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July 17, 2010


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El Paso is right across the Rio Grande, yet manages to be one of the safest cities in the United States. Violence seems to remain confined to one side of the border.

Ouch, that is nasty.

Might I go off on a slight tangent, and ask your opinion on the impact that this level of violence has on Mexico as a whole?

A _logarithmic_ chart?

Why not? Works fine for various other risks, e.g. flooding or adverse effects of medication. (And risk *perception* is certainly not linear.)

That was an expression of shock. A thirtyfold rise in murder rates over less than three decades?

huh? according to the Iraq body count there were ~1600 violent deaths in Bagdad for a murder rate of about 30. The data for Northern Ireland is also completely wrong.

Hi, Anon. You're right on Baghdad! I misplaced a decimal point. (Smacks head.) Thanks. Fixing it now.

In Northern Ireland, there were 476 violent deaths in 1972, at the peak of the troubles. The province had a population of 1.5 million. 476 ÷ 15 ≈ 32. Those data check out, unless my source is incorrect. Is it? You can find it at the link.

Okay, more dangerous than Baghdad or Mosul is just... appalling. Noel, is there anything the Mexican government could do about the situation there that they're not doing already?

"It was not a level of violence to worry about; in fact, I usually felt silly about my own edginess."

I think you're being too hard on yourself, there. I've spent plenty of time in places with pretty horrendous murder rates (Newburgh, NY, approx. 24/100K / Newark, NJ = 37/100K) and the salient fact is that the violence is further concentrated within those polities. There are, if you will, crime micro-climates. There are plenty of spots in both towns that I'd feel (mostly) comfortable in, and a few zones where I wouldn't so much as slow down my car while driving through. I'd guess that in your case the issue would sometimes be compounded by you're not being local. Your knowledge of where precisely the worst areas are must be gathered second- or third-hand, at least until you spend some significant time there, which implies a significant risk of stumbling into a place where the true level of violence is quite high.

That said, the Ciudad Juárez numbers are pretty appalling, given that we're talking about the overall polity mean. It's still not at U.S. WW2 levels of annual mortality, but by less than an order of magnitude. I'd call that low-level warfare.

Side note: I know that you haven't looked kindly on those questioning the stability of the Mexican government. (i.e. "failed state" types) Neither have I. Does this level of violence change your view at all?

That's a good question; one that I've been thinking heavily about. It doesn't change my view in terms of the "failed state" argument as it's normally phrased --- the electricity is on, the schools function --- but something worrisome is going on.

Still parsing it.

Maybe I should clarify that I wasn't implying that Mexico is a failing state. Rather, I was wondering how having a near-Baghdad in-country impacts the rest of the nation. How much does the violence spill over, how badly does it affect the country's mood, and how big a priority is solving the issue for the central government?

Of course, I could probably answer these questions myself if I knew where to find good, indigenous, English-language sources for Mexican and/or Latin American news. In my defence, I don't really have any way of gauging the integrity of such sources without already knowing facts about the region I could only find from reliable examples of such sources.

An important question is the degree of risk faced by people in Ciudad Juarez who are not themselves involved in the drug trade. Of course there'll always be a danger of being caught in crossfire, or now bomb explosions, but if law-abiding residents are rarely targeted the city would be more livable than if everyone is at high risk.


Hi, Peter. The violence itself is mostly escapable, but with automatic weapons and carbombs, the level of collateral damage is rising.

The big fear is that it's all turning to extortion. Gangs fighting over wholesale drug routes are one thing. Gangs fighting over retail drug territories are another. And gangs fighting over generalized protection rackets are a third (and much worse) thing entirely. I wrote a little about that in the next post.


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