MEXICO CITY — Most of Donald Trump’s statements about Mexico are the product of ignorance, racism and demagoguery, but the Republican candidate would be delighted to read the latest headlines in this country.
According to the news splashed across the front pages, the Mexican Association of Mayors is requesting urgent help from President Enrique Peña Nieto to stop a wave of killings of city mayors. At least five city mayors have been killed so far this year, for a total of 56 over the past 10 years, news reports say.
The overwhelming majority of these crimes remain unsolved, in line with an overall pattern of impunity for all crimes that are committed in Mexico.
A study by the Center for Impunity and Justice Studies of the University of the Americas in Puebla shows that Mexico has the second-highest impunity rate — after Philippines — in the world.
Only 7 percent of the crimes that take place in Mexico are reported to authorities, and less than 1 percent of all criminals end up in jail, the CESIJ’S newly released “Index of Impunity in Mexico 2016” says.
Most Mexicans don’t even report crimes because they think it’s a waste of time, and because they don’t trust the police, polls show.
An old Mexican joke says that “if you are mugged on the street, don’t scream, because you may attract the police!” Often, the police shake down crime victims, as well as criminals.
Gerardo Rodriguez Sanchez, the co-author of the CESIJ’S impunity index, told me that most of the mayors’ killings take place in remote poverty-ridden areas that are known for their poppy seed plantations for heroin production.
There is virtually no presence of federal or state police forces nor judges in these rural towns. Drug traffickers there want to control local mayors, because it is the mayors who appoint the only existing law-enforcement officials.
But to put things in perspective, Mexico is far down the list of Latin America’s most violent countries, and many U.S. cities have higher murder rates than Mexico’s.
There are about a dozen Latin American and Caribbean countries with higher murder rates than Mexico. Honduras has an annual murder rate of 90 per 100,000 people. In Venezuela, the rate is 54 per 100,000, while in Belize it’s 45, in El Salvador it’s 41, and in Guatemala it’s 40. Brazil’s murder rate is 25 per 100,000 people. By comparison, Mexico’s annual murder rate is 21 per 100,000 people, according to United Nations figures.
And while the United States has a much lower overall homicide rate than Mexico’s, U.S. cities such as St. Louis, Detroit and New Orleans have murder rates that are roughly double those of Mexico, and about three times higher than those of Mexico City, according to FBI figures.
Law enforcement experts say Mexico’s obscene impunity rates are due in part among other things to police corruption, shortages of judges — the country has only four judges per 100,000 people, compared to 10 judges per 100,000 in the United States — and overcrowded prisons.
My opinion: Trump’s assertions about Mexico, such as his claim that most Mexican undocumented migrants in the United States are “criminals” and “rapists,” are preposterous. In fact, studies show that the percentage of serious crimes carried out by Mexican undocumented migrants is significantly lower than that of U.S.-born Americans.
And, as we saw above, Trump is also misrepresenting the facts when he singles out Mexico as more violent than most countries, as well as when he blames free trade with Mexico for most U.S. job losses. In fact, free trade with Mexico has produced more winners than losers on both sides, according to the Wilson Center.
But Trump’s wild claims aside, Mexico should seek international help to solve its impunity problem, much like Guatemala successfully did when it invited the United Nations’ International Commission against Impunity to help rebuild its disastrous law enforcement system.
The recent wave of murders of Mexican mayors suggests that Mexico’s drug-related violence, which drew so much U.S. media attention a few years ago, has not slowed down, and that it must do something drastic to reduce it.