Mexico’s drug war ranks as world’s second-deadliest conflict

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By Allan Wall

Readers may note that several reports and evaluations of Mexican violence in 2016 have now been released, in calendar year 2017. As examples:

1. According to statistics of the Mexican government itself, murders in Mexico increased in 2016. See Mexico’s murder rate spiked in 2016 due to ‘ongoing shifts in the underworld’.

2. The consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft compiled a Crime Rate Index for calendar year 2016, and ranked Mexico as the third most dangerous country in the world. (See Report credits drug trafficking for Mexico’s ranking as world’s third most dangerous country).

3. A Mexican NGO called the Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y Justicia Penal, A.C. (Citizen Council for Public Security and Penal Justice) released a list of the world’s 50 cities with the highest homicide rates in 2016. Mexico has eight cities on it (while the U.S. has four). See Eight Mexican, and 4 U.S. cities on world’s most murderous list .

Gisela Mota, the mayor of Temixco, Mexico, was gunned down on Jan. 2, 2016, one day after taking office. / Tony Rivera / AFP / Getty

More recently, the Armed Conflict Survey 2017 has been released by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS), which lists the Mexican Drug War as the world’s second-deadliest conflict, after the Syrian Civil War.

The IISS (not to be confused with ISIS) is a think tank dealing with international affairs, with headquarters in Arundel House in London. The organization has former UK and US officials in its membership.

The IISS report measures conflict deaths, and includes the Mexican drug wars as a conflict.

The IISS report has Syria, with its civil war, as the world’s most dangerous conflict, the fifth year in a row for Syria. In calendar year 2016, that conflict had an estimated 50,000 deaths resulting from the country’s Civil War.

Mexico is in second place, with 23,000 conflict deaths in the country. That figure is higher than previously-released Mexican government statistics of 20,792 murders in 2016. See here.

Iraq, currently fighting ISIS, followed at 17,000 deaths, and Afghanistan (still a conflict zone) is at #4 with 16,000 deaths. Yemen, currently in the midst of a civil war, had 7,000 deaths.

So, when you classify Mexico as a war zone it stacks up comparably in quantity of deaths with the current civil wars in the Middle East, only being surpassed by Syria.

Also troubling is the fact that such conflict deaths are rising in Mexico, which had 17,000 such deaths in 2015 and 15,000 in 2014.

The report quoted IISS Director General and Chief Executive John Chipman, who said, “The death toll in Mexico’s conflict surpasses those for Afghanistan and Somalia. This is even more surprising, considering that the conflict deaths are nearly all attributable to small arms. Mexico is a conflict marked by the absence of artillery, tanks or combat aviation.”

The Mexican government has disputed the think tank’s analysis. As reported on the CNN website, “The Mexican government lashed out at the report’s writers. In a statement posted to its website, the government criticizes the report’s characterization of Mexico having a non-international armed conflict, saying the military’s policing of criminal gangs does not equate to what goes on in other countries. It also disagreed with the report’s methodology. The statement, from Mexico’s interior ministry and foreign ministry, questions the number of killings in the report. ‘The total estimate of intentional homicides at the national level in 2016 has still not been published by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), so it’s unknown where the figure used in the report came from,’ the ministries said, according to a CNN translation. There are other reasons for killings besides connections to drug gangs, the government said. ‘In this sense, the report starts from a base that is erroneous and lacking in technical rigor,’ the statement said, adding that when figures are adjusted for population, many other countries are more violent than Mexico.”

Maybe the problem is how to classify the nature of the Mexican drug cartel war. It is a type of war or conflict, true, but it’s not comparable in many ways to the ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.

The Mexican drug cartels are not really trying to control territory in the same way, for example, that the Islamic State is in Syria and Iraq. The drug cartels are not trying to impose another form of government or promote an ideology.

What the drug cartels want to do is move their product through Mexican territory into the U.S.A. That makes it no less deadly, but they are different sorts of conflicts. And yet, there is no doubt that the Mexican drug cartel war is a deadly conflict.