Drug-related homicides in Mexico could conceivably hit another record high this year but the murder count has likely leveled off and is expected to start declining, the University of San Diego said in a report, which also cited an increase in the number of Mexicans seeking asylum in the United States.
“The figures for this year are still quite bad, with more than 10,000 people killed, but not significantly worse than in 2010, when there were at least 20 percent more homicides than in 2009,” David Shirk, director of USD’s Trans-Border Institute, told Efe.
The report was presented Wednesday at a conference in San Diego titled “The Effects of Violence in Mexico on Migration and Immigration Policy.”
Shirk said there had been a sharp slowdown in the “spiral of violence” due to a decrease in homicides in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, which in 2009 accounted for as many as a third of all murders and kidnappings in Mexico, and to new dynamics in cities such as Tijuana.
“Violence in Tijuana peaked in 2008 and 2009. Now presumably, after drug traffickers realized that violence was bad for business, there’s a pact between the Sinaloa cartel and the remnants of the Tijuana (mob), with the former gaining influence, and that’s pushed the violence to the east of the city,” Shirk said.
According to the expert, the “Tijuana model” of not interfering with the traffickers’ operations could be adopted in other Mexican cities, a move that would mean returning to the policy that existed before President Felipe Calderon launched a nationwide crackdown on the cartels upon taking office in December 2006.
The strategy has led to headline-grabbing captures of cartel kingpins, but drug war-related violence has claimed nearly 50,000 lives nationwide over the five-year period.
“That would mean all the death and violence has served no purpose, which is an unfortunate and cynical vision and a great tragedy if they’re unable to interrupt the way the cartels conduct their business,” Shirk said.
A total of 10,933 drug-related deaths were registered through Nov. 4, 2011, the expert said, citing figures compiled by the Mexican media. That compares with 15,273 homicides for all of 2010.
Most of these slayings are concentrated in four states while at least 230,000 Mexicans were internally displaced last year as a result of the war on drugs, which also has led to an increase in the number of asylum requests in the United States.
Those asylum seekers, however, have a difficult time winning their cases in part due to political reasons, immigration attorney and conference participant Ginger Jacobs said, noting that in granting their requests the U.S. government would be acknowledging that Mexico cannot protect its own citizens.
According to the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, 3,231 Mexicans requested asylum last year but only 49 of those petitions were granted. That amounts to a 1.5 percent success rate, compared to 35.6 percent and 41.6 percent for Chinese and Colombian applicants, respectively.
Shirk said Mexico’s plight is due in part to high drug consumption in the United States and the north-to-south flow of weapons and therefore a change in Washington’s current supply-side oriented anti-drug strategy is essential.
Mexico must transform its justice system to give prosecutors autonomy at the local level, but in the United States marijuana must be legalized because most prosecution and policing expenditures there are focused on that drug even though it represents only between 15-20 percent of cartels’ revenues, he said.
Legalization would free up scarce resources that would be better spent tackling much more profitable drugs like cocaine and heroin, which together with expenditures on witness-protection programs and judicial reforms in Mexico could make a difference, the expert said.