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University Of San Diego: Mexico's Violence Isn't Just About Drugs

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A new University of San Diego report shows that Mexico’s bloodshed is fed by many different criminal enterprises.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 In a country that saw a record breaking 33,000 homicides last year to Kuana topped the list as the most violent city in Mexico. A new report from the Justice in Mexico research program at the University of San Diego suggest this year the number of homicides is once again on track to be record breaking. The report is also examining different ways to address the rise in violence. David Shirk one of the authors of that report and the director of the Justice and Mexico project joins us to talk about it. David, welcome. Thanks for having me. So this year there's been a change to the title of the report. You moved away from drug related violence and instead chose to use the term organized crime and violence. Why the change?

Speaker 2: 00:41 Well, we've been doing this report for the last 10 years and over the last decade what we've seen is a shift in the nature of organized crime activities in Mexico. Um, while 10 years ago the dominant players, uh, and, and the vast majority of the violence was associated with drug trafficking organizations. Those organizations have since become more fragmented. Uh, and in the process they have become more diversified in the range of criminal activities that they are involved in. Uh, so that includes things like kidnapping, extortion, even a larceny. Uh, this year in particular, we saw a lot of violence associated with fuel theft, uh, in certain places, particularly Guanajuato. So the change in the title reflects, I think, changes that we're seeing are, we have seen, uh, in recent years in the way organized crime operates in Mexico

Speaker 1: 01:36 and organized crime has been a major factor in Mexico. His problems are a large share of homicides tied to organize grime.

Speaker 2: 01:43 Yeah, we've, we've seen, uh, over the last decade, uh, again, that, uh, depending on the numbers used, uh, we have, uh, calculated that somewhere between a third and half of the violence we've seen over the last decade has been associated with organized crime groups, including gangs, drug trafficking organizations, and the like. And walk us through some of the other highlights in the report. Well, I think, um, what has generated the most headlines this year is the fact that 2018 was a record year for homicides in Mexico. There were over 33,000 homicide victims, uh, reported by Mexico's National Public Security System. This is, this is an unprecedented level of violence. And one of the things that we, we calculated is that we've seen an increase in the homicide rate in Mexico from about 17 murders per 100,000 people in a 2015 to around, uh, 27 homicides per hundred thousand people in 2018. So there's been a big jump in the, in the relative level of violence in Mexico from just a few years ago.

Speaker 2: 02:52 Right. And take one, Quanta experienced a 41% increase in the number of reported homicides in 2018 compared to the year before in the past. You've said the violence in recent years could be attributed to a number of factors including the rise of the new generation cartel and lower level gangs, uh, as well as the capture of drug lord El Chapo Guzman. Is that still the case? I think so. We're still seeing the fallout from the disruptive effects of taking out Mexico's top kingpin, Chapo Guzman, and the power vacuum that has resulted in, in the, in the wake of those that, uh, important capture. Over the course of that process, we saw more and more fighting between different criminal organizations and in particular the new generation cartel, which you mentioned began encroaching on the territory of the Chapo Guzman's Sinaloa cartel. And, uh, those places where Chapo was mine was once dominant are the places that we now see the highest levels of violence.

Speaker 2: 03:53 And unfortunately, Tijuana, uh, is one of those t two, one I had seen terrible violence in 2008 and 2009 when, uh, Chapo Guzman was moving into the city to take over from the Iran oh Felix Organization. And in recent years, uh, he's been challenged, uh, for his organization has been challenged for control of the city by primarily by the new generation cartel and Mexico's president and has pledged to bring down violence. In fact, he's expanding the use of the new national guard, which was launched here in Tijuana back in February. Are there signs that strategy has been effective? Not yet. Unfortunately. The last few months we've seen a still record levels of violence month by month. Uh, in terms of homicides in Tijuana continues to have, uh, unfortunately, um, are very high levels of homicide. It remains to be seen what will come of of 2019. Uh, but the President Lopez Obrador who took office in December is trying to address this problem by creating a whole new police force.

Speaker 2: 05:00 Uh, and unfortunately that's, that's what every new president has done for the last four or five presidents. They've tried to reinvent the structure of federal law enforcement. Um, and what they're not doing, I think adequately is, um, is building in internal investigations to root out corruption. Lopez Obrador has said he believes the key to combat violence is to address the country's underlying socio economic problems based on what you've learned after studying Mexico's violence for more than 10 years. Now. Is that enough? So there's no doubt that there are socioeconomic and social problems that contribute to violence. Um, and I like to think of that as, as a, in some ways the, that's the fuel that drives violence in Mexico and, and, and many other problems. And so there, it's certainly laudable to try to take out to reduce the problem of poverty and inequality. And I think that will have a very positive effects, uh, in, in the fight against crime.

Speaker 2: 05:58 And to generally improve Mexico's social situation. Unfortunately though, our reports have consistently found that the real problem is, is high higher level organized crime because the battles between major criminal organizations are what mobilize or trigger, um, these massively violent, uh, scenarios. And so that's really the spark that sets off these, these, the, the fuel. That means that Lopez Obrador has to have some kind of a strategy for how he's going to deal with organized crime. And, and that's going to necessarily involve improving prosecutions, uh, improving, uh, law enforcement more generally. [inaudible] and also thinking very strategically about how we deal with the evolving industry of illicit drugs. Uh, here in the United States, we've been dramatically decriminalizing a certain substances, particularly marijuana. Uh, Lopez Obrador is also talking about possibly illegalizing drugs, uh, in his country. But even if what we've seen in the last years, even if you see these organizations moving away from drugs, there's still going to get involved in activities that can lead to violent, uh, criminal behavior. Whether that's a fighting among criminal organizations or predatory activities like extortion, kidnapping, etc. They're going to be looking for alternatives. And so there's no magic bullet or magic wand that you can wave, uh, just by legalizing drugs, uh, and expect all these criminal actors to suddenly, you know, go get a job at McDonald's. It's an issue that'll have to be addressed on many fronts. It sounds like. That's right. I've been speaking with David Shirk, director of the Justice and Mexico project at the University of San Diego. David, thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.