Mexico is not descending into chaos

The frequent stories of grusome beheadings and seemingly rand mass-murders coming out of Mexico’s drug war can make the country sound like its on the brink of anarchy. But as Alexandra Olson points out, by regional and historical standards, the country’s violence is not unusually high: Mexico’s homicide rate has fallen steadily from a high ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images
Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

The frequent stories of grusome beheadings and seemingly rand mass-murders coming out of Mexico's drug war can make the country sound like its on the brink of anarchy. But as Alexandra Olson points out, by regional and historical standards, the country's violence is not unusually high:

Mexico's homicide rate has fallen steadily from a high in 1997 of 17 per 100,000 people to 14 per 100,000 in 2009, a year marked by an unprecedented spate of drug slayings concentrated in a few states and cities, Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said. The national rate hit a low of 10 per 100,000 people in 2007, according to government figures compiled by the independent Citizens' Institute for Crime Studies.

By comparison, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have homicide rates of between 40 and 60 per 100,000 people, according to recent government statistics. Colombia was close behind with a rate of 33 in 2008. Brazil's was 24 in 2006, the last year when national figures were available.

The frequent stories of grusome beheadings and seemingly rand mass-murders coming out of Mexico’s drug war can make the country sound like its on the brink of anarchy. But as Alexandra Olson points out, by regional and historical standards, the country’s violence is not unusually high:

Mexico’s homicide rate has fallen steadily from a high in 1997 of 17 per 100,000 people to 14 per 100,000 in 2009, a year marked by an unprecedented spate of drug slayings concentrated in a few states and cities, Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said. The national rate hit a low of 10 per 100,000 people in 2007, according to government figures compiled by the independent Citizens’ Institute for Crime Studies.

By comparison, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have homicide rates of between 40 and 60 per 100,000 people, according to recent government statistics. Colombia was close behind with a rate of 33 in 2008. Brazil’s was 24 in 2006, the last year when national figures were available.

Mexico City’s rate was about 9 per 100,000 in 2008, while Washington, D.C. was more than 30 that year.

Of course, all of that is cold comfort to residents of Ciudad Juarez, which had a mind-boggling homicide rate of "173 per 100,000 in the city of 1.3 million, or more than 2,500 murders last year."

Mexico’s relative national stability combined with what can only be described as out of control carnage in the drug war zone, supports Jorge Castaneda’s argument that Mexico should be looked at not as a state under seige, but as a country increasingly embroiled in a military quagmire inside its own borders.

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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