MEXICO CITY – Homicides in Mexico have dropped 15 percent to 20 percent in the first six months of this year compared to the same period of 2011, according to Mexican President Felipe Calderón.
Calderón said 2011 had proved "a climactic point" in drug-related killings, though he did not cite specific figures, in an interview published Sunday by the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
The announced decline in murders comes months before the newly elected president Enrique Peña Nieto prepares to launch a new drug war strategy when he takes office in December.
"Today, violence related to rivalries between criminals is declining," he said. "It is higher than when I assumed the presidency, yes, but I insist it is a phenomenon that comes from the brutality and conflicts between cartels, and not precisely from the government's actions."
Today, violence related to rivalries between criminals is declining.
- Felipe Calderón, Mexico's President
Calderón claimed in an interview with The Wall Street Journal last month that drug-related killings in Mexico had fallen by roughly 12 percent in the first five months of this year, although he and his administration have refused to release the actual figures of drug-linked homicides since last September.
The last set of official figures showed such homicides rose 11 percent to 12,903 during the first nine months of 2011, up from 11,583 in the same period of 2010.
As of the report in September, drug violence had killed more than 47,500 people since Calderón launched an offensive against Mexico's cartels when he took office in December 2006.
Gruesome mass killings continue in parts of northern and western Mexico. In June, members of a drug cartel dumped 49 bodies without heads, hands or feet on a highway near the northern industrial city of Monterrey.
A New Strategy
The numbers by the Calderón administration come as Mexico's next president Peña Nieto prepares to launch a new drug war strategy that he said will halve the number of kidnappings and murders during his six-year term.
Though the strategy has yet to be detailed, Peña Nieto's new strategy will move law enforcement from concentrating on big drug busts and focusing instead on protecting ordinary citizens from gangs.
Calderón's 5 1/2 year war against the big cartels has been criticized for fracturing spawning smaller gangs like La Linea in Chihuahua state and La Barredora in the city of Acapulco that view ordinary citizens as their primary source of illicit income.
Peña Nieto also says he wants to increase security spending and nearly double the ranks of the federal police by 35,000 officers, continuing Calderón's strategy of bolstering the national force and using it in places where local law enforcement is weak or corrupt.
And he wants to consolidate Mexico's thousands of notoriously ineffective local police departments with the 31 state forces, another idea proposed but only partially completed under Calderón.
The similarity of Peña Nieto's publicly announced plans to those of his predecessor has fed doubts.
"I'm more and more convinced that they don't really have a blueprint," said Eric Olson, associate director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
Peña Nieto's record as governor of the State of Mexico, which adjoins Mexico City, also points to the likelihood of continuity in the national drug war. His term saw aggressive policing against organized crime, but unremarkable results in the numbers of violent crimes.