7,724 Slain in Mexico in 2009

MEXICO CITY – Last year was the deadliest in Mexico in the past decade, with 7,724 people killed in violent incidents attributed to organized crime, Mexico City daily El Universal said on Friday.

That total translates into an average of more than 21 homicides a day.

The newspaper, which has been keeping a daily tally of the number of deaths from Mexico’s drug war, said there have been 16,205 organized crime-related killings in Mexico since President Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa took office in December 2006.

Chihuahua was far and away the most violent state in Mexico last year, with 3,250 murders, followed by Sinaloa (930), Durango (734), Guerrero (672), Baja California (444), Michoacan and Sonora, according to El Universal.

Mexican authorities do not provide homicide figures stemming from the cartels’ battles with each other and the security forces.

The Mexican government has deployed more than 40,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police nationwide to combat the drug cartels and other organized criminal outfits in the country’s most violence-ridden states.

Among those killed last year were four town mayors and two retired Mexican generals, one of whom was serving as police chief of the Monterrey suburb of Garcia and the other as security adviser to the mayor of the Caribbean resort of Cancun.

Mexican drug traffickers in 2009 stepped up grenade attacks on police stations and military bases and armed attacks on police patrols, resulting in the deaths of 137 federal police officers.

While the government insists it is winning the war against the drug mobs and that the killings reflect their desperation as authorities close in on their operations, the levels of violence have steadily spiraled.

Armed groups linked to Mexico’s drug cartels murdered around 1,500 people in 2006 and 2,700 people in 2007, with the 2008 death toll soaring to more than 6,000.

For the second consecutive year, the dubious distinction of being Mexico’s murder capital went to Ciudad Juarez, a gritty metropolis just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

More than 2,600 people were killed in 2009 in Juarez, according to tallies based on data from the Attorney General’s Office in Chihuahua state, and most of the slayings were related to battles among rival drug gangs for control of lucrative smuggling routes to the United States.

The figures mean that an average of seven people were murdered per day in 2009 in Juarez, compared with about 4.3 people per day in 2008, when more than 1,600 killings were reported.

One of the most widely publicized murders was the Nov. 13 slaying of journalist Armando Rodriguez, who had covered the crime beat for the local El Diario newspaper.

Violence against journalists forced five Ciudad Juarez-based reporters in 2009 to flee the country and request political asylum in the United States, due to threats or attacks targeting them or their family members.

Among the security forces, municipal police officers accounted for the highest number of murder victims with 25, followed by nine officers with the AEI Chihuahua state investigations agency, two federal police officers and three army soldiers.

The city saw an increase in killings in 2009 despite the presence of 8,000 federal police and army soldiers, most of them deployed to Juarez since February.

One of the deadliest incidents occurred on March 4, when 20 inmates were killed and five were seriously wounded in a prison fight over the distribution of drugs inside the facility.

Deadly attacks by cartel enforcers on drug-rehabilitation centers also made headlines last year.

A total of 18 men were killed in one attack on the El Aliviane clinic on Sept. 2, followed by another 13 days later on the Anexo de Vida facility that left 10 young men dead.

Cartel hit men also targeted Juarez nightclubs in 2009, with five people slain on July 17 at the Amsterdam bar, eight at the Seven & Seven bar on Aug. 17 and six at the Coco Bongo establishment on Aug. 29.

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