Published August 10, 2012
The death toll in Mexico’s bloody drug war has been hotly debated since outgoing President Felipe Calderón declared an offensive on the country’s drug cartels back in 2006.
The Mexican government, human rights groups and the media argued over the actual body count, until most media outlets finally settled on 50,000 as an approximate number for those killed in violence. However, a border and Latin American specialist at the New Mexico State University Library posits that the actual number is much higher…by almost double.
Molly Molloy, a researcher at New Mexico State University who maintains the Mexican news and discussion site Frontera List, has kept a detailed record of the bloodshed and estimates that the total homicides from December 2006 through June 2012 to stand at 99,667, according to an article written by Molloy in the Phoenix New Times.
“Assuming that a similar rate of murder continues through the remaining months of this year, the homicide toll at the end of Calderón's presidency will add up to 110,061 victims,” continued Molloy.
The Mexican government along with some media outlets state that 90 percent of those killed in the violence involved in the drug trade, Molloy argues that out of the 10,800-plus victims killed in the border city of Ciudad Juárez since 2007 the vast majority of them had no involvement in the cartels. With a population of only 1.2 million residents, Ciudad Juárez accounts for 10 percent of all of Mexico's murder victims since 2007.
“In Mexico, you get to be a criminal as soon as the Mexican government kills you,” Molloy wrote. “Until that moment, most people who knew you had no idea you were a bad person.”
The death toll is not the only number in Mexico’s drug war that has been argued over. From the number of weapons smuggled from the United States into Mexico to the effectiveness of the military’s efforts to the street price of the drugs in the U.S., numbers when it comes to the drug war are never cut and dry.
In July, the New York Times reported that the street value in the U.S. for a gram of Mexican cocaine is $177.26, which is 74 percent cheaper than it was 30 years ago.
“This number contains pretty much all you need to evaluate the Mexican and American governments’ “war” to eradicate illegal drugs from the streets of the United States,” wrote Eduardo Porter in the Times. “What it says is that the struggle on which they have spent billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of lives over the last four decades has failed.”
The crackdown on cartels in Mexico has also led to rising concerns from other Latin American leaders that the violence will spread into neighboring countries as traffickers looks for new routes to funnel drugs from South America into the U.S.
Last year, the Zetas cartel massacred 27 people working on a farm in the northern Guatemalan department of Petén and more recently U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers exchanged deadly gunfire with suspected drug traffickers in Honduras’ remote Miskito Coast, only a month after 11 people were killed in similar raid.
Incoming Mexican Presdient Enrique Peña Nieto has promised to reorganize how the drug war is fought by moving away from busting traffickers and instead focus on protecting citizens.
The ambiguity of Peña Nieto's drug war plans has fed fears that he might look the other way if cartels smuggle drugs northward without creating violence in Mexico.
“Mexico’s suffering from the violence caused by organized crime has approached Colombian proportions in just a few years,” wrote Ernesto Zedillo former Mexican President and current director of the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University. “If, sadly, Central America is bound to become the next important battleground for the “war on drugs,” then the picture portrayed by Joaquín Villalobos [a Salvadoran politician and former guerrilla leader] on violence in Central America should be a very worrisome one.”