Confronting Mexico’s Security Challenges

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Although rates of homicide remain high in Mexico, the country's efforts to improve security are advancing, a Mexican Embassy official said Tuesday at the Inter-American Dialogue.

The country's murder rate peaked in 2011 at about 23 homicides per 100,000 civilians and has declined to approximately 18 per 100,000, roughly the same as in 2007, Rodrigo Canales, the chief policy advisor at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, said during a panel discussion on security in Mexico. "The trend is promising, but we're nowhere near satisfied," said Canales. "We seem to be moving in the right direction."

Last week, protesters in at least 10 Mexican states marked the six-month anniversary of the disappearance of 43 college students in the city of Iguala, in Guerrero state. Nearly 100 people, including the then-mayor of Iguala and his wife, have been detained in connection with the incident.

Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam has said that the students were abducted by corrupt local police officers and then handed over to members of a drug gang who killed them and incinerated their bodies. Canales said the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto is seeking to improve security by strengthening the country's institutions, including its police forces, judiciary and prison system.

Also at Tuesday's discussion, Maureen Meyer, senior associate for Mexico and migrant rights at the Washington Office on Latin America, said Mexico must focus on human rights while it tackles insecurity. "There are a lot of widespread concerns about human rights in Mexico," said Meyer. "Confessions are still being used that were obtained through torture." Mexico also must stop relying on the military to provide internal security, she said. Canales said Peña Nieto's government is committed to moving away from using the military to perform policing functions, but added that "right now, we don't have a better tool."

Also during the panel discussion, Enrique Betancourt, director of the urban security initiative at international development company Chemonics International and former executive director of Mexico's National Center for Crime Prevention, said that authorities in Mexico must focus on targeted interventions in specific areas because the country's homicide rate is significantly higher than the national average in locations such as Ciudad Juárez.

Betancourt also said that Mexican officials must continue to work to bring down the homicide rate. "It's very dangerous when these trends tend to plateau," Betancourt told the Advisor in an interview.

He added that although the homicide rate has decreased nationwide, other crimes such as extortion, kidnapping and corruption have increased over the past two years. Those types of crimes are of particular concern to businesses that are considering operations and investment in Mexico, he said.

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