Mapping drug war related homicides in 2010

November 9, 2010

(This article was first published on Diego Valle's Blog, and kindly contributed to R-bloggers)

There have been some very good visualizations of the Wikileaks data so I decided to create one of the drug war in Mexico

The above map was made using data collected by Walter McKay, mainly from El Universal and El Diario reports. The data is stored as a Google Map and is already structured to include the number of deaths. That saved me a lot of work!

Since the map contains the original newspaper story as metadata I performed a simple grep to determine if those involved in the aggressions were only civilians (both innocents and cartel gunmen) or whether some of those involved —though not necessarily killed— belonged to government forces.

However, there are some caveats to keep in mind:

  1. I surely introduced some errors when categorizing the victims with a simple grep.
  2. As Walter McKay explains in this blog post killings have become so routine that it is no longer possible to report them all. Newspapers will sometimes report that there were a total of XX homicides in Ciudad Juárez instead of separately reporting each incident.
  3. The vast majority of incidents are only reported if deaths occurred.
  4. To avoid detection, illicit dumping grounds have become a come way to dispose of bodies, this makes it even harder to get an accurate count and size for each event.
  5. The press in Tamaulipas is under treat from the drug cartels to avoid reporting their activities. Compare the online edition of the Brownsville Herald with El Bravo de Matamoros
    the day after Tony Tormenta was killed in Matamoros. There’s no mention of the 9 hour shootout between the army and the forces of the Gulf Cartel in
    the later. There have been far more incidents involving civilians than is obvious from the map. 
  6. Since most of Chihuahua’s population is concentrated in its capital city of Chihuahua and in Ciudad Juárez, it doesn’t look as violent as other states when in fact it is by far the most violent state. Also the central area of Mexico is the most populous.

But in spite of this I still believe that the map gives a good overall picture of what has happened this year. You can see how violent Sinaloa has become and how most of the deaths which involved the military have been concentrated in northeastern Mexico and Guerrero.

According the Mexican Department of Defense there have been a total of 565 civilians (both innocents and cartel gunmen) killed by military forces since the start of the drug war. The total for each state is the following:

Tamaulipas 122
Nuevo León 88
Guerrero 81
Durango 57

According to the Mexican military there have been a total of 191 soldiers killed, so ignoring the fact that the civilian deaths include innocents and a difference of one month in the periods reported, that would give a kill ratio of 3.5

Perhaps not surprisingly, going by press reports, most fatal incidents involving innocent civilians and the military have occurred in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León; however, let me emphasize that there are no official records of innocents killed.

According to the Mexican government most of the drug war deaths are the responsibility of the Sinaloa Cartel. And yet the cartels with the biggest presence in the states with the most civilians killed would be the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, battling each other in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León; and the Beltrán Leyvas and the remnants of “La Barbie” organization battling in Guerrero.

And if you’re wondering why there hasn’t been much drug cartel activity in the central part of the border, here’s a map of Mexican highways and an interactive one made with this spreadsheet and Openheatmap:

Here’s the source code (please note that Walter McKay constantly updates the Google Map and the output you get will depend on when it is run)

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