Thursday, January 17, 2013

Is Mexico City losing its “shield?”

Mexico City and its environs have long been a sort of haven from the country’s organized crime-related bloodshed. Unlike notoriously violent cities like Ciudad Juárez, Monterrey and Acapulco, the country’s capital has a homicide rate lower than Washington’s. Mexico City itself — with about 8.9 million people — averages about 2 homicides per day.

Analysts say that the capital’s relative peace owes to criminal groups’ unwillingness to confront the country’s economic and political power centers — as well as their desire that the city remain neutral ground. “It’s very likely that they have family and homes here. They come here for meetings, for negotiations, to make agreements,” Jorge Chabat of the Mexican think-tank CIDE told CNN last year. “But they know that committing violence in Mexico City would cost them a lot. This is like a neutral territory.”

The violence in Mexico City and its metropolitan area started to get noticeably worse last year, with organized crime or drug-related homicides, as of September, up about 15 percent over 2011. But something appears to have snapped since last weekend.

Since Saturday, the Mexico City Federal District (DF) registered its largest number of homicides in the past six years. About 20 people were killed in three days, more than three times the city’s daily average. “This is not common for the Federal District,” said Assistant Attorney General Edmundo Garrido.

The situation has been even worse in the poor suburbs on the outskirts of Mexico City, outside the Federal District in the state of Mexico, where President Enrique Peña Nieto served as governor until 2011. At least 29 people have been killed since the weekend in Mexico state.

  • Sunday 13: 2 killed along the road between Temascaltepec and Toluca, the state capital (west of Mexico City). 1 killed in Ocuilan (southwest of Mexico City) and a “message intimidating the autorities” left with the body.
  • Monday 14: Five bodies showing signs of torture found in Toluca (west). Six bodies, cut up and left in plastic bags, found in Zinacantepec (west). Three bodies found in Valle de Chalco (southeast). Three bodies found in Nezahualcóyotl (east). Two dead in Santiago Tianguistenco (west), two shot in Lerma (west) and Jiquipilco (west).
  • Tuesday 15: Three killed in the eastern part of the state. Two more in the Valle de Chalco.
  • Wednesday 16: Two killed in Valle de Chalco, one in Chalco (southeast), one in Ecatepec (north), one in Ixtapaluca (southeast).

“The capital is beginning to lose its shield against criminal violence — violence that during the last six years terrorized much of the national territory — and that according to all official reports, until a few months ago had not penetrated the Federal District,” wrote columnist Ricardo Alemán in the daily El Universal on Monday.

None of the authorities, and none of the media coverage we’ve seen, have offered any solid theories about why is this happening now, and who is behind the killing. The Prosecutor-General’s office (PGR) for Mexico state said that some of the recent murders owed to a turf war between the Familia Michoacana organization and another group called the Guerreros Unidos, but it’s not clear how many of the deaths this theory might explain, if any.

It is hard not to note, though, that violence in Mexico City has spiked so soon after a change in government. If this continues, it will be the principal challenge that new President Enrique Peña Nieto will face this year, eclipsing much else on his political agenda.