Mexico murders set new record in 2018

A police officer (L) and neighbors watch a house where five people were killed in Mexico's Ciudad Juarez on January 16, 2019 -- the country suffered a record 33,341 homicides in 2018 (AFP Photo/HERIKA MARTINEZ) (AFP)

Mexico City (AFP) - Mexico suffered a record 33,341 homicides in 2018, according to official statistics released Monday, breaking the record set in 2017, as violence fueled by a war on the country's powerful drug cartels plagues the country.

More than 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since the government controversially deployed the army to fight drug trafficking in 2006. The previous record was 28,866 homicides in 2017.

The new record shows the grim challenge facing President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an anti-establishment leftist who took office in December with a promise to curb the gruesome violence.

His strategy is built on creating a national guard that will officially bring civilian police duties under military control.

Critics say that will only prolong the militarization of the crackdown on drug cartels and exacerbate human rights abuses, which activists say have soared since the army was sent into the streets.

In a concession to critics, Lopez Obrador agreed to put the new force under civilian command, but opponents say that will do little to resolve the underlying problems.

Creating the national guard will require a constitutional amendment.

The legislation cleared the lower house last week with the required two-thirds majority, in a major victory for Lopez Obrador -- though he complained the bill as passed did not give the military enough powers during the transition to the new force.

The plan still has to pass the Senate, also with a two-thirds majority, and half of Mexico's 32 state legislatures -- most controlled by Lopez Obrador's party, Morena.