months, which placed the
estimated number of organized-crime-related homicides at roughly 16,800 deaths. No data were provided by SNSP for
2012, but for that year the authors projected an estimate (based on the close correlation between SNSP and Reforma data
at that time) of roughly 14,600. Based on data released in the first six months of 2013, the authors estimate a total of
roughly 11,400 organized-crime-style homicides in that year. No government data were released in 2014, so this year’s
estimate of approximately 8,000 organized-crime-style homicides is based on the close correlation of SNSP and Milenio
organized-style-homicide figures in recent years.
13 The available data on organized-crime-style homicides reported by SNSP from January through June were fairly
closely correlated (.706) to those reported by Milenio.
12

10

Milenio (38.7%), Reforma (31.0%), and the consulting firm Lantia (36.3%).14 Because SNSP intentional
homicide figures are typically lower than those produced by INEGI, tallies of organized-crime-style
homicides represent a significantly larger proportion—40-50%—of all homicides when SNSP data
are referenced using these same tallies and estimates: Milenio (51.1%), Reforma (40.9%), and Lantia
(48.0%). In short, whether organized-crime-style homicides represent just one-in-three or as many as
half of all homicides, they continue to be a major form of murder in Mexico.

Table 1: Percentage of INEGI and SNSP Homicides Attributed to OrganizedCrime-Style Homicide in Reforma and Milenio Tallies, 2006-2014
YEAR%

MILENIO%
OCG%(as%%%
INEGI)%

MILENIO%
OCG%(as%%%
SNSP)%

REFORMA%
OCG%(as%%%
INEGI)%

REFORMA%
OCG%(as%%%
SNSP)%

LANTIA%OCG%
(Como%%%
INEGI)%

LANTIA%
OCG%(Como%
%%SNSP)%

2006#
2007#
2008#
2009#
2010#
2011#
2012#
2013#
2014#
AVE.%

n.a.#
31.3%#
40.5%#
41.8%#
49.1%#
45.2%#
47.7%#
44.4%#
38.7%#
42.3%%

n.a.#
27.0%#
43.2%#
51.4%#
61.2%#
54.6%#
57.2%#
55.6%#
51.1%#
50.2%%

20.3%#
25.6%#
36.6%#
33.3%#
45.0%#
45.5%#
38.1%#
31.5%#
31.0%#
34.1%%

18.0%#
22.1%#
39.0%#
40.9%#
56.0%#
55.0%#
45.7%#
39.5%#
40.9%#
39.7%%

##
##
##
##
##
##
##
49.6%#
36.3%#
43.0%%

##
##
##
##
##
##
##
62.1%#
48.0%#
55.0%%

Sources: INEGI, SNSP, Reforma, Milenio, and Lantia for all available years and projections. Note: This
table shows the proportion of organized-crime-style homicides relative to all homicides, as reported by
each source (relative to the two official sources of data on homicide: INEGI and SNSP). For
percentages shown in red, one or both sources in the comparison are based on projections estimated
by the authors.

The number of organized-crime-style homicides reported by Milenio in 2014 represented over 50%
of the total number of intentional homicides reported by SNSP that same year, though this
constituted the lowest proportion reported by Milenio since 2008. If the authors’ 2014 projections for
INEGI are reasonably accurate, then the number of organized-crime-style homicides reported by
Milenio would constitute about 38.7% of the total number of homicides for that year, also the lowest
proportion since 2008.15 More conservatively, comparing Reforma’s tally for 2014 to the authors’
projection for INEGI in the same year, it would appear that organized-crime-style homicides made
up just over a third of all homicides in Mexico (once again a lower proportion than at any point
since 2008). In short, even though the number of homicides declined significantly in 2014, the
proportion attributable to organized crime also appeared to decline significantly compared to
previous years.

Lantia is a consulting firm headed by Mexican security expert Eduardo Guerrero. Lantia’s data are not publicly
available for previous years.
15 By any measure, organized crime style homicides were at their lowest proportion in 2007, but the comparison is made
here to 2008 because of this was the year that homicides made a dramatic increase, reversing historical trends.
14

11

Figure 7: Comparison of Intentional Homicides and Organized Crime
Homicides for Various Sources in 2014
1600#
SNSPLSEGOB#(All#
intendonal#
homicides)#

1400#
1200#

Reforma#(OCG)#
1000#
800#

Milenio#(OCG)#

600#
Landa#(OCG)#

400#
200#
0#
Jan#

Feb#

Mar#

Apr#

May#

Jun#

Jul#

Aug#

Sep#

Oct#

Nov#

Dec#

Source: SNSP, Milenio, Reforma, and Lantia. Note: Dotted lines refer to the authors’ projected estimates for the months
where data on organized-crime-style homicides from SNSP and Reforma are unavailable.

Finally, it is worth comparing the monthly data available from 2014 for intentional homicides
reported by SNSP and organized-crime-style homicides reported by Reforma, Milenio, and Lantia. It
seems that there was a very high degree of consistency among figures on organized-crime-style
homicide reported by these three sources for the first six months of the year. In August 2014,
Milenio seemed to report significantly higher figures than either Reforma or Lantia. Meanwhile,
Reforma’s figures deviated considerably from those of the other two independent sources, particularly
in November and December of 2014. It is worth noting as well that the figures produced by Milenio
and Lantia are both more closely correlated to the general homicide figures generated by SNSP than
are those produced by Reforma.

C.%Shifting%Geographic%Patterns%of%Violence%
While there is a general perception that Mexico’s violence is pervasive and persistent throughout the
country, the reality is that violence has been highly localized, has been sporadic, and has frequently
shifted from one geographic area to another in recent years. Using the data on homicides and
organized crime-related homicides available at the municipal and state levels, respectively, the
authors review some of the trends and shifts in the geographic distribution of violence below.
1.%The%Geographic%Dispersion%of%Intentional%Homicides%Reverses%Slightly%
In past reports, one of the most important findings about the geographic distribution of violence in
Mexico is that over the last several years the phenomenon of homicide not only increased in number
but also became dispersed throughout more areas of the country. In 2007, the historic low point in

12

homicide rates in Mexico, INEGI figures reported that approximately 1,073 of Mexico’s roughly
2,450 municipalities had zero homicides, as illustrated in Figure 8.16 Indeed, for the entire Fox
administration (2000-2006) and the first year of the Calderón administration (2006-2012), there was
a historically unprecedented period in which over 40% of Mexican municipalities saw not a single
murder. Thereafter, Mexico experienced a fairly steady decline in the number of “murder-free”
municipalities each year, reaching a low of 727 municipalities in 2012. Meanwhile, during the same
time period, there was steady increase in the number of municipalities with more than 25 homicides,
growing from 62 in 2007 to 178 in 2012. However, in 2013, the geographical dispersion of homicide
reversed for the first time since 2007. That is, from 2012 to 2013, the number of municipalities with
more than 25 homicides declined from 178 to 171, and the number with zero homicides grew from
727 to 776. Given the decrease in overall homicides in 2014 indicated by SNSP’s figures, there is a
strong probability that INEGI figures reported later this year will show that the geographic
dispersion of homicide—at least as measured here—has continued to subside.

More#than#100#homicides#
26L50#Homicides#

76L100#Homicides#
Less#than#25#

2013#

2012#

2011#

2010#

2009#

2008#

2007#

2006#

2005#

2004#

2003#

2002#

2001#

2000#

1999#

1998#

1997#

1996#

1995#

1994#

1993#

1992#

1991#

100%#
90%#
80%#
70%#
60%#
50%#
40%#
30%#
20%#
10%#
0%#

1990#

Figure 8: Distribution of Homicides at the Municipal Level, 1990-2013

51L75#Homicides#
Zero#Homicides#

Source: INEGI.

The maps in Figure 9 below help to further illustrate the geographic distribution of violence in
Mexico by showing the homicide rate at the municipal level from 1999 through 2013, as reported by
INEGI. Because INEGI data were not available for 2014 at the time that this report was released in
April 2015, the authors rely on the 2013 intentional homicide figures reported by SNSP. The 2013
SNSP maps in Figure 10 show the number of homicides by municipality (in red) and the homicide
rate per 100,000 inhabitants by municipality (in blue) using CONAPO population estimates.

These figures are approximate because there is no data for some municipalities. Also, the number of municipalities in
Mexico changes from time to time as new ones are created. From 2012 to 2013, for example, it appears that dozens of
new municipalities were added to INEGI’s homicide dataset.
16

13

Figure 9: Geographic Distribution of Homicides Per 100,000 Inhabitants, by
Municipality, 1999-2013
1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Source: INEGI. Maps generated by Theresa Firestine.

14

Figure 10: Geographic Distribution of Homicides by Total Number (Red) and
Homicide Rate (Blue) at the Municipal Level in 2014

Source: SNSP and CONAPO. Maps generated by Theresa Firestine. It should be noted that the legend for the figure
showing the total number of homicides per municipality was mislabeled by the authors in our previous report (entitled
Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis from 2013). The red map in the figure above is now correctly labeled to show the
number of homicides (not the rate per 100,000 people).

Taken together, this series of maps makes apparent the increase and geographic dispersion of
homicides from 2007 to 2012 (especially after 2009), as well as the increase in the relative increase of
such homicides per capita during that period. We also see that violence receded significantly from
2012 onward, according to the available data from both INEGI and SNSP. There were also some
important changes that became especially noticeable in 2014. For example, from 2010 to 2013, at
least 35 municipalities have had more than 100 murders per 100,000 people, regardless of whether
15

the rate is calculated using available INEGI or SNSP figures. However, in 2014, SNSP’s data suggest
that the number of municipalities with more than 100 homicides per capita dropped to just 21
municipalities.
However, it is necessary to underscore again that the SNSP’s data was incomplete for a significant
number of municipalities at the time that authors downloaded and began working with these data in
February 2015, as was the case in the author’s report for the previous year. Thus, it is very possible
that the number of municipalities with homicide rates over 100 per 100,000 inhabitants is underreported at this time. That is, using an updated SNSP dataset or using the INEGI figures that will be
released later this year, the reduction and receding of violence may be less than appears to be the
case using the available preliminary data.
It is also worth noting that CONAPO’s population estimates were revised since our last report
(mostly upward from the original projections for 2014), which has the effect of changing the
number of homicides per 100,000 people.17 While CONAPO’s revisions led to an increase in the
estimated population for some municipalities and a decrease for others, the net population increased
from 111,566,783 to 119,711,492, or approximately 7.3%. According to the authors’ calculations,
CONAPO’s population adjustment resulted in a net decrease in the national homicide rate of nearly
3.4%.18
Lastly, these maps also show that homicides have been regionally concentrated in the major drug
trafficking zones in the northwest, the northeast, and the Pacific Coast. The states that were hardest
hit by violence after 2008 include the six Mexican border states—Baja California, Sonora,
Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas—as well as the Pacific states of Sinaloa, Nayarit,
Michoacán, and Guerrero. However, violence began to diminish in certain areas in 2011 and 2012,
particularly as the number of homicides fell in key states in northern Mexico, including Baja
California, Sonora, and Chihuahua.

For example, using SNSP and CONAPO data, the small town of Oquitoa, Sonora had just one homicide but —
because it has just a few hundred people—it also had the highest homicide rate per 100,000 people in Mexico in 2014.
Yet the rate varies considerably depending on which CONAPO population projection is used. Using CONAPO’s
original estimate for Oquitoa’s population for 2014 (426 inhabitants), the homicide rate in Oquitoa would be 234
homicides per 100,000 people. Using CONAPO’s revised estimate for Oquitoa’s population for 2014 (476 inhabitants),
the homicide rate in Oquitoa would be 210 homicides per 100,000 people. Those who have argued that the Peña Nieto
administration has deliberately manipulated government statistics to shed a more favorable light on the security situation,
might well conclude that the revision of CONAPO’s population figures was intended to have this effect.
18 Because some municipalities saw no change or data were not available, the authors compared and then averaged the
original and revised CONAPO-derived homicide rates for all municipalities.
17

16

Figure 11: Intentional Homicides by State, Comparing 2013 to 2014
México#
Guerrero#
Chihuahua#
Sinaloa#
Michoacán#
Jalisco#
Distrito#Federal#
Baja#California#
Guanajuato#
Oaxaca#
Tamaulipas#
Sonora#
Nuevo#León#
Veracruz#
Morelos#
Chiapas#

2014#

Coahuila#

2013#

Puebla#
Durango#
San#Luis#Potosí#
Quintana#Roo#
Tabasco#
Hidalgo#
Zacatecas#
Nayarit#
Querétaro#
Colima#
Baja#California#Sur#
Campeche#
Tlaxcala#
Yucatán#
Aguascalientes#
0#

500#

1000#

1500#

2000#

2500#

Source: SNSP.

In 2014, using the data available from SNSP on homicides illustrated in Figure 11, we see that the
states with the largest number of intentional homicides were México (1,994), Guerrero (1,514),
Chihuahua (1,086), Sinaloa (986), Michoacán (904), and Jalisco (900). Nearly all of these states (that
is, all except México) saw a decrease in the number of murders compared to the previous year.19
This is notable not only because the state of Mexico is now thrust into the position of having the
most homicides in the country, but because the other states that saw declines are widely considered
to have far more serious problems with crime and violence. Indeed, in 2014, Michoacán and
In fact, only nine Mexican states saw an increase in homicides in 2014: Aguascalientes (7.7%), Baja California Sur
(25%), Guanajuato (10.6%), Hidalgo (13.7%), México (3.2%), Oaxaca (19.4%), Tabasco (20.9%), Tamaulipas (13.2%),
and Yucatán (5.0%).
19

17

Guerrero were easily the two states that attracted the most attention for their security challenges.
The growth of organized-crime-style violence in the state of México also has political salience, given
that Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had been its governor. Nationwide, the largest decreases
in the number of homicides in 2014 were found in the states of Guerrero (-27.5%), Chihuahua (24.7%), Coahuila (-39.5%), Nuevo León (-31.8%), and Sinaloa (-18.4%). Meanwhile, the five
Mexican states exhibiting the largest numerical increases in homicide in 2014 were Oaxaca (19.4%),
Tamaulipas (13.2%), Guanajuato (10.6%), México (3.2%), and Tabasco (20.9%), according to SNSP.
2.%Distribution%of%OrganizedZCrimeZStyle%Homicides%
In 2014, the Mexican government did not report any data on the number of organized-crime-style
homicides that took place last year. Thus, the only data available for such homicides in 2014 are
those reported at the state level by independent sources, such as the Mexican newspaper Milenio,
which reported a total of 7,993 homicide cases that appeared to involve organized crime.20
According to these figures, almost half of organized-crime-style homicides were concentrated in the
top five states: Chihuahua (1,143), Guerrero (1,075), Sinaloa (747), México (623), and Michoacán
(594). In 2014, the states with the least organized-crime-style homicides remained mostly unchanged
from 2013: Aguascalientes (8), Campeche (7), Tlaxcala (6), Nayarit (4), and Yucatán (3).21 The
distribution of organized-crime-style homicides reported by Milenio is reflected in Figure 12 and the
year-over-year change is represented in Figure 13.

Figure 12: Organized-Crime-Style Homicide Map for 2014

Source: Milenio. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

In past years, the authors of this report have relied on Reforma’s tallies of organized-crime-style homicides. However,
ere we give preference to Milenio over Reforma because the latter has been less consistent in its monitoring of organizedcrime-style homicides and less forthcoming with its data than the former.
21 It is worth noting that in 2014 Nayarit saw a dramatic drop in from 53 to 4 organized crime style killings, taking the
place of Baja California Sur, which increased from 3 to 42.
20

18

Figure 13: Organized-Crime-Style Homicides by State, Comparing 2013 to 2014
Chihuahua##
Guerrero#
Sinaloa#
Michoacán#
Jalisco#
Estado#de#México##
Veracruz#
Sonora#
Tamaulipas#
Morelos#
Distrito#Federal##
Oaxaca#
Coahuila#
Baja#California#
Guanajuato##
Nuevo#León#
Durango##
Puebla#
San#Luis#Potosí#
Zacatecas#
Hidalgo#
Chiapas#
Tabasco#
Colima##
Quintana#Roo#
Querétaro#
Aguascalientes#
Campeche##
Tlaxcala#
Nayarit#
Yucatán#
Baja#California#S.#

2014#
2013#

0#

200#

400#

600#

800#

1000#

1200#

1400#

1600#

1800#

2000#

Source: Milenio.

The year-to-year comparison of organized-crime-style homicides tracked by Milenio shows in Figure
13 that organized-crime-style violence seems to have declined significantly in 2014, according to
available evidence. There were twice as many Mexican states (21) that saw an annual decrease in
organized-crime-style homicides compared to the number that saw an increase (10).22 Even more so
than in 2013, the total annual increase among states with rising organized-crime-style homicides in
2014 (823) was significantly offset by the total decrease in declining states (-3,045).
Thus, assuming that there was adequate publicly accessible information to reliably track and monitor
such killings, Milenio’s data lend credibility to official claims that there has been an overall decline in
homicide for 2014. However, if media coverage of homicides is biased or incomplete, this would
result in significant underreporting of organized-crime-style homicides nationwide or possibly in
certain regions where media coverage is more scarce (e.g., rural) or subject to manipulation. For
example, some critics of the Peña Nieto administration contend that there has been an effort by the
Mexican government to discourage media reporting on crime and violence, which could limit the
22

Yucatán was the only state that saw no change, with only three such killings in both 2013 and 2014.

19

availability of information through press releases and other sources that might inform the public
about organized-crime-style homicides.
With these caveats in mind, there was clearly a significant level of organized-crime-style violence in
2014. As in previous years, such violence was not randomly distributed but centered primarily in
major drug production and trafficking areas. In 2014, we also see that the states with the largest
number of organized-crime-style homicides were concentrated in Chihuahua (1,143), Guerrero
(1,075), Sinaloa (747), Michoacán (594), and Jalisco (518). In all of these states, drug violence
therefore appears to be a predominant factor explaining homicides, since organized-crime-style
homicides amount to at least half the number of homicides reported by SNSP for 2014.23
The five states that saw the largest numerical decrease in organized-crime-style homicides from 2013
to 2014 were Chihuahua (-651), Jalisco (-395), Nuevo León (-361), Coahuila (-292), and Sinaloa (268), for a combined total of 1,967. The five states that saw the largest percentage decreases in
organized-crime-style homicides from 2013 to 2014 were Nayarit (-92.5%), Zacatecas (-79.9%),
Nuevo León (-68.2%), Colima (-65.7%), and Quintana Roo (-63.6%).
The five states that saw the largest numerical increase in organized-crime-style homicides in 2014
were Veracruz (+230), Michoacán (+158), Sonora (+126), Guerrero (+114), and Oaxaca (+68), with
a combined total of 696. The five states that saw the largest percentage increases in organized-crimestyle homicides were Baja California Sur (+1,300%), Veracruz (+94.7%), Oaxaca (+44.2%), Sonora
(+39.5%), and Guanajuato (+36.4%).
3.%Significant%Decreases%in%Local%Centers%of%Violence%%
The decrease in violence in 2014 was also apparent in the data for the ten municipalities that
registered the highest number of homicides. From 2008 through 2011, as measured by the number
of homicides, the largest share of homicides was concentrated in the border metropolis of Ciudad
Juárez, but thereafter the number of homicides in that city declined significantly. In 2014, SNSP
statistics still placed Ciudad Juárez as the municipality with the fourth highest number of homicides,
though this number continued to decline by perhaps as much as 14% from the previous year (with
the caveat that Ciudad Juárez was one of many cases for which data were incomplete). Meanwhile,
the number of homicides also declined again in Acapulco, the city that has registered the most
homicides since 2012, from 883 to 590 homicides, a decrease of more than a third. (See Table 2).

In the case of Chihuahua, the number of organized-crime-style homicides estimated by Milenio actually exceeds SNSP’s
estimate for 2014, though this is likely due to the fact that SNSP’s data was still incomplete for Chihuahua when
downloaded for this analysis in February 2015.
23

20

Table 2: Total Number and Rate (Per 100K) of Overall Homicides by
Municipality, 2012-2014
#%
1%
2%
3%
4%
5%
6%
7%
8%
9%
10%

Name%
Acapulco##
Juarez#
Monterrey#
Culiacan#
Torreon#
Chihuahua#
Tijuana#
N.#Laredo#
Cuernavaca#
Ecatepec##

2012%
1,271#
850#
685#
471#
792#
587#
320#
544#
270#
533#

Rate%
184#
58#
61#
57#
126#
69#
18#
132#
73#
30#

Est.%Pop.%%

#

Name%

689,496#
1,476,025#
1,128,592#
825,709#
628,107#
846,861#
1,743,928#
410,653#
369,958#
1,759,650#

Acapulco##
#
Tijuana#
#
Culiacan#
#
Juarez#
#
Ecatepec##
# Monterrey#
# Chihuahua#
#
Torreon#
#
Zapopan#
#
Morelia#
#
for
2014 were

2013%
883#
492#
479#
453#
312#
266#
251#
238#
217#
209#

Rate%
129#
27#
58#
30#
18#
24#
29#
38#
16#
27#

Est.%Pop.%%
683,048#
1,795,949#
828,459#
1,497,806#
1,766,387#
1,124,610#
857,557#
633,928#
1,361,212#
760,718#

#

Name%

Acapulco##
#
Tijuana#
#
Culiacan#
#
Juarez*#
#
Ecatepec##
#
Chihuahua*#
#
Morelia*#
#
Leon#
#
Chilpancingo#
# Iztapalapa#(DF)#
# with an asterisk
municipalities

Source: SNSP and CONAPO. SNSP data
incomplete for
Iztapalapa is technically a delegation within the Federal District, not a municipality.

2014%
590#
462#
399#
389#
349#
184#
182#
166#
166#
160#

Rate%

(*). Also,

70#
27#
43#
28#
20#
20#
24#
11#
64#
9#

Est.%Pop.%%
837,271#
1,696,430#
928,801#
1,411,179#
1,743,268#
899,868#
762,431#
1,514,077#
260,365#
1,806,218#

It is also notable that nearly all of the ten most violent cities in Mexico experienced a decrease in the
number of homicides, with the only exception being Ecatepec de Morelos in the state of México.
Also, none of the top ten most violent municipalities came close to 1,000 homicides or had a
homicide rate greater than 100 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, which is a significant and positive
change from previous years. Amid these declining rates, three cities —Torreon, Monterrey, and
Zapopan—moved off the “top ten” list entirely in 2014. Again, unless they have been significantly
under-reported by SNSP, these figures show a significant shift in the number and rate of homicides
in Mexico.

D.%Victim%Characteristics%
The characteristics of victims of homicide in Mexico fit with some of the general patterns of
homicides around the world. Homicides are committed primarily by men and against men. Firearms,
especially high caliber weapons, are an important modus operandi for intentional homicide. However,
there are some aspects of homicide, and especially organized-crime-style homicides, that stand out,
particularly the extreme nature of the violence employed, the extent to which public officials and
journalists are often targeted, and the extent to which military and especially police have been
targeted. We discuss these issues in some detail below.
1.%General%Population%
The most obvious, but under-appreciated observation that can be made about homicide anywhere in
the world is that it is a predominantly male problem. This is certainly the case in Mexico. As noted
by José Merino and Jessica Zarkin in an article for Animal Político in December 2014, in terms of
homicide, there are effectively two Mexicos. Mexican men have a homicide rate of 33.5 per 100,000
people (on par with South Africa), while Mexican women have a homicide rate of 4.6 per 100,000
people (on par with the United States). When separated by age, however, the leading cause of death
for young men in Mexico hinges on economic status, since wealthy young men are more likely to die
of car accidents and those of modest means more likely to be murdered.
With regard to organized-crime-style homicides, as reported in last year’s report, using the Justice in
Mexico Memoria database, the authors have also found that the vast majority of victims—at least
75%—were identified as men, with just 9% of the victims identified as female (the remainder were
unidentified). Surprisingly, the average age of victims of organized-crime-style homicides is about 32
21

years, which appears to contradict widespread assumptions that organized crime violence involves
uneducated, unemployed, and disaffected youths. However, the authors also believe that the deaths
of older persons—especially those of government personnel—are more likely to be over-reported in
the media sources used to build the Memoria database, so these figures must be interpreted with
consideration of the biases inherent in information gleaned from media reports.
Meanwhile, of the more than 5,000 homicide cases identified in our sample, the age of the victim
was reported in nearly a third of all cases and averaged around 32 years. There were over 712 victims
(14.2%) whose corpses were accompanied by some kind of message (narco-message or narcomensaje).
Although not all of the messages’ contents were publicly released, many at least mentioned a specific
organized crime group: about 10% mentioned the Zetas or its members, about 3% mentioned the
La Familia Michoacán Organization or Knights Templar Organization or their members, and about
1% referred to the Sinaloa Cartel or its members. Also, based on the time of day deaths were
documented, a large proportion of organized-crime-style homicides (and the discovery of such
crimes) occurs during daylight hours, especially during the mornings, contrary to common
assumptions.
2.%Changing%Modes%of%Violence%%
As the sheer number of organized-crime-style homicides has declined since 2012, the nature of this
violence has also appeared to change. As the authors reported in 2014, there appears to be a
significant reduction in homicide cases involving the use of torture, narco-messages, and
decapitation. Unfortunately, in 2014 such details on organized-crime-style homicides were not
forthcoming from the Mexican daily newspaper Reforma, the primary source that the authors have
used to tally such information in previous years. While Reforma has a reputation as one of Mexico’s
most independent newspapers, its detailed monitoring of crime and violence has declined
considerably since the start of the Peña Nieto administration, consistent with other news media
organizations.
In light of the reduced availability of information from Reforma and other sources in recent years,
Justice in Mexico has worked with a network of researchers and volunteers to compile an original
dataset that includes more than 5,000 individual cases of organized-crime-style homicides that
occurred from 2006 through 2014, the authors analyzed a variety of victim characteristics and
circumstances surrounding these cases. Justice in Mexico’s Memoria database provides a useful
sample of the kind of violence perpetrated by OCGs. Of the available information for all years, for
example, firearms were used in over 2,800 cases (56%) and the authors found evidence of torture
was reported in 739 cases (14.7%). However, as noted above, reporting of such data is irregular and
often incomplete, so these are conservative estimates at best.
3.%Mayors%
Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset includes 75 mayors and former mayors killed from 2006 through
2014, many with the characteristics of organized-crime-style homicides.24 While the peak of violence
In last year’s report, the authors mistakenly noted that there were 70 mayors in the database, when there were actually
69.
24

22

in Mexico occurred during 2011, the year with the most killings of mayors was actually 2010, when
17 cases were reported. Despite the reduction of the total number of homicides in Mexico since
2011, there have been a total of 30 mayors killed. However, the rate of mayoral killings dropped in
half in 2014, with 6 mayors killed, compared 12 mayors in each of the two previous years. This was
the lowest number of mayors killed since 2007. Two of the mayors killed in 2014 were from the
state of Jalisco, and the others were from the states of México, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas.
In early 2015, a former mayor was murdered, and a PRD mayoral candidate named Aide Nava in
Ahuacuotzingo, Guerrero was also killed and beheaded.

Figure 14: Mayors & Ex-Mayors Killed in Mexico (January 2006-December
2014)
17

18
16
14

12

12

12
9

10

9
7

8

6

6
4
2

1

2

0
2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

Figure 15: Map of Mayors & Ex-Mayors Killed in Mexico (January 2006-March 2014)

23

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

4.%Journalists%
As reported in previous years, dozens of reporters and media workers have been killed or
disappeared in Mexico, making it one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists. The
various organizations tallying homicides involving reporters in Mexico use different criteria for
tallying and classifying this violence, since motives are often difficult to confirm. For example, one
of the most respected sources, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), focuses primarily on
cases where a murder was confirmed to have been committed in relation to the journalist’s
profession. From 1992 through 2014, CPJ reported that there were 32 confirmed cases, 41
unconfirmed cases, and four media-support workers killed in Mexico. Over 80% of those cases
involved reporters working the crime beat, a third involved reporters working on issues related to
corruption, and a fifth of those cases involved reporters working on issues related to politics.
In 2014, CPJ reported that there were 61 reporters murdered worldwide that matched their criteria,
with two confirmed cases and one unconfirmed case in Mexico. Based on CPJ’s tally, Mexico ranked
as the world’s tenth deadliest place for reporters and media workers in 2014.
•

•

•

The first of the two cases confirmed by CPJ was that of Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz, a
newspaper reporter for Notisur and Liberal del Sur. Jiménez de la Cruz was abducted at his
home (after dropping off his children at school) in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz on February 5,
and killed sometime prior to the discovery of his body on February 11, 2014, in a grave with
two others in Las Choapas, Veracruz. Jiménez reported on crime, and his body was found with
that of a union leader on whose kidnapping he had reported. Authorities investigating the case
alleged that his murder was the result of a personal dispute and not his reporting.25
The second case confirmed by CPJ was the August 11, 2014 murder of Octavio Rojas
Hernández, a reporter from the newspaper El Buen Tono, based in Córdoba, Veracruz. Rojas
Hernández was a crime reporter and was shot four times in front of his home, by an assailant
posing as a potential car buyer. Representatives of Rojas Hernández’s news organization
alleged that he was likely killed for reporting on the purported organized crime ties of the
director of the municipal police of Cosolapa to a gang of gas pipeline thieves. Fermín
Hernández Venegas, the police chief of Cosolapa was himself shot to death on the morning of
April 17, 2015.26
The third case, still unconfirmed by CPJ at the time of this report, was that of Jorge Torres
Palacios, from the Acapulco-based newspaper Dictamen and the local website Libertad Guerrero
Noticias, who was abducted from his home (without a demand for ransom) and killed
sometime in late May or early June in 2014. Torres Palacios’ decapitated body was found in an

“Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz,” Committee to Protect Journalists website. https://cpj.org/killed/2014/gregoriojimenez-de-la-cruz.php. Accessed April 20, 2015.
26 “Octavio Rojas Hernández,” Committee to Protect Journalists website; https://cpj.org/killed/2014/octavio-rojashernandez.php. Accessed on April 20, 2015. Jorge A. Pérez, Alfredo Valadez, and Rubicela Morelos, “Matan al director
de la policía municipal de Cosolapa, Oaxaca,” La Jornada, April 18, 2015.
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2015/04/18/estados/024n2est Accessed on April 20, 2015.
25

24

orchard. Prosecutors investigating the case noted the possible involvement of organized crime,
though Torres Palacios also wrote columns that were critical of local officials.27
CPJ’s criteria for identifying the murders of reporters and media workers are fairly conservative,
since they focus only on cases where there is a confirmed motive associated with the journalist’s
profession. The Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset includes cases of organized-crime-style homicides,
and includes cases of journalists who may have been killed for a variety of motives not limited to
their reporting. From 2000 to 2014, Justice in Mexico has identified 127 journalists and mediasupport workers who were murdered, with the vast majority of these deaths (98) occurring after
2006. This tally includes journalists and media-support workers employed with a recognized news
organization at the time of their deaths, as well as independent, free-lance, and former journalists
and media-support workers (Figure 16). In 2014, Justice in Mexico entered 17 such individuals into
the Memoria dataset.

Figure 16: Journalists and Media-Support Workers Killed in Mexico (January
2006-December 2014)
19

20

17

18
16

14

14

14
11

12
10

11
8

8
6
4
2

4

4

4
2

7

7

3

1

0
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset.

By this tally, 2014 was the second worst year on record for murders of reporters and media workers
in Mexico, which goes against the overall trend of reduced violence but substantiates ongoing
concerns about protections for journalists in Mexico. As noted last year, the organization Article 19
claimed that 2013 was the most dangerous on record for journalists in Mexico, when taking into
consideration other types of violence such as kidnappings, beatings, threats, and other types of
aggression. Data for 2014 were not available from Article 19, but the ongoing threats against
journalists in Mexico are well documented in its 2014 report entitled Disentir en Silencio.28

“Jorge Torres Palacios,” Committee to Protect Journalists website. https://cpj.org/killed/2014/jorge-torrespalacios.php Accessed April 20, 2015.
28 “Disentir en Silencio,” Informe 2013 by Article 19. http://www.articulo19.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014/03/Art19_Informe2013web.pdf Accessed on April 26, 2015.
27

25

Figure 17: Map of Journalists and Media-Support Workers Killed in Mexico
(January 2006-December 2014)

Source: Justice in Mexico Memoria dataset. Map generated by Theresa Firestine.

According to Justice in Mexico’s tally, on average, at least eight members of the media were killed
each year since 2000, and an average of 12 were killed in each full year of the Calderón
administration (counting 2007-2012) and in each full year of the Peña Nieto administration
(counting 2013 and 2014). In 2014, the reporters and media workers whose deaths were
documented by Justice in Mexico included: Octavio Atilano Román Tirado (El Sol newspaper),
Julián Bacasegua Castro (Nueva Prensa), Mario Alberto Crespo Ayón (Uno TV/Noroeste/Primera
Hora/Linea Directa), María Del Rosario “@Miut3” Fuentes Rubio (social media
journalist/#reynosafollow), Benjamin Galván Gómez (owner Última Hora/Primera Hora), Jesus
Antonio Gamboa Urias (Nueva Prensa), Adrián Gaona Belmonte (La Caliente), Miguel Angel Guzmán
Garduño (Vértice), Norberto Herrera Rodríguez (Canal 9), Gregorio Jiménez de la Cruz
(Notisur/Liberal del Sur/La Red), Raúl López Mendoza (Cambio de Michoacán), Ciro Felipe Palacios
García (photojournalist), Victor Pérez Pérez (Sucesos), Omar Reyes Fabian (Tiempo), Octavio Rojas
Hernández (El Buen Tono), Jorge Torres Palacios (El Dictamen, Libertad Guerrero), and Marién Valez
García (La Última Palabra).
5.%Police%and%Military%Personnel%
Over the last several years, hundreds of police officers and dozens of military personnel have been
killed in the line of duty in circumstances that appeared to involve organized crime. In recent years,
Reforma newspaper has been the only source that consistently tracks and reports these deaths.
However, in 2014, Reforma stopped reporting these figures. Using the Justice in Mexico Memoria
dataset, the authors have identified over 550 federal, state, and local law enforcement personnel and
60 military personnel that have been victims of OCG-style violence since 2006. This dataset
provides only a sample of cases and details that were not available in every case.

26

E.%Comparing%Administrations%
As noted last year, under Mexican presidents Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and Vicente Fox (20002006), the number of overall homicides documented by INEGI declined significantly. In total,
under Zedillo, INEGI documented 80,311 homicides, with an average of 13,385 people killed per
year, or more than 36 people per day, or roughly 1.5 per hour (Table 3).29 The average annual decline
in homicides over the course of the Zedillo administration was 6.2%. Under Fox, the number
documented by INEGI was 60,162 homicides, with an average of 10,027 people killed per year,
more than 27 people per day, or roughly 1.1 per hour, from 2001 to 2006. That represented an
average annual decline of 0.3% in homicides during the Fox administration.

Table 3: Estimated Homicides and OCG-style Homicides by Presidential
Administration
Source%

Zedillo%%
Fox%%
Calderón%
Peña%Nieto%
(1995Z2000)% (2001Z2006)% (2007Z2012)%
(2013)%

INEGI#Homicides#

80,311#

60,162#

121,669#

42,795#

SNSP#Homicides#

n.a.#

74,398#

122,533#

33,795#

CNDHLOCG#

n.a.#

8,901#

n.a#

n.a#

SNSPLOCG#

n.a.#

n.a.#

65,988#

n.a#

ReformaLOCG#

n.a.#

n.a.#

47,845#

13,563#

MilenioLOCG#

n.a.#

n.a.#

54,087#

17,599#

Note: Figures in red reflect the authors’ estimates and projections based on available data.

Under President Calderón (2006-2012), the number of intentional homicides annually increased
more than two and a half times from 10,452 in 2006 to 27,213 in 2011, according to INEGI figures.
INEGI’s data for 2012 shows that in the last full year of Calderón’s term there was a slight decline
in the total number of homicides to about 4% to 26,037. All told, throughout the Calderón
administration, INEGI reported 121,669 people killed, an average of over 20,000 people killed per
year, more than 55 per day, or just over two every hours.
Based on INEGI’s official figures from 2013 and the authors projections for 2014, it appears that
more than 40,000 people have been murdered over the course of the first two years of the Peña
Nieto administration. Because the homicide rate remains considerably higher than during the first
half of the previous administration, the annual average number of homicides under the Peña Nieto
administration remains about 5% higher than during the Calderón administration. Thus, despite the
declining rate of violence, there were still more than 59 homicides per day during the first two years
of the Peña Nieto administration. At least a third of these homicides (13,563 according to Reforma),
if not more than half (17,599 according to Milenio), took place under circumstances appearing to
involve organized crime.

Mexico’s six-year presidential terms are inaugurated on December 1, so the years presented here are missing data from
the first month in office and include data from one month after their term began.
29

27

V.%ANALYSIS%OF%DEVELOPMENTS%IN%2014%
As detailed in this report and in previous years, the security situation in Mexico has deteriorated
significantly according to a wide array of measures during the past decade. This report has, for the
second straight year, offered some optimism that the situation is improving, particularly as measured
by intentional homicides and those related to organized crime groups. However, there does remain
room for further improvement, particularly in areas of the country where the causes of public
insecurity are particularly deeply rooted. Enrique Peña Nieto, who completed the second full year of
his presidency in 2014, was able to claim some substantial victories in 2014 on the public security
front, but last year also provided him with challenges that could help define the president’s success
moving forward.

A.%CounterZDrug%Efforts%
When he entered office in December 2012, Enrique Peña Nieto promised a shift in public security
strategy away from the focus of the previous administration on dismantling Mexico’s powerful drug
cartels by going after their leadership structures, toward efforts that reduce the impacts of all crime –
organized and other – on the public. That said, the rate of capturing and killing cartel bosses has not
appeared to slow during the first two years of Peña Nieto’s presidency, with at least 12 high-ranking
cartel bosses captured or killed during that time. While significant in garnering public support as well
as support from the United States, from whom the Mexican government receives substantial
financial and institutional contributions, these disruptions to the power structure of these
organizations often appear to lead to increased instability resulting from infighting among splinter
organizations.
The biggest victory for Enrique Peña Nieto’s government in 2014 came in February with the arrest
of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Guzmán, who was the founder and leader of the Sinaloa cartel,
based in the state of the same name, was arrested in Mazatlán on February 22 in an operation led by
the Mexican Navy. U.S. agencies also collaborated in Guzmán’s arrest. El Chapo had been Mexico’s
most-wanted man, and his arrest left the future of the Sinaloa cartel in question, though most
experts expressed their belief that the organization – widely considered to be the most powerful and
professional of Mexico’s remaining criminal organizations – was structured and disciplined enough
to withstand the loss of its principle leader, as well as the face of the organization.
A year later, this appears to be the case. Evidence of the group’s relative stability may lie in the
absence of a flare-up in violence following El Chapo’s arrest, as happened following the arrests of
key Gulf Cartel leaders in Tamaulipas in early April, evident of a power vacuum and resulting
infighting. Left behind after the arrest of Guzmán is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, the organization’s
other co-founder, who has seen a number of close associates arrested during 2014, including his
own son in November. While El Chapo’s arrest was hailed on both sides of the border as the largest
blow to Mexican organized crime in many years, the overall structure of the cartel he allegedly
headed appears largely intact, its capabilities seemingly undiminished, and his own prospects for
extradition before 2018 almost nonexistent.
Further south, the Mexican government has continued to make headway in arresting and killing
leaders of the Knights Templar Organization in Michoacán, including Enrique “Kike” Plancarte

28

Solís and Nazario Moreno González, “El Chayo,” who were killed by Mexican armed forces in
separate shootouts in March. More recently, KTO’s leader, and the face of the organization,
Servando “La Tuta” Gómez Martínez, was arrested in late February. All told, at least seven principle
KTO leaders were arrested or killed in 2014, including Nazario “El Chayo” Moreno González, killed
in March. Moreno González previously led the La Familia Michoacana criminal organization, from
which the KTO split in 2010. He had long been one of Mexico’s most-wanted criminals, and created
headaches for the federal government when he was falsely reported killed in 2010 despite the
popular consensus in Michoacán that he remained alive and in control of his operations.
The Mexican government also continues to capture top leaders of the Zetas criminal organization in
the northern border states of Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, most recently with the arrest of that
group’s newest alleged leader, Omar Trevino Morales, “Z-42,” near Monterrey, Nuevo León, in
early March of this year. Trevino Morales had been recognized as the leader of the Zetas since 2013,
when his brother Miguel Ángel Trevino Morales, “Z-40” was arrested. It is still to early to gauge
what effects these high-level arrests will have moving forward, as lower-ranking members of the
organizations presumably move to fill power vacuums, while rival cartels potentially eye these
disruptions as opportunities to expand their own operations. The northern states of Tamaulipas and
Nuevo León, where the Zetas as well as the rival Gulf Cartel have their strongest presence, have
been the site of multiple federal police and military deployments. As detailed in the report “Plan
Tamaulipas: A New Security Strategy for a Troubled State,” high-impact crimes such as kidnappings
and extortions have spiked there in recent years, particularly in Tamaulipas, which has the highest
kidnapping rate in the country (2.5 reported per 100,000 citizens, compared with 0.4 per 100,000
national average).30 As in other hot spots in Mexico, these crimes appear to stem from the
splintering in criminal organizations resulting from the continued elimination of cartel bosses. These
splinter groups, who often fight among each other for dominance, often turn to kidnapping and
extorting local populations due to the cost and operational capacity required for large-scale drug
trafficking operations. In recent years this has occurred not only in areas controlled by the Zetas, but
also disconcertingly areas controlled by factions of the Gulf Cartel.31

B.%Public%Security%Crisis%and%SelfZDefense%Forces%in%Michoacán%%%
Michoacán remained one of the predominant public security stories in 2014, beginning in January
with the federal government’s announcement that it would “institutionalize” the state’s myriad selfdefense groups (grupos de autodefensa) that had emerged to counter the criminal activities of the
Knights Templar organization (KTO), particularly extortion of local businesses and infiltration into
the state’s agricultural industry, upon which large swaths of the population depend, and from which
the first autodefensas emerged. From their emergence in early 2013 the autodefensas spread with little to
no resistance from state and federal security forces until January 2014 when the Federal Police and
Mexican armed forces were deployed to the state to restore order there.
On January 27, Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced that the federal
government and self-defense groups in Michoacán had agreed on a pact by which the groups would
be absorbed into the state security apparatus, to form what were termed “Rural Defense Corps” that
would operate under the authority of the Mexican Army, and the Rural State Police, which is
30
31

“Plan Tamaulipas: A New Security Strategy for a Troubled State.”
Ibid.

29

intended to replace the state’s municipal police forces, and operates under the authority of the
Michoacán state police. The eight-point document, signed by several self-defense leaders, specified
that the corps would be temporary, and that they would be required to provide the federal
government with a registry of all of their members, and to register all of their weapons. The
following month, Peña Nieto announced a $3.4 billion development program for the state, closely
resembling a similar program implemented in Ciudad Juárez at the peak of that city’s bout with
organized crime violence. In the case of Michoacán, though, rebuilding the social fabric may prove
even more difficult than in the case of Juárez, since despite the relatively lower levels of violence,
criminal organizations have penetrated deeper into the state’s economy, as became clear the same
month, when self-defense group spokesman Estanislao Beltrán made it known that the autodefensas
were receiving financing from the state’s mining industry, which the KTO, as well as its predecessor,
La Familia Michoacana, had widely infiltrated and extorted.
The transition from vigilante self-defense groups to state-sponsored rural security forces has not
been an altogether smooth process, however, underscored by conflicts between autodefensas turned
rural defense groups. Hipólito Mora, the founder of the autodefensa in the La Ruana community in
the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán and currently a commander for the Rural Defense Corps,
was indicted January 3 along with 26 others in connection with the deaths of 11 in a December 16
firefight in which his son was killed. Mora claims that his group came under attack from the group
led by Luis Antonio Torres, “El Americano,” also a rural police commander. There is a longstanding conflict between the two men, originating during their time with the self-defense groups.
Moreover, public support has waned for self-defense groups since a year ago, as evidenced by a
public perceptions survey conducted by Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia and Consulta
Mitofsky in which 32% of respondents expressed approval of the groups, as compared with 43% in
2014.32
Meanwhile, in Michoacán, which has been another focal point for public security efforts given the
rise of the Knights Templar criminal organization and the resulting emergence of self-defense
organizations there since early 2013, the government appointed public security commissioner,
Alfredo Castillo, has left his position a year his installation by the federal government to coordinate
security operations there. Castillo has been replaced by Mexican Army General Pedro Felipe Gurrola
Ramírez. The move was announced by Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, and was made
in order to shift the focus to the state’s elections, coming up in June. Castillo’s success as
Michoacan’s public security commissioner is under debate, with some crediting him with bringing
the chaotic situation involving the Knights Templar criminal organization and the self-defense
groups (grupos de autodefensa) that emerged to counter it somewhat under control, while others
maintain that the underlying problems persist. Speaking with El Universal, several security experts
weighed in on the matter, generally agreeing that Castillo’s tenure saw an improvement of the overall
security situation in Michoacán, but was not successful in bringing the self-defense groups under
control. Castillo undertook a campaign beginning early in 2014 to institutionalize the autodefensas,
folding them into the state’s security apparatus as part of the Rural Defense Corps. Gerardo
Rodríguez, a professor of national security and terrorism and member of the Analysis Collective of
Security with Democracy (Colectivo de Análisis de la Seguridad con Democracia, Casede), gives
Castillo credit for exposing ties between organized crime and public officials, but said that was the
extent of his success, given that he was unable “to articulate a State strategy for fighting a low
“Posicionamiento MUCD XIV Encuesta Nacional Sobre Percepción de Inseguridad Ciudadana en México.” Mexico
Unido Contra la Delincuencia and Consulta Mitofsky. March 10, 2015.
32

30

intensity war,” adding that he also failed to establish meaningful cooperation with local officials.
Jorge Chabat, researcher at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (Centro de
Investigación y Docencia Económicas, CIDE), recognized that since Castillo’s instatement a year
ago, there have been advancements in the form of fewer criminal groups operating in the open, but
that such groups still have not been eliminated entirely. Sergio Bárcena Juárez, a professor in the
judicial and social studies department at Tecnológico Monterrey, said that Castillo “never was able to
achieve a sustained and stable treaty, first between the autodefensas and [criminal groups], and later
between the autodefensas and the government was very erratic.” Now that many members of the
former autodefensas have been incorporated into the Rural Police force in Michoacán, Castillo
announced in early January that it would be disbanded for the eventual creation of the Citizens’
Force (Fuerza Ciudadana), which will be Michoacán’s answer to President Peña Nieto’s call for 32
unified police forces to replace the inconsistent and often corrupt municipal police forces in each
Mexican state and the Federal District.
Bárcena Juárez also criticized Castillo for not recognizing the danger of new groups emerging, such
as the Viagras. There have been reports recently that the Viagras, a criminal group that, like the
predecessors to the Knights Templar, La Familia Michoacana, espouse social goals as their primary
motivator, have been eyeing the weakening of the KTO as an opportunity for expanding their own
operations. The widest reports have been of the Viagras making their presence known in
Apatzingán, the economic center of Michoacán’s troubled Tierra Caliente region, and the former
stronghold of the KTO, from which the Viagras are believed to have emerged as a splinter
organization. Javier Cortés, general vicar of the Apatzingán diocese, told AFP that the Viagras are
quietly waiting for missteps from the government to use to their benefit. Raúl Benítez Manaut, a
public security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional
Autónoma de México, UNAM), said that the Viagras “are taking advantage of their connections
with paramilitary groups; there is fertile ground for them to be the next bosses of Michoacán.” Jaime
Rivera from the Michoacan University (Universidad Michoacana), said that although they do not
currently have great operational capacity, they are the strongest armed group to emerge from the
downfall of the KTO, and “could represent a new challenge for the State.” An armed confrontation
between Federal Police and former members of the Rural Forces on January 6 resulting in 44 arrests
and nine dead raised concerns that the Viagras had infiltrated that organization. An intelligence
report published in Milenio revealed that the former Rural Forces members, who had taken over the
Apatzingán municipal building, were under the command of the Viagras. Alfredo Castillo, before
leaving his post as public security commissioner, insisted that there was no credible evidence that
any members of organized crime had managed to enter into the Rural Forces.
As detailed by the authors in the report “Citizen Security in Michoacán,” released earlier this year,
the federal government will have to carefully implement its five point Plan Michoacán, conducting
and presenting regular evaluation and assessment of the outcomes of its programs using precise,
program-specific performance metrics in order to address the roots of organized crime in the state
and its effects on the population.33 Moreover, as in other parts of Mexico, domestic drug
consumption has increased and become a greater threat to public security. As such, federal
government efforts and international aid should focus greater resources and effort on preventing
and treating drug consumption in Michoacán as part of their initiatives to stamp out the roots of
Kimberly Heinle, Cory Molzahn, and David A. Shirk, “Citizen Security in Michoacán,” Mexico Institute and Justice in
Mexico Briefing Paper Series on Building Resilient Communities in Mexico: Civic Responses to Organized Crime. Washington,
D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; University of San Diego, January 20, 2015.
33

31

organized crime. The increased pressure on the state’s judicial apparatus underscores the importance
of Michoacán ensuring that the operators of its criminal justice system – particularly prosecutors,
public defenders, and court personnel – be adequately trained and prepared for the transition to the
new justice system, mandated to be implemented nationwide in 2016. Finally, while the federal
government’s appointment of a public security commissioner in Michoacán does appear to have
provided some needed stability to a rapidly deteriorating situation, the intervention runs the risk of
unwittingly stifling civic engagement. As such, the federal government’s liaison should work intently
to create spaces and regular opportunities for dialogue and collaboration among citizens and civic
organizations, and should particularly empower the state and local citizen security counsels to
provide consistent communications and constructive feedback on the progress of security measures.

C.%The%Next%Generation:%Jalisco’s%New%Cartel%%
The above noted events in 2014 also contributed in a number of changes in the landscape of
Mexican organized crime, as some organized crime groups gained strength even as others faltered.
For example, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG)—in contrast with other groups like
the embattled Gulf Cartel, Knights Templar, and Zetas—grew significantly in power and scope over
the course of 2014. In response to a recent information request, the PGR revealed in April 2015 that
the CJNG is currently operating in its home state of Jalisco, along with Colima, Michoacán,
Guanajuato, Nayarit, Guerrero, Morelos, Veracruz and the Federal District.34 The group gained
national attention five years ago, but has spread rapidly over the past year in part due to the
weakening of other groups in the region such as the Knights Templar in Michoacán and, according
to Alejandro Hope, security director of the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (Instituto
Mexicano para la Competitividad, Imco), relative complicity on the part of the Mexican government
since its formation in 2010.
The CJNG, led by Nemesio Osegera Cervantes, “El Mencho,” formed in 2010 after the death of
Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, who had been the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel in Jalisco, which left a
power vacuum in the region that several criminal groups scrambled to fill. The group emerged as the
predominant force in Jalisco thanks in large part to its ties with the Milenio Cartel, the organization
that dominated Michoacán prior to the rise of the La Familia Organization and the Knights
Templar, which effectively took over that state in the 1990s and early 2000s. The CJNG struck off
on its own and has had held a strong presence in neighboring Michoacán since 2000.35 According to
Jesús Pérez Caballero, an expert on organized crime, drug trafficking and criminal justice in Latin
America, the CJNG continues to rely heavily on structures put in place by the Milenio Cartel, which
today has been largely dismantled.36 Pérez Caballero adds that Jalisco’s capital Guadalajara is
attractive to organized crime groups due to its strategic location as a transshipment point, and has
played host to several criminal organizations in the past, including the now-defunct Guadalajara
cartel, as well as the Sinaloa and Milenio cartels. The city has ample local know-how and
infrastructure to facilitate drug trafficking, money laundering, and other criminal operations that may
make the CJNG an increasingly important player in Mexico’s underworld in the coming years.

Mosso, Rubén. “Invade cártel de Jalisco ocho estados y el DF.” Milenio. April 20, 2015.
Jesús Pérez Caballero. “CJNG: Cómo adaptarse con éxito a la ‘guerra al narcotráfico’ en México.” Insight Crime. Oct.
14, 2014.
36 ibid.
34
35

32

As was the case with the now greatly weakened La Familia Michoacana, the CJNG emerged with the
expressed purpose of countering the presence of the Zetas criminal organization in its home state,
branding itself the mata-zetas, or “Zeta killers.” Since establishing dominance in the region, however,
the CJNG has taken an oppositional stance to the Mexican government there, similar to La Familia’s
open conflict with the Federal Police in Michoacán in 2009-2010. The CJNG has targeted security
forces in several attacks in 2015, most notably in an ambush of Jalisco state police (Fuerza Única)
agents in early April that left 15 officers dead. The same day another presumed cell of the CJNG
killed the municipal police director of Zacoalco de Torres, leaving a sign on his body threatening
future attacks against authorities. An ambush on March 19, 2015 in the Ocotlán municipality left
five members of Mexico’s National Gendarmerie dead. In all, 21 killings of police officers were
attributed to the CJNG over a 20-day period between March 19 and April 7, 2015. The April attack
against the unified police led some security experts to argue that the ambush exposed weaknesses in
the state’s relatively nascent police force. Security analyst Gerardo Rodríguez Sánchez-Lara warned
that the attack should alert authorities that the cartel is attempting, or has possibly achieved,
infiltration into the state’s security apparatus, as well as ties with local authorities, as has been seen in
the nearby Pacific states Michoacán and Guerrero.37
In addition to its open challenge against Mexican security forces, the CJNG has also recently made
its presence known in the state of Michoacán, battling both the Knights Templar organization there
as well as self-defense forces. This is likely in a push to insert its influence in Lázaro Cardenas,
Michoacán, which houses Mexico’s second busiest port by volume (recently reclaimed by Mexican
security forces), and thus a valuable resource for moving shipments of drugs and precursor materials
for the production of methamphetamines, the group’s principle activity.
Authorities have made some high-profile arrests of CJNG members, notably of Rubén Oseguera
González, “El Menchito,” son of the group’s leader, in January 2014 and of Abigael González
Valencia, “El Cuini,” arrested in February and alleged to have been the group’s head of finances.
These arrests, however, have not appeared to slow the group’s expansion. Moreover, a federal
district court judge ordered El Menchito to be released from prison in January of this year on the
grounds that there was insufficient evidence against him. Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes is now
considered to be a primary objective of both the U.S. and Mexican governments, and his
organization is widely regarded as one of the biggest current threats posed to public security in
Mexico.

37

Monroy, Jorge. “En cinco años, nuevo cártel se empoderó sin algún freno.” El Economista. April 13, 2015.

33

D.%The%Continued%Problem%of%
Official%Corruption%and%Human%
Rights%Abuses%
Mexico’s problem with disappearances
continues to play a role into 2015, and
is keeping Mexico in the international
spotlight, particularly with the ongoing
crisis in Iguala, Guerrero (See Textbox:
“The Ayotzinapa Massacre”). The case
of Iguala also brought to the forefront
of public attention the problem of
political corruption in Mexico,
particularly at the municipal level.
Many security experts point to official
corruption as one of the foundational
causes of Mexico’s public security
challenges, and the scale of corruption
evident through increased scrutiny on
Guerrero and Michoacán in recent
months reveals a significant challenge
for the federal government moving
forward.
In Guerrero, the federal government
pronounced that public security
operations within 13 municipalities had
been controlled by organized crime,
prompting its intervention. Tomás
Zerón de Lucio, head of the Criminal
Investigation Agency of Mexico’s
Attorney General’s Office
(Procuraduría General de la República,
PGR), said that the leadership of
municipal police forces had also been
handpicked by local criminal
organizations to work on behalf of
their interests. According to Zerón de
Lucio, these groups decided which
operations would be carried out and
when, and that the only distinction
between criminals and police was their
official designation. As a result, the
federal government took over security
functions in those municipalities
beginning October 20 of last year. As
reported by the organization Mexico

The Ayotzinapa Student Massacre
The most reviled case of official corruption in 2014 was the
case of local authorities in Iguala, a small inland town in the state
of Guerrero. On September 26, 2014, dozens of student
protestors and innocent civilians came under fire and were
assaulted by police, and dozens were taken into custody. Fortythree students from a rural teacher’s college based in the nearby
town of Ayotzinapa who were taken into custody were never
seen again, and quickly became known as the “Ayotzinapa 43.”
Details gradually emerged suggesting that Iguala mayor José
Luis Abarca Velázquez and his wife, María de los Ángeles
Pineda Villa, were angered by the students’ protests and allegedly
ordered municipal police to “teach them a lesson.” Shortly after
the students were detained turned over to a local organized
crime group known as the Guerreros Unidos, Mayor Abarca and
his wife went into hiding and were only found weeks later. It
took the federal government until January 2015 to confirm that
the students were actually dead and, while authorities searched,
they unearthed dozens of other victims whose bodies had been
buried in and around Iguala in recent years, suggesting that such
disappearances—perhaps with similar government complicity—
were a serious problem.
The entire process was devastating for the families of the
victims and outrageous to the public at large, who decried the
complicity or ineptitude of government officials at all levels.
Marches, public demonstrations, and even acts of violence took
place around the country, including an assault on the state
capitol in Chilpancingo, which was subsequently set ablaze by
Molotov cocktails. Even though the immediate blame for the
massacre was placed squarely on Iguala’s local authorities, the
state’s governor stepped down in disgrace within weeks of the
incident and, even though federal authorities ultimately captured
the fugitive mayor, his wife, and other perpetrators of the
massacre (including both officials and members of the
Guerreros Unidos) many also severely criticized the Peña Nieto
administration for failing to respond quickly and effectively to
the crisis.
Indeed, while many Mexicans were outraged by an
exasperated off-hand remark by Attorney General Jesús Murillo
Karam, who ended a press conference with the unfortunate
phrase, “Enough, I’m tired” (Ya me cansé), which caught on as a
social media slogan for millions of Mexicans fed up by the
evident insensitivity and ineptitude of government officials. In
public protests and social media, some even adopted the more
critical view that the Iguala massacre should be considered an act
of state (“fue un acto de estado”), and called for the resignation
of Peña Nieto himself.
From Emily Edmonds-Poli & David A. Shirk, Contemporary Mexican
Politics, 3rd Edition, (Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield,
forthcoming).

34

United Against Crime and Consulta Mitofsky, the tragic incident in Iguala had a nationwide impact
on public perceptions of security in their country, with public distrust in local police and a fear of
becoming a victim of kidnapping or robbery remaining relatively flat from last year, despite declines
in both categories from 2013.38
Fallout from the federal government’s takeover of public security functions in Michoacán has
included the arrests of several political figures accused of having ties with organized crime, including
several mayors as well as the son of former Governor Fausto Vallejo. Michoacán’s former secretary
general and interim governor, José Jesús Reyna García, was formally arrested for alleged links to
organized crime on May 7 on orders from a federal judge. Reyna, a member of the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), was removed from his role as
secretary general in early April after Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduria General de la
Republica, PGR) found possible connections with the Knights Templar Organization (Caballeros
Templarios, KTO). Reyna was indicted the following month.
There was also a spate of arrests of Michoacán mayors, largely from the troubled Tierra Caliente
region. These include Uriel Chávez of the Apatzingán municipality, Jesús Cruz Valencia (Aguililla),
Dalia Santana Pineda (Huetamo), Salma Karru, (Pátzcuaro), all from the Institutional Revolutionary
Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI); and Arqímides Oseguera (Lázaro Cárdenas) and
José Luis Madrigal Figueroa (Numarán) from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la
Revolución Democrática, PRD). Also under indictment for suspected ties to the KTO is Rodrigo
Vallejo, who appeared in a video with KTO leader Servando Gómez, “La Tuta.” Rodrigo Vallejo is
the son of former Michoacán Governor Fausto Vallejo, who resigned from his position in June as
the allegations against his son surfaced, though he cited health reasons.
Finally, eight members of a Mexican Army battalion were apprehended for their involvement in the
extrajudicial killing of 22 suspected members of organized crime—21 men and one female minor—
in the Tlatlaya municipality of the State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex) near the border
with Guerrero on June 30, 2014. According to the CNDH, 15 of the 22 individuals killed were shot
by soldiers despite having surrendered. In one of his last statements as CNDH president, Raúl
Plascencia Villanueva affirmed that after repelling an armed attack by the alleged criminals, the
soldiers entered the warehouse where the incident occurred and in an “arbitrary, disproportional,
unnecessary action detached from the system of human rights” shot dead 12 individuals who had
either surrendered or were wounded (including the young female named Erika Gómez González,
who had been shot in the leg and was then reportedly killed execution style).39 Regarding the other
three victims, the CNDH said that it was not possible to determine whether their wounds resulted
from an exchange of gunfire or whether they were executed, because their bodies were moved from
their original locations. The fact that they had been tampered with, presumably to give the
appearance that they had had been wounded while engaged in an exchange of gunfire, was sufficient
“Décima cuarta encuesta nacional sobre percepción de inseguridad ciudadana en México.” México Unido Contra la
Delincuencia.” Accessed March 28, 2015.
39 Julia described soldiers turning over the injured Erika Gómez and shooting her in the chest before turning her back
over and placing a rifle next to her body, as appeared to be the case for other bodies at the scene, giving the appearance
that they were armed when they were shot and killed. Following the incident in Tlatlaya, Julia said that she was in PGR
custody for a week, where she was approached by members of the PGJEM, the Mexican Navy (Marina), and the PGR’s
organized crime division coerced her into stating that the people who had died were criminals. She also said that she was
made to sign a number of documents, but was not given copies of any of them. Finally, she added, she received no food
during the first three days, and that she was photographed along with weapons seized in the warehouse.
38

35

for the CNDH to conclude that they were killed extra-judicially. SEDENA’s official account of the
incident maintained that all of the 22 dead were killed while engaged in an armed confrontation with
the soldiers, but a survivor of the incident—a young woman using the pseudonym “Julia”—claimed
in an interview that the soldiers killed the surviving gunmen in execution-style killings after they had
been disarmed, and moved bodies and planted weapons in order to make it appear as though they
had died while engaged in a shootout. According to the woman, only one of the gunmen died as a
result of the confrontation.
The soldiers were charged with violating military code, and were taken into the custody of the
Mexican military’s legal authority (Procuraduría General de Justicia Militar). One of the detainees, a
lieutenant, also faced charges of insubordination (desobediencia e infracción de deberes). According
to Mexico’s National Defense Ministry (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA), these pending
charges were “independent of the investigations being carried out by civil authorities,” namely
Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR). The eight soldiers
were held in a military prison facility. If eye witness accounts are verified, this would represent the
worst massacre carried out by the Mexican armed forces since President Enrique Peña Nieto took
office in December 2012.
Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong has maintained that should this be the case, it would
be “an isolated action and not the general behavior of the Army and Navy.” José Miguel Vivanco,
however, stresses that the massacre is just one side of the problem, and that it is now the “cover-up”
that needs to be investigated thoroughly to discover any official—military or civilian—who helped
in hiding the true events from the public. Moreover, the case will prove to be the first high-profile
challenge for recent changes to Mexico’s justice system allowing personnel of the armed forces
accused of committing abuses against civilians to be tried in civilian courts. Javier Oliva, security
expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de
México, UNAM), said that the event underscores the risks of an overdependence on the armed
forces to perform security functions for which local authorities no longer take responsibility.

E.%Increased%Scrutiny%on%Disappearances%in%Mexico%
One consideration that cannot be ignored when evaluating homicides committed in Mexico is the
number of disappeared, underscored by the continued discovery of clandestine graves in a number
of states throughout Mexico. As noted below in the text box on “Recent Data on Disappearances in
Mexico,” 2014 was the year with the highest number of disappearances on record, due partly to
increased monitoring by the country’s new National Registry for Missing or Disappeared Persons.
This problem of disappearances has come to the forefront in recent years amid accusations that the
Mexican government has not properly investigated cases of homicide. The issue was especially a
concern during the search for the 43 missing teacher trainees in Guerrero in September and
October, when dozens of human remains were discovered in unmarked graves. At the time of this
report, only one of the students has been positively identified among many charred remains found
scattered in a riverbed close to where the students disappeared.

36

One possible explanation for an apparent increase
in disappearances is that criminal organizations, no
longer as extensively involved in open, armed
conflict with one another, now tend more towards
concealing the remains of their victims, in contrast
with the peak of cartel violence in 2011-2012 when
bodies were regularly displayed in public, often
mutilated and displaying “narco-messages”
directed toward rival groups. It is well-documented
that criminal organizations – particularly in the
southern-more states, have diversified their
activities to include kidnappings for ransom,
extortion, and infiltration into local economies, as
was seen with the Knights Templar Organization
and their intrusion into Michoacán’s lime and
mining industries.
With this increased contact between criminal
organizations and the general public it is likely that
the groups would wish to keep a lower profile, as
activities such as extortion would only be hindered
by increased attention of the authorities.
Moreover, while it appears that organized crimerelated homicides are reduced as the groups
increasingly engage in other criminal activities such
as extortion, at the same time the general
population where the groups operate find
themselves directly impacted by these activities.
While down somewhat in 2014, levels of extortion
are up significantly since 2006, as are incidences of
kidnapping, particularly in hot spots such as
Tamaulipas, as mentioned earlier.

Recent Data on Disappearances in Mexico
Mexico saw a record number of disappearances
and missing persons in 2014, according the
National Registry of Missing or Disappeared
Persons (Registro Nacional de Personas
Extraviadas o Desaparecidas, RNPED).
• According to Animal Politico, in the first ten
months of the year, Mexico recorded 4,836
cases of people who could “not be found’
(“no localizadas”). From 2007 through
October 2014, there were 22,610
disappearances, plus another 995 cases from
prior to 2007, for a total of 23,605 missing or
disappeared persons. 40% of these cases were
recorded during the Peña Nieto
administration.
• At the state level, Tamaulipas registered the
most disappearances, with 5,380 cases
through October 2014, 30% of which were
recorded during the Peña Nieto
administration. Jalisco had the next most with
2,150 cases, 49% during the Peña Nieto
administration.
• México state (Edomex) had the third most
disappearances, with 1,745, with more than
half reported since December 2012. Coahuila,
Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Baja California, Nuevo
León, Guanajuato, and Michoacán rounded
out the remaining top ten states, respectively.
Moving into 2015, according to the most
recent official data released on
disappearances, reported by the Attorney
General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la
República, PGR) on January 19 of this year,
the number of disappeared has increased to
23,271 since October. The PGR’s Search Unit
is actively searching for 621 of those, just
2.7%.

Whatever the contributing factors, despite efforts
to monitor disappearances more carefully, the
Mexican government has struggled to provide
consistent and reliable figures. The RNPED
Adapted from Chris Issel: “2014 Tallies Most
figures reported in the textbox on “Data on
Disappearances on Record in Mexican History,”
Disappearances” were revised by the government
available online: https://justiceinmexico.org/2014multiple times in 2014. In May 2014, the Mexican
tallies-most-disappearances-on-record-in-mexicanInterior ministry announced that there were 8,000
history/
disappearances in Mexico. In June 2014, Interior
Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong clarified that there were 16,000 missing persons. In August
2014, Mexico’s Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB) reported that there were
more than 22,000 missing persons, of which more than 12,500 occurred under the Calderón
administration (2006-2012) and more than 9,500 occurred since the start of the Peña Nieto
administration.

37

F.%Analyzing%Peña%Nieto’s%Second%Full%Year%in%Office%
As illustrated elsewhere in this report, the Peña Nieto administration, relying on data provided by
offices of the attorneys general of Mexico’s 31 states and the Federal District, asserts that 2014
brought a second consecutive year of declining homicides, as well as marked reductions in other
crimes associated with organized crime, such as kidnapping and extortion. Nevertheless, there
remains some uncertainty as to the veracity of the administration’s strategy and its effectiveness in
decreasing crime’s impact on Mexican society.
When Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional,
PRI), was elected in 2012, it was widely seen as a rebuke of the previous 12 years governed by the
National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN), and in particular the six-year term of
Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), which oversaw the most violent period in Mexico in recent memory,
resulting from Calderón’s military-led campaign against Mexico’s powerful drug cartels. In turn,
Peña Nieto promised a fundamental shift in public security strategy, which would focus on reducing
the impact of all crime on the population while professionalizing the nation’s police forces. The
Peña Nieto administration also made efforts to shift focus away from public security and towards
economic development, particularly through the controversial move to open Mexico’s state-run oil
company Pemex to private investment.
Nevertheless, Peña Nieto has not been able to escape having to address the continued impacts of
organized crime on Mexican society, and received particularly harsh domestic and international
criticism for his slow reaction to the disappearance of 43 teacher trainees from Iguala, Guerrero in
September. It is also evident from a number of recent surveys that there remains a high level of
distrust of authorities in Mexico, which Moreover, a public perception survey conducted by
Consulta Mitofsky and Mexico United Against Crime (México Unido Contra la Delincuencia,
MUCD) released in March of this year found that despite the 5.4% decrease in overall crime from
2013 and 2014 according to the SESNSP, the number of victims of crime increased from 24.5% to
30.8% during the same period.40 This contradiction in progress–or the lack thereof–from 2013 to
2014 points to the possibility of an increase in crimes going either unreported or uninvestigated, the
so-called “cifra negra.” MUCD and Consulta Mitofsky estimate the cifra negra in Mexico at 93.8% of
all crimes committed, having been on the rise in recent years. The study attributes seven out of 10 of
these unreported crimes to reasons associated with a distrust of authorities on the part of Mexican
citizens. José Luis Chicoma, Dalia Toledo and Liliana Alvarado, security experts from the Ethos
Laboratory of Public Policy (Laboratorio de Políticas Públicas Ethos), estimate the cifra negra at 93%,
up from 88% in 2008.41 Moreover, according to Chicoma, just 5% of reported crimes result in a
conviction.
These conclusions are consistent with findings from the “Criminal Traffic Light Survey” (Encuesta
Semáforo Delictivo), a citizen-led effort to gauge advancements and setbacks at local, state, and
federal levels in the public security situation in Mexico. Semáforo Delictivo found that 96% of
respondents feel that corruption among authorities is the primary cause of insecurity in Mexico,
followed by ineffectiveness of authorities (89%), and a lack of transparency (79%). By comparison,
69% felt that street-level drug dealing and a lack of opportunities for youth were significant causes
“Posicionamiento MUCD XIV Encuesta Nacional Sobre Percepción de Inseguridad Ciudadana en México.” Mexico
Unido Contra la Delincuencia and Consulta Mitofsky. March 10, 2015.
41 Monroy, Jorge. “Encaran a Osorio: no bajaron los delitos, creció la impunidad.” El Economista. Feb. 25, 2015.
40

38

for insecurity, and 59% felt the same about a lack of interest on the part of citizens.42 Meanwhile,
according to the same study 74% of respondents felt that the security situation had worsened over
the past year, while just 5% felt that it had improved.
Upon entering office in December 2012, Peña Nieto began the creation of a National Gendarmerie
(Gendarmería Nacional), a key component in his proposed crime strategy during his 2012 campaign.
The initial proposal of 40,000 agents was drastically scaled back in 2013, and the agency’s launch was
pushed back to July 2014, though agents were first deployed to five states (Baja California, Chiapas,
Guanajuato, Jalisco and Tamaulipas) in September. While the stated mission for the agency was, in
the words of the president, to “contribute to the protection of Mexicans, their goods and sources of
employment when these are being threatened by crime,” and to “strengthen the local public safety
institutions, safeguard production cycles in cities and states where this is required,” the agency’s role
remains largely undefined.43
Following the dismantling of once-powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, smaller
splinter groups have turned to extorting local businesses for income, raising the need to lend
support to local police forces. Three security experts speaking with El Universal in November – Jorge
Chabat, Javier Oliva and Ernesto López Portillo – agree that the Gendarmerie by and large is not
adhering to the legal framework under which it was created.44 Chabat pointed to the case of Iguala,
where the agency was deployed to assume, rather than bolster, public security functions. Agents
were also deployed to Michoacán to address the activities of the Knights Templar organization
there, as well as assist in the search for KTO leader Servando Gómez Martínez. Chabat, Oliva and
López Portillo agreed that the only function they have undertaken that is in strict adherence to their
legal framework was the assistance they provided to residents of Los Cabos, Baja California after the
passing of hurricane Odile in September.
At the end of 2014, with the July 2015 rapidly approaching on the horizon, Peña Nieto reached his
lowest approval ratings since entering office in December 2012. A recent study by El Universal and
Buendía & Laredo showed that just 41% approved of Peña Nieto’s job performance, while 50%
disapproved.45 A year prior, 50% approved of his job performance, while just 37% disapproved. The
findings revealed the lowest perception of the presidency during the past six years. The
disappearance of the students in Iguala, Guerrero was the issue garnering the most responses when
respondents were asked what was the worst point of Peña Nieto’s presidency, receiving 10% of
responses, exceeding those for reforms (9%), insecurity (6%), poor governance and energy reform
(5%). 54% said that Peña Nieto was in its worst moment of his presidency, and 47% responded that
Mexico is a worse or much worse state than before Peña Nieto, while just 30% feel that it is better.

VI.%CONCLUSION%
The general conclusion of this report is that there appears to be a real and significant decrease in
homicides in Mexico in 2014. However, the data presently available are incomplete and widely
“Encuesta Semáfora Delictivo.” Semáforo Delictivo. Accessed March 20, 2015.
Dibble, Sandra. “New gendarmerie in Baja California.” San Diego Union Tribune. Sep. 5, 2014.
44 Muedano, Marcos. “Gendarmería pierde rumbo.” El Universal. Nov. 30, 2014.
45 “Encuesta. Baja índice de aprobación de EPN.” El Universal. Dec. 1, 2014.
42
43

39

viewed as circumspect because of concerns about possible government manipulation and pressure
on media organizations to de-emphasize problems of crime and violence. In other words, the
problems related to the availability and credibility of data that can help to monitor and evaluate
Mexico’s security situation that were underscored in last year’s Drug Violence in Mexico report have
persisted. The authors have made our best possible effort to work with the available data to provide
an objective assessment of Mexico’s security situation, the problem of organized crime, and
especially violence related to drug trafficking.
That said, the widespread perception that authorities have been have failed to properly report the
level of violence seriously detracts from the credibility of government efforts. The massive
demonstrations and public outrage expressed in response to ongoing violence—in particular, the
tragic events in Guerrero in September 2014—were largely motivated by the perception that the
Mexican government is aloof, inept, and insincere in its efforts to improve the country’s security
situation. Indeed, there was widespread disenchantment with public authorities and key institutions
in general in 2014, with over a third of Mexicans expressing little or no confidence in the Mexican
army (an all time low), over half expressing little or no confidence in the National Human Rights
Commission, more than two thirds expressing little or no confidence in the Presidency, and three
quarters expressing little or no confidence in the country’s political parties. These indicators reflect
sharp increases in public dissatisfaction, and have been accompanied by the lowest measures of
support for democratic governance more generally since the year 2000. Thus, such sentiments may
spell important consequences not only for the upcoming midterm elections in July 2015, but for
Mexico’s political future in general.
Ultimately, the authors see the improvements in Mexico’s security situations as modest, long overdue,
and difficult to attribute to specific public policy measures. There has clearly been a shift in the
balance of power among competing organized crime groups in Mexico, and part of that adjustment is
certainly attributable to government efforts to disrupt the powerful criminal organizations that have
held sway in the country for decades. One result of the realignment has been to give certain criminal
organizations near complete monopolies over key drug trafficking areas, which has reduced the
competition and conflict that produced the dramatic increases in violence seen in recent years. It is
likely that some of those monopolies have been established through collaboration with government
authorities, which therefore casts significant doubt on government actions that weaken a given
criminal organization (to the possible advantage of another). There are also unintended
consequences, since alternative forms of criminal violence remain at elevated levels due to the
fragmentation of organized crime. Yet, it is clear that recent government efforts have clearly seriously
reduced the capabilities of certain criminal organizations in Mexico—particularly, the Knights
Templar Organization and the Zetas—that presented a major threat to Mexican national and citizen
security. The fight against Mexico’s powerful organized crime groups is far from over, but—whatever
the cause—continuation of the downward trend in lethal violence is sorely needed.

40

APPENDIX:%DEFINITIONS,%DATA,%AND%METHODOLOGIES%%
Previous reports have identified the significant conceptual and methodological complexities of
monitoring violence in Mexico. In this section, we review these issues with some discussion of the
problem of defining “drug violence” and the specific sources of data that employed in this report.

A.%Defining%the%Problem%
The terms “drug violence” and “drug-related homicides” are widely used in the media and in the
popular understanding of Mexico’s recent security challenges. Yet, there is no formal definition of
these concepts in Mexican criminal law. Indeed, historically, Mexican law has made few distinctions
among different types of homicide.46 Labeling homicides by specific characteristics therefore
involves some degree of subjective interpretation. For example, while the concept of “intra-family
violence” might seem rather straightforward, there could be multiple and competing notions of what
constitutes a homicide that occurs within a “family.”47 The same methodological challenge exists
when classifying and counting other categories of crime, such as “hate crimes” targeting persons
based on the victim’s ethnicity or sexual orientation. Indeed, sociologists and criminologists would
be quick to point out that “crime” itself is a socially-constructed and culturally variable concept.
Thus, although government officials, scholars, and media sources make common references to terms
like “drug violence,” “narco-violence,” “cartel-related violence,” “drug-war violence,” “organizedcrime-related violence,” etc., there are naturally significant challenges in attempting to catalogue and
measure such violence. Efforts to focus narrowly on drug-trafficking-related violence are
problematic because the activities of drug traffickers have diversified significantly into other areas of
organized crime. Indeed, the very definition of “organized crime” is itself much debated among
scholars and experts: the term is used interchangeably to describe an affiliation, a lifestyle, and a type
of crime.48 Moreover, the scale, scope, complexity, and purpose of “organized-crime groups,” or
OCGs, varies widely, from neighborhood-based associations (e.g., “gangs”) to smugglers (e.g., drugtrafficking organizations, DTOs) to sophisticated financial conspiracies (e.g., “white-collar crime”).

The most common formal charges used at the federal and state level are intentional homicide (homicidio doloso) and
unintentional manslaughter (homicidio culposo). In July 2012, modifications were made to Article 325 of the Federal
Criminal Code (Código Penal Federal)—and various state codes throughout the country—to establish “femicide” (femicidio)
as an official category for homicides committed for reasons of gender. Any further attributes of a particular homicide or
group of homicides fall outside of the statutory classifications established under Mexican law.
47 For example, if a person is killed by their domestic partner, does that constitute “intra-family” violence? If someone is
killed by an ex-spouse, is that still violence within the “family”? If someone is killed by a fourth cousin that they never
met, should that case be considered one of “intra-family violence” or merely a random coincidence among strangers?
48 As Maltz (1976) notes, defining and studying organized crime is complicated and, like all forms of crime, subject to
evolving societal norms and biases. Contemporary official and scholarly definitions tend to emphasize the sustained and
concerted efforts of individuals to deliberately defy the state for material gain. Moreover, as Naim (2006) and Bjelopera
and Finklea (2012) point out, contemporary discussions of organized crime focus especially on its transnational nature
and its ability to challenge the state, especially in an era of accelerated flows of goods, people, and capital across national
borders. See: Jerome P. Bjelopera and Kristin M. Finklea, “Organized Crime: An Evolving Challenge for U.S. Law
Enforcement,” CRS Report for Congress. January 2012. (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2012); Michael
D. Maltz, “On Defining ‘Organized Crime’: The Development of a Definition and a Typology,” Crime & Delinquency
1976 22: 338; Moises Naim, Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats are Hijacking the Global Economy, (New York:
Anchor Books, 2006).
46

41

In Mexico, there is a formal legal definition of organized crime. Since 1996, Mexico’s constitution
has formally defined organized crime (delincuencia organizada) as “a de facto organization of three or
more persons, [existing] in permanent or recurring form to commit crimes, according to the terms
of the relevant area of the law.” The concept exists also in the Federal Criminal Code, and Mexico’s
federal legislature has also established special legislation to address organized crime through the
Federal Law Against Organized Crime (Ley Federal Contra la Delincuencia Organizada).49 Similarly, there
are legal statutes that characterize and define drug trafficking as a specific form of organized crime.
Hence, there is a legal basis for labeling homicides that are related to organized crime activities in
Mexico as “organized crime killings.”
However, establishing a connection is problematic. To fall within the legal categories described
above, any crime or individual associated with organized crime must first be prosecuted and the
perpetrators found guilty. Unfortunately, criminal investigations on homicide take a considerable
amount of time, and often go unresolved in Mexico, so there may be no charges or conviction—that
is, no legal basis—upon which to base the connection to organized crime. As a result, often no
formal legal determination can be made in a particular case. All of this leaves virtually any discussion
of the violence attributable to “drug trafficking” or “organized crime” in Mexico open to subjective
interpretation and unsubstantiated allegations.
Despite all of these conceptual and methodological issues, it is also difficult to ignore the
extraordinary characteristics of the violence that Mexico has recently experienced, or the role that
DTOs and OCGs have played in it. Such groups use specific types of weapons, specific tactics (e.g.,
targeted assassinations, street gun battles, etc.), extreme forms of violence (e.g., torture,
dismemberment, and decapitation), explicit messages to authorities and each other (e.g., notes, signs,
and banners), and public displays of violence intended to spread fear (e.g., bodies hanging from
bridges). Hence, there is value in attempting to isolate and study such violence because of the very
significant role that drug-trafficking organizations and other organized crime groups currently play
in the manufacturing of violence in Mexico.

B.%The%Available%Data%Sources%and%Their%Limitations%
As noted earlier, homicide is one of the most frequently referenced measures of violence around the
world. Compared with other violent crimes, like assault, robbery, rape, or kidnapping, homicide has
a relatively high rate of reporting, in part because it is difficult to conceal. Even in Mexico, where
there is a high degree of criminal impunity—with fewer than 25% of crimes reported, and just 2% of
all crimes punished—homicides are more likely to be reported, investigated, and punished than
other forms of violent crimes. Hence, homicide data provide an important measure of Mexico’s
recent violence.
1.%Government%Data%on%Homicide%%
Official data on homicides in Mexico are available from two sources. First, public-health records
filed by coroners’ offices can be used to identify cases where the cause of death was unnatural, such
Cámara de Diputados del H. Congreso de la Unión, Ley Federal Contra la Delincuencia Organizada. (Last version
published on March 14, 2014). http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/101.pdf
49

42

as cases of gunshot wounds, stabbings, lacerations, asphyxiation, etc. While all datasets have
limitations, the most consistent, complete, and reliable source of information in Mexico is the
autonomous government statistics agency, INEGI, which provides data on death by homicide and
other forms of violent crime. It must be noted that INEGI’s homicide figures include both
intentional and unintentional homicides, such as car accidents.
A second source of data on homicide comes from criminal investigations by law enforcement to
establish a formal determination of intentional criminal wrongdoing, and the subsequent conviction
and sentencing of suspects charged with these crimes. The National Public Security System, SNSP,
compiles and reports data on cases involving intentional homicides that are identified by law
enforcement. In recent years, SNSP has released its homicide data on a monthly basis to provide
more timely access to information. It should be noted that this is an enormous feat, and highly
uncommon; not even the FBI Uniform Crime Report provides such timely updated information on
homicides.
The variance between public health and law enforcement homicide statistics appears to be
attributable to the different timing and methodologies by which cases are classified. The inclusion of
unintentional homicides by INEGI is a major factor that must be taken into consideration when
using its figures. Still, the general trends identified by both sources are closely correlated.50 Both
sources therefore provide important points of reference for this report, particularly given concerns
by some experts that SNSP figures may be more vulnerable to manipulation by law enforcement
authorities at different levels.
2.%OrganizedZCrimeZStyle%Homicides%%
Neither of the two official sources on homicide statistics identifies whether there is a connection to
organized crime in a particular case, such as “drug” killings. However, both government and
independent sources have attempted to do so by examining other variables associated with a given
crime. For example, characteristic signs of possible organized crime involvement in a homicide
might include the fact that the victim was carrying an illegal weapon, was transporting drugs, had
been abducted, was killed in a particular fashion, or was under investigation for organized crime
activities. These kinds of details are available to criminal investigators and analysts and are compiled
by the SNSP (e.g., CISEN, CENAPI, SSP, SEDENA, SEMAR, and Gobernación).51
Based on such characteristics, in addition to tracking the total number of homicides, the Mexican
government has also maintained records for the last several years on the number of homicides
attributable to drug trafficking and organized crime. Early figures on “drug-related” homicides were
The key source of the discrepancy is that homicides are identified by different means and reported at different times.
Coroners’ reports are based on autopsies conducted at the time that a body is found, and are reported for that calendar
year. Hence, a person killed the year before, or even a decade ago, will be registered in the year of the autopsy. Lawenforcement efforts to document homicides generally reflect the calendar year in which a formal charge of homicide was
levied. SNSP data may also include homicides that were not identified through a coroner’s examination. Still, the
statistical correlation in the years where the two data sets overlap (1997-2012) produces a Pearson’s coefficient of .949,
which suggests a very strong relationship between the two variables being measured.
51 According to Mexican security expert Viridiana Ríos, who worked with the office of the Mexican president on
analyzing these data, during the Calderón administration, the compilation of these data at that time was coordinated by
the Technical Secretary for the National Security Council (CSN).
50

43

reported by Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) from 2000-2008, based on data
from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (PGR).52 However, just as violence began to increase,
the Mexican government stopped releasing this information, on the grounds that organized crime
killings are not codified by law and are methodologically difficult to compile. This provoked
significant pressure from researchers, media organizations, civic groups, and the government’s
autonomous transparency agency, leading the government to release such information sporadically
from 2010 to 2013.53 However, since mid-2013, the Mexican government has not released figures
identifying the number of organized crime-style figures. Critics argue that the refusal to release data
on such killings reflects a politically motivated effort by the Peña Nieto administration to change the
media narrative about Mexico’s security situation.
Because of the limitations of government data—and a lack of transparency on how these data are
collected—several media sources, non-governmental organizations, and researchers conduct their
own independent monitoring of efforts on homicides and organized-crime-related violence. Such
efforts typically involve identifying and recording homicide cases reported by authorities and media
sources, and then isolating those cases that bear characteristics typical of DTOs and OCGs. Mexican
media organizations with national coverage—notably, the Mexico City-based newspaper Reforma and
Milenio—have been the most consistent, comprehensive, and reliable in such monitoring efforts.54 In
addition to such government and media tallies, several organizations, researchers, and individuals—
such as Molly Molloy at the New Mexico State University and Chris Kyle at the University of
Alabama—have attempted to develop other datasets, tallies, and lists of violent acts in Mexico.55
Other sources, including El Blog del Narco and the Menos Días Aquí blog, have contributed to the
tracking and reporting efforts by developing online platforms for reporting and sharing data on the
problem of violence in Mexico.

Moloeznik, Marcos Pablo (2009). The Militarization of Public Security and the Role of the Military in Mexico,” in
Robert A. Donnelly and David A. Shirk (eds.), Police and Public Security in Mexico, San Diego: University Readers, 2012.
53 As noted in previous reports, in 2009, Justice in Mexico filed four formal “access to information” requests and made
numerous requests to the Mexican government to obtain data on drug-related violence. The government repeatedly
denied these requests, and inquiries by other researchers, on the grounds that no such data existed. Then, in January
2010 and January 2011, SNSP released data on the number and location of the organized-crime-related homicides
tracked internally by the government, including 47,453 homicides that were believed by the Mexican government to
involve OCGs, dating from January 2007 through September 2011. In November 2012, the outgoing Calderón
administration announced that the government would no longer release any data on organized crime-related killings. The
incoming Peña Nieto administration initially took a similar stance, but then began to report such figures during the first
half of 2013. Cory Molzahn, Viridiana Ríos, David A. Shirk. Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2011, (San
Diego, CA: Justice in Mexico, 2012).
54 Until recently, the Mexico City-based newspaper Reforma was the main source of data on drug-related violence
referenced by Justice in Mexico. However, while Reforma faithfully reported these data publicly throughout the Calderón
administration, its weekly reporting stopped abruptly and without explanation in December 2012, just as President Peña
Nieto took office. In mid-2013, Reforma resumed its reporting of these data, though since the start of 2014 they have
begun to do so with less detail and consistency than in the past. For this reason, Justice in Mexico has worked to
incorporate data from Milenio and also the Lantia consulting group headed by Eduardo Guerrero and reported by
Excélsior in Leo Zuckermann’s column “Juegos de Poder.”
55 For example, as reported last year, University of Alabama at Birmingham professor Christopher Kyle’s Guerrero
Violence Project (GVP) database has identified more than 10,000 cases of homicide in the state of Guerrero that have
been coded for various characteristics, geo-referenced, and plotted on an interactive online map, viewable at:
http://bit.ly/1wczk0u. See also, Chris Kyle, “Violence and Insecurity in Guerrero,” Mexico Institute and Justice in
Mexico Briefing Paper Series on Building Resilient Communities in Mexico: Civic Responses to Organized Crime. Washington,
D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; University of San Diego, January 20, 2015.
52

44

Along these lines, Justice in Mexico has worked with dozens of research associates, university
students, and volunteers to construct a dataset that documents and classifies individual, high-profile
homicides that bear characteristics that suggest a link to drug trafficking and organized crime. This
dataset—called Memoria—currently includes more than 5,000 victims, including nearly 3,000
identified by name and other individual characteristics (e.g., gender, age, narco-messages, etc.).56 This
dataset forms a basis for several observations made within this report. In addition, this report also
provides projections to fill data gaps for some homicide and organized-crime-style homicide figures
to account for the missing data from incomplete sources, using a multiple imputation technique to
extrapolate periods for which data are missing.57
3.%Analytical%and%Methodological%Concerns%
As made clear above and in previous reports, the available data have significant limitations. First,
there is no dataset that spans the time period and levels of analysis that are of interest. While INEGI
data on intentional homicides are available at the municipal level through 2012, they are not yet
available for 2013. SNSP figures on intentional homicide are available starting in 1997 and through
2013, including monthly figures for all of 2013.58 However, SNSP’s municipal level data on
organized-crime-style homicides run from December 2006 through September 2011, and also from
January 2013 to June 2013. There are also gaps in the data available for Reforma newspaper for
monthly figures on organized-crime-style homicides, though such data are available from Milenio.
Justice in Mexico has attempted to compensate for these missing figures by using estimations
calculated to reflect likely patterns wherever possible. However, the lack of continuity and timeliness
in data collection efforts makes it necessary to rely on different sources and occasional inferential
projections to address different questions.
In terms of methodological concerns, there are also questions regarding the techniques for
identifying and categorizing cases of drug-trafficking and organized-crime-style homicides. As
discussed above, efforts to do so are largely based on the identification of symptoms that suggest
organized crime activity: specific types of weapons (high-caliber, assault-type weapons), specific
tactics (targeted assassinations, street gun battles, etc.), extreme displays of cruelty (torture,
dismemberment, and decapitation), and explicit messages directed to authorities, each other, and the
public (often called “narco-messages”). Whether such characteristics provide adequate proof of
This dataset was referenced in previous reports as the Victims and Violence Monitor. In 2013, the dataset was
renamed “Memoria” to reflect its effort to analyze and respect the memory of those affected by such violence, whatever
their identity or role. The dataset includes cases reported both by the media and the government, typically involving
certain types of weapons, methods of killing, markings, and messages declaring organized crime affiliations, etc. These
efforts have been conducted through intensive data gathering workshops hosted by Justice in Mexico and through an
online portal developed to facilitate consistent reporting and coding of data. Each case is reviewed and vetted by Justice
in Mexico staff before being incorporated into the dataset.
57 As reported last year, this technique leverages a multiple regression model to estimate the variable of interest (e.g.,
homicides reported by INEGI) based on a number of other data sources for those same time periods, up until the point
in time when the outcome variable is no longer available. The model is then used to predict the missing values of the
outcome variable forward in time based on the same alternate sources still available. The authors are grateful to Dr.
Topher McDougal for his guidance and assistance in generating these predictions using STATA. For more information
on multiple data imputation in statistical methodologies, please see: Andrew Gelman and Jennifer Hill, “Missing Data
Imputation,” in Andrew Gelman and Jennifer Hill, Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Pp. 529-543.
58 SNSP data at the municipal level are available from 2011-2013. However, as noted earlier, SNSP data for some
municipalities were incomplete for 2013 at the time that this report went to print.
56

45

organized crime involvement is highly debatable, since individuals may well engage in such violence
in an attempt to disguise otherwise “ordinary” homicides. There are also important questions about
the effectiveness of official identification of intentional homicide victims. Estimates by the public
interest think tank México Evalúa suggest that as many as 80% of homicides in Mexico go
unpunished, in large part because of the limited capacity of the country’s federal and state agencies
to investigate them properly.59 In addition, there is also a large number of missing persons whose
fate remains a mystery.60 Meanwhile, hundreds of homicide victims only turn up weeks or months
after the fact, as evidenced by the discovery of mass graves in many different parts of the country,
particularly those areas most affected by drug trafficking and organized crime activities.61 For all of
these reasons, the authors recognize that their findings can only be as valid as the official and
independently collected data that is available.

México Evalúa, Seguridad y Justicia Penal en los estados: 25 indicadores de nuestra debilidad institucional.
http://www.scribd.com/doc/86758591/Seguridad-y-Justicia-Penal-en-los-estados
60 One of the most widely cited estimates of missing persons in Mexico over the last few years comes from a database
released in December 2012 by Centro de Investigación y Capacitación Propuesta Cívica, a Mexico City-based nongovernmental organization, which revealed a list of more than 20,000 persons who went missing from 2006 through
2012, far greater than the number of missing persons reported by official sources. The Propuesta Civica database is
reportedly based on a “secret” list obtained from the PGR, and contains the names of 20,851 persons who went missing
from December 2006 through November 2012, including over 1,200 children below the age of 11. Listed among the
disappeared are an estimated 7,137 people from Mexico City, one of the places that have registered the fewest
organized-crime-related homicides. Anabel Hernández, “Supera los 25 mil, la lista secreta de desaparecidos,” El Diario,
December 29, 2012. http://diario.mx/Nacional/2012-12-29_86eda41c/supera-los-25-mil-la-lista-secreta-dedesaparecidos/ At the time of this report, the actual dataset is accessible through the Colectivo de Análisis de la
Seguridad Con Democracia, A.C. (CASEDE) at the following site: http://www.seguridadcondemocracia.org/bibliotecavirtual/derechos-humanos/bases-de-datos-sobre-personas-desaparecidas-en-mexico-2006-2012.html
61 For example, at least 177 bodies were identified in 2011 in the largest mass gravesite attributed to OCGs. The mass
grave was discovered in the town of San Fernando in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas; most of the victims
were killed by blunt instruments, and most appeared to be migrants and travelers passing through the state. With dozens
of smaller gravesites discovered throughout northern Mexico, this may suggest a shift in tactics among organized-crime
groups to different means of obtaining revenue and lower-profile methods of killing. In the recent past, competition and
conflict over territorial control among drug trafficking organizations may have provided strong incentives for organizedcrime groups to send violent signals to authorities and rivals, including running gun battles, public executions, videorecorded murders, leaving dead bodies in the streets, and the like. However, as some Mexican organized-crime groups
are now increasingly seeking revenue by preying on “non-combatants,” such as Central American migrants, they appear
to be less interested in advertising their handiwork to authorities and to each other, and more interested in evading
detection and confrontation.
59

46

47

About the Authors:
Kimberly Heinle is a research associate and editor for Justice in Mexico based in the Department of Political
Science & International Relations at the University of San Diego. She received her B.A. in Spanish Language
and Literature from Ithaca College in 2008, and her M.A. in International Relations from the University of San
Diego in 2011. Kimberly recently edited, “Building Resilient Communities in Mexico: Civic Responses to Crime
and Violence” (2014), a joint publication by Justice in Mexico and the Mexico Institute. She also co-authored
the report, “Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico” (2012), with David Shirk
and Catherine Daly; and has translated several works, including the report, “Justiciabarómetro: Survey of
Municipal Police in Ciudad Juárez” (2011). She regularly contributes to Justice in Mexico’s news monitor and
website with written contributions, edits, and oversight.
Cory Molzahn is an instructor of Spanish in the International Spanish Academy in the Bellevue School District
in Bellevue, Washington. Since 2008, he has been a research associate with the Justice in Mexico program,
currently based in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San
Diego. In this capacity, he compiles and authors the regular news reports, monitoring developments in rule of
law and security, government accountability and transparency, and access to justice in Mexico for academics,
experts, and government officials. He is currently pursuing a Masters’ degree at the Center for Iberian and Latin
American Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He is also the co-author of previous Drug Violence
in Mexico reports.
David A. Shirk is the director of Justice in Mexico and associate professor of Political Science & International
Relations at the University of San Diego. Dr. Shirk received his B.A. in International Studies at Lock Haven
University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. He was a
Ralph Bunch Minority Scholar in 1992, a fellow at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies in 1998-99 and 20012003, and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. in 2009-10.
His recent publications include: Contemporary Mexican Politics, co-authored with Emily Edmonds-Poli
(forthcoming), Building Resilient Communities in Mexico, co-edited with Duncan Wood (2014); La reforma de la
justicia en México, co-edited with Octavio Rodriguez (2013); Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human
Rights Abuses in Mexico; and co-authored with Catherine Daly and Kimberly Heinle (2012).

Acknowledgements:
This report was made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
for Justice in Mexico, as well as the institutional support of the Department of Political Science and International
Relations at the University of San Diego. Over the past year, Justice in Mexico has also benefited from
research partnerships with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Guggenheim
Foundation to coordinate research on crime and violence in Mexico. The authors are also grateful to have
gained valuable insights from colleagues and participants at invited seminars and briefings that took place over
the last year at the University of California-Los Angeles, the University of California-San Diego Center for U.S.Mexican Studies, and Middlebury College. The authors depended heavily on the contributions of Justice in
Mexico Coordinator Octavio Rodriguez, and were aided by the research assistance provided by Laura
Calderón, Tiana Carriedo, Nancy Cortes, Chris Issel, Jorge Lison, Ruben Orosco, Harper Otawa, Alicia Pina,
Maritza Rodriguez, Carmelita Salazar-Dodge, Diana Sánchez, and Micaela Smith, as well as program support
from Kathleen Bamburg, Christina Falcone, Traci Merrill, and Susan Szakonyi. Justice in Mexico research
associate Theresa Firestine generated the all maps for this report. The authors are extremely grateful for the
useful comments, queries, recommendations, and encouragement provided by John Bailey, June Beittel,
Jerome Bjelopera, Roderic Camp, Stephen Dudley, Emily Edmonds-Poli, Matt Ingram, Chris Kyle, Topher
McDougal, Maureen Meyer, Molly Molloy, Eric Olson, Joy Olson, Daniel Sabet, Andrew Selee, Clare Ribando
Seelke, Carlos Vilalta, Joel Wallman, Mark Williams, Duncan Wood, and others. The authors are solely
responsible for any errors, omissions, and opinions in the report.

48

www.justiceinmexico.org
49

 

 

Stop Prison Profiteering Campaign Ad 2
PLN Subscribe Now Ad 450x450
Stop Prison Profiteering Campaign Ad 2