Mexico’s peacefulness improved by 3.5 percent in 2020. After four years of successive deteriorations, this marks a change in trend following the sharp increases in violence recorded between 2015 and 2018, according to a new report by the Institute for Economics and Peace.
The 2021 report is the eighth edition of the Mexico Peace Index (MPI), produced by the Institute
for Economics and Peace (IEP). According to IEP report, the improvement in peacefulness can be traced to well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Homicide and firearms crime rates peaked in July 2018 and have since been gradually declining. Other crime rates began to fall in mid-2019, which also preceded the pandemic.
While improvements were occurring prior to the onset of COVID-19, further reductions in specific types of violence in 2020 followed the implementation of public health measures and stay-at-home orders. Crimes typically associated with people’s everyday movements — such as robberies, assaults, kidnappings and extortion — all recorded notable improvements in 2020.
To highlight the changing trend in peacefulness in Mexico, the MPI finds that falls in peacefulness have historically occurred in most of the states. Between 2015 and 2019, 25 of the 32 states recorded deteriorations in peacefulness. However, in 2020, 22 states improved, while only ten deteriorated. Violence in Mexico has become increasingly concentrated, particularly along key drug trafficking routes. In these areas, rival groups are engaged in violent contests over territory that continue to drive the high homicide rates. In 2020, just six states accounted for more than half of all homicides: Guanajuato, the state of México, Baja California, Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Michoacán.
The IEP report noted that over the past year, four of the five indicators in the MPI have shown improvements. The largest of these improvements was in Mexico’s violent crime rate, which fell by 13.3 percent. This trend was largely due to a fall in opportunistic crimes, with the rates of robberies and assaults falling by 22.3 and 13.2 percent, respectively. Although the violent crime rate had begun to decline slightly from late 2019, it fell significantly after March 2020, with people spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the report, since 2015, the national homicide rate has increased by 84.1 percent. However, in the past year there was a reduction of 1.3 percent. Despite this marginal improvement, Mexico’s homicide rate remains at historically high levels, at 27.8 deaths per 100,000 people, or over 35,000 victims. Prior to 2018, Mexico did not have a year on record with more than 30,000 homicides.
The only indicator to deteriorate in 2020 was detention without a sentence. This was the first time since 2015 that this indicator deteriorated. The number of detainees without a sentence increased substantially after March 2020, which appears to be related to the partial shutdown of criminal courts during the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, legal reforms had sought to reduce the use of pre-trial detention.
In 2020, Yucatán was the most peaceful state in Mexico for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Tlaxcala, Campeche, Chiapas and Nayarit. Baja California remained Mexico’s least peaceful state in 2020, followed by Colima, Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Guanajuato. All of the five least peaceful states had homicide rates of over 64 deaths per 100,000 people.
The largest improvements over the last year occurred in Quintana Roo, Mexico City, Guerrero, Tabasco and Campeche. The largest deteriorations in 2020 occurred in Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, Guanajuato and Michoacán. Three of these states — Zacatecas, San Luis Potosí and Guanajuato — are located in the greater Bajío region of Northern Central Mexico and share borders with one another. In recent years, this region has become the location of a violent struggle between several national drug cartels for dominance in the surging fentanyl market.
Despite an overall improvement in peace in 2020, Mexico remains the country with the ninth highest homicide rate in the world, according to the report. It is also home to the five cities with the highest homicide rates in the world: Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Uruapan, Irapuato and Ciudad Obregón.1 The most violent city, Tijuana, recorded a homicide rate of 134 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019, more than 20 times higher than the global average.
High levels of violence in Mexico have also affected security forces, political figures and journalists. In 2020, 524 police officers were killed, marking a 17.5 percent increase from the previous year. Political assassinations are also on the rise, with at least 139 politicians, government officials and candidates killed between September 2020 and March 2021. Journalists also face danger when they cover issues related to organized crime. Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, with at least eight journalists and media professionals killed in connection with their work in 2020.
There are distinct trends for male and female victims of homicide in Mexico. Ninety percent of all homicide victims are male, with the majority of these linked to organized crime. Highlighting the gravity of the situation, homicide was the leading cause of death for males aged 10 to 54.
By contrast, female deaths are more likely to be associated with intimate partner violence. Femicides have risen at a similar rate to male homicides increasing by 116 percent since 2015. Unlike the predominance of firearms in male homicide, the majority of femicides are committed by some other means.
The organized crime rate has increased by 40.5 percent since 2015. This follows the fragmentation of major criminal organizations and the proliferation of smaller organized crime groups that have heightened competition over territory, access to drug trafficking routes and control of illicit rackets. Gun violence has risen in line with organized crime activity, and violent confrontations between rival criminal groups have driven Mexico’s homicide rate. In 2020, it was estimated that as many as two-thirds of homicides in Mexico were related to organized crime.
The economic impact of violence in Mexico is estimated to be 4.71 trillion pesos (US$221 billion) in 2020, equivalent to 22.5 percent of Mexico’s GDP. At this level it is more than seven times and the Caribbean. Positive Peace is a measure of the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies, and Mexico’s Positive Peace results are considerably stronger than its ranking on the Global Peace Index, where it ranks 137th, highlighting its potential for improvement.
Globally, Mexico ranks 71st out of 163 countries in the Positive Peace Index and ranks sixth in Central America.
Click here to read the full Mexico Peace Index (MPI) report, produced by the Institute
for Economics and Peace (IEP).