The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) issued a report that claims Mexican drug wars were the second most violent internal conflict in 2016 after Syria, based upon an estimated 23,000 deaths. The report was seized by U.S. President Donald Trump as proof that his accusations that Mexico is unable to control its borders and gain the upper hand against cartels are well-founded.
The Institute is a London-based think tank that was founded in 1958 to highlight arms control around the world. The report noted the ferocity of conflict in Mexico and the so-called triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. In those countries, drug cartels regularly used military grade weapons and control swaths of territory. At the same time, whereas police forces are used in most countries to control drug trafficking, the military is deployed in Mexico and Central America.
The IISS also claimed that rather than receding, the conflict appears to be growing more violent. In March 2017, more than 2,000 people died – the most since June 2011. Mexican violence has grown so pernicious due in part to its proximity to the United States and its lucrative drug markets as well as an arms race among cartels.
The Mexican government disputed aspects of the IISS’s report, particularly that the reported deaths are emblematic of an armed conflict. Mexico believes the deaths are more akin to homicides, and on that basis the country would still have a relatively low homicide rate in comparison to other countries. Mexico’s homicide rate is about 16 per 100,000 people each year compared to 4 in the United States. Guatemala’s homicide rate is 31, Honduras’ is 85 and El Salvador’s is 64.