Major Mexican newspapers published an alarming story on Monday: they reported that December 1, the first anniversary of President López Obrador’s presidency, was the most violent day to date of his six-year term with 127 homicides.
But it was in fact a bit of “fake news” of the government’s own making.
Security analyst Alejandro Hope noted in his column in the newspaper El Universal that the source for the story was the government’s own figures. He also noted that the figures were “obviously wrong.”
Hope wrote that the government data included 21 victims of intentional homicide in Coahuila, where police and suspected members of the Northeast Cartel clashed after gangsters attacked the small town of Villa Unión.
However, he pointed out that media reports indicated that 14 of the victims were killed on Saturday and therefore their deaths should have been included in homicide statistics for November 30 rather than December 1.
But they weren’t, Hope said: only three murders in Coahuila were included in Saturday’s statistics.
The analyst said the director of the National Information Center, David Pérez Esparza, explained to him that daily homicide statistics are indicative of the day on which a murder investigation is opened rather than the day on which the crime occurred.
A murder investigation might be opened one day or even several days after a homicide occurs, Hope wrote.
On the plus side, the government’s methodology ensures that only official information contributes to the statistics and not rumors, he said.
“However, it also generates serious difficulties. In the first place, by following the [daily government homicide] reports, it’s never possible to know with precision how many people were murdered on a specific day,” Hope wrote. “A day that appears calm might have been unusually bloody. Or vice versa.”
The analyst said that f0r President López Obrador and his security team, the discrepancy is not a trivial one.
The daily murder count, Hope wrote, is supposed to be used as a tool to determine where the nation’s security forces are most needed.
“How can strategies be adapted if the information available is obviously untrue?” he asked, noting also that the government’s daily homicide statistics have underestimated the actual number of murders by about 20%.
Hope said the discrepancies generate “monumental confusion” in both the media and the general population.
He said that if the 14 deaths on Saturday are subtracted from Sunday’s figures, “we’re left with a total of 113” murders, “an undoubtedly high figure but not the highest” since López Obrador took office (there have been several days with between 114 and 117 homicide victims).
However, Hope noted that it wasn’t known how many of those 113 homicides actually occurred on Sunday because, as Pérez explained, the figure refers to the opening of murder investigations.
In light of the confusion, the analyst made a two-point proposal: “1) Suspend the daily count: it doesn’t help to improve decision making and confuses public opinion. 2) If the aforementioned isn’t possible because the president wants to have that data, cancel the publication of the daily report and replace it with a weekly statistical report compiled with consolidated figures. If it is explained well, no one will complain about a decision of that nature.”
Source: El Universal (sp)