The number of murders in Mexico last year hit a new record high with more than 35,500 homicides, according to government data, despite President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s pledge to tackle crime and violence in the country in his first year in office.
López Obrador has, in the past, acknowledged that crime and violence are the toughest challenges he faces. But on Jan. 22, he said corruption is the country’s main problem.
A total of 35,588 murders were committed last year, up 2.7 percent from the previous year, according to data released by the national public security system.
It marked the highest murder rate in the country since 1997 when official records began, Al Jazeera reported.
Figures showed, however, that the annual rate of increase in murders has slowed, as in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, homicides grew by yearly rates of 27 percent, 28 percent, and 17 percent, respectively.
The president emphasized how damaging white-collar criminals have been to the country, more so than drug cartels responsible for many of the murders.
“We are giving almost the same weight to [fighting] white-collar crime as we do to drug cartels,” López Obrador said.
He said that focusing on drug lords like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, as past administrations did, would be a distraction, as Guzman stole less than corrupt businessmen and politicians.
While it is unclear what percentage of Mexico’s murders last year were linked to drug gang violence, the fact that those gangs have expanded into extortion and kidnapping makes them the country’s primary single source of violence.
The single worst day of violence in Mexico last year was seen on Dec. 1 with 127 murders, on the day López Obrador marked his first anniversary in office.
Violence has continued to rise in the murder-plagued country since López Obrador assumed the presidency in December 2018, vowing to pacify Mexico with a less confrontational approach to security.
In November last year, a gun battle between suspected Mexican drug cartel members and security forces near the U.S.-Mexico border left at least 21 dead. Two months prior, Mexican officials discovered at least 44 bodies stuffed in about 100 black bags in a well near the city of Guadalajara in Jalisco State.
Mexico has struggled for years with violence as consecutive governments battled brutal drug cartels, often by taking out their leaders. That has resulted in the fragmentation of gangs and increasingly vicious fighting.
López Obrador has blamed the economic policies of previous administrations for exacerbating the violence and said his government was targeting the issue by rooting out corruption and inequality in Mexico.
The Associated Press and Jack Phillips contributed to this report.