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Defending the wall at the heart of a government shutdown, President Donald Trump pitched a fishy claim about Mexico’s security levels.
"We need the Wall for the safety and security of our country," Trump tweeted on Jan. 18, 2018. "We need the Wall to help stop the massive inflow of drugs from Mexico, now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world. If there is no Wall, there is no Deal!"
Drug trade and policy experts generally agree a border wall likely would not have the impact Trump envisions, we found in a previous report.
This time around, we decided to take a look at Mexican security. Was Mexico just rated the most dangerous country in the world?
While there are multiple ways to measure danger, there is no single ranking for the most dangerous country in the world. The White House did not repond to our inquiry on the record.
Mexico does rank first or third for the number of journalists killed for doing their jobs. However, it is out-ranked by other countries in other lists, such as countries’ homicides per capita.
The only way Mexico falls first is if we only consider the International Press Institute’s number of journalists who were killed in 2017. The global journalism network tallied at least 14 journalists killed in Mexico in its December 2017 report.
The Committee to Protect Journalists confirmed six cases of murder in retaliation for the journalists’ work, placing Mexico third for killings worldwide and first after conflict zones. The number of journalists killed in Mexico with confirmed motives reached a historical high in 2017, the committee found.
Outside of journalism, Mexico scores high on danger levels, but not first.
The Institute for Economics and Peace produces an annual Global Peace Index report, which measures the world’s most peaceful countries using 23 qualitative and quantitative measures of safety, security, ongoing domestic and international conflict, and militarization.
Read inversely, the countries at the bottom of this list could be considered the "least peaceful."
Mexico was ranked 22nd from the bottom of that list. Syria was worst.
Frank Zimring, a crime expert at the University of California, Berkeley, said the two most useful measures of danger are the homicide rate of a country and the rate of some index of reported crime.
Comparing crime across countries is difficult and discouraged due to disparities in legal definitions, incident reporting and data collection.
The main study of intentional homicides is performed by the United Nations’ Office of Drug Control. The figures don’t include war-related killings and deaths from internal conflicts, which are generally far higher than intentional homicides.
Mexico was 10th on the list in 2015, and El Salvador was first. There were 16 intentional homicides for every 100,000 people in Mexico, whereas El Salvador had 109 per 100,000 population. (The United States, by the way, was 54th.)
"While Mexico has a significant problem of violence, it is manifestly false that Mexico is the most dangerous country in the world," Mexico’s foreign ministry retaliated in a press release about Trump’s tweet. "According to UN figures for 2014 (the most recent international report), Mexico is far from being one of the most violent countries. In Latin America alone, other countries have homicide rates higher than Mexico's (16.4), which is far below several countries in the region."
The most recent year, however, did see Mexico’s highest homicide count since the government began counting in 1997: 29,168 homicide cases in 2017, Mexico’s interior ministry told the Associated Press.
That places it slightly above the regional average, according to Eric Olson, the deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Latin American program.
"To maintain that Mexico is the most violent country in the world would be a very subjective claim, and to say it’s the most homicidal is certifiably wrong," Olson said.
Trump tweeted a similar claim in June: "Mexico was just ranked the second deadliest country in the world, after only Syria."
The source of that claim was a report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies that said Mexico’s 2016 intentional homicide total, 23,000, was second only to Syria. After the statistic garnered heavy media attention, a press release revealed a "methodological flaw" in their fatalities calculation, which spokeswoman Anais Auvray said researchers are working to fix.
Regardless, the report measured the gross number of homicides, which have little comparative value. For context, in 2015 the United States had half the homicide rate as Mexico, yet recorded 15,696 intentional homicides, to Mexico’s 20,762, according to the United Nations.
The report also excludes other violent Latin American countries, like Brazil, which do not fit the institute’s criteria for armed conflict.
"The Armed Conflict Database and Survey do not measure homicides on either an absolute or per capita basis," a June 23, 2017, news release said. "We estimate deaths directly related to conflict. We do not provide an assessment of the levels of violence in any country."
Trump tweeted that Mexico is "now rated the number one most dangerous country in the world."
That is the case for journalists, according to two groups that track retaliatory murders. But it is not true for the risk to the broader public, which is not mentioned or clarified in Trump’s Twitter feed.
Experts offered homicide measures as the best measure of a country’s security. By that token, Mexico ranked 10th in the United Nations’ homicides measures in 2015. Mexico’s homicide count reached a record peak last year, according to government statistics.
While certainly a cause for concern, that’s doesn’t make Mexico the "number one most dangerous country."
We rate this statement Mostly False.
Tweet, Donald J. Trump, Jan. 18, 2018
Email interview with Steven Cheung, White House spokesman, Jan. 23, 2018
PolitiFact, Will border wall stop drugs coming into United States, Oct. 26, 2017
International Press Institute, Mexico most deadly country for journalists in 2017, Dec. 19, 2017
Committee to Protect Journalists, In absence of fresh military conflict, journalist killings decline again, Dec. 21, 2017
Committee to Protect Journalists, Media Workers Killed in Mexico, accessed Jan. 23, 2018
Email interview with Eric Olson, deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Latin American program, Jan. 22, 2018
Email interview with Anais Auvray, spokeswoman at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Jan. 23, 2018
Email interview with James Fox, Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law & Public Policy
Northeastern University, Jan. 22, 2018
Email interview with Frank Zimring, a crime expert at the University of California, Berkeley, Jan. 22, 2018
World Bank, Intentional homicides (per 100,000 people), accessed Jan. 22, 2018
Tweet, Donald J. Trump, June 22, 2018
Gob.mx, Mexico reiterates its position on the bilateral relationship with the United States, Jan. 18, 2018
IISS on the Wayback Machine, Mexico’s spiralling murder rate, May 9, 2017
IISS.org, Armed Conflict Survey 2017, May 9, 2017
IISS press release, IISS statement on 2016 Mexico conflict fatalities, June 23, 2017
Associated Press, Mexico posts highest homicide rate in decades, Jan. 21, 2018
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