Crime in Mexico

Crime in Mexico
Mexican execution by firing squad, 1916

Crime is among the most urgent concerns facing Mexico, as Mexican drug trafficking rings play a major role in the flow of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana transiting between Latin America and the United States. Drug trafficking has led to corruption, which has had a deleterious effect on Mexico's Federal Representative Republic. Drug trafficking and organized crime have also been a major source of violent crime in Mexico.

Mexico has experienced increasingly high crime rates, especially in major urban centers. The country's great economic polarization has stimulated criminal activity in the lower socioeconomic strata, which include the majority of the country's population. Crime continues at high levels, and is repeatedly marked by violence, especially in the cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, and the states of Baja California, Durango, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Chihuahua, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo León.[1] Other metropolitan areas have lower, yet still serious, levels of crime. Low apprehension and conviction rates contribute to the high crime rate.


Crime rates

Crime rates in Mexico per 100,000 inhabitants
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 USA in 2004
Total Crimes 1433.81 1439.41 1391.54 1521.93 1503.71 4118.76
Murder 14.93 15.13 14.11 13.94 13.04 5.62
Murder with firearm 3.45 4.54 3.66 3.53 2.58 1.25
Assault 254.35 257.39 260.39 260.41 251.91 NA
Aggravated assault 171.06 172.02 185.01 187.33 186.68 310.14
Rape 11.89 11.9 13.33 13.05 14.26 32.99
Theft 148.27 108.11 100.22 116.74 112.47 2445.80
Automobile theft 161.15 161.52 162.10 150.66 139.86 432.12
Robbery 316.54 274.63 219.59 158.16 146.57 145.87
Burglary 145.72 153.58 142.58 NA NA 746.22
Fraud 54.63 50.48 50.96 54.64 61.47 NA
Drug offenses 20.62 23.97 24.65 23.38 23.40 NA
Source: The 7th[2] and 8th[3] Surveys, United Nations

Analysis of crime statistics in Mexico indicate that although the crime rate has declined over the last 100 years, there has been a significant upswing within the last two decades led by Mexico City.[citation needed] Since many crimes go unreported, the rates may be much higher than reported by the government.[4]

Rape is rarely reported or punished, owing to old social norms, minor penalties for the crime, and criminal laws. In some rural areas, penalties for rape may consist of a few hours in jail, or minor fines.[5]

Assault and theft make up the vast majority of crimes. While urban areas tend to have higher crimes rates, as is typical in most countries, the United States–Mexico border has also been a problem area. However, with increased awareness and resources, the crime rate along the border has declined faster than in the rest of the country.[6]

Crime in Mexico City

Mexico City's crime rate has begun rising again, after having previously peaked in the late 1990s. Mexico City's inner core has about 8 million people — about the same number as New York City. However, Mexico City's police force is only two-thirds the size of New York City's and is organized into several ill-coordinated forces.[citation needed] Policemen earn less than a quarter of their U.S. counterparts, so a number officers turn to corruption to augment their income. And even in the cases where criminals do get caught, some courts are often too corrupt and inefficient to punish them.[7]

Drug trafficking

The United States is a lucrative market for illegal drugs. The United Nations estimates that nearly 90% of cocaine sold in the United States originates in South America and is smuggled through Mexico.[8] Mexico is the largest foreign supplier of marijuana and the second largest source of heroin for the U.S. market. The majority of methamphetamine sold in the United States is made in Mexico, and Mexican-run methamphetamine labs that operate north of the border account for much of the remainder.[citation needed]

Drug cartels

Mexican drug cartels play a major role in the flow of cocaine, heroin, and marijuana transiting between Latin America and the United States. These drug cartels often use Mexican-American gangs to distribute their narcotics.

Mexican drug cartels also have ties to Colombian drug traffickers, and other international organized crime. A sharp spike in drug-related violence has some analysts worrying about the 'Colombianization' of Mexico.[9]

Domestic production of illegal drugs

Bricks of cocaine, a form in which it is commonly transported.

Some illegal drugs are also produced in Mexico, including significant amounts of opium poppy, and marijuana in the western Sierra Madre Mountains region.[10] Mexico has increasingly become a major producer of amphetamines and other synthetic drugs in the North American market (e.g. crystal), especially in the states of Guerrero, Michoacán, Jalisco and the Distrito Federal.[10] Since early 2007, the export of manufactured drugs has been controlled by the Beltran-Leyva brothers (Sonora-Sinaloa-DF) and "la Familia de Michoacán". These two crime groups have controlled the corridors from the deep sea port of Lázaro Cárdenas in Michoacán, where precursor products to manufacture synthetic drugs are imported from the far East.[11]

Domestic consumption of illegal drugs

Marijuana, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and other drugs are increasingly consumed in Mexico, especially by youths in urban areas and northern parts of the country.[12]


High levels of corruption in the police, judiciary, and government in general have contributed greatly to the crime problem. Corruption is a significant obstacle to Mexico's achieving a stable democracy.[13]

Mexico is ranked the 86th least corrupt country in the world which makes them less corrupt than Argentina and more corrupt than China. This is according to the Corruption Perceptions Index, which is based on 13 different surveys and includes police, business, and political corruption.

In law enforcement

The organization of police forces in Mexico is complex; each police force has a different level of jurisdiction and authority, and those levels often overlap. The Procuraduría General de la República (Federal Attorney General's office) along with the law enforcement agencies Policia Federal Preventiva and Agencia Federal de Investigación, has responsibility for overseeing law enforcements across the entire country. In addition, there are several police organizations at the state, district, and city level. Since pay is generally poor (US$285–$400 per month), police officers are more likely to accept bribes to protect criminals or ignore crime entirely.[14] Law enforcement personnel are often presented with the option of choosing "Plata o Plomo"; meaning they can either accept a bribe (plata, for silver) or they will be killed (plomo, for lead).

Corruption plagues the various levels of police, and is frequently difficult to track down and prosecute since police officers may be protected by district attorneys and other members of the judiciary. The problem is especially pronounced in northern border areas such as Tijuana, where police are engaged by drug traffickers to protect and enforce their illicit interests.[15]

The Mexican police force often do not investigate crimes, will generally randomly select someone to be the guilty party then fabricate the evidence. [16] This issue is a major problem throughout Mexico as many of the actual police force are the ones involved in the crimes or are trying to cover up their poor police work. [17]

In the judiciary

A United Nations Special Rapporteur undertook a mission to Mexico in 2002 to investigate reports by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that the country's judiciary and administration of law was not independent.[18] During the course of his visit to a number of cities, the rapporteur observed that corruption in the judiciary had not been reduced significantly. One of the principal issues is that, because the federal courts operate at a relatively high level, most citizens are compelled to seek justice in the inadequate state courts.[18]

Additionally, the rapporteur expressed concerns about such issues as disorganization in the legal profession, difficulties and harassment faced by lawyers, poor trial procedures, poor access to the justice system for indigenous peoples and minors, and lacklustre investigation of many crimes.[18]

Violent crime against journalists

A significant trend of violent crime against journalists has appeared in the country in recent years.[19] Although the problem has existed since at least 1970, 15 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000 alone.[19] Few of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. One of the more prominent cases was that of syndicated columnist Francisco Arratia Saldierna, a prominent and well-known journalist who wrote a column called Portavoz (or "Spokesman"). The column featured topics such as corruption, organized crime, and drug trafficking.[20]

Arratia's murder, which was particularly brutal, and others like it, sparked demands from other journalists that then-President Vicente Fox do more to enforce security and bring those responsible for the murders to justice. In 2004, a group of 215 reporters and editors sent an urgent letter to President Fox and other federal authorities, demanding that they address these concerns. The letter represented a massive communication effort coming from professionals from 19 of the nation's 31 states. The key demand was that violent crimes against journalists be made federal crimes, so they would be investigated and prosecuted by federal officers and not by local officials whom the letter claims could be the same people who commit the crimes.[20]

The effect of these crimes has been the self-censorship of many journalists, due to fears of retribution from criminals.[19] The situation has earned attention from prominent global organizations such as the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Center for Journalism and Public Ethics (CEPET). Amerigo Incalcaterra of the OHCHR advocated the protection of journalists and the preservation of freedom of speech, calling it "essential for the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law in this country".[19]


According to the CNDH, only one out of every ten crimes is reported in Mexico; this is due to lack of trust from citizens to the authorities. Furthermore, only one out of 100 reported crimes actually goes to sentencing. This means that one out of every 1000 crimes is punished.[21]

Effects on tourism

A significant number of United States citizens visit Mexico; the U.S. State Department estimates it at 15 to 16 million per year.[22] Tourists visiting Mexico may face a number of problems related to criminal activity, including:

  • Extortion by law enforcement and other officials.
  • Kidnappings, particularly in northern border cities.
  • Taxi robberies and armed robbery.
  • Purse-snatching and pickpocketing.

Due to crime reaching a critical level in Mexico City and many other areas, tourism to Mexico has suffered.[23]

Efforts to combat crime

Law enforcement initiatives

Mexican law enforcement is divided between federal, state, and municipal entities. Estimates range between 1,600 and 3,000 different police forces in total. There are over 350,000 police agents in Mexico.[citation needed]

At all levels, policing in Mexico tends to maintain separate forces for patrol/response (preventive) policing on the one hand and investigative (judicial) policing on the other.

Federal forces at the border

In June 2005, the government deployed federal forces to three states to contain surging violence linked to organized crime. At a news conference in Mexico City, presidential spokesman Rubén Aguilar told reporters that the new deployment was the result of evidence that organized crime has penetrated some local police departments.[24]

Technology in Tijuana

In response to a rise in violent crime in the region of Tijuana, considered one of the five most violent areas of the country by the U.S. State Department, mayor Jorge Hank Rhon deployed a massive technology update to the city's police force in February 2006.[citation needed] The technology includes surveillance equipment, handheld computers, and alarm systems. Since tourism is a staple of the economy in Tijuana, the mayor has tried to make reforms to highlight the safety of tourist areas.[citation needed]

Political initiatives

President Vicente Fox took power in December 2000 promising to crack down on crime and improve a judicial system rife with corruption and ineptitude. Upon taking office, he established a new ministry of Security and Police, doubled the pay for police officers, and committed to other ethics reforms.[25] President Fox also cited drug trafficking and drug consumption as the top cross-border priority issue.[25]

During the first three years of Fox's government, the official number of reported kidnappings showed a slight decrease, from 505 in 2001 to 438 in 2003. The new Federal Investigation Agency (Procuraduria de Justicia) reported dismantling 48 kidnapping rings and saving 419 victims.[26]

Cooperation with the United States

In 1996, Mexico changed its policy to allow extradition of its citizens to the United States to face trial.[27] Previously, the Constitution had forbidden its citizens to be extradited.

In 2005, the U.S. State Department defended efforts by the two countries to reduce violence and drug trafficking on the border following decisions by governors in the U.S. states of Arizona and New Mexico to declare an emergency in their border counties. The two governors stated that the federal government's inability to control crime and violence related to illegal immigration had forced them to take matters into their own hands. The Mexican government criticized the emergency declarations.[28]

The U.S. state of Texas and Mexican police officials held a conference in San Antonio to discuss ways of coordinating efforts to stop crime but there are questions about how successful the program will be.[29]

Many Mexican police officials in border towns have been targets of assassination by drug cartels, who have even threatened local law enforcement in the United States.[30] Drug cartels have even acquired equipment like Mexican Army uniforms, Humvees, grenades and .50 calibre sniper rifles which can penetrate most light armour including armoured cars.[citation needed] The United States ambassador launched a formal complaint with the government on this issue.[citation needed]

In January 2003, the security consulting company of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was hired by business leaders to come up with a plan to clean up Mexico City, which has the second-highest crime rate in Latin America.[31] If such a plan was developed, it was either not implemented or not effective.[citation needed] Further information about the plan was not provided by the government nor Giuliani.[citation needed]

Social initiatives

Protest march against crime

In June 2004, at least a million people marched through the Mexican capital and other cities to protest the failure of federal and local governments to control crime in one of the world's most crime-ridden countries.[32]

In 2008 a second civilian protest was made after independent NGOs exhorted the public, again, at least one million people attended over Mexico City and other major cities all across Mexico. On this second march candles were lit and the national anthem was played. The protest generated more public attention perhaps because in this same year, a 12-year-old son of the Marti family, owners of a prominent well-known sports gear business, was abducted and murdered. In the same year, a similar situation occurred to the 19-year-old daughter of Nelson Vargas, a businessman and former government representative. These two cases brought great public attention since the scale of crime and violence was very rare to hit over certain social groups, being these amongst the most remarkable exemptions.

See also

Mexican Drug War:


  1. ^ "El narco se expande en México". New America Media. Retrieved 7 October 2011. 
  2. ^ "The Seventh United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (1998 - 2000)". 
  3. ^ "The Eighth United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems (2001 - 2002)". 
  4. ^ "Mexico City crime rate rises sharply". AP/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. 1997, December 15. 
  5. ^ Jordan, Mary (2002, June 30). "In Mexico, an Unpunished Crime". The Washington Post. 
  6. ^ Orrenias, Pia M. and Coronado, Roberto (May/June 2003). "Falling Crime and Rising Border Enforcement: Is There a Connection?" (PDF). Southwest Economy. 
  7. ^ "The very odd couple, Can Rudolph Giuliani make Mexico city safer?". The Economist. 2002, October 17. 
  8. ^ Cook, Colleen W., ed (October 16). "Mexico's Drug Cartels" (PDF). CRS Report for Congress. Congressional Research Service. p. 9. Retrieved 2009-11-06. 
  9. ^ Contreras, Joseph. "Losing the Battle: A sharp spike in drug-related violence has some analysts worrying about the 'Colombianization' of Mexico". Newsweek International. 
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ Leticia Díaz, Gloria. 2009. "Estado de Mexico: Nuevo Domnio de "la Familia"." Pp. 30-33 in Proceso Edición Especial #25. Mexico City, D.F.: Proceso: semanario de Información y analisis General editor: Rafael Rodriguez Castaneda.
  12. ^ Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (2002). Encuesta Nacional de Adicciones 2002. 
  13. ^ Bailey, John, Ph.D. (2000-2002). The Mexico Project. Center for Latin American Studies, Georgetown University. Archived from the original on 2006-09-01. Retrieved 2006-06-05. 
  14. ^ "Mexico Police and Law Enforcement Organizations". Photius. 
  15. ^ "Police Drug Corruption". 
  16. ^ Thompson, Ginger (September 26, 2005). "In Mexico's Murders, Fury Is Aimed at Officials". New York Times. 
  17. ^ "Mexico Police Torture persists". Reuters News Alerts. 
  18. ^ a b c "Civil and Political Rights: Independence of the Judiciary, Administration of Justice, and Impunity" (PDF). U.N. Commission on Human Rights. 
  19. ^ a b c d Cevallos, Diego (2006-05-02). "WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY-MEXICO: 5 YEARS, 15 JOURNALISTS KILLED". IPS - Inter Press Service/Global Information Network. 
  20. ^ a b Hayward, Susana (2004-09-07). "Mexican journalists seek justice in deaths of colleagues". Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. 
  21. ^ Liliana Alcántara (December 15th, 2008) CNDH ve impunidad en 99% de delitos, El Universal, Retrieved February 11th, 2009
  22. ^ Preston, Julia (1998, May 1). "State Department Warns of 'Critical Levels' of Crime in Mexico". The New York Times. 
  23. ^ "Tips for Travelers to Mexico". U.S. Department of State. 
  24. ^ "Mexico deploys federal forces against organized crime along border". KRISTV.COM. 2005, June 13. 
  25. ^ a b Sánchez, Marcela - host (2001, February 15). "Leaders of the Americas, Live online chat with Mexican President Vicente Fox". The Washington Post. 
  26. ^ "Demonstrations against crime surge spread all over Latin America". Pravda. 2004, June 24. 
  27. ^ LaGesse, David (1996, March 29). "Mexico to allow extradition to U.S.". The Press Enterprise (Riverside, Ca.). 
  28. ^ Talhelm, Jennifer. "State Department defends U.S. and Mexico crime-fighting on border". San Diego Union-Tribune. 
  29. ^ "Texas Attorney General - Press release archives". 
  30. ^ "Murder money & Mexico". PBS. 
  31. ^ "Giuliani targets Mexico crime wave". BBC. 2003, January 14. 
  32. ^ "Huge march against crime wave". China Daily. 2004, June 28. 

Other references

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