MEXICO CITY, Mexico – This was a record breaking year for Mexico, the deadliest ever since records of such tragedies began in 1997. Aside from earthquakes and hurricanes, murders shot upwards.

For 2017 statistics show a total of 23,101 murder investigations have been opened in the year up to December, making it the deadliest year in the country’s modern history, surpassing the 22,409 figure for 2011.

The shocking figures dealt a fresh blow to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s pledge to get gang violence under control ahead of its crucial presidential election, scheduled to be held next year.

In December 2012, Peña Nieto assumed power and pledged to tame the violence that escalated under his predecessor Felipe Calderón.  While he managed to reduce the murder tally during the first two years of his term, since then it has risen steadily.

The interior ministry figures showed that at 18.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, the 2017 Mexican murder rate is still lower than it was in 2011. In 2011, the murder rate in the country reached almost 19.4 per 100,000. 

The rate has also held below levels reported in several other Latin American countries. The World Bank’s online database quotes UN figures and reveals that in 2015, Brazil and Colombia both had a murder rate of 27 per 100,000, Venezuela 57, Honduras 64 and El Salvador 109.

St Kitts and Nevis has the third highest murder rate in the Caribbean with 38 deaths per 100,000 right behind Jamaica at 41 and the US Virgin Islands at 39. This is the last year for which data is available. By comparison, the U.S. rate was only five per 100,000.

President Nieto’s failure to contain the killings has damaged his credibility. It has also hurt his centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, which faces an uphill struggle to hold on to power in the July 2018 presidential election.

Currently, since the law bars Nieto from seeking re-election, leftist Andres Manuel López Obrador is being dubbed by the country’s media and analysts as the frontrunner in the race. Obrador has mentioned exploring an amnesty with criminal gangs to reduce the violence but has not really fleshed out the idea.

On Saturday, Mexican newspaper Reforma noted that after a campaign stop in the central state of Hidalgo on Friday, Obrador reportedly addressed the issue again. He was answering a question on whether talks aimed at stemming the violence could include criminal gangs.

The report quoted Obrador as saying, “There can be dialogue with everyone. There needs to be dialogue and there needs to be a push to end the war and guarantee peace. Things can’t go on as before.”

But earlier this month, a poll showed that two-thirds of Mexicans reject offering an amnesty to members of criminal gangs in a bid to curb violence. It also showed that less than a quarter were in favour of the strategy.