As some of you may remember, I recently completed a trip through northern Mexico. The amount of violence stunned me. I have travelled through the region many times; this was the first time that I felt its effect.
How bad is it? The above video show yesterday’s car bomb attack. It starts with a video of the first explosion; the second bomb explodes nine seconds in. It is the first use of car bombs in the gang warfare plaguing the city.
The above graph attachs some numbers. The violence in Juárez jumps twice. The first is in 1993, when the city leaps from a medium-level homicide rate around six per 100,000 to a hair under thirty. One way to think about those numbers is that the place went from being about as violent as New York City is today to the carnage that prevailed back in the 1980s ... roughly equivalent to the kind of violence that afflicts declining Eastern urban centers today. Is was violent, but normal life continued. (The dotted orange line plots the contemporaneous New York homicide rate.)
Another way to consider the numbers is to consider that the Juárez drug violence of the 1990s and most of this decade was roughly comparable to the peak of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The dotted yellow line shows the Northern Ireland death rate from 1969 through 1988. It spikes up from next to nothing, stays high for about six years, and then falls again to something around the level of New York or pre-1993 Juárez.
So Juárez was bad between 1993 and 2007, enough to make me nervous when I visited, but nothing outside my own experience. In fact, it was less violent than places I would visit without blinking an eye. It was not a level of violence to worry about; in fact, I usually felt silly about my own edginess. It certainly was not enough to make you worry about Mexico’s future.
And then, it jumps again in 2008 and 2009, to something way outside the norm. (The 2010 numbers are based on the first half of the year.) How far outside the norm? Well, one consolation is that Baghdad still seems a bit more violent than Ciudad Juárez ... more so when you consider that the Baghdad figures (the light blue dots, taken from the Iraq Body Count) don’t include security forces. Whoops! A commentator just pointed out that I misplaced a decimal point. Looks like the violence in Baghdad (according to the Iraq Body Count) was only higher than in Juárez in 2006, at the height of the civil war.
So there you have it. Safer than Baghdad. Still. in 2006. More dangerous than Baghdad today. I feel virtuous, somehow, having gone through that without body armor.