The surprising statistics around Mexico’s war on drugs

This past September, masked men dumped 35 bodies onto a busy avenue in the coastal tourist city of Boca del Rio as motorists watched in horror. Authorities identified many of the dead as murderers, drug dealers and kidnappers that were connected to the “Los Zetas” cartel. The Zetas are one of Mexico’s most violent gangs, credited with hundreds of murders in 2011 alone.

The massacre was allegedly carried out by a paramilitary group called the “Zeta Killers” who have vowed to take control of Mexico back from the cartels.

The drug war in Mexico has exploded in the last five years, with murders reaching their highest point on record in 2010. Trafficking of cocaine, marijuana and opium is incredibly profitable and cartels are willing to go to great lengths to get their drugs across the border.

But even with increasing violence, Mexico’s tourism industry is booming. Canadians are flocking to the sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters in record numbers.

The brighter side of Mexico

Despite the increasing violence in Mexico’s border states, tourism continues to rise all over the country.

Population of Mexico: 112,322,757

Roman Catholic: 76.5 per cent
Protestant: 6.3 per cent
Other: 0.3 per cent
Unspecified: 13.8 per cent
None: 3.1 per cent

International tourists in 2009: 21.5 million
International tourists from January to June 2010: 11.3 million
Increase from same period in 2009: 5.2 per cent

Canadians who visited Mexico in 2010: 1,460,418 (up 28.52 per cent from 2008)
Canadians who visited Mexico in December 2010: 194,128

2010 CensusMexico Tourism BoardMexican Embassy in Canada

Guns, guns and more guns

Mexico’s drug trade is one of the world’s largest and with the massive market of the U.S. just north of the border, it doesn’t seem to show any indication of slowing down. Authorities are doing their best to stem the flow, but widespread corruption poses a challenge to making real change.

The Government of Mexico reported that in 2010:

Value of South American drug-trafficking operations: US$13 billion
Percentage of total cocaine that comes into the U.S. through Mexico: 95
Percentage of the world’s heroin produced in Mexico: Seven per cent

Drug-processing labs dismantled: 160
Mexicans arrested for drug-related charges: 28,216
Foreigners arrested for drug related charges: 342

Drugs seized in 2010:
Cocaine: 9,400 kilograms
Marijuana: 2.24 million kilograms
Opium gum: 1,000 kilograms
Methamphetamine: 12,700 kilograms

Largest marijuana seizure in Mexican history: 134,000 kilograms (on Oct. 18, 2010)
Street value of seized drugs: US$340 million

U.S. Department of State

Guns, guns and more guns.

As drugs flow north into the U.S., thousands of weapons are being illegally moved into Mexico. Recent reports show that U.S. forces accidentally put thousands of guns into the hands of Mexican cartels after bungling a plan called Operation Fast and Furious. The plan was to trace how the weapons were smuggled into Mexico, but agents lost track of around 2,000 weapons, including some that may be linked to the shooting death of a U.S. border patrol officer.

Gun stores in Mexico: One
Average licensed gun sales in Mexico since 2006: 6,490

Licensed firearm dealers in the U.S.: 6,600
Guns sold in the U.S. in 2009: 14 million
Weapons used in crimes in Mexico that came from the U.S.: 75 per cent
Guns confiscated by Mexican forces between 2006-2010: 93,000

Firearms accidentally lost to cartels in failed U.S. Operation Fast and Furious: 2,000
People killed or wounded from weapons lost in Operation Fast and Furious: 150-300

MSN.caThe Washington PostThe Los Angeles Times

Murders in Mexico

Most gang violence in Mexico happens in the disputed territories near the U.S. border, though all of the country’s 31 states have been the scene of drug-related murders at some point.

Deaths from drug violence in Mexico since 2006: 35,000-41,000
Percentage of crimes that go unpunished in Mexico: 98.5

Mexico in 2010
Murders: 19,769
Drug-related murders: 11,583

Murder rate: 18 per 100,000 residents
State with hightest murder rate: 103 per 100,000 in Chihuahua
Murders in the state of Chihuahua: 3,514

People killed in the Chihuahua city of Juarez: 3,100
Population of Juarez: 1,512,354

Mexico in 2009:
Murders: 16,117
Drug-related murders: 6,587

Homicides in Canada in 2009: 610
1. Ontario: 178
2. British Columbia: 118
3. Alberta: 95
4. Quebec: 88
5. Manitoba: 57
6. Saskatchewan: 36
7. Nova Scotia: 15
8. New Brunswick: 12
9. Nunavut: 6
10. Northwest Territories: 2
10: Yukon: 2
12: Newfoundland and Labrador: 1
13. Prince Edward Island: 0

StatscanMonterrey Institute of TechnologyICESIBBC

Violence in Mexico

The easiest way to get killed in Mexico is probably to join a gang, though many innocent people have also died getting too close to the cartels.

Mexican security forces killed in 2009: 400
Mexican mayors killed in 2010: (At least) 14
Canadians killed in Mexico since 2006: (At least) 17
Canadians reporting being assaulted in Mexico since 2006: 120

Journalists killed in Mexico between 1994-2011: 59
Journalists killed in Mexico with motives relating to stories they covered: 25
Percentage of murdered journalists who reported on crime: 76

The Committee to Protect JournalistsMSNBCThe U.S. Department of StateMaclean’s

National security

The Government of Mexico has stepped up security since Felipe Calderon became president in 2006, but rampant corruption continues to plague local police forces.

Mexico’s armed forces: 225,000
Mexico’s police forces: 450,000

U.S. assistance to support Mexico’s police forces: US$1.4 billion

Mexico’s 2010 security budget: US$10.7 billion

In 2005,
Agents in Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency (AFI): 7,000
AFI agents under investigation for suspected criminal activity: 1,500
AFI Agents facing charges: 457

Between January and August 2010:
Police officers fired for failing drug screenings and other causes, such as absenteeism and substandard performance: 3,200

U.S. Department of StateThe Los Angeles Times

Most wanted and most violent

Mexico’s cartels are an amorphous collective, merging and cutting ties with each other as they struggle for control of the country’s drug trade.
The “Los Zetas” cartel, seen as Mexico’s most violent gang, have taken over much of the east side of Mexico but their dominance is being challenged by a new paramilitary group called the “Mata Zetas,” which translates to “Zeta Killers.”

Los Zetas:
Mexican Army Special Forces deserters who founded the cartel in 1999: 31
Current membership: Unknown

Recent attacks blamed on Los Zetas:
Farm workers beheaded in Guatemala in May 2011: 27
Deaths in a casino firebombing in August 2011: 52
Bodies found in mass graves near Tamaulipas in April 2011: 193

Los Zetas members found dead over two days in September in Veracruz: 49, allegedly killed by the “Zeta Killers”

One of the most powerful figures in the Mexican drug trade is Joaquin Guzman, also known as “El Chapo” (or “Shorty”) for his five-foot-six height. After Osama bin Laden was killed, Guzman topped the list of criminals wanted by the FBI. He is the head of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, which still controls much of northern and central Mexico.

Guzman’s estimated fortune: US$1 billion
Reward for info leading to Guzman’s capture: US$5 million

BBCAFPStratfor Global Intelligence