MEXICO CITY – President Felipe Calderon said criminals account for more than 90 percent of those killed in drug-related violence in Mexico, with the remainder of the fatalities consisting of police officers, army soldiers and civilians.
According to an official report released this week, 22,743 people were killed in Mexico from December 2006 – when Calderon took office – through early April in turf battles among drug-trafficking organizations and security forces’ efforts to crack down on the cartels.
“More than 90 percent of those homicides and executions ... are precisely due to fighting by one or more cartels against other ones,” Calderon said Friday at an international tourism event in this capital.
He also said that police and soldiers who have “fallen in the performance of their duty” account for less than 5 percent of the drug war dead.
“And much fewer still, although there have regrettably been some, (is the percentage of deaths) among innocent civilians – trapped, let’s say, in the crossfire between (two groups of criminals) or between police and criminals,” said Calderon, who militarized the struggle against the cartels shortly after taking office, deploying 45,000 soldiers and 20,000 Federal Police officers to various hotspots.
Over the past few weeks, Mexican society and the international community have been jarred by the deaths of innocent youths or children, who were either caught in the crossfire between rival gangs or directly attacked by cartel hit men.
Soldiers have also been suspected in some of these deaths, although investigations pledged by federal authorities have not yet been concluded.
Mexican and international human rights groups have criticized Calderon’s reliance on the army for law-enforcement duties, citing concerns about excessive use of force and impunity for soldiers who commit rights violations, but the president says the military must take over until corruption among local police has been rooted out.
Calderon said “the vast majority, more than 90 percent, (of the violent deaths have occurred) in actions by criminals against other criminals; the vast majority (of attacks) are not even against the authorities, much less so against civilians and much, much less so against tourists.”
One recent violent episode involving civilian fatalities occurred this week in the Pacific tourist resort of Acapulco, where two children caught in the crossfire between criminals and federal police were shot dead.
The press publishes daily lists of deaths attributed to organized crime, many of them occurring in Ciudad Juarez, considered Mexico’s murder capital.
More than 5,000 people have been killed over the past three years in that city across the border from El Paso, Texas, and often with exceptional cruelty, such as the brutal slayings Thursday of six people, four burned beyond recognition.
In his speech, Calderon acknowledged that tourists all over the world are concerned about safety but he stressed that his government is committed to “having a safe country.”
“That’s why we’re acting accordingly and we’re hitting and hitting very hard at criminal organizations in the country,” said Calderon, whose government has captured more than 70,000 suspected drug-gang members, most of them affiliated with the Gulf, Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels.
Mexico is home to at least seven large drug-trafficking organizations, which, in addition to the aforementioned, also include La Familia Michoacana, the Juarez cartel, Beltran Leyva and Arellano Felix organizations.
The president called for the security situation in Mexico to be assessed “with all possible objectivity” and for “Mexico to be evaluated just as other destinations are evaluated.”
Calderon cited figures from the Brookings Institution, a U.S.-based think tank, that indicate that Mexico has an annual homicide rate of 11.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, adding that though that is admittedly high it is well below the rate of 60 per 100,000 inhabitants seen in Jamaica or the Dominican Republic.
He also mentioned Brazil, where the annual homicide rate is 22 per 100,000 inhabitants, “almost double Mexico’s,” and Colombia, where the rate is 36 per 100,000, “more than triple that of Mexico.”
The president also pointed to U.S. cities like Washington, where the annual homicide rate is 31 per 100,000 inhabitants, and New Orleans, which has 75 murders per 100,000 inhabitants each year.