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Why Mexico is touting an 11 percent increase in drug-related murders

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Drug-related murder in Mexico shot up by 11 percent between 2010 and last year, with 12,903 killed in the first nine months of 2011, according to official figures released Wednesday.

But the government calls this good news. “It's the first year that the homicide rate increase has been significantly lower compared to previous years,” Mexico's attorney general’s office said in a statement.

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They do have a point. From 2009 to 2010 killings in the same time period increased by 70 percent. The year before the increase was 63 percent. And from 2007 to 2008 it was a dizzying 110 percent.

With the new death count, the official number of those killed in five years under Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s military strategy against organized crime is more than 47,000.

Not great statistics as the Calderon administration heads into an election in July. So the government sought to underline another point Wednesday: that the majority of killings between rival traffickers took place in a quarter of Mexico’s states, meaning that a large swath of Mexico is safe.

One of the oases of safety from the drug war has been the otherwise dangerous capital, Mexico City. But security analysts are questioning if the capital will become another battled turf. 

Right before the numbers were released, two decapitated bodies were found in a burning SUV outside a high-end shopping mall in an exclusive enclave of Mexico City, popular with foreigners and wealthy Mexicans.

The next time the government publishes drug-related homicide figures, this kind of violence might produce numbers that shows greater geographical spread. 

That is, if the government publishes new figures at all. The latest numbers were apparently only made public under pressure from groups utilizing Mexico’s freedom of information law – not as part of a routine data release. Before Wednesday’s release, the Mexican news site Animal Politico had said the government has been refusing to give over the homicide data. Guest blogger Patrick Corcoran at Insight Crime has more details about it here

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In its statement on the figures, the attorney general's office did not mention that battle but noted it was releasing the updated data in the name of “transparency.”

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