UC San Diego's Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies launched a research project Thursday to provide data and analysis on the escalation of violence in Mexico related to narcotrafficking and its impact on the population.
Center officials said the Mexico Violence Resource Project is intended to be a reliable database for policymakers and journalists and will begin its efforts with new insights into the chaos that erupted in the city of Culiacan one year ago when Sinaloa cartel gunmen successfully thwarted the government's attempt to arrest one of narcotrafficker Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's sons.
In addition to providing statistical data, the initiative will provide analysis to help assess facts on the ground. Though popular portrayals of the bloodshed depict it as a product of cinematic-type conflicts between cartels, experts involved with the project now recognize that the drivers of violence are more nuanced, according to Rafael Fernandez de Castro, director of the center, part of UCSD's School of Global Policy and Strategy.
"As expert understandings of criminal activity have evolved, media portrayals and public debate have often retained a static conception of the causes and consequences of violence," de Castro said.
The initiative intends to assist researchers or institutions focusing on specific issues by facilitating binational efforts to contextualize issues such as gender violence or money laundering. The aim is to give policymakers, journalists and scholars the tools to develop deeper understandings and smarter solutions, according to de Castro.
The project's website serves as a database of facts and statistics surrounding violence, sourcing information from civil society, government and academia. Statistics include the number of homicides, missing persons, costs of violence, judicial records and firearm information.
Another component is the project's efforts to provide original interviews from a range of voices to illuminate specific causes of violence to explore strategies for building peace.
The examination of the events of Oct. 17, 2019, in Culiacan is the first such endeavor. After Mexican government forces detained one of "El Chapo's" sons, members of the Sinaloa Cartel took to the streets with high-powered weapons, forcing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to release Ovidio Guzman.
Many observers proclaimed the events a catastrophic defeat for the government and a momentous change in the country's security dynamics; however, the project suggests that those interpretations were misguided, according to Michael Lettieri, senior fellow for human rights at UCSD.
"To truly understand the impact of the events we need to listen to the victims," Lettieri said. "This can then illuminate how communities respond to trauma, fear and victimization, both independent of policy interventions and as a reaction to them."
The hybrid model of applied scholarship, integrating journalism and academic knowledge is designed to make timely insights accessible to a broad audience.
"Ultimately, it matters a great deal how we tell stories about violence in Mexico," said Cecilia Farfan-Mendez, head of security research programs at the center. "Listening to those on the ground allows us to understand why most attempts to solve the problem have failed."