Mexico Crime Continues To Surge

Jay Root, McClatchy Newspapers, September 22, 2007

Federal crimes such as gangland-style murders and kidnappings reached record levels in Mexico during the first half of the year, a new report from Mexico’s Congress found, making Mexico one of the world’s most dangerous countries.

One analyst who worked on the report said Mexico’s murder rate now tops all others in the Western Hemisphere.

“In a global context, we suffer from more homicides, that is to say, violent deaths, than any other region in the world except for certain regions on the African continent,” said Eduardo Rojas, who helped put together the crime report at the Center for Social and Public Opinion Studies, a research arm of the Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies.

The report, made public last week, was a setback for Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose tough new war on drug trafficking has sent thousands of Mexican Army troops into the countryside and a record number of drug suspects to the United States for trial.

The report said that major federal crimes, which include homicides, kidnappings and arms trafficking, rose 25 percent in the first half of 2007 over the same period last year. In 2006, the same crimes rose 22 percent over the previous year.

Gangland style executions have risen 155 percent since 2001, according to the congressional report.

Crime has been on the rise in Mexico throughout the last decade as drug cartels battle for control of lucrative smuggling routes. But the new findings come at a politically charged time for the Calderon administration, which is also confronting a new threat from an old foe—the shadowy Popular Revolutionary Army or EPR, its Spanish acronym.

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Mexico’s violence is often spectacular and lurid, with tales of street shootouts, decapitations and bomb blasts filling Mexico’s news pages and airwaves. No place is immune, including the buildings of the country’s news outlets.

In May a severed head wrapped in newspaper was left in a cooler outside the office of Tabasco Hoy in Villahermosa, where drug violence is on the rise. Grenades have been tossed into newsrooms from Cancun to Nuevo Laredo in the past 18 months. The Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders reported that Mexico was the most dangerous country for journalists in 2006, after Iraq.

On May 14, suspected drug traffickers on motorcycles gunned down Jose Nemesio Lugo, a senior federal investigator in charge of gathering intelligence on drug traffickers, in Mexico City’s upscale Coyoacan neighborhood. Two days later in Sonora state, about 20 miles south of Arizona, a five-hour shootout between heavily armed commandos and police left 20 people dead.

The bloodbath continued unabated this month, with the assassinations of two state police chiefs. The first was Jaime Flores of San Luis Potosi state, shot in the head multiple times in front of his wife on Sept. 13. Then on Wednesday came news that Marcos Manuel Souberville, the state police chief in Hidalgo, had fallen in a hail of bullets during an afternoon drive-by shooting.

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Kidnapping is a multi-million dollar industry in Mexico. The report from Congress indicates there are about 4,500 kidnappings a year, about a third of which are reported. Greg Bangs, head of the kidnapping and ransom unit at the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, said Mexico has rocketed past Colombia to become the world’s ransom capital.

“Mexico is now very definitely No. 1 in the world in terms of the numbers of kidnappings,” Bangs said. “Kidnappers are indicating how serous they are by sending parts of ears and noses and fingers and various bodily parts . . . they didn’t used to do that so much, but that seems to be more prevalent.”

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