And while Mexico's homicide rate is lower than those of some countries in the region, like El Salvador and Honduras, it is the type of violence that sets this nation apart. It is decapitations and bodies dangling from bridges with warning notes, or the grenade thrown into a plaza in Michoacán's capital, Morelia, in September 2008. And it is massacres such as that of 13 Juárez high school students and two adults gunned down at a birthday party in January 2010; a car bomb that killed four and wounded more than a dozen in Juárez in July 2010; 72 bullet-riddled bodies of migrants found at a ranch in August 2010; a casino attack in the industrial city of Monterrey in broad daylight last August in which gunmen burst in and set fire to the building, killing 52 people.
The government maintains that its pressure on illicit groups has caused them to splinter, creating more havoc, a temporary but necessary byproduct of the fight.
It is true that most of the violence is contained: 80 percent of all homicides took place in 162 of Mexico's more than 2,400 municipalities, a national security spokesman said in August 2010. While urban violence abounds in Mexico City, the nation's capital, it is not the gang-on-gang gore that makes international headlines. And tourists can book hotels in Cancún and US retirees can nest in towns around Lake Chapala in Jalisco with little sense something is askew.
But the "cockroach effect" – narcotraffickers on the run, regrouping and scurrying to new redoubts – has created a more diffuse, and in many ways more dangerous, violence. Drug battles now crop up in places unaccustomed to them, like Veracruz and Monterrey. And today, fractured groups desperate for cash turn to other illicit activities beyond the transport of narcotics.