The number of murders recorded in Mexico last year was the highest ever seen, authorities say, as many saw it a direct result of a stringent government policy in dealing with drug trafficking and use.
Authorities said Saturday that a total of 25,339 people were killed in 2017 in murders, making last year the deadliest the North American country has seen since 1997 when data collection on the issue began.
Mexico’s Interior Ministry said the homicide rate in the last month of 2017 also hit a record high of 2,219 people.
A total of 20,545 were murdered in 2016 when the homicide rate per 100,000 inhabitants was 16.80, the ministry said, adding that the rate climbed to 20.51 last year. It said the 2017 figures outnumbered those recorded in 2011, when the previous record high occurred with the death of 22,409.
Experts say most of murders in Mexico are related to drug trafficking and say a government crackdown that began last decade is to blame for the increasing homicide rates. More than 200,000 people have been killed since former president Felipe Calderon launched his signature anti-drug operation in December 2006.
The bulk of deaths has been recorded in provinces that drug cartels traditionally use as their bastions such as Guerrero in the south and Veracruz in the east. However, the violence in 2017 also shook areas that were seen as normally peaceful such as Baja California Sur, northwestern Colima and central Guanajuato.
Some also say that the increase in the number of drug-related murders is also due to a surge in the number of autonomous cells that have been created across Mexico after heads of major drug cartels were captured and prosecuted.
Rights campaigners have criticized the Mexican government for its new policies to involve the military in the anti-drug operations. A controversial internal security law was passed last week in Mexico’s congress formalizing the military’s role in domestic security. UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein had earlier this month reacted to the new measure, saying that would weaken the civilian institutions in Mexico in the fight against drugs.