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News (Media Awareness Project) - Mexico: Government Withheld Data From Public on Drug War
Title:Mexico: Government Withheld Data From Public on Drug War
Published On:2012-01-12
Source:Los Angeles Times (CA)
Fetched On:2012-01-15 06:00:50
Mexico Under Siege


Under Pressure, Officials Release Partial Figures That Indicate the
Toll Is 50,000

Reporting from Mexico City- Six months before a presidential election
that his party is widely expected to lose, President Felipe Calderon
is on the defensive about the government's blood-soaked drug war,
with new revelations that it sought to conceal death toll statistics
from the public.

By unofficial count, at least 50,000 people are believed to have been
killed since Calderon deployed the military in the first days of his
presidency in December 2006.

A year ago, the government released an official death toll up to that
point - 34,612 - and pledged to periodically update a database and
make it public. But official documents show that the offices of both
the president and the attorney general late last year refused formal
requests for updated statistics filed under the Mexican equivalent of
the Freedom of Information Act.

After the reports first surfaced on the Mexican news website Animal
Politico, a Calderon administration official told The Times that the
government wanted to verify the numbers before releasing them. "It is
not a lack of transparency on our part," the official said.

Under pressure, the attorney general's office Wednesday released a
partial death toll for 2011. As of Oct. 1, it reported, 12,903 people
had been killed in incidents tied to "rivalry among criminal organizations."

Until now, without official data, the public had to rely on tallies
kept by Mexican newspapers. The partial official numbers show a
notably higher death toll than the newspapers had calculated and
suggest that the overall count since Calderon came to office will
easily surpass 50,000.

As the Calderon administration claims a measure of success in the
drug war, a burgeoning peace movement, academics and opposition
politicians keen to take power have all asserted that the military
offensive was flawed from the start and has caused violence to soar.

Although the government maintains that its reluctance to divulge the
numbers was simply a matter of verification, some Mexicans suspect
other motives. For one, the government may have been loath to draw
attention to the high death toll in the lead-up to an election that
will choose Calderon's successor. His conservative National Action
Party is expected to take a drubbing, in part over his handling of
the violence.

The government also saw damage to its credibility in 2010 when
different agencies released contradictory statistics.

"The lesson we got from releasing figures is that no one believed
them," said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the
matter and did so on condition of anonymity.

The failure to disclose the statistics, meanwhile, had the effect of
fueling greater doubt and suspicion.

"It can create the perception that the number of murdered is
alarmingly higher than what is thought," said Ciro Gomez Leyva, a
journalist and radio host. "And that instead of releasing solid and
reliable reports, [the government] is opting to hide cadavers."

The majority of the dead are traffickers and their henchmen, but
civilians, human rights defenders, migrants and children are
increasingly being slain.

One such victim was the son of poet Javier Sicilia, who was killed in
late March along with six other people who had been at a bar in the
bougainvillea-filled town of Cuernavaca. That killing propelled the
elder Sicilia into a crusade as arguably Mexico's most successful
peace activist and one of the most outspoken critics of Calderon's
drug war policies.

The government said the 2011 numbers showed that the pace of killing
had slowed. The attorney general's statistics, though partial,
indicate that killings were up by 11% in 2011, compared with a
staggering 70% increase in 2010. Still, the aggregate numbers of
dead, plus the brutality, have reached levels unthinkable just a few years ago.

The deadliest city, according to the new government figures, remains
Ciudad Juarez, on the border across from El Paso, although its
homicide rate has dropped. Juarez was followed by Acapulco, the
tourist mecca hit by a surge of killing among gangs battling for market shares.

At the same time, violence spread to other parts of the country, such
as the eastern coastal state of Veracruz, where the dumping of large
numbers of bodies became a hallmark of gang warfare in the last half
of the year.

Behind much of this mayhem is the intensifying struggle between the
two dominant cartels, the vicious Zeta paramilitary force and the
more businesslike, albeit ruthless, Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's largest.

The government's strategy of arresting leaders of drug-trafficking
organizations has triggered a fragmentation of many of the bigger
groups into smaller factions that have turned increasingly to other
crimes, such as extortion, protection rackets, kidnapping and human smuggling.

Scores of clandestine mass graves have been discovered in the last
year, yielding hundreds of victims, many of whom were poor immigrants
from Central America, while others simply go unidentified, further
complicating the amassing of accurate statistics.
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