Mexico’s Murder Rate Is Finally Declining

By May Wilkerson 05/05/15

Despite showing signs of improvement, Mexico still has a long way to go.

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Murder rates have fallen in Mexico for the third straight year, a sign that the situation may finally be improving in the drug-torn country.

There were 15,649 recorded murders in Mexico in 2014, a 13.8% drop from the previous year, according to a report released last week by the University of San Diego's Justice in Mexico Project. This is the steepest drop since the drug war officially began in 2006, with murder rates peaking at 22,480 deaths in 2011.

The homicide rate decreased the most along the U.S.-Mexico border, with five of six Mexican border states reporting a combined drop of 17.7% in deaths between 2013 and 2014.

"These data really help to underscore that we're talking about a sea change in violence," said David Shirk, co-author of the report and director of the Justice in Mexico Project, an American initiative to curb violence in Mexico. "You still have elevated levels of crime, so we still have a long way to go. But there is improvement, and we have to acknowledge that improvement and understand why it's happening so we can try to further it."

Though homicides are decreasing, the country still faces high rates of kidnappings, extortions, and violence. American travelers in Mexico are also at risk of drug war-related crimes, like car hijacking and robberies, according to a warning issued last month by the U.S. State Department.

Maureen Meyer, senior associate for Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America, said the drop in homicides will allow the country time to strengthen its judicial and police systems to prevent further violence. She said the government must "make sure that the space opened by having less violence leads to structural changes to Mexico's institutions to guarantee a strong rule of law in the future."

At least 138,000 people have been murdered in Mexico and countless more have gone missing since former president Felipe Calderon declared war against the drug cartels in 2006, according to the recent report.

Since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in 2012, he has continued to crack down on the cartels. Prominent cartel leader and leading drug supplier to the US, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, was notably captured last year.

The drug cartels continue to hold power over certain regions and smuggling routes in Mexico. But after nearly a decade battling each other, the government and police forces, the violence between them seems to be declining. "It could be that this conflict between organized crime groups has burned itself out," said Shirk. "There's really not too many people left to fight."

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.