Mexico Government Sought to Withhold Drug War Death Statistics

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2012

Six months before a presidential election that his party is widely expected to lose, President Felipe Calderon is on the defensive about the government’s blood-soaked drug war, with new revelations that it sought to conceal death toll statistics from the public.

By unofficial count, at least 50,000 people are believed to have been killed since Calderon deployed the military in the first days of his presidency in December 2006.

A year ago, the government released an official death toll up to that point—34,612—and pledged to periodically update a database and make it public. But official documents show that the offices of both the president and the attorney general late last year refused formal requests for updated statistics filed under the Mexican equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act.

After the reports first surfaced on the Mexican news website Animal Politico, a Calderon administration official told The Times that the government wanted to verify the numbers before releasing them. “It is not a lack of transparency on our part,” the official said.

Under pressure, the attorney general’s office Wednesday released a partial death toll for 2011. As of Oct. 1, it reported, 12,903 people had been killed in incidents tied to “rivalry among criminal organizations.”

Until now, without official data, the public had to rely on tallies kept by Mexican newspapers. The partial official numbers show a notably higher death toll than the newspapers had calculated and suggest that the overall count since Calderon came to office will easily surpass 50,000.

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