MEXICO CITY — Tijuana was the most violent city in the world in 2018, according a new report by a Mexican nonprofit group that ranked cities based on their homicide rates. The report by the Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice found that five out of six of the world’s most violent municipalities were in Mexico, where homicides have risen to historic levels in recent years amid a military-led war against criminal groups.
In Tijuana, where local gangs have been battling over a lucrative domestic drug market, the report tallied 138 killings per 100,000 residents last year, or about seven killings on average per day. The Mexican resort city of Acapulco was in second place, with 111 killings per 100,000 people. Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, which has been beset by crime and food shortages amid the country’s ongoing political crisis, was in third place with 100 killings per 100,000 people.
The fourth and fifth most violent cities, according to the Citizens’ Council, were two Mexican border cities: Ciudad Victoria, in the state of Tamaulipas, and Ciudad Juarez, in the state of Chihuahua. Irapuato, a city in the state of Guanajuato that has been the site of fierce battles over control of stolen gasoline, is sixth on the list. There were 15 Mexican cities on the list of 50, more than any other country in the world.
The report paints a picture of a nation in crisis, and calls into question the efficacy of Mexico’s militaristic approach to fighting crime.
Since 2006, when then-President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country’s drug traffickers, a combination of soldiers, marines and federal police have taken to the streets to break up powerful cartels. While the so-called “kingpin” strategy proved successful in weakening some groups, it also unwittingly spawned new ones who sought to capitalize on the disruption.
Many of those newer groups have branched into businesses beyond drug trafficking and are now involved in fuel theft, migrant smuggling, local drug sales and other forms of illicit activity.
Mexico’s new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, campaigned on a promise of pacification, criticizing Calderon for converting “the country into a cemetery.” The military-led strategy was maintained under Calderon’s successor, Enrique Pena Nieto, the predecessor of Lopez Obrador.
As a candidate, Lopez Obrador pledged to use economic development, not the military, to address the root causes of crime. He also proposed a controversial amnesty plan that would allow some nonviolent criminals to walk free.
Lopez Obrador made headlines shortly after he was sworn into office when he declared “there is officially no more war” against criminal groups. Still, he recently sent a large battalion of soldiers to Tijuana and has pushed for the creation of a 70,000-member national guard to help restore public safety.
Critics say that a national guard, which would be made up of ex-soldiers and marines and report in part to the Defense Ministry, would simply be a continuation of the militaristic strategy criticized by Lopez Obrador. What is needed, they say, is more training for police and investments in the justice system. Government statistics show that only about 7 percent of all crimes are properly investigated and about 2 percent result in convictions.
Lopez Obrador says the national guard would be different than the military because unlike the armed forces, it would have the mandate and capacity to assist in criminal investigations.
Violence in Mexico has come under added scrutiny in recent months since the U.S. began sending some Central American migrants who have applied for political asylum back to Mexico to await rulings in their cases. The program began in Tijuana and is expected to expand to other border cities.
Migrant advocates on both sides of the border decried the program after two Honduran teens were killed in Tijuana late last year while waiting to cross into the U.S., and after more than two dozen migrants were kidnapped off buses in Tamaulipas in recent weeks, not far from the U.S. border.
In recent months, President Donald Trump has pointed to rising levels of violence in Mexico as justification for construction of a border wall between the two countries.
The U.S. has long played a prominent role in Mexico’s militaristic approach to crime fighting. Since 2008, the U.S. has appropriated more than $2.6 billion for the Merida Initiative, a partnership with the Mexican government aimed at disrupting organized crime and reforming Mexico’s ailing police and justice systems.
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