Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mexico's changing drug war

Shifting sands

The drug war’s fifth year throws up new trends, for better and worse

FIVE years ago next week, Felipe Calderón took office as Mexico’s president and launched a crackdown against organised crime. Since then there has been a horrible predictability about the country’s drug war: each year the number of deaths has risen, most of them concentrated in a handful of cities. But this year both those tendencies look as if they have started to change. The annual death toll seems to have plateaued at around 12,000. Hotspots have cooled, only for violence to invade places previously considered safe.

Ciudad Juárez, in Chihuahua state and on the border with Texas, is the most striking example of this. For several years it has been the most dangerous place in Mexico and, by most counts, the world. A city of 1.3m, it saw more than 3,000 murders last year. Yet this year the number of mafia-related killings in Chihuahua has fallen by about a third, according to a tally by Reforma, a newspaper, as have kidnappings and car thefts. (The government has not released murder statistics in almost a year.) So far this year, Chihuahua state accounts for only around 15% of such murders in Mexico, down from a peak of 32%.

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