A Nogales, Sonora police officer assists a woman fleeing the scene of a drug related shooting near a major shopping mall on Sept. 12, 2008 in Nogales, Sonora.

Arizona Daily Star 2008

In the last year, reporters and researchers have made progress in revealing the true scale of disappearances and murders in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office almost in December 2006.

It's been almost six years now since Calderon launched his "mano dura" campaign of using the military and police forces to attack Mexico's criminal organizations head on. The commonly cited death toll in the many shootouts and other violent outbreaks since then has been 50,000-60,000. 

But these reports correct that figure and reveal nuances that Mexico's government reports don't.

One of the most impressive efforts was this recent investigative report by the Milenio news agency in Mexico City. By filing more than 470 public-record requests, using Mexico's new transparency law, Milenio was able to report the number of unidentified murder victims in the Calderon era: 24,102. 

"On average, 10 unidentified or unclaimed bodies have been buried daily," reporter Víctor Hugo Michel wrote.

Undoubtedly the category of unidentified murder victims overlaps with the list of the disappeared since Calderon took office. This Associated Press piece reports about 24,000 people have been reported missing and not found in Mexico.

Mexico's Human Rights Commissioner said recently in this Mexican news report that his commission has 6,000 open reports of people taken by government forces and disappeared during Calderon's presidency.

On Saturday, family members of some of the disappeared began a hunger strike outside Mexico's Interior Ministry. They're demanding action on the issue of the disappeared before Calderon leaves office next month.

Several recent reports take issue with the Calderon administration's claim  that more than 50,000 have died as a result of organized-crime battles. New Mexico researcher Molly Molloy says those figures are misleading.

In June, Molloy reported 99,667 Mexicans have been murdered in Calderon's term. That compares to an estimated 92,000 murders in the United States during that time, Molloy concludes. The U.S. population is about three times the size of Mexico's population.

She based her county of Mexico's murders on different government sources of information than the ones Calderon's administration has used. She also argues that the administration has inflated the number of criminals among those killed in Mexico's drug war.

"In Mexico you get to be a criminal as soon as the Mexican government kills you," she wrote. "Until that moment, most people who knew you had no idea you were a bad person."

That's also a theme of Daniel Hernandez's reporting. In August, he reported on the people caught in crossfire, targeted wrongly by the military or police, or killed by criminals for hard-to-understand reasons. 

"In their crossfire they're getting innocent people. In the bar where I worked, maybe they were going after one bad person, but they killed innocent people too. And then there is more bloodshed when they pursue the witnesses," one exile from Ciudad Juarez said.

"They go for a person, kill their mother, kill their brother. They kill lots of innocent people. They killed my father. It just keeps spreading out and it's mostly innocent people."