Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Economist Daily Chart: Gruesome Paradox - Mexican Drug War

This interactive map of the Mexican Drug Wars from The Economist today in their Daily Chart series:

FORMALLY, power in Mexico is shared between 31 states and one federal district. Informally, it is also shared by eight large drug-trafficking organisations. These “cartels”, as the mobs are known (despite competing ruthlessly for market share, unlike real cartels), battle each other and the Mexican government for control of multi-billion dollar drug-trafficking routes to the United States. The cartels’ territory, and the routes over which they squabble, have been mapped by Stratfor, an American security analysis company.

The latest update shows how scrappy the battle for territory has become. Whereas a few years ago Mexico’s dope trade was carved up between five big outfits, those territorial distinctions have blurred. A push by the Mexican security forces has upset the pax narcotica that previously reigned, triggering a sickening rise in violence as gangs mark out territory with severed and skinned heads.

The past year has seen the continued rise of the Sinaloa cartel at the expense of mobs such as the Carrillo Fuentes Organisation (also known as the Juárez cartel). Government forces have dealt heavy blows to La Familia Michoacana, and forced the Beltrán Leyva cartel to split into rival factions, one of which was severely weakened by the subsequent arrest of its leader, Édgar Valdez Villareal. Yet the death toll has only risen: 2010’s body count was nearly a third higher than that of 2009.

The map’s most ominous feature is its southern edge. Mexico’s cartels are spreading out of Mexico, into Central America.

AS THE tally of murders linked to organised crime has risen over the past four years in Mexico, analysts have warned that insecurity is spreading to areas that were previously unaffected. The Mexican government insists that, on the contrary, the violence remains highly concentrated. Who is right? The answer, oddly, is both. In 2007, the first full year of the crackdown against the “cartels”, as the mafias are known, 70% of homicides linked to organised crime took place in just 4% of the country’s municipalities. In 2010, again, 70% of killings took place in only 3% of municipalities. If anything, the violence has become slightly more concentrated over time. But total annual killings have risen dramatically. The total for 2010 was more than five times that of 2007 (though there was an encouraging dip towards the end of the year). So although 97% of the country still sees only 30% of all the violence, that 30% represents a much larger number in gross terms than it did four years ago. The map above illustrates the paradox that violence in Mexico has spread extensively, while remaining highly concentrated.

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