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Mexican government finally releases drug war deaths data

January 16, 2012

Having refused to release official murder data for “national security” reasons only last week, the Mexican government has performed a complete u-turn and made public the statistics on drug-related violence for 2011.

The government data, released early Wednesday, reveals 12,903 people were killed in the war on drugs between January and September last year, representing a rise of 11 percent from the 11,583 killed in the same period in 2010. While the number of deaths each year continues to rise, it has not increased as rapidly as in the previous yearly cycle, when the murder rate jumped by 70 percent.

The publication of the data comes as a surprise, given that just last week the Felipe Calderon administration classified the figures as confidential; giving no date of when they might be released. The federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) made the announcement in response to two requests submitted last year through the Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI).

When a citizen requested information on the number of homicides related to organized crime under the Federal Transparency Law, the PGR – which had not released any official figures on drug-related murders since last January – said such data was nonexistent. Pressed by the IFAI, the PGR then declared it confidential for reasons of national security.

The government explained the data was held back because the preliminary figures had yet to be verified, but the sudden nature of this about-turn has raised suspicions that it came as the result of public criticism for a lack of transparency.

The new data reveals that the total death toll from when President Calderon declared war on the nation’s drug cartels in December 2006 up until September 2011 is 47,515. The figure is likely to have now reached the 50,000 mark.

In a statement, the PGR said the murders were the result of “the rivalry between criminal organizations” and were largely concentrated in eight of Mexico’s 32 states. The PGR also claimed, rather disingenuously, that last year’s 11-percent rise was “a significant decrease” on previous years.

While the drug-related murder toll did not rise as sharply as in previous years (70 percent from 2009-2010; 63 percent from 2008-2009; 110 percent from 2007-2008) there were more people killed last year than ever before, making it somewhat misleading to describe this as “a significant decrease.”

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