Centre for Interdisciplinary Mexican-British Research

A recent study on violence in Mexico by the Institute for Economics and Peace shows that despite recent improvements, peace levels have had a significant deterioration in the last decade, with drug-related violence having a predominant impact.

In defining peace as the absence of violence or fear of violence, the Mexico Peace Index 2013[1] attempts to measure levels of peacefulness between 2003 and 2012 by analyzing seven key indicators (in order of their weight on the MPI): homicide, violent crime (assault, rape and robbery), weapons crime, incarceration rates per 100,000 inhabitants, police funding (federal contributions to states for public security), organized crime (extortion, kidnapping, drug-related crimes, organized crime offense) and justice system efficiency (impunity ratio).

The study found that Mexico’s aggregate peace levels during that 10-year period decreased by 27.5%. Following a minimal improvement in 2003, peacefulness saw a slight yet constant decline between 2004 and 2006, and from 2007 to 2010 peace levels worsened significantly.

This decline in peacefulness can be attributed mostly to drug–related violence that intensified during those four years, more specifically to spikes in homicide and weapons crime rates, according to the MPI.

In 2011-2012, the country witnessed a reversal in this downswing, with overall peace levels improving 7.4%. This reversal was mostly driven by decreases in violent crime (7%), weapons crime (15%) and organized crime (30%).

Changes in peace however varied considerably across regions. No region (North, South, East, West, Central) was exempt from overall slumps in peacefulness, although unsurprisingly the North saw the most significant drops, followed by the West. In fact, seven of the eight states with the greatest deteriorations are in these two regions. Some central states such as Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi and Morelos also endured steep declines.

After a decade the East remains the most peaceful region, followed by the South. Interestingly, the South was actually the least peaceful region in 2003, albeit not by much. By 2012, though, the variability across regions had widened and the North became significantly less peaceful than the rest of the country.

Across states, changes in peacefulness also differed notably. Although five states (Yucatan, Campeche, Chiapas, Oaxaca and Queretaro) actually improved, the rest saw peace levels dive. Eight states underwent drops of more than 40%: Coahuila, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Colima, Morelos, Nayarit, Aguascalientes and Tabasco.

The central state of Morelos, for example, underwent the largest deterioration in the MPI and by 2012 was the least peaceful state. Its homicide, violent crime and weapons crime rates rose 152, 81 and 810% respectively in the last decade, although organized crime rates fell by 13%. And while the state’s incarceration rate dropped, its justice efficiency worsened, which the study regards as a sign that the justice system is overwhelmed by very high proportions of unsolved crimes (94%).

The least peaceful states by 2012 were Morelos, Guerrero, Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Quintana Roo. The lack of peacefulness in these states is strongly associated with high levels of homicide, weapons crime and violent crime rates.

Interestingly, police funding and incarceration were not associated to peace levels. On the one hand, the most peaceful states did not have particularly high rates of police funding, but were actually rather similar to that in some of the least peaceful states. This discrepancy likely owes to the misallocation of federal funding for state police rather than the amount of funds earmarked for public security.

Moreover, the least peaceful states did not have a particularly low level of incarceration rates. Lower incarceration rates are linked to an overwhelmed justice system, where preventive prison is often abused and impunity is thus high. Yet two of the five least peaceful states (Morelos and Chihuahua) had the lowest incarceration rates nationwide while two others (Sinaloa and Quintana Roo) had high incarceration rates, similar to that in some of the most peaceful states such as Baja California Sur, Queretaro and Hidalgo. The report ascribes this to the country’s judicial system being “overstretched, inefficient or facing corruption challenges in the states with the highest levels of violence.”

The study posits that the so-called drug war had a preponderant effect in contrast to other socio-economic factors that arguably feed violence. In an effort to weigh the impact of socio-economic factors on peace levels, the relationship between 60 such indicators and the overall MPI were analyzed. Only after factoring out drug-related violence were two indicators found to be strongly associated with peace levels in Mexico: multi-dimensional poverty and high school graduation. Arguably, it is “the combination of poverty, lack of opportunity, and proximity to major drug smuggling routes are the preconditions for low levels of peacefulness.”

A key conclusion is that drug-related violence had a distorting effect on peace levels, which in turn has skewed the relationship between the usual socio-economic drivers of peace and levels of peacefulness in Mexico. Only by minimizing this type of violence will socio-economic factors become significant in fomenting peaceful environments in the long term.


Measuring peace levels is a daunting task given the various indicators that can be utilized and the numerous factors that might impact these, especially in Latin America where levels of crime have had a disproportionate effect on levels of peace and development.

The Mexico Peace Index offers a holistic approach for measuring trends in violence and its impact on Mexico, first and foremost by accounting for several of the variables that are linked to violence, rather than relying on the usual metric used in other studies: homicide rates.

A number of studies (such as this[2] by the Trans-Border Institute and this by security consultant Eduardo Guerrero[3]) have examined extensively and in detail the evolution of homicides in general and drug-related killings more specifically in Mexico, yet these do not provide an overarching explanation on the upswing in violence.

In that sense, the MPI shines a light on different types of violence that Mexico suffers from, how these evolved in the past ten years and how much they impact overall peace levels on a state-level. The study also incorporates other variables that are key for analyzing violence in Mexico’s particular context, such as police funding, justice system efficiency, incarceration and organized crime.

Mexico’s failure in addressing violence can certainly be attributed to severe shortcomings in its overall justice system, including its prison and penal systems and its police forces. For the most part, corruption and impunity have played a major role. The perception of corruption in Mexico[4] remains overwhelmingly negative, while impunity rates for certain crimes have skyrocketed to 95%.

One of the study’s major arguments is that the so-called drug war has had a major impact on peace levels, especially following 2007. This contrasts with other Latin American countries with relatively higher levels of violence such as Brazil, where the roots of violence have been linked to key socio-economic factors[5] such as demographic shifts, income inequality and lack of work and educational opportunities, rather than organized crime.

Indeed, the nature of organized crime varies across the region. Mexico’s particular context attests the impact of organized crime. Its geographic position has put it in the epicenter of one of the major transnational drug trafficking networks, between the drug-consuming North and the drug-producing South. Criminal organizations have seized this opportunity to expand their role, making Mexico a major drug producer of marijuana and synthetic drugs, as well as a major transshipment point.

The last two years examined in the study show a slight amelioration in some indicators, specifically in that of organized crime. However it’s difficult to gauge the real extent of changing peace levels, as violence levels are still very high in some states, violent hot spots are ever-changing, and reforming the justice system[6] is an uphill and long-term endeavor. In addition, Mexico may be experiencing yet another reversal in organized crime as of 2013, as witnessed by rising extortions and kidnappings[7].

And while there is evidence that the most peaceful states have higher economic growth, the apparent impact of organized crime, impunity and corruption on peace levels may end up diluting the impact that widely anticipated economic reforms may have on Mexico’s development.

* This article was originally published on May 11, 2014 and is available here.


[1] Institute for Economics and Peace (2013). ‘Mexico Peace Index’. http://www.visionofhumanity.org/sites/default/files/Mexico Peace Index 2013.pdf

[2] Molzhan, C., Rodriguez, O. and Shirk, D. (2013). ‘Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2012’. Trans-Border Institute. February. http://justiceinmexico.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/130206-dvm-2013-final.pdf

[3] Guerrero, E. (2012). ‘Epidemias de violencia’. Nexos. July 1. www.nexos.com.mx/?p=14884

[4] Transparency International (2013). ‘Corruption Perceptions Index 2013’. http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2013/results/

[5] Waiselfisz, J. (2013). ‘Homicídios e juventude no Brasil’. Mapa da Violência. http://www.mapadaviolencia.org.br/pdf2013/mapa2013_homicidios_juventude.pdf

[6] Sánchez, P. and de la Rosa, C. (2014). ‘Código Nacional de Procedimientos Penales: necesario pero insuficiente’. Animal Político. March 11. http://www.animalpolitico.com/blogueros-tanque-pensante/2014/03/11/codigo-nacional-de-procedimientos-penales-necesario-pero-insuficiente/#axzz2vxzj3E2T

[7] Torres, M. (2013). “El secuestro y la extorsión superan al plan de seguridad del gobierno’. CNN México. December 30. http://mexico.cnn.com/nacional/2013/12/30/el-secuestro-y-la-extorsion-superan-al-plan-de-seguridad-del-gobierno