Map of Disappearances in Jalisco Underscores Nationwide Human Rights Challenge

05/18/2021 (written by rramos) –  On April 27, Jalisco’s State Human Rights Commission (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, CEDH) published a map that highlighted the 30 municipalities in the state with the highest numbers of reported missing persons. According to the CEDH map, a significant portion of reported disappearances were concentrated in certain regions of the state. Jalisco’s capital city of Guadalajara and its surrounding suburbs had the largest total numbers of disappearance cases. Guadalajara led with 4,136 missing persons reported, followed by the neighboring municipalities of Zapopan (2,136 disappearances), Tlajomulco de Zúñiga (1,844), San Pedro Tlaquepaque (1,599), Tonalá (1,004), and El Salto (797). 

Source: NTR Guadalajara.

Outside of the Guadalajara metropolitan area, other regions of Jalisco also drew particular concern. The Highlands (Los Altos) region in the northeastern portion of the state suffered from high numbers of disappearances, with municipalities like Lagos de Moreno and Tepatitlán de Morelos reporting 478 and 321 missing persons respectively. Disappearances were also found to be concentrated in various towns in the Ciénega region, such as La Barca, Ocotlán, and Jocotepec, all of which are situated near Lake Chapala and the state border with Michoacán. Several municipalities along Jalisco’s Pacific coast also featured in the map, most notably the resort city of Puerto Vallarta with 474 disappearances and Cihuatlán with 124. According to the federal Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB), these regions of Jalisco in which disappearances have been concentrated are “characterized by the operation of organized crime groups” (author’s own translation), suggesting a correlation between the presence of criminal actors and higher levels of disappearances.

Policy Recommendations for Local Governments

In a press release that accompanied the map’s publication, the Jalisco State Human Rights Commission (CEDH) issued a series of policy recommendations to all of Jalisco’s 125 municipalities in light of the growing number of unresolved disappearances throughout the state. The commission noted with particular concern the widespread absence of specialized municipal agencies or programs focused on preventing disappearances, as well as municipal governments’ general lack of coordination with relevant federal and state authorities. The CEDH stated that these factors contributed to a generalized failure to adequately address the problem of disappearances in Jalisco. 

The recommendations put forward by the CEDH concentrated on the areas of prevention, building institutional capacity, and assistance to victims. Regarding prevention, many recommendations focused on ways to obtain more reports and tips from the general public in the hope of acquiring actionable information that could enable authorities to quickly locate missing persons after their disappearance is reported. These included calls to work with federal and state agencies to develop public alert systems and to implement public awareness campaigns in schools targeted toward young people. 

To strengthen municipal governments’ ability to respond to disappearances, the CEDH recommended the creation of specialized units and groups dedicated to processing reports of missing persons and assisting with search efforts. The Commission also urged municipalities to collaborate with Jalisco’s Special Attorney General’s Office for Disappeared Persons (Fiscalía Especial en Personas Desaparecidas) to analyze geographic trends, time-based patterns, common characteristics among victims, and other data that may deepen officials’ understanding of how disappearances occur. 

In assisting victims and their families, the CEDH voiced support for greater municipal actions to guarantee the security of family members and others coming forward to report disappearances, including the establishment of municipal-run shelters to protect reporting parties from possible retribution. The CEDH argued that ensuring greater safety for those who come forward to report disappearances and provide information will encourage more people to work collaboratively with officials to find missing persons. 

Trends in Disappearances at the National Level

When assessing disappearances at the national level, a number of overarching trends appear to be taking hold.

Firstly, disappearances in Mexico seem to be highly concentrated geographically. A report by the Secretary of the Interior (SEGOB) released in January 2021 found that 76.6% of disappearances reported nationwide between December 2018 and December 2020 were concentrated in only ten states. This was roughly consistent with an earlier estimate from Alejandro Encinas, undersecretary for human rights at SEGOB, who had told El Economista in October 2020 that 81% of disappearances reported during the term of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024) were concentrated in ten states. Within states, disappearances seem to be further concentrated at the municipal level. In one example, reported disappearances in Puebla were clearly more prevalent in certain municipalities, similar to the geographic distribution of disappearances in Jalisco. According to Puebla’s state interior secretary, David Méndez, a majority of disappearances were concentrated in only five municipalities. 

Another trend that has emerged in recent years is the steadily growing number of women who are reported missing and who have yet to be located. Data from the National Registry of Missing and Unlocated Persons (Registro Nacional de Personas Desaparecidas y No Localizadas), which is maintained and published by SEGOB, the number of women who have gone missing in Mexico reached a historic high during the administration of President López Obrador. According to SEGOG figures, the number of women and girls who were reported missing between December 2018 (the beginning of the López Obrador presidency) to March 2021 totaled 4,267. This marked a substantial increase from the total of 2,418 missing women reported at the same point of the administration of former president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), which, in turn, was a considerable spike from the total of 476 women reported missing during the same 28-month period of his predecessor’s term, Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). That equates to nearly ten times more women and girls disappeared during the López Obrador administration’s first 28 months in office compared to the Calderón administration’s, and almost double that under the Peña Nieto administration. Given that this continuous rise in disappearances of women coincides with a steady increase in reported femicides in recent years, the persistent growth of disappearances of women could suggest a broader escalation of gender-based violence.

Uncovering the full range of trends that characterize the problem of disappearances will require further scrutiny, but what is clear is that the prevalence of missing persons (and failure to locate many of them) remains a pervasive violation of human rights in Mexico. 

Sources

“Casos de feminicidios en México aumentan 145% en seis años.” Agencia Anadolu/TRT Español. October 6, 2020. 

Pérez, Maritza. “Diez estados concentran 81% de las desapariciones en México.” El Economista. October 7, 2020. 

Fernández, Karina. “Cinco municipios concentran mayoría de desaparecidos en Puebla.” Status Puebla. January 27, 2021. 

“Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato y CDMX, los estados con más desaparecidos entre 2018 y 2020.” Animal Político. January 29, 2021. 

Pérez, Martiza, and Quiroga, Ricardo. “Desapariciones de mujeres, en niveles históricamente altos.” El Economista. March 8, 2021. 

“Boletín Núm. 34/2021.” Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos de Jalisco. April 27, 2021. 

Chávez, Victor. “Han fallado los 125 municipios de Jalisco en contener las desapariciones forzadas.” El Occidental. April 27, 2021. 

Levario, Juan. “Municipios incumplen a desaparecidos: CEDHJ.” NTR Guadalajara. April 27, 2021. 

Escamilla, Héctor. “Concentran 33 municipios de Jalisco siete de cada 10 desapariciones.” Publimetro. April 28, 2021

Orozco, Mariana. “CEDHJ emite mapa con municipios que reportan mayor número de personas desaparecidas en Jalisco.” Debate. April 28, 2021.  

Drone Attack by CJNG on Aguililla Police Highlights Security Concerns

05/11/2021 (written by scortez) – On April 19, a group of police officers were attacked by drones rigged with explosives in the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacán. State authorities suspect that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) is behind the incident that left two police officers wounded. The drone attack comes as the Tierra Caliente has erupted in violence between CJNG and United Cartels (Cartéles Unidos), a drug trafficking organization with roots in Michoacán, for territorial dominance. Police officers were conducting an operation to clear several roadblocks set up by the CJNG outside the city when two drones rigged with explosives attacked the group. Two officers were injured and have since been released from the hospital. 

The assault was confirmed by the Secretary of Security of Michoacán (Secretaría de Seguridad de Michoacán). Authorities have yet to release further details into the drone attack, but they believe that the drones involved are nearly identical to two others found inside the vehicle of a CJNG member in August 2020. The drones seized in 2020 were filled with plastic explosives and ball bearings, designed to inflict severe damage upon impact. The head of the Secretary of Defense (Secretaría de Defensa, SEDENA), Luis Cresencio Sandoval, said that the CJNG has, in recent years, been using explosive drones in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Michoacán. He also minimized the severity of the attack and believes that the rigged explosives are not a pressing security issue. Although the Army approved $9.6 million in September 2020 to be spent on a national anti-drone system, indicating that SEDENA takes the cartel’s weaponization of drones more seriously than they publicly let on. 

This is not the first time CJNG has violently attacked authorities in the area. In 2019, 14 police officers were killed in an ambush in El Aguaje, a smaller town in the municipality, by CJNG members. The CJNG left handwritten messages that accused the officers of working for the United Cartels. Attacks against security forces have ramped up since the February 2020 extradition of Rubén Oseguera González, the son of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes aka “El Mencho”, to the United States. This attack marks a continued trend by the CJNG to target authorities without the fear of consequences.

CJNG painted across the wall of a bullet-riddled house in El Aguaje. Photo by: Jorge Carballo.

Battle for Aguililla

The municipality of Aguililla has recently become the center of conflict between CJNG and United Cartels. The Tierra Caliente region is an area long disputed by organized crime groups because of its opium cultivation and ownership of drug trafficking routes. The city of Aguililla also holds symbolic value to CJNG as it is the birthplace of “El Mencho.” On May 4, the cartel draped a banner underneath an Aguililla highway that issued a warning for United Cartels and declared that “El Mencho” is cementing his presence in the region.

One month prior, on April 1, eight decapitated bodies were found in the town of La Enramada. At the time, the State Attorney General of Michoacán (Fiscalía General del Estado de Michoacán, FGE) indicated that their killings were a result of a confrontation over territory between the CJNG and United Cartels. On April 15, the Governor of Michoacán, Silvano Aureoles, publicly acknowledged the state has been permanently in dispute between different criminal groups by stating, “There is a permanent threat from criminal groups from the Jalisco side and the confrontation between the groups that are operating or have been operating for a long time in the area of Buenavista, Tomatlán, Tepeque, and Aguililla,” (“La permanente amenaza de células delincuenciales del lado de Jalisco y la confrontación con las células que están operando o que operan desde hace mucho tiempo en la zona de Buenavista, Tomatlán y Tepeque y Aguililla.”). Many of the residents have been fleeing the city fearing that they would be caught in the crossfire.

As police continue to conduct operations to clear CJNG roadblocks that have completely cut off access to certain towns in the municipality, other areas remain under CJNG control. In the town of El Aguaje, the streets are marred with evidence of conflict that includes shell casings, walls riddled with bullets, and CJNG checkpoints. There is a state police presence in the town, but the dominant figure is the CJNG militant members blocking access to El Aguaje. They are dressed in camouflage uniforms with “CJNG” inscribed on their bulletproof vests and armed with high-caliber weapons.

Emerging Technologies Raise Questions about Security

At their disposal are tank-like vehicles and high-caliber weapons. Source: Newsflash.

CJNG’s Expanded Arsenal Raises Questions about Security

Since its inception in 2009, CJNG has been ascending to become one of the most powerful and militarized cartels in Mexico. CJNG has been previously known for its militancy and usage of military-grade assault weapons, but the drone bombing marks a significant escalation of the cartel’s use of sophisticated weapons. 

Recently in March 2021, CJNG showed off two modified armored trucks through the streets of Aguililla. The move was meant to send an intimidating signal to the rival cartel that they are fully equipped to engage in conflict. CJNG has been particularly adept to use technology to advance its strategies in the region. Dr. Robert J. Bunker, Director of Research and Analysis at C/O Futures, a security-focused consultancy firm based in Claremont College, CA, said, “This cartel is well on its way to institutionalizing the use of weaponized drones. None of the other cartels appear to be presently experimenting with the weaponization of these devices.” The accessibility to military-grade weapons has been made possible in part because of the high number of arms trafficked from the United States. In the last ten years, there has been an estimated 2.5 illegal firearms smuggled into Mexico.

For security forces, cartel violence remains a real threat to their lives, particularly from the CJNG. The growing militancy of the CJNG demonstrates a security risk for the authorities seeking to maintain order in the region. The 2020 Justice in Mexico Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico special report highlights that in 2019, CJNG claimed responsibility for 47 police homicides-the highest number of any cartel. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, faces a dilemma whether to crack down on the growing strength of the cartels or continue his “hugs not bullets” campaign promise meant to splinter cartel recruitment by focusing on social issues. Unlike his recent predecessors, AMLO so far has chosen not to take a heavy-handed approach to counter cartel violence with the exception of the 2018 establishment of National Guard (Guardia Nacional). While focused on social issues, the administration has yet to focus on cutting the supply of weapons from the United States and bolstering the protection of local authorities. Currently, local police officers remain a target for the cartels and as their strength and access to sophisticated weaponry grows, so, too, does the potential for such attacks. 

Sources

Linthicum, Kate. “14 police officers killed in an ambush in Mexico, testing president’s security strategy.” Los Angeles Times. October 14, 2019.

Serrano, Noé. “Ejército va por sistema antidrones de cárteles del narco.” El Universal. September 21, 2020.

Virgin, Yami. “DEA says cartels are arming themselves with military grade weapons coming from the US.” Fox San Antonio. February 9, 2021.

García, Jacobo. “El Cartel Jalisco exhibe su poder de fuego con dos tanques caseros por las calles de Michoacán.” El País. March 4, 2021.

“Enfrentamiento con el CJNG deja ocho muertos en Aguililla, Michoacán.”Animal Político. April 2, 2021. 

“Con drones disparan y lanzan granadas contra policías en Aguililla, Michoacán.” Animal Político. April 20, 2021.

“Mexico cartel used explosive drones to attack police.” BBC News. April 21, 2021.

Hambling, David. “Mexican Cartel Injures Police Officers With Drone Bomb Attack (UPDATE: Second Cartel Allegedly Using Weaponized Drones).” Forbes. April 22, 2021.

Belmont, José Antonio. “El Aguaje, pueblo fantasma azotado por criminales en Michoacán.” Milenio. April 23, 2021.

“2 to stand trial for making exploding drones in Mexico.” Associated Press. April 24, 2021.

“Advierte CJNG: se acabó violencia en Aguililla.” Reforma. May 4, 2021.

Federal Authorities Arrest Military Officials for Past Violence

04/29/21 (written by scortez) – In two separate cases, military personnel have been arrested for their alleged involvement in past abductions and murders. On April 9, the Mexican Navy reported that they had turned over 30 marines to federal prosecutors for their alleged involvement in the 2018 string of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. In another investigation, seven soldiers of the Mexican Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) were arrested on April 1 for their involvement in the 2014 Tlatlaya massacre.

Marines patrolling the streets of Nuevo Laredo. Photo by: Dylan Clark.

In the 2018 case, it is alleged that the marines are responsible for the forced disappearances of 36 individuals, including at least five minors. The marines were part of an anti-crime operation in which they rounded up individuals suspected of being involved in organized crime. Ericka Janeth Castro, a witness to the case, recounted that the marines raided a party with gunfire and forcefully abducted several men, including her husband who was never seen again. This is just one of the 47 disappearances that had been carried out in 2018 by this group of marines. At the time, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the crimes as “horrific” and urged the federal government to investigate. It has been difficult for witnesses and family members to come forward because of their fear of retaliation from the military. According to Amnesty International, witnesses and family members of the disappeared have received threats, harassment, assaults, and abductions after filing complaints with the authorities. 

Not often seen, the Attorney General of Mexico (Fascalia General de la República, FGR) and Secretary of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) collaborated to execute the arrest and detention of the 30 soldiers involved. The soldiers of the elite armed forces group known as the Center for Analysis, Intelligence, and Studies of Tamaulipas (Centro de Análisis, Inteligencia y Estudios de Tamaulipas, CAIET) were arrested on charges of carrying out acts that were contrary to their duties. This event is not an isolated incident in the group’s history. Since then, other marines of the same elite armed forces group have been arrested for violent crimes. In January 2021, 12 marines were arrested for the massacre of 19 migrants in Camargo, Tamaulipas. The CAIET marines have had a frequent capacity to act above the law in the state of Tamaulipas. 

Rearresting the Suspects behind the 2014 Tlatlaya Massacre

Just over a week before the 30 soldiers were detained in Nuevo Laredo, seven soldiers of the army were arrested on April 1 for their involvement in the 2014 massacre of 22 suspected kidnappers in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex). The altercation began as a shootout between the suspects and soldiers that ended with the killing of the 22 suspects. Despite the fact that the suspects had already surrendered, the military executed the remaining eight individuals. In addition to the extrajudicial killings, the soldiers also tampered with the scene to conceal their involvement. 

Initially, the Mexican Army publicly denied the allegations that the soldiers executed the suspects and insisted that the victims were killed in the shoot out. After receiving public outcry, however, the army implemented the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) in response to the human rights violations that had occurred. For example, in 2015, the involved officers were arrested, but were then quickly released after a federal judge ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to connect them to the crime. Rarely are armed forces held accountable in Mexico, a country with a notoriously high rate of impunity. Like prior presidents, the Peña Nieto Administration (2012-2018) was not known for holding the military responsible for crimes committed against civilians, as was the case with the Tlatlaya massacre. 

Nevertheless, in 2019, a court ordered that the soldiers be arrested again. It has taken the Mexican Army 16 months to turn them over to federal authorities. The Center for Human Rights Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez), which represents a woman whose daughter was killed in the massacre, confirmed that the soldiers had been arrested and the case against them remains open. In 2019, the human rights group said, “This ruling confirms what survivors and rights organizations have been saying for five years, that there were illegal executions…” The re-arrests are a step in the right direction towards imparting justice in the Tlatlaya massacre.

Learning from his Predecessors, AMLO Seeks Accountability

These arrests are part of continued efforts by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, to hold military personnel accountable for past crimes. These arrests are the most high-profile since January 2021 when members of the Mexican Army were arrested for their involvement in the 2014 Ayotzinapa disappearances. 

Since President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched the crackdown on the drug cartels in 2006, the army and the navy have played instrumental roles in carrying out the government’s security strategy. Yet this has not been without significant consequence to the protection of civilians’ human rights, as exemplified in the Nuevo Laredo and Tlatlaya cases. What more, the public security strategy across the presidential sexenios has failed to control the country’s notoriously high levels of crime and violence. Between 2006 and April 2021, 85,000 people disappeared in Mexico and in 2020 alone, there were over 34,000 victims of intentional homicide. 

In an effort to break with his predecessors, AMLO is working to slowly phase out the Mexican Army’s and Navy’s involvement in public security since he took office in December 2018. Under his leadership, the newly-formed National Guard (Guardia Nacional) is now charged with countering the cartels. The creation of the National Guard, however, was arguably just a rebranding strategy that put the military and police under a different name. It has been over three years since the 2018 Nuevo Laredo disappearances, and over seven years since the Tlatlaya massacre occurred. The AMLO administration’s arrests and re-arrests of suspected military officials in the two cases are an important step forward. 

Sources

“Mexico: Authorities’ claims of progress on disappearances in Nuevo Laredo ring hollow.” Amnesty International. July 31, 2018.

Stevenson, Mark. “Mexican court orders soldiers re-arrested in army massacre.” Associated Press. October 17, 2019.

Ferri, Pablo. “El Ejército mexicano detiene de nuevo a los militares implicados en el ‘caso Tlatlaya’.” El País. April 2, 2021.

“Búsqueda e Identificación de Personas Desaparecidas.” Subsecretaría de Derechos Humanos, Población y Migración. April 8, 2021.

“Mexico’s navy turns over 30 marines in disappearances cases.” Washington Post. April 12, 2021.

“Mexico arrests 30 marines over disappearances in Tamaulipas.” BBC News. April 13, 2021.

Pradilla, Alberto. “Víctimas esperaron tres años por la detención de 30 marinos señalados por desapariciones.” Animal Político. April 13, 2021.

“Mexico charges 30 marines over forced disappearances in border city.” Reuters. April 15, 2021.

Mosso, Rubén. “FGR califica de ejemplar la colaboración de Ojeda Durán para detener a 30 de Marina.” Milenio. April 15, 2021.

Corruption by Customs Officials Facilitating Cross-Border Criminal Activity

04/26/21 (written by rramos) – A growing number of customs officials in various parts of Mexico have come under investigation for alleged acts of corruption that purportedly enabled criminal networks to operate across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Animal Político reported on April 13 that the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) was investigating ten officials of the General Customs Administration (Administración General de Aduanas, AGA) who oversaw several ports of entry along Mexico’s northern border with the United States. This came after the Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UIF), the anti-money laundering office within the federal finance ministry (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, SHCP), detected numerous irregularities in the financial records of 29 AGA employees. As a result, all 29 officials were removed from their positions and ten were formally referred by the UIF to the FGR for further criminal investigation.

Specifically, the ten former customs officials are alleged to have accepted bribes in exchange for allowing contraband to pass uninterrupted through the border inspection sites under their supervision. The contraband that was illegally permitted to enter Mexico from the United States included firearms, gasoline, and drugs. According to investigators, ill-gotten proceeds from the alleged bribes were then laundered through a variety of complex methods, ranging from suspicious real estate transactions to the use of front companies.  

There are possible indications that corruption in Mexico’s customs service may be increasing. According to La Jornada, a total of 90 civil servants in the Tax Administration Service (Servicio de Administración Tributaria, SAT), the AGA’s parent agency, were referred to prosecutors for alleged corruption in 2020. This represents a nearly two-fold increase from 2019, when 46 SAT officials were formally denounced for possible corruption. Most of the SAT employees who faced criminal investigations in 2020 worked specifically for the AGA and were accused of receiving bribes related to the passage of contraband through Mexican customs.

Photo: El Sol de Tijuana.

Border Hot Spots

Investigations by the FGR and UIF have zoomed in on pervasive corruption in customs operations in two major border states: Baja California and Tamaulipas. Due to their geographic location, both states are of great strategic importance for criminal actors seeking to operate in both Mexico and the United States.

In Baja California, former administrators of customs inspection facilities in the border cities of Tijuana, Mexicali, and Tecate are accused of permitting the entry of illegally imported vehicles, some of which are believed to have contained firearms destined for recipients located in Mexico. Meanwhile in Tamaulipas, federal investigators believe high-level customs officials at border crossings in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros have received bribes in exchange for allowing trailer trucks to bring gasoline, diesel, and other fuels from the U.S. state of Texas to be illegally re-sold at low prices in Mexico. In one specific case, a March 2021 FGR report highlighted the critical role played by customs personnel in Tamaulipas in a sprawling conspiracy that allowed considerable amounts of fuel to be smuggled into Mexico without payment of import duties. Across all instances, UIF detection of suspicious financial activities was vital in identifying potentially corrupt officials that facilitated the illicit movement of goods across the international border. 

Impact on Crime and the Rule of Law

Corruption among customs authorities has significant implications for security and the rule of law in Mexico. Santiago Nieto Castillo, the UIF’s current director, told Animal Político that malfeasance among customs officials and the resulting “porous nature of our borders” (author’s own translation) heightened Mexico’s vulnerability to transnational security threats, particularly those related to illicit trafficking.

A prominent example of how customs corruption can exacerbate security challenges in Mexico has been the continuous southbound flow of firearms coming from the United States. A significant portion of firearms that are illegally imported from the U.S. end up in the possession of criminal groups in Mexico. Officials from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) told the Washington Post that roughly 70% of firearms found at crime scenes in Mexico can ultimately be traced back to the United States. According to National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) data cited by the Washington Post, this increase in the number of U.S. firearms in Mexico has coincided with a rise in homicides in Mexico that are committed with a firearm. Although Mexican officials have consistently pointed out the need for U.S. authorities to more strictly regulate the export of arms, interdiction of illegal weapons shipments at Mexican ports of entry remains severely hampered due to pervasive corruption among customs personnel. 

The apparent increase in cross-border fuel trafficking is also of particular concern. At a recent event at the Nuevo Laredo border crossing, new AGA Administrator Horacio Duarte Olivares underscored the need to combat fuel smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border as part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s broader emphasis on tackling government corruption. Duarte Olivares claimed that corruption in the customs service has allowed “millions of liters of fuel, of hydrocarbons” (author’s own translation) to illegally enter the country, resulting in substantial revenue losses for the Mexican government and legitimate businesses.

Customs Corruption Spurring Further Militarization

As a result of the growing number of reports of corruption among customs officials, the López Obrador administration announced on April 21 that the Mexican Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) would assume control of 14 customs facilities in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, with the long-term goal of establishing a military presence in all customs offices along the northern border with the United States. Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval explained the move was intended to prevent U.S. firearms from flowing to organized crime groups. According to Milenio, military officials who were recently assigned to lead customs operations in Nuevo Laredo were also given the additional task of impeding illicit fuel smuggling across the border. 

Expanding the responsibilities of the military has been a defining feature of President López Obrador’s approach to security policy. However, just as prior militarized strategies have been largely unable to solve Mexico’s complex public security challenges, it is not guaranteed that increasing the military’s role in customs operations will eradicate corruption at the country’s borders and ports of entry. 

Sources

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las aduanas y puertos mexicanos: la vía libre del crimen organizado.” El País. August 10, 2020. 

Sieff, Kevin & Miroff, Nick. “Los fusiles de francotirador que fluyen hacia los cárteles mexicanos revelan una década de fracaso estadounidense.” Washington Post. November 19, 2020.

Linthicum, Kate & McDonell, Patrick J. “Mexico’s military gains power as president turns from critic to partner.” Los Angeles Times. November 21, 2020. 

“SAT limpia de corrupción la casa; envía a 90 al MP.” El Universal. February 5, 2021.  

Rodríguez, Israel. “Se duplica cifra de funcionarios corruptos del SAT denunciados.” La Jornada. February 8, 2021.  

Rodríguez, Israel. “Aduanas continuarán con el combate al tráfico de combustibles.” La Jornada. March 1, 2021. 

“Mandos con perfiles militares toman control de aduana de Nuevo Laredo.” Milenio. March 2, 2021. 

Rivadeneyra, Gerardo. “Denuncian a empresa presuntamente involucrada en el contrabando de combustible.” Vanguardia. March 3, 2021. 

Maldonado, Mario. “Limpia en aduanas y denuncias de corrupción.” El Universal. March 10, 2021. 

Ángel, Arturo, Raziel, Zedryk, & Sandoval, Francisco. “10 oficiales de comercio de aduanas designados en este gobierno son indagados por lavado, narco y contrabando.” Animal Político. April 13, 2021. 

Hernández, Diego Joaquín. “Purga en Aduanas; pegan a círculo del exsubsecretario Peralta.” La Silla Rota. April 13, 2021.   

Ángel, Arturo, Raziel, Zedryk, & Sandoval, Francisco. “Presuntos sobornos por más de mil millones, empresas fantasma y nexos con el narco: la corrupción en aduanas.” Animal Político. April 14, 2021. 

Álvarez, Carlos. “UIF denuncia corrupción en aduanas de Tijuana, Mexicali y Tecate; empresas “fantasma”, sobornos y nexos con narco.” Zeta Tijuana. April 15, 2021. 

Domínguez, Pedro. “Sedena toma control de aduanas en frontera norte para frenar tráfico de armas.” Milenio. April 21, 2021. 

Senate approves new Organic Law of the National Prosecutor’s Office

04/22/21 (written by tmcginnis) – According to Reforma, in a nearly unanimous vote, the Mexican Senate approved a new Organic Law (Ley Orgánica) for the National Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) on March 17. Now under discussion in the Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados), experts from primer think tanks, like México Evalúa, argue that there are presently no evidence-based arguments regarding the issuance of the new law, especially because the National Prosecutor, Alejandro Gertz Manero, has not complied with the current regulatory framework.

While the current law broadly sought to create an autonomous prosecutor’s office and guarantee the guarding of essential human rights, the new regulations favor the investigation of individual crimes and not broader criminal trends, the limitation of victims’ rights, as well as the centralization of investigative control in the hands of the Prosecutor. Essentially, the new Organic Law perpetuates the organizational model of the former Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), an agency that was characterized by inefficiency and ineffectiveness. During a México Evalúa online forum entitled “¿Necesita la FGR una nueva Ley Orgánica?” (author’s translation: “Does the FGR need a new Organic Law?”), the panelists discussed the fact that the principal aspects of the current regulatory framework, such as an a Citizen Advisory Council, transition units, career training, and professional service centers were never installed. Furthermore, the Criminal Prosecution Plan (Plan de Persecución Penal), which outlines the types of cases the FGR will prioritize during investigations, prosecutions, litigation stages, etc., and recognizes the FGR’s various temporal goals, was never presented. As noted by a México Evalúa analysis, the current situation reflects a dangerous exercise of Gatopardismo — a strategy that purports to introduce radical reform, while in practice making only superficial changes. In essence, it is a paradox that encompasses the idea of changing everything so that, in effect, nothing changes.

Whether or not Gertz’s performance has hampered the development of an effective and autonomous FGR, it remains critically important to evaluate what can be learned from the current situation and what requires adjustment. According to México Evalúa, while the 2014 constitutional reforms to create a new FGR provided an important opportunity to reinvent federal criminal investigations and prosecutions, good intentions and model legislation were evidently not sufficient to achieve better outcomes. An analysis from México Evalúa pointed out that true bureaucratic transformation of an agency like the PGR requires a strong commitment to redesigning institutions, as well as a clear implementation strategy to define short, medium, and long-term courses of action and resource allocation. This, in turn, requires strong political will and specific measures to ensure that the implementation plan cannot be easily disrupted.

Furthermore, while most attention on prosecutorial reform has focused on the federal level, the transition processes of the 32 state prosecutors’ offices have been often ignored. According to analysts at México Evalúa, this is a critical error because these entities are presently responsible for handling the vast majority of crimes of that occur throughout the country. Thus, in order to truly understand the scope and results of any regulatory framework of the aforementioned nature, states require punctual follow-ups.

Transition to Autonomous State Prosecutors’ Offices. Source: México Evalúa.

Forecasting possible next steps in this process, given that sitting President Andres Manuel López Obrador and his (Movimiento de Renovación Nacional, MORENA) party have a strong legislative majority, it seems likely that the Chamber of Deputies will pass the law without substantive changes. However, according to El Economista, bodies like the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (La Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos, ONU-DH) have encouraged the Chamber of Deputies to carry out a process of discussion in open parliament. Over Twitter, the international organization highlighted that the reforms of the FGR remain of great importance to many diverse sectors of Mexican society, and that the victims of crime should be heard before proceeding with any decision.

Sources

El Universal. “FGR no necesita una nueva ley; no ha cumplido con la que ahora tiene, critican.” El Universal. March 23, 2021.

Herrera, Rolando. “Ven regresiva nueva Ley Orgánica de la FGR.” Reforma. March 23, 2021.

López, Mayolo. “Aprueba Senado nueva Ley Orgánica de FGR.” Reforma. March 17, 2021.

México Evalúa. “¿Necesita la FGR una Ley Orgánica?” YouTube. March 23, 2021.

Pérez, Maritza. “Llaman a abrir debate por ley de la FGR.” El Economista. April 5, 2021.

Rosales, Crístel. “La nueva FGR se apunta al gatopardismo radical.” México Evalúa. March 18, 2021.

RT. “El Senado de México aprueba una nueva ley de la Fiscalía General: ¿cuáles son los cambios más importantes?” RT. March 18, 2021.