Skip to content Skip to footer

Fueled by War on Drugs, Mexican Death Toll Could Exceed 120,000 As Calderon Ends Six-Year Reign

New stats shed grim light on Calderon’s bloody reign.

Mexican cemeteries are filling up with victims of the so-called war on drugs as are mass unmarked grave sites. (Photo: libertygrace0)

In the first part of this year, Truthout posted a series of ten articles that dispelled the myths surrounding the failed US/Mexico war on drugs. As a follow-up, this article details newly released statistics that indicate the predicted death toll from the alleged war-turned-bloodbath will likely far exceed past estimates.

In late August, the internationally respected French newspaper Le Monde posted an editorial denouncing the war on drugs in Mexico: “The Spiral of Barbarity.” The most important and ominous figure cited by Le Monde is that perhaps 120,000 (or more) Mexican citizens will have been intentionally killed during the presidency of Felipe Calderón:

Within Le Monde, two years ago, Mexican President Felipe Calderon welcomed the results of the large-scale war committed since the beginning of his term in December 2006, against organized crime and drug traffickers. “We will defeat crime,” he asserted. He addressed the concerns of those who denounced the increased violence in the country: “If you see dust, it is because we clean the house.”

Limited to one term of six years, Calderon will hand Enrique Peña Nieto the presidency at the end of the year (December 1), leaving him with a damning balance sheet of death. The National Institute of Statistics and Geography of Mexico has released startling figures: 27,199 homicides were recorded in 2011; between 2007 and 2011, the total came to 95,632 murders. On the basis of the trend in recent months, an estimated 120,000 homicides will have occurred during the term of Calderon. This is more than double the figure often mentioned – already staggering – of 50,000.

This carnage is by far the deadliest conflict in the world in recent years. The official homicide statistics are an implacable revelation that gangrene has overtaken the nation. But beyond the number of deaths allegedly related strictly to the fight against drugs there has developed a number of industries engaging in kidnapping, extortion, prostitution, trafficking of persons and bodies – and widespread disappearances. The map of the homicides in Mexico shows that homicides are no longer only confined to the regions of strong presence of gangs, but tend to spread over most of the territory. (Translated from the French)

Although the now estimated 120,000 to 130,000 intentional homicides in Mexico – called “homicidios dolosos” – outraged Le Monde, few other prominent news organizations in the United States or Mexico took notice. Mexico’s La Reforma was an exception, when in August it estimated 95,000 homicides, based on newly released government statistics. A few other US and Mexican publications have mentioned the new figures in passing, but without recognizing the implications.

A major source for the higher violent death-rate came as a result of figures calculated by Molly Molloy, a librarian at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces (who is cited in the “Truthout on the Border” series). Molloy runs a web site and listserv that informs many Mexico violence-watchers of information that is not readily available through either the Mexican or US media.

Molloy analyzed a data dump earlier in 2012 from Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI); she then used a second Mexican source of data to extrapolate intentional homicides through the end of Calderon’s term on November 30. These forecast figures for the end of 2012 came from an analysis of data reported by the National System for Public Security (SNSP), which compiles crime statistics sent in by local and state police agencies.

According to Molloy, INEGI compiles data from death certificates that list a cause of death as determined by a medical examiner.

“None of these numbers include even an estimate of the missing, the disappeared, the bodies from mass graves, etc.,” she said.

As 2012 progressed Molloy estimated the total number of intentional homicides could rise above 120,000 for the six-year Calderon administration. (Molloy most recently suggested a potential figure of 150,000 dead. But given the lack of accurate data and unreported missing persons and deaths, the figure will probably never be known.) This would compare to 60,162 intentional homicides during the six-year term of Vicente Fox.

Molloy laid out her perspective on government criminal justice figures in a July 26 story in the alternative Phoenix New Times:

I have tried to gather more complete homicide data from Mexican government agencies that have reported consistently over the years, and with a bit more distance from the political necessities of the Calderón administration, though there are inconsistencies in all of the data available….

For the sake of comparison, the US homicide numbers as reported by the FBI Uniform Crime Reports have declined from about 17,000 in 2007 to an estimated 14,000 in 2011 and 2012. An estimate of the total homicides in the US for this period comes to about 92,000 – this out of a population of more than 312 million, about three times the population of Mexico.

The press also parrots the Mexican government’s claim that 90 percent of the victims are criminals killed by other criminals. From my daily reading of crime reports from Juárez – the city still at the epicenter of the violence – it is evident that the majority of the 10,800-plus murder victims there since 2007 are ordinary people, and most of them are poor: small-business owners who cannot pay extortion demands, mechanics, bus drivers, prostitutes, addicts, boys selling newspapers, a pregnant woman washing cars on the street. This city of only 1.2 million accounts for 10 percent of all of Mexico’s murder victims since 2007.

And the truth is, we may never know the actual number of people killed. Mexican agencies like INEGI and SNSP must rely upon local entities to report homicide numbers, and there is little reason to trust the state and local police and justice officials responsible for such reports. There also is the number that will never be known: the “cifra negra” – the black numbers – a term used for the missing, the kidnapped who never return and whose bodies are never found, and those who simply disappear.

Jim Creechen, an active participant in Molloy’s listserve, is a retired Canadian sociology professor with a keen interest in Mexican crime statistics. He also has taught at the university level in Mexico.

Creechen told Truthout he believes the death toll could rise to 130,000 or more under Calderon. “How many are drug-related? Impossible to know. What I do know is that the [Mexican] government wants to downplay the number of deaths associated with the drug war.”

Indeed, the Calderon administration announced earlier this year that it would not release further figures on estimates of killings related to organized crime (as flawed as they historically have been) until Calderon left office. This becomes an extremely murky task in any case, because — as noted earlier — crime records are in disarray in Mexico, with only 1 percent of homicides prosecuted in some jurisdictions.

According to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH),

In Mexico, where just eight of every 100 crimes committed are reported and only 1 percent of crimes are investigated by prosecutors, [this allows] 99 percent of crimes to go unpunished, CNDH chairman Raul Plascencia said.

“This means a substantial increase in human rights violations, such as torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, illegal searches and seizures, forced disappearances and arbitrary deprivations of life, among others,” Plascencia said.

in Mexico, where just eight of every 100 crimes committed are reported and only 1 percent of crimes are investigated by prosecutors, allowing 99 percent of crimes to go unpunished, CNDH chairman Raul Plascencia said.

“This means a substantial increase in human rights violations, such as torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, illegal searches and seizures, forced disappearances and arbitrary deprivations of life, among others,” Plascencia said.

Read more:

in Mexico, where just eight of every 100 crimes committed are reported and only 1 percent of crimes are investigated by prosecutors, allowing 99 percent of crimes to go unpunished, CNDH chairman Raul Plascencia said.

“This means a substantial increase in human rights violations, such as torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrests, illegal searches and seizures, forced disappearances and arbitrary deprivations of life, among others,” Plascencia said.

Read more:

But if so many non-governmental agencies allege that the Mexican government – due it its own legacy of corruption and tolerance for violence, combined with the US mandated militarization of its southern neighbor in what many regard as a show war – is heavily responsible for the killing of its own citizens, why are there no consequences for those involved?

That’s because there is no uniform standard for determining a drug-related death, there are relatively few investigations into finding out why some were shot, and many – if not the majority – of murdered individuals are innocents caught in the crossfire of a drug culture in which the cartels, the military, the police and the government are all participants. Mexican citizens are often unsure of who is protecting them versus who is killing them, extorting them, raping them, kidnapping them and displacing them. The overlap between the criminals and the protectors is frequently non-existent.

Sandra Ley, a PhD. candidate in political science at Duke University, writing for the Mexican web site Letras Libras, corroborates the critical insufficiency of Mexican government databases to reveal the true extent of the death toll resulting from the so-called Calderon war on drugs:

Finally, all the [Mexican government] databases … ignore other fundamental aspects of the violence: the wounded, the missing, displaced, threatened…. For its part, the Center for International Monitoring estimated a total of 230,000 displaced by drug violence since 2007. However, even these figures are uncertain because of the lack of data, and we do not know where to begin to count.

Currently, dozens of scholars in and outside Mexico work to fill these gaps, but when the federal government continues to hide information on the phenomenon of violence, this continues to fill us with questions. As a result, we may not ever know the real cost of the [so-called] military strategy Felipe Calderon decided to implement during his administration.

What is even worse and imposes an indignity upon the victims – whose faces and histories are real – has resulted from the decision not to update and make the governmental databases functional. These lives become just empty spaces and blank pages that are forgotten and denied. (Translated from the Spanish.)

For those who hope the nightmare of the last six years of the US-backed drug war will decrease under Nieto beginning on December 1, Jim Creechen warns: “When a government changes [in Mexico], it leaves room for other people to fight and try to take over the turf. Everyone is fighting for a piece of the drug war.”

Nieto’s PRI political party has a long history of negotiating payoffs from the cartels in return for “franchises” in designated areas of Mexico. Given a transition between presidents and political parties in 2012, Creechen argues that violence may increase in the short-term as drug cartels and corrupted government (and military and police) interests carve out their territories.

As Nieto prepares to assume the presidency on December 1, he and the PRI have launched a public relations campaign that is trying to promote the image of a NAFTA economic miracle occurring in Mexico. No doubt, there is evidence of the development of a small managerial class for multi-national corporations, but the greater impact of NAFTA has been the decline in small subsistence farming and slave wage jobs in assembly plants known as “maquiladoras” — as well as continuing poverty and an increase in class disparity. Furthermore, declines in violence in a city such as Juarez, known as the murder capital of the world during many of the Calderon years, may just be an indication of a relocation of the battle for drug and corruption dollars, not of an ongoing national trend.

Molloy co-authored an article with Charles Bowden in the Phoenix New Times about Mexicans who have fled for their lives and sought political asylum in the United States. Molloy and Bowden emphasize that the war on drugs has become a war on the Mexican people that includes the Mexican military and police doing the killing:

The United States, the nation worried about terrorism, gives half a billion dollars a year to a Mexican army that murders and terrorizes Mexicans. The United States walls off Mexico on national-security grounds and then decries imaginary violence spilling north across the border. The United States constantly praises the Mexican government for its brave fight against drug organizations, even though in the 5 1/2 years since President Calderón launched the war that has resulted in the murders of at least 100,000 Mexicans, the delivery of drugs has not been disturbed and prices have not increased. The United States has helped to create a death machine, and now the eyewitnesses come north.

Earlier in the Phoenix New Times story, it is noted that: “On July 4, The New York Times declared the War on Drugs a cruel failure, claiming that the price of cocaine, for example, is 74 percent cheaper now than it was 30 years ago. America has spent $20 billion to $25 billion a year to stem the flow of narcotics, to no good end.”

Not only it is a war to meet internal political goals for US politicians, it is also a thriving industry, as NPR reports in its story, “US Grows an Industrial Complex Along the Border.” That is just one aspect of the profiteering – that includes the prison industry in the United States, including privatization and all those who benefit from incarcerating drug “offenders” – which is tied into justifying the assault on the citizens of our southern neighbor. There are many legal and institutional entities that make money off of the war on drugs.

Some of the disappeared will never be found; most of the reasons for the deaths of individuals in Mexico will never be investigated; a relatively small number of murderers will be tried (and they may not even be the actual perpetrators).

Meanwhile, even as two US states legalized marijuana in the recent November election, the so-called war on drugs will continue to claim tens of thousands of lives under the pretext of saving lives.

It’s a war of collateral damage over dollars.

A critical message, before you scroll away

You may not know that Truthout’s journalism is funded overwhelmingly by individual supporters. Readers just like you ensure that unique stories like the one above make it to print – all from an uncompromised, independent perspective.

At this very moment, we’re conducting a fundraiser with a goal to raise $28,000 in the next 2 days. So, if you’ve found value in what you read today, please consider a tax-deductible donation in any size to ensure this work continues. We thank you kindly for your support.