Murders in Mexico hit record high

MEXICO CITY • Mexico this year registered its highest murder total since modern records began, according to official data, dealing a fresh blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto's pledge to get gang violence under control with presidential elections due in 2018.

All in, 23,101 murder investigations were opened in the first 11 months of this year, surpassing the 22,409 registered in the whole of 2011, according to figures published last Friday by the Interior Ministry.

Mr Pena Nieto took office in December 2012 pledging to tame the violence that had escalated under his predecessor Felipe Calderon. He managed to reduce the murder tally during the first two years of his term, but since then, the number has risen steadily.

However, at 18.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, the 2017 Mexican murder rate is still lower than it was in 2011, when it reached almost 19.4 per 100,000, the data shows.

The rate has also held below levels reported in several other Latin American countries.

According to United Nations figures used in the World Bank's online database, Brazil and Colombia both had a murder rate of 27 per 100,000, Venezuela 57, Honduras 64 and El Salvador 109 in 2015, the last year for which data is available. The rate in the United States was 5 per 100,000.

Still, Mr Pena Nieto's failure to contain the killings has damaged his credibility and hurt his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, which faces an uphill struggle to hold on to power in the presidential election next July.

The law bars Mr Pena Nieto from running again. The current front runner in the race, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has floated the idea of an amnesty with criminal gangs to reduce the violence, without fleshing it out.

Mexican newspaper Reforma last Saturday said that after a campaign stop in the central state of Hidalgo the day before, Mr Lopez Obrador again addressed the issue of talks with criminal gangs, saying: "There can be dialogue with everyone. There needs to be dialogue and there needs to be a push to end the war and guarantee peace. Things can't go on as before."

Such a strategy harbours risks for the former Mexico City mayor. A poll earlier this month showed that two-thirds of Mexicans reject offering an amnesty to members of criminal gangs in a bid to curb violence, with less than a quarter in favour.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 25, 2017, with the headline 'Murders in Mexico hit record high'. Print Edition | Subscribe