Cartel violence has turned Mexico into the second deadliest country in the world. Now, only Syria, embroiled in a baffling six-year-long civil war, surpasses Mexico in conflict-related deaths.
In 2016, Mexico’s intentional homicide toll reached 23,000, a significant rise from 17,000 in 2015 and 15,000 in 2014, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ annual Armed Conflict Survey.
Even more shocking is that small firearms, which range from handguns to light machine guns, are almost entirely responsible for the bloodshed.
“Mexico is a conflict marked by the absence of artillery, tanks or combat aviation,” the institute’s chief executive and director-general John Chipman said in a statement.
Homicides rose in 22 of Mexico’s 32 states during 2016 due to increased tensions between rival cartels, according to the survey. And the largest rise in fatalities occurred in states where cartels compete for control of drug trafficking routes. But the violence doesn’t just affect cartels members; bystanders, people who refused to join cartels, migrants, journalists and government officials have all fallen victim.
According to the survey, the Mexican government’s weakness toward cartels has caused much of the widespread killing.
In 2015, just 35 percent of Mexicans thought President Enrique Pena Nieto was doing a good job fighting cartels, down from 53 percent in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. Antônio Sampaio, a research associate for security and development at the institute, warns that Pena Nieto has been essentially ineffective in fighting the cartels and without more aggressive tactics, the frequency of murder will continue.
Mexico replaced Afghanistan, which is still an active conflict zone, for the number two spot on the ranking this year.