Mexico's Murder Rate Climbs for the First Time in Four Years

Mexico
Relatives of missing people take part in a demonstration to demand justice for their relatives during the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances in Mexico City, August 30, 2015. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Murders in Mexico jumped nearly 9 percent last year, their first increase in four years, as President Enrique Pena Nieto struggles to make good on his election pledge to end the country's drug violence.

But other crimes like kidnapping and extortion have fallen, according to government data released late on Wednesday, perhaps pointing to a shift toward more brutal tactics by some of the country's dozens of drug cartels.

Prosecutors from Mexico's 31 states and Mexico City reported 17,013 murders last year, the fifth-highest figure in nearly two decades, Interior Ministry statistics showed. There were 15,653 murders reported in 2014.

The rate equates to about 14 murders per 100,000 people, higher than the U.S. rate of about five per 100,000 people, but below that of Mexico's Central American neighbors.

Many experts have said only a fraction of all crime in Mexico is reported. Drug cartels and other gangs are known to routinely buy off police to turn a blind eye to their operations, leading to widespread impunity and lack of trust.

The central state of Mexico, which encircles much of Mexico City, had the highest murder rate last year. In second place was Guerrero, a southwestern state where 43 trainee teachers were abducted last year and believed by government officials to have been massacred by a drug cartel in league with local police.

The number of kidnappings nationwide fell 24.5 percent from 2014, the lowest level since 2008, while extortion dropped 12.6 percent.