Memo From Middle America: Is Trump Right That Mexico Is “Second-Deadliest Country”—And Does It Really Matter?


Claiming that President Donald Trump is wrong about something or other has become a major specialty of the Main Stream Media. Invariably it comes down to trivial logic-chopping. Case in point: the recent flood of negative comments after his comment on Mexican violence—all of it missing the point that Mexico is, in fact, dangerous.

Recently, Trump tweeted, “Mexico was just ranked the second deadliest country in the world, after only Syria. Drug trade is largely the cause. We will BUILD THE WALL!”

The next day, the Washington Post announced Donald Trump is wrong. Mexico isn’t the second-deadliest country in the world [by Joshua Partlow, June 23, 2017].

Was Trump right or wrong? And does it really matter?

Of course, there are several ways to parse Mexican murder statistics. I’ve written four articles on the 2016 Mexican murder stats at Mexidata:

(These types of columns go back several years, here and here for 2015, here, here and here for 2014, here for 2013, here, here and here for 2012.)

There are different ways to organize Mexican murder statistics. You can do it by raw numbers, by per capita rates, or you can break it down into states, cities or municipios of Mexico, and you can compare Mexico’s stats with those of other countries.

Each method has merit. And no matter what method is used, it shows Mexico has a real criminal problem.

Mexico’s northern neighbor is the world’s biggest drug consumer, and that’s obviously one big factor. Corruption in Mexico is another.

Trump’s tweet about the “second deadliest” refers to the rating from the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), which includes former UK and US officials in its membership. The IISS rating wasn’t of the world’s deadliest countries overall, but of those “in conflict.” IISS considers the Mexican drug war a conflict.

Its ranking was determined by counting the number of fatalities in each country. Syria had 50,000, Mexico second with 23,000, Iraq with 17,000, Afghanistan 16,000, Yemen 7,000. [Report: Mexico was second deadliest country in 2016 by Elizabeth Roberts, CNN, May 10, 2017]

The Mexican government objected to the report, disputing the number of fatalities and asserting that the Mexican situation was not comparable to that of other countries.

Two days after Trump’s tweet, CNN ran a more nuanced article asking, Is Mexico the world’s second most dangerous country, as Trump says? That depends  [by Jeanne Bonner, June 24, 2017].  “If you go with raw numbers, Trump is right”, writes Bonner, but “based on population, Mexico is right”.

To complicate matters further, IISS itself subsequently issued a statement:

One of the findings that attracted attention and debate centered on the figures for Mexico, which placed the country second in terms of total estimated armed-conflict fatalities in 2016. We accept there was a methodological flaw in our calculation of estimated conflict fatalities that requires revision. Our researchers are working to rectify this and we will share the results in due course. We anticipate this will result in Mexico’s conflict remaining among the ten most lethal in the world, by estimated fatalities attributable to an armed conflict.

[IISS statement on 2016 Mexico conflict fatalities, IISS Press Release, June 23, 2017]

The statement also pointed out “The Armed Conflict Database and Survey do not measure homicides on either an absolute or per capita basis. We estimate deaths directly related to conflict. We do not provide an assessment of the levels of violence in any country.” The difficulty is determining which murders are related to the drug war and which are unrelated to the drug war.

But both types of murder are still murder.

For murder rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, a good source is the InSight Crime website, which on January 16 2017 published InSight Crime’s 2016 Homicide Round-up [by David Gagne]. According to that source, here are the ten most murderous countries (per capita) in Latin America and the Caribbean.

  1. El Salvador, 81.2 per 100,000.
  2. Venezuela, 59 per 100,000 (but probably higher).
  3. Honduras, 59 per 100,000.
  4. Jamaica, 50 per 100,000.
  5. Guatemala, 27.3 per 100,000.
  6. Brazil, 25.7 per 100,000.
  7. Colombia, 24.4 per 100,000.
  8. Puerto Rico, 20 per 100,000.
  9. Mexico, 16.2 per 100,000.
  10. Dominican Republic, 15.8 per 100,000.

The 2016 murder rate in the U.S.: 5.3 murders per 100,000 people–with  a big jump due to the “Ferguson Effect”.  [The Murder Rate Jumped Again In 2016. A Handful Of Cities Are Largely Responsible., by By Ryan J. Reilly, Huffington Post, April 18, 2016]

So Mexico doesn’t have the highest murder rate in Latin America but it’s still in the top ten and its rate is over three times higher than the American murder rate.

Note that Puerto Rico, which some want to make a U.S. state, has an even higher rate than Mexico. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, the sources of a great number of illegals who pass through Mexico, are ranked #1, #3, and #5 respectively.

Regarding Mexico, it’s a big country and some regions are much more peaceful than others.   Therefore, a per capita murder listing by city is very useful.  The Mexican NGO Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y Justicia Penal, A.C. (Citizen Council for Public Security and Penal Justice) publishes a list of the world’s 50 most murderous cities annually.

Cities in war zones are not included so for the purposes of this ranking, countries afflicted by drug cartel wars are not considered war zones, and each city must have a population over 300,000. On the 2016 World’s Fifty Most Murderous Cities list, 42 were in Latin America.

Brazil had 19 cities on the list, more than any other country.

Caracas, Venezuela was the world’s most murderous city, with a 130.35 per 100,000 murder rate. Mexico was in second place with 8 cities, up from 5 last year.  The 8 cities: Acapulco (#2), Ciudad Victoria (#5), Tijuana (#22), Culiacan (#24), Mazatlan (#27), Ciudad Juarez (#37), Chihuahua City (#40) and Ciudad Obregon (#41).

The United States of America had four cities on the World’s Most Murderous Cities list. They were:  St. Louis (#14), Baltimore (#26), New Orleans (#34), and Detroit (#36).

That means that St. Louis had a higher murder rate than any Mexican city with the exceptions of Acapulco and Ciudad Victoria. Baltimore had a higher murder rate than any Mexican city with the exceptions of Acapulco, Ciudad Victoria, Tijuana and Culiacan.  New Orleans and Detroit each had a higher murder rate than any Mexican city with the exceptions of the top five most murderous Mexican cities.

Another international ranking system, the Global Peace Index from the Institute of Economics and Peace,  is based on a wider set of criteria (internal conflicts, neighboring country relations, terrorism impact, perception of criminality, UN peacekeeping funding, weapons importation, violent crime, homicide rate, political terror and external conflicts).  This index also puts Syria in the #1 position, but has Mexico down at #22—not very enviable but better than #2 (Afghanistan is #2 in this list, Iraq is #3).

Despite widespread violence in Mexico, many areas are quite safe and the tourist trade is booming. In 2015, Mexico had 32.1 million international visitors, which was an increase in 10 million visitors from 2005. That put Mexico at #9 in the quantity of international visitors in the world.

As a long-time resident in Mexico, I won’t tell people if they should or should not visit the country. But if you go, know what you’re doing and where you’re going, and have a clear plan.

I’d also recommend the State Department’s Country Information Page and Mexico Travel Warning.  The latter is periodically updated and breaks its assessments down to the state level. The State Department has also issued warnings on local matters in various parts of Mexico.

Bottom line: President Trump is unquestionably right Mexico has a real problem with violence. Having Open Borders does not keep us safe. We need to build that wall for a number of reasons—and the high crime in Mexico is one of the most important.

And despite all the shrieking from Mexico, I think in the long run it will actually help them too. After all, good fences make good neighbors.

And it’s about time Donald Trump started delivering, directly, on his promises to put America First.

American citizen Allan Wall (email him) moved back to the U.S.A. in 2008 after many years residing in Mexico. Allan`s wife is Mexican, and their two sons are bilingual. In 2005, Allan served a tour of duty in Iraq with the Texas Army National Guard. His VDARE.COM articles are archived here; his Mexidata.info articles are archived here ; his News With Views columns are archived here; and his website is here.