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Examining the drug-war death-toll debate

December 20, 2012

Just how many people were killed in Mexico during President Felipe Calderon’s six-year war on organized crime?

The most commonly cited figure among media reports is of “over 60,000 deaths,” but in the absence of up-to-date official statistics, other estimates range wildly.

Sixty-thousand appears to be the most conservative estimate, with the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity claiming over 80,000 have been killed and another 20,000 have disappeared. Italy’s ANSA Latina makes it 83,541 deaths, while France’s Le Monde puts the figure at 95,632.

One of the highest estimates came in March from U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who said 150,000 people had been killed in Mexico’s war on drugs, citing unpublished figures from Mexican officials.

That speculation is so rampant is partly because the Mexican government has stopped releasing an official body count. The last figure to come from the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) was of 47,515 deaths from December 2006 to September 2011.

Assuming the death rate has continued since then at the monthly average recorded between January and September 2011 (although it may actually have fallen slightly this year), the total number of people killed during Calderon’s administration would reach 74,155, equivalent to about 0.06 percent of Mexico’s population.

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