Peace in Mexico: through the height of the drug war to 2015

Back in 2003 Mexico was approaching a historic low in levels of violence. The homicide rate had been steadily falling since the late 1990s, life expectancy and per capita income were on the rise, and the quality of democracy improved following the 2000 presidential election.  In 2004, the country reached its most peaceful year, according to the <Mexico Peace Index>.

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But at the same time, several organized crime groups had built a large narcotics trade, moving marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines over land and sea into the United States. Levels of violence were lower because organized crime groups benefited from corruption and impunity. And lucrative drug sales brought US dollars and easily accessible guns from just north of the border. Drug cartels reportedly purchased their plazas, or preferential access to smuggling territory, by bribing local officials.

As democracy improved around the country, changes in political parties and efforts for reform increased tension with drug cartels and in some cases led to escalations in violence between different drug cartels or between the cartels and law enforcement.

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Ciudad Juárez, a city of roughly 1.3 million near Mexico’s border with the US, became known as the most violent city in the world

In December 2006, when President-elect Felipe Calderón traveled to his home state of Michoacán and publically promised to end the drug trade that entrenched violence and corruption throughout the country, peace had been gradually deteriorating for two years. <Michoacán> was the 14th least peaceful state in Mexico that year and ranked 20th of 32 in terms of its homicide rate. Calderón declared war on organised crime and deployed the Mexican armed forces to the streets of Mexican cities and towns to forcibly capture drug cartel operatives.

Calderón’s deployment of troops to the streets of Michoacán, Chihuahua and other high-crime areas of Mexico preceded a dramatic escalation of violence across the country. Over the next four years, the level of peace in Mexico deteriorated 23 percent and the homicide rate nearly doubled. Ciudad Juárez, a city of roughly 1.3 million people in Chihuahua, at the near-center of Mexico’s border with the US, became known as the most violent city in the world. By 2011, Chihuahua was the sixth least peaceful state in Mexico. The national homicide rate peaked in 2011, at 19.7 deaths per 100,000 people, as did the rate of violent crime and crimes committed with a firearm.


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In 2012, peacefulness finally began to improve after five years of violent conflict between at least seven drug cartels, multiple Mexican police agencies and armed forces, and their allies the US military, border patrol and Drug Enforcement Agency. The rate of violent crime, homicide, and organised crime related offenses have all decreased by 30% since 2011.

Today, Mexico is 13.5 percent more peaceful than in 2011. While the country is yet to return the level of peace it enjoyed before the escalation of the drug war, 25 out of Mexico’s 32 states have become more peaceful since 2011.

The continual gains over the past five years represent an emerging success story in peace and a source of cautious optimism for the country.

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