Why are some states more violent than others?

Written by Narcomappingmx, February 10, 2021


You may have heard from some that Mexico is a warzone where shootouts happen daily, more dangerous than the war in Syria. Others say that the media exaggerates the crime in Mexico, that Mexico is in fact quite safe, and that they had a great visit to a beach resort last Spring break. The truth is that these are both true. Right now there are two Mexicos. Many states in Mexico enjoy peace, with low crimes rates and limited presence of organized crime. Other states have murder rates among the highest in the world. How are these “Two Mexicos” possible?


Violence is concentrated in strategically important places. There are many areas in Mexico, called “plazas”. These plazas may be port cities such as Mazatlan, Sinaloa (important for smuggling drugs, weapons,and precursor chemicals out of the country, and smuggling money back), border cities such as Reynosa, Tamaulipas (important for smuggling drugs and people into the US), plazas that have value for extracting income from the populace such as Mexico City (extortion, prostitution, money laundering, drug dealing), or plazas along important trafficking routes such as Caborca, Sonora (controls access smuggling routes North). 


These plazas become violent as their control is vital for the survival of criminal organizations. Conversely, some states hold very little value to a cartel and are quite safe. Some examples are states like Nayarit, Oaxaca, or Chiapas.


Tracking violence can be difficult as states under report their crime numbers. State officials are incentivized to make their regions appear safer than they truly are, as many states rely on tourism.  Statistics firm México Evalúa found misrepresentation of crime data by the government in all 32 states of Mexico. Some examples of this manipulation was inflating numbers of petty crimes to make the percentage of violent crimes appear lower, or misclassifying violent homicides, “homocidios dolorosos,” such as murder, by counting them as manslaughter or accidents, “homocidios culposos,” such as car crash fatalities.


Making matters worse, citizens under report crimes. Widespread distrust of the police in Mexico means that the people of Mexico don't bother contacting the police when they are a victim of a crime. A study conducted by INEGI, the Mexican statistics agency, found that 92% of crimes in Mexico go unreported. This figure suggests that violent crime in Mexico may be much higher than current data show. 


Additionally, journalists in Mexico deal with intense suppression by organized crime groups. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has recorded the murders of over 150 journalists in the last twenty years in Mexico. Credible threats, assault, or death can be part of the job description for crime journalists in Mexico. These risks cause some reporters to cease reporting on the drug war, or report instead on the orders of an organized crime group.