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Feature 031317 Martínez

Monday, March 13, 2017

Forced Displacement in Mexico: The Hidden Toll of the War

By Paris Martínez (Animal Político/InSight Crime)

Mexico's violence-induced forced displacement crisis is only beginning. Almost a third of the country's municipalities have fewer inhabitants than they did before homicides became widespread across the country.

During the course of the last decade, population rates began to decrease in 691 Mexican municipalities, 28 percent of the country's total.

Although the municipalities affected are scattered all across the country, most of them are found in three major regions located in the areas most affected by the conflict between different criminal organizations: first, the northwest and west controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel; second, the northeast, controlled by the Zetas; and third, the southeast, in the states dominated by the Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar.

The phenomenon of forced internal displacement could also be explained as the result of natural disasters and the development of large-scale investment projects. However, the areas mostly affected by this problem are those where the levels of homicidal violence have witnessed a steep increase.

Homicidal Violence

According to official statistics, Mexico's population grows at an annual rate of 1.4 percent, a consequence of there being more births than deaths. This is a trend that has remained constant ever since 2000, according to the National Institute for Geography and Statistics (Instituto Nacional de Geografía y Estadística - INEGI).

That being said, during the past 10 years some areas of the country began to experience an opposite trend, as the rates of population growth began to drop in several regions.

Between 2010 and 2015 alone, INEGI's census records indicate that 691 of the country's municipalities experienced a decrease in their population levels. 

Why would the inhabitants of 28 percent of Mexico's municipalities decide to leave?

According to the "Special Report on Forced Internal Displacement in Mexico" published by the National Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos - CNDH) in May last year, the type of displacement observed during the past few years appears to be caused by a "different kind of violence" perpetrated by "armed groups that are threatening different areas of the country," and whose criminal activities "authorities have not been able to stop yet."

See also: Mexico News and Profiles

December 2016 marked a decade since the implementation of what was commonly referred to as the "war on drugs." While it is difficult to understand the direct effects of the government's policy, the struggle between Mexico's authorities and criminal groups featured a number of common traits that are worth highlighting. 

For a start, INEGI statistics show that between 2006 and 2010 the homicide rate per 100,000 people rose in 827 municipalities. These constituencies experienced a sudden increase in homicidal violence, which coincided with the beginning of the war on drugs. 

The violence continued after the change of federal administration. Between 2011 and 2015 -- the last two years of former President Felipe Calderón's government and the first three of President Enrique Peña Nieto's -- the violence levels in 106 municipalities that had already suffered since the beginning of the war witnessed a new increase. 

During the past five years, the homicide rates increased in 275 other municipalities. In short, between 2010 and 2015, homicidal violence rose in 1,102 municipalities, 49 percent of the country's total.

Displacement

Official statistics also show that, during the first four years of the war between authorities and criminal groups, population rates began to drop in 246 municipalities. The pattern increased during the last two years of Calderon's administration and Peña Nieto's first three.

INEGI statistics indicate that between 2010 and 2015 the number of municipalities that experienced a decrease in their population rates rose to 691.

In October 2015, a delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited Mexico to study the phenomenon. The team concluded that "one of the serious human rights violations that gave way to the different forms of violence from which Mexico is currently suffering has to do with forced internal displacement."

According to the preliminary observations that the agency formulated during its visit, the violence is perpetrated by "organized crime groups, which, in some cases, work together with state authorities."

See also: Coverage of Displacement

One of the testimonies collected by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights helps to better explain this form of violence.

"We were displaced by organized crime," said a victim from Guerrero. "We are 58 families, 27 of us have been killed and three disappeared. We were attacked in our own houses…. They came to attack us in our houses five times, and killed 27 people. An eight-year-old girl saw her mother and brother being killed. That was in 2012. They wanted wood, to plant drugs, and to find minerals."

According to an Inter-American Human Rights Commission report presented in December 2015, however, this problem "has not been documented and analyzed thoroughly by the Mexican state…. This is by far the greatest obstacle towards the establishment of a comprehensive strategy that Mexico must design to successfully tackle the problem."

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This article was translated, edited for clarity and length, and published on Feb. 27 by InSight Crime, with the permission of Animal Político.  As well, "It does not necessarily represent the views of InSight Crime."  InSight Crime's objective is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.  It is reposted here per a Creative Commons authorization.

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