With 958 killings, last month was Mexico’s bloodiest since December 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle with powerful drug cartels, El Universal newspaper said Thursday.
The capital daily, which keeps a running tally of drug-war deaths, said the March figure brings the total number of gangland killings during the Calderon administration to 18,757.
More than 2,550 people have died so far this year.
The northern border state of Chihuahua accounted for 670 of last month’s killings. The state’s largest city, Ciudad Juarez, is Mexico’s murder capital and – by some measures – the world’s most dangerous urban hub.
Contending that Mexico faces a “problem of perception,” Calderon said Tuesday that the media are exaggerating the violence in his country.
He cited data from the Brookings Institution indicating that Mexico suffers 11.5 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, “a high and worrisome number,” but below the figures for Jamaica, 67; the Dominican Republic, nearly 50; and Brazil, where the rate is 22 murders per 100,000 residents.
Brazil’s relatively high murder rate did not prevent the country from winning the right to host the 2014 soccer World Cup or the 2016 Summer Olympics, Calderon said.
While acknowledging that some Mexican cities and regions suffer from high levels of violence, the president said that others were on a par with “the best in Europe” in terms in public safety.
Vowing to crush the cartels, Calderon has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 Federal Police officers in Mexico’s roughest areas, yet the pace of killings has only accelerated, surging from 2,700 in 2007 to 7,724 last year.
On Thursday, the army was to begin handing over some security tasks in Ciudad Juarez to the Federal Police, though troops were to continue to be responsible for controlling access to the city, the U.S. border and the airport, the government said.
Soldiers will also provide support to municipal, state and Federal Police officers “in emergencies, conducting operations and jointly assisting in information and intelligence tasks, and in fighting organized crime, among others,” according to a government statement.
Juarez, a city of 1.5 million people just across the border from El Paso, Texas, has been plagued by drug-related violence for years.
The murder rate took off in 2007, when more than 800 people were killed and more than doubled to 1,623 in 2008, with the number of killings soaring to 2,635 last year.