Of course, it can be difficult to distinguish between forcible displacement and voluntary migration, and some studies offer a more worrying picture. According to data provided by Inegi, Mexico’s statistical agency, in 2010, the population in the embattled northern city of Juarez declined from 1.3 million to roughly 1 million in just two years. Another study released around the same time from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez (UACJ, for its initials in Spanish) estimated the size of the population loss at 500,000. According to a further study by UACJ, 33,000 homes in the city are unoccupied.
In Monterrey, the wealthy northern metropolis previously considered Mexico’s safest big city, rising violence has helped scare people off. An anonymous source recently told journalist Jorge Zepeda Patterson that the number of students at the prestigious Tec de Monterrey, a mega-campus that has served as a significant draw to the area, has dropped by more than 25 percent in the past year and a half.
The problem is not limited to Mexico; in the northern half of Central America, where the violence is far more severe than in Mexico, residents have also been driven from their homes. In September, for instance, an anti-drug operation in the north Guatemalan province of Peten sent more than 90 families scrambling across the border to Mexico. As InSight Crime reported, the residents of the village of Nueva Esperanza said that government security forces accused them of trafficking drugs, a charge they denied, and then burned their homes.
The relatively limited extent of displacement is one element that separates the current security travails in Central America and Mexico from the country with which they are most often compared: Colombia. In the South American nation, where the government’s loss of territory has been more severe, and where the presence of leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitaries heightened the situation, making it far more politically charged and complicated for civilians, there has been mass displacement from many areas of the country and migration into the cities. The IDMC says that more than 5 million people have been displaced in Colombia, amounting to more than 10 percent of the population, compared to just over 0.2 percent in Mexico.
**Patrick Corcoran is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.