Mexico homicide rate edges up in 2019; rate of rise slows

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The number of homicides in Mexico rose to 35,588 in 2019, the highest number on record, but the rate of annual increase in murders has slowed, according to government figures.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has acknowledged that crime and violence are the toughest challenges he faces. But on Tuesday, he said corruption is the country's main problem.

López Obrador said white-collar criminals have done more damage to Mexico than the drug cartels responsible for many of the killings.

“We are giving the almost the same weight to (fighting) white-collar crime as we do to drug cartels,” López Obrador said.

“I maintain that the greatest damage to Mexico has been done by white-collar criminals,” he said, adding that it was a distraction to focus on drug lords like Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman as past administrations did, because Guzman stole less than corrupt businessmen and politicians.

“I think it was a way to distract attention from the looting that was going on," López Obrador said.

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Others said that while the government offensive against white-collar crime is good, authorities also have to get a handle on violent crime as well.

There were 933 more homicides in Mexico in 2019 than in 2018. But that 2.7% increase was well below the double-digit growth in killings in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. In those years, homicides increased by annual rates of 27%, 28% and 17%, respectively.

While it is not clear what percentage of homicides are related to drug gang violence, the fact that thee gangs have expanded into extortion and kidnapping makes them Mexico's main single source of violence.

“”Go ahead, fight money laundering all you want, but if the government does not have territorial control in significant part of the country, how are we going to solve this?" said security analyst Alejandro Hope.

Hope referred to a recent attack on a town in Chihuahua where a convoy of about 150 cartel gunmen in as many as 50 vehicles burned houses and abducted residents.

“They drove around on streets and highways and nobody stopped them,” Hope said. “They can fight money laundering all they want, but that is not going to prevent 150 cartel hit men from driving around armed to the teeth.”

The panorama of violence in 2019 was uneven nationwide.

Some states that previously saw dizzying levels of violence calmed a bit. That was the case in the northern border state of Baja California, the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo and the southern state of Guerreo.

But other states saw homicides spike in 2019, like the northern border state of Sonora, where homicides rose 57% compared to 2018. Homicides were up 15% in the northern border state of Chihuahua and 11% in the western state of Jalisco.

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