JANUARY 12 2012 17:29h

Critics dispute Mexico's drug war deaths


MEXICO CITY, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Drug-related violence killed nearly 13,000 people in the first nine months of 2011, the Mexican government said.

The tally, provided by the attorney general's office, indicated drug-related deaths increased 11 percent to 12,903 through September, compared with the same nine-month period in the previous year, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon began his war against the drug cartels in late 2006, 47,515 people have died, the government said.

The Times said the Mexican government provided the data only after the country's freedom of information agency threatened to ask for an investigation if the figures weren't released, raising questions about whether the government report is an accurate reflection of drug-related deaths.

Some Mexican news organizations have arrived independently at similar totals while others said they found the government undercounts the number of drug-related deaths.

Experts said the Mexican government failed to create the tracking system needed to understand criminal trends and improve security, and is secretive about the information it has.

"Our frustration is that they have some information and some numbers, something that would be valuable, and they are not releasing them," said Eric Olson, a security expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. "And there is a whole bunch of other things that are not well-defined and can lead to erroneous conclusions."

Because there are few investigations, data "are approximations at best," Olson told the Times. "They're hunches. There is not really a way of knowing precisely if it was caused by organized crime or a drug trafficker or not."