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Mexico Peace Index 2022: Identifying and measuring the factors that drive peace

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This is the ninth edition of the Mexico Peace Index (MPI), produced by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP).
It provides a comprehensive measure of peacefulness in Mexico, including trends, analysis and estimates of the economic impact of violence in the country. The MPI is based on the Global Peace Index, the world’s leading measure of global peacefulness, produced by IEP every year since 2007. The MPI consists of 12 sub-indicators aggregated into five broader indicators.

Mexico’s peacefulness improved by 0.2 percent in 2021. This was the second year in a row of improvement following four consecutive years of deteriorations. Twenty-three states improved, while nine deteriorated. Although a minority of states deteriorated, the deterioration in these states was large enough to almost counter the improvements in other states. This relationship occurs globally where countries deteriorate in peacefulness much faster than they improve.

In 2021, three of the five indicators in the MPI improved. Notably, both firearms crime and homicide improved, with the rates falling by 6.2 and 4.3 percent, respectively, and both reaching around 26 per 100,000 people. This marks the second year in a row of improvement for both indicators following steep increases between 2015 and 2018.

However, the longer-term trends indicate a marked deterioration in peacefulness between 2015 and 2021. Peace in Mexico has deteriorated by 17.1 percent with many crime indicators significantly higher than seven years ago. The homicide rate in 2021 was 76.3 percent higher than in 2015. While the trend in homicide has improved in the last two years, Mexico's homicide rate remained near historically high levels in 2021, at 26.6 deaths per 100,000 people, or over 34,000 victims. This equates to approximately 94 homicides per day.

Both the organized crime and violent crime indicators deteriorated to near pre-pandemic levels in 2021, after improving in the prior year. Deteriorations in the organized crime indicator were driven by increases in the rates of extortion and retail drug crimes, which rose by 11 and 6.2 percent, respectively. In 2020, violent crime was one of the indicators most affected by the restrictions placed on everyday activities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the rates of assault and robbery falling steeply. The deterioration in violent crime in 2021 is likely associated with the lifting of public health measures and the return to pre-pandemic levels of mobility. In addition, the deterioration in violent crime was also driven by continued increases in reports of family violence and sexual assault.

Organized crime continues to be the main driver of homicide and gun violence in Mexico. Approximately two-thirds of homicides were estimated to be connected to organized crime in 2021. Since 2015 the organized crime rate has deteriorated by 48.1 percent and is mainly attributed to a sharp increase of 139 percent in retail drug crimes.

Recent violence in Mexico is linked to shifts in the organized criminal landscape characterized by the rapid and violent territorial expansion of certain larger cartels, predominantly the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), the proliferation of smaller crime groups and the diversification of criminal activity. There have also been major changes in the type of drugs that Mexican criminal organizations move internationally in the past decade, with the trafficking of marijuana plummeting while the trafficking of fentanyl has risen steeply.

The states that recorded the largest deteriorations in their homicide rates, such as Baja California, Guanajuato, Michoacán and Zacatecas, were home to ongoing conflicts between cartels. Gun violence tends to be most intense in these states where multiple criminal organizations compete for territory and key drug trafficking routes. Notably, fatalities attributed to cartel conflicts rose from 669 in 2006 to over 16,000 in 2020.

As violence caused by organized crime intensified in parts of the country, there was a sharp increase in the number of people displaced by violence in 2021. Since 2016, over 117,000 people were internally displaced, with at least 44,905 of those displacements occurring in 2021.3 The majority of these displacements occurred in Guerrero, with more than 21,800 displacements, followed by Chiapas and Michoacán with over 14,900 and 12,900 displacements, respectively.

Yucatán was once again the most peaceful state in Mexico, followed by Tlaxcala, Chiapas, Campeche and Hidalgo. In contrast, Baja California ranked as Mexico’s least peaceful state for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Zacatecas, Colima, Guanajuato and Sonora. Reflecting the great divergence in violence levels across the country, the average homicide rate in Mexico’s five least peaceful states was 73 per 100,000 people, compared to 8.2 per 100,000 in its five most peaceful states.

The largest improvements in peacefulness in 2021 occurred in Colima, Chihuahua, Tabasco, San Luis Potosí and Sinaloa. In contrast, Sonora, Zacatecas, Nuevo León, Morelos and Michoacán recorded the largest deteriorations. Notably, all five of these states have witnessed an incursion of the CJNG in recent years.

The killing of security forces, political figures and journalists remains a major concern in Mexico. More than 400 police officers were killed in 2021, with the majority – 52 percent – being municipal police officers, followed by state police, at 39 percent, and federal police, at nine percent. Violence against politicians and political candidates also escalated in the lead-up to Mexico’s midterm elections in June 2021, with 102 politicians and candidates killed between September 2020 and early June 2021. At the local level, 90 percent of assassinated politicians and candidates belonged to a party other than that of the mayor.

Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.5 Since 1994, 142 journalist and media workers were killed, with most of these murders not prosecuted.6 Within the first three months of 2022, seven journalists and media workers were killed in Mexico. Most journalists killed in the last few decades have covered issues related to organized crime, corruption and politics.

In the past seven years, guns have become the primary means of homicide for both men and women in Mexico. Between 2015 and 2021, the proportion of male homicides committed with a firearm rose from 60.9 percent to 71.3 percent, while the proportion of female firearm homicides rose from 37.8 percent to 56.8 percent. Although the steep overall increase in male homicides follows trends in organized crime, female homicides have a weaker relationship with patterns of organized crime, with many stemming from intimate partner violence. According to available data, nearly one in five female homicides occur in the home, compared to one in 13 for male homicides.

The economic impact of violence in Mexico is estimated to be 4.9 trillion pesos (US$243 billion) in constant 2021 terms, equivalent to 20.8 percent of Mexico’s GDP. On a per capita basis, the economic impact of violence was 38,196 pesos (US$1,884), approximately 2.5 times the average monthly salary.

The economic impact of violence improved for the second year in a row in 2021, decreasing by 2.7 percent or 137 billion pesos from the previous year. In 2021, decreases in crime such as homicides, kidnappings and robbery underpinned the improvement in the economic impact. Additionally, the Mexican government reduced spending on domestic security and the justice system, by 8.5 and 3.3 percent respectively, contributing to the lower overall impact. Conversely, military expenditure increased by 14.7 percent to nearly 167 billion pesos, the highest level of expenditure on record. The economic impact of sexual assault recorded the largest percentage deterioration of all indicators, increasing by 16.9 percent from the previous year.

IEP analysis finds that Mexico must increase its spending on the criminal justice system to effectively address violence. Mexico’s spending on domestic security and the justice system in 2021 was equal to 0.63 percent of GDP, the least of any Latin American country or member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Further, spending on domestic security decreased by 37.2 percent from 2015 to 2021, after adjusting for inflation, while spending on the justice system decreased by 7.5 percent in the same period.

For such funding to be effective, institutional corruption would also need to be addressed. In particular, the municipal police and judicial system are viewed as the most corrupt institutions in the country, with over 65 percent of Mexicans perceiving them to be corrupt in 2021. Analysis on the link between police wages, corruption and organized crime found that low police wages play only a small role in the high levels of violence in Mexico. Violence in Mexico is a reflection of a deeper level of corruption and administrative ineffectiveness, one that affects the judicial and political processes, and facilitates the operations of criminal organizations.

Mexico’s socio-economic resilience, as measured by the Positive Peace Index (PPI), has deteriorated by 1.1 percent since 2009. This is in contrast to an average global improvement of 2.4 percent. Positive Peace is a measure of the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and sustain peaceful societies. At the national level, Mexico’s deterioration since 2009 has been driven by deteriorations in three Pillars of Positive Peace: Well-Functioning Government, Low Levels of Corruption and Good Relations with Neighbors. At the state level, high levels of corruption and poor governance are statistically related to crime and violence.

Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have also had a significant impact on Positive Peace in Mexico. The Sound Business Environment Pillar deteriorated by 2.1 percent from 2019 to 2020, reflecting business failures, unemployment and worker furloughs as a result of public health measures and stay-at-home orders. Economic inequality also increased, with the indicator exclusion by socio-economic group from the Pillar Acceptance of the Rights of Others deteriorating by 2.6 percent.

Effective peacebuilding strategies will need to look at multiple dynamics and how they interact, and the Pillars of Positive Peace provide a systemic lens to analyze societal issues facing the country. Combating corruption and business, government and institutional inefficiency would not only reduce impunity and crime, but also free up funds and resources for much needed investment. In addition, showcasing and replicating success stories of peace and resilience-building programs could lead Mexico into a virtuous cycle towards higher levels of peacefulness. The 2022 MPI report aims to inform a strategic discussion among policymakers, researchers, business leaders and the general public, to help develop holistic peacebuilding solutions for Mexico.