Women Voice Ire, Fear as Femicides Continue to Rise in Mexico

Over 80,000 people particpated in Sunday’s International Women’s Day March in Mexico City. Photo: El Universal.

03/10/20 (written by kheinle) — Mexico just recorded its most dangerous year on record for women, according to the Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). Targeted violence against women, also known as “femicides,” has long been an issue with which Mexico has grappled. With the numbers on the rise, critics are turning their ire towards the López Obrador administration to seek answers, action, and accountability.

What the Data Shows

According to the SESNSP, more women were victims of homicide in 2019 than ever before. The number of women who were victims of illicit crimes was also 2.5% higher than in 2018. This included physical injury or assault, extortion, intentional homicide, corruption of minors, femicide, kidnapping, human trafficking, and trafficking of minors. The number of female victims of such crimes reported each year rose from 62,567 in 2015 to 72,747 in 2018, only to be surpassed in 2019 with 74,632 victims. This represents a 137% increase over the past five years in such crimes against women. Women are also murdered at an astounding rate in Mexico, with ten women killed each day, writes The Associated Press. In 2019, more than 1,000 of Mexico’s 35,588 homicides were categorized as femicides. The country’s notorious levels of impunity compound the issue.

The data release comes amidst backlash in Mexico from citizens and human rights advocates demanding the government step up its efforts to protect women. Three specific cases of gender-based violence have thus far caught the country’s attention in 2020, prompting significant protests, a march, and a nationwide strike.

High Profile Cases

The first case surrounds the murder of 26-year-old Isabel Cabanillas, a young artist and feminist who was shot dead in Ciudad Juárez while riding her bicycle on January 18, 2020. Protestors took to the streets of Juárez a week later demanding the government protect women and hold those responsible accountable for their crimes.

A woman mourns at the tribute set up for Ingrid Escamilla who was brutally murdered in Mexico City. Photo: Imelda Media, Reuters.

Then, on February 9, 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla’s body was found in Mexico City, stabbed to death and partially skinned by her partner. Photographs of Escamilla’s body were later leaked by the media, prompting even more protests and demonstrations. Activists demanded that the media stop “re-victimizing” the victim and making a public display of the violence. Instead, activists buried the images by flooding the internet with non-violent pictures of nature and artwork linked with Escamilla’s name.

Less than a week later, Mexican authorities discovered the mutilated, naked body of 7-year-old Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett Antón in a plastic bag four days after she went missing. Fátima disappeared on February 11 after videos showed her being picked up from school in Mexico City by a stranger. The mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, spoke out, calling the child’s murder an “outrageous, aberrant, painful” crime that would “not go unpunished.” Sheinbaum is the first elected female mayor of Mexico City, who campaigned on eliminating violence against women. In July 2019, she vowed “to avoid and eliminate violence against women… It’s not fighting it,” she said. “The objective is ultimately to eradicate violence. That should be the goal.”

Protests Erupt

The string of femicides culminating in Fátima’s murder launched a wave of protests throughout Mexico. Activists are demanding an end to gender-based violence and brutality against women, calling for the government to act.

President Andrés López Obrador has specifically come under fire for what protestors say has been his insufficient response to the crisis. The president pushed back, “saying that the issue of femicides have been ‘manipulated’ by those critical of his administration,” writes BBC News. A few of the protests have turned violent with activists throwing “flaming projectiles” at a statue of Christopher Columbus, defacing other statues, smashing cars and setting fires, and spray painting “Femicide state” on the exterior of the National Palace, among other acts.

Some protests, like this one in Mexico City, turned violent with demonstrators defacing public and private property. Photo: The Associated Press.

President López Obrador’s calls for protestors to pacify the demonstrations only further angered participants, writes The Washington Post. Critics argue the president has been dismissive of both the femicides and protests that have ensued; the president counters that demonstrations are just serving as a distraction. Still, the president eventually conceded that “the feminist movement was fighting for a ‘legitimate’ cause,” though he held on to the argument that his political rivals “who want to see his government fail” were instigating the demonstrations.

International Women’s Day March

The protests culminated on International Women’s Day, March 8, when more than 80,000 people marched through Mexico City. It lasted nearly six hours, stretching from the iconic Monumento a la Revolución to the Zócalo city center. At least 38 people in attendance – including several police officers – suffered injuries and needed medical attention. Protestors also hung banners with statements like, “We apologize for the inconveniences, but they are murdering us!” and “I’m marching today so that I don’t die tomorrow.”

The march also featured Vivir Quintana, a 36-year-old musician from Coahuila who sang “Song Without Fear” alongside 40 other women at the Zócalo. Quintana wrote the anthem with the intention to inspire justice and serve as a rallying platform for the women not just in Mexico, but generally throughout Latin America. “At every minute of every week, they steal friends from us, they kill sisters,” sings Quintana. “They destroy their bodies, they disappear them. Don’t forget their names, please, Mister President.”  

‘A Day Without Us’

President López Obrador speaks to a room full of male journalists at his daily morning press conference on March 9, the day women went on strike nationwide. Photo: Milenio.

The day after, tens of thousands of women throughout Mexico participated in a strike against gender violence. From classrooms to offices, private to public sector, journalists to street vendors, and beyond, women stayed home during what was dubbed ‘A Day Without Us.’ The strike was meant to show what life would be like without women as more and more become victims of femicide. For the most part, the strike was well supported by places of employment. Mexico City’s Mayor Sheinbum, for example, announced that none of the City government’s 150,000 female employees would be penalized if they did not show up for work on March 9th. According to Mexican business group Concanaco Servytur, had all women participated in the strike the economic impact could have reached $1.37 billion.

As The New York Times summarized, “The unprecedented outpouring of women on Sunday [March 8] and their strike on Monday [March 9] tested the leadership of Mexico’s president.” The events also picked up significant international and social media attention under the hashtags #UnDíaSinNosotras and #ADayWithoutUs. It also paralleled protests and marches throughout Latin America – like the one million-person march in Chile on Sunday – in honor of International Women’s Day.

Read more about cases of femicide in Mexico, violence against women, and underreporting on the crime in these 2019 Justice in Mexico posts here and here.

Sources:

“A Look at Violence in Mexico City: Femicides and Underreporting.” Justice in Mexico. August 7, 2019.

“Allegations of Police Involvement in Rape, Corruption.” Justice in Mexico. August 20, 2019.

Ortiz Uribe, Monica. “Feminist Is Murdered in Mexico, And Protestors Demand Answers.” NPR. January 26, 2020.

Ortiz, Alexis. “2019, el año con más mujeres víctimas en México.” El Universal. February 3, 2020.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. February 14, 2020.

“Marcha de mujeres exige justicia por feminicidio de Ingrid Escamilla.” Excélsior. February 14, 2020.

Orsi, Peter. “Murdered Mexico City girl buried amid grief, outrage.” The Associated Press. February 18, 2020.

Sieff, Kevin. “The death of a 7-year-old girl in Mexico provokes new outrage.” The Washington Post. February 18, 2020.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. February 20, 2020.

Solomon, Daina Beth. “Don’t forget their names’: Women in Mexico sing anthem protesting femicides.” Reuters. March 7, 2020.

Guthrie, Amy and Alicia Hernandez. “Mexican women Paint, march to protest gender violence.” The Associated Press. March 8, 2019.

“Minuto a Minuto. Marcha por el Día Internacional de la Mujer.” El Universal. March 8, 2020.

Stettin, Cinthya et al. “March 8 de marzo en CdMx: minuto a minuto.” Milenio. March 8, 2020.

“Un día sin mujeres: así luce México sin ellas el 9 de marzo.” Milenio. March 9, 2020.

Villegas, Paulina. “In Mexico, Women Go on Strike Nationwide to Protest Violence.” The New York Times. March 9, 2020.

Homicides and Disappearances Reach New Levels in 2019

A relative holds a photo of her missing loved one during a protest in front of the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Demonstrators presented a petition with 102 thousand signatures to demand that the disappeared be found and identified. Photo and Caption: The Associated Press, Marco Ugarte.

01/14/20 (written by kheinle) – The last year of the decade was one of Mexico’s most violent years on record. Homicides and disappearances played critical roles in driving up the numbers.

Homicides

When looking at homicides, several of the year’s top headlines and prominent stories emerge. Perhaps most important, more homicides occurred in Mexico in 2019 than in any other year in the country’s modern history. Additionally, Mexican journalists were particularly at risk, as they were more than three times as likely to be killed than journalists in any nation worldwide. The country also grappled with several high profile displays of violence, particularly in the second half of the year. This included when 27 individuals were burned to death at a strip club in Veracruz in August, as well as the catch and release of Ovidio Guzmán in October that left at least 13 people dead in Culiacán. The murder of nine dual U.S.-Mexican Mormon citizens in Sonora in November caught international headlines, and the year came to a close with more homicides (127 dead) registered on one day in December than any other day throughout 2019. 

Disappearances

At the beginning of the new year, violence in the news then turned to the topic of Mexico’s staggering number of disappeared persons. On January 6, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, announced at a conference that 9,164 individuals were disappeared in 2019, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB). Including the 2019 data, 147,033 persons have thus been disappeared since 1964, said Karla Quintana, the director of Mexico’s National Search Commission (Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas). Of these, more than half (58%) have been found, meaning the remaining 42% of persons (61,637 individuals) are still missing. This is significantly higher than the estimated 40,000 disappeared persons that the government reported in early 2018 leading many to question the underreporting in previous years.

Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Human Rights, presents on disappearances at a conference on January 6, 2020. Photo: Reforma.

Demographics of the Disappeared

Many of these cases of missing persons are linked to organized crime and drug cartel violence. In fact, 97% of all those registered since 1964 came after 2006 when then-President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched his aggressive campaign against drug trafficking and organized crime. There are thus are several commonalities among the victims.

First, just over half (53%) of the 61,637 victims were between the ages of 15 and 34 years old when they were disappeared, reported Quintana. Over 13% were in their early twenties (20-24), another 13% in the late twenties (25-29), and 11.7% early thirties (30-34). Second, almost three-quarters are men. However, when considering all 147,033 persons documented since 1964, women between the ages of 10 and 24 actually have the highest rate of disappearance. Third, there are also geographical tendencies among the disappeared, as they have mostly been registered in just ten specific states (in descending order): Tamaulipas, Jalisco, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, Coahuila, Puebla, Guerrero, and Veracrúz.

Head of Mexico’s National Search Commission, Karla Quintana. Photo: El Economista

Mass Graves

Not only did the number of disappearances increase in 2019, but so, too, did the discovery of mass graves containing many of said missing persons. Mexico’s National Search Commission located 873 clandestine graves housing 1,124 bodies since it began its focused search in late 2018. As the Associated Press reports, Tamaulipas has often been home to such graves, although that has come to include Jalisco with the Commission’s new findings. In fact, a discovery was made outside Guadalajara, Jalisco in early January of 26 plastic bags containing miscellaneous body parts. In addition, the states of Sinaloa, Veracruz, and Colima collectively accounted for nearly a third of all 1,124 bodies located by the Commission since its launch.

“These are data of horror,” lamented National Search Commission Director Quintana. She continued, “there are many painful stories from families both in Mexico and of migrants,” alluding to the serious dangers migrants face as they become easy targets while they make the journey north to the United States.

National Search Commission Efforts

Quintana’s Commission will continue to focus efforts and resources on unearthing mass graves and burial pits in 2020. In addition, the Commission also released a one-stop website in November 2019 to streamline reporting of a missing loved one. Mexico’s Ministry of the Interior developed the portal with the Commission as a means for family and friends to submit information if someone goes missing.

Sources:

“Homicide rates on pace for record-breaking year.” Justice in Mexico. August 8, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “Extreme acts of violence in Mexico are on the rise: 27 burned to death at a strip club.” Los Angeles Times. August 28, 2019.

“The Capture and Release of Ovidio Guzmán in Culiacán, Sinaloa.” Justice in Mexico. November 5, 2019.

Franco, Marina E. “Ante la crisis por desaparecidos, México presenta un portal para reportar nuevos casos.” Telemúndo. November 8, 2019.

Secretaría de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas reportadas por delito de homicidio.” Gobierno de México. December 1, 2019.

“Mexico homicide record: 127 deaths reported in a single day.” Al Jazeera. December 3, 2019.

“Municipal police chief arrested over Mexican Mormon massacre.” Reuters. December 27, 2019.

Franco, Marina E. “Son datos del horror’: México revela que hay más de 60,000 desaparecidos en el país.” Telemúndo. January 6, 2020.

González, Isabella. “Registran 9 mil desapariciones en 2019.” Reforma. January 6, 2020.

“Mexican missing persons search effort finds 873 burial pits.” The Associated Press. January 12, 2020.

Villegas, Paulina. “A New Toll in Mexico’s Drug War: More than 61,000 Vanished.” The New York Times. January 6, 2020.

Ordaz Díaz, Arturo. “Jóvenes mexicanos, los que más han desaparecido en 6 décadas.” Forbes. January 7, 2020.

“26 bags of body parts found in western Mexico ravine.” The Associated Press. January 9, 2020.

Website. Portal de Desaparecidos. Secretaría de Gobernación, Comisión Nacional de Búsquedas de Personas. Last accessed January 12, 2020.

Attacks Against Police Highlight Violence in Guanajuato

12/25/19 (written by kheinle) — Guanajuato continues to be one of the most violent states in Mexico. A recent string of 13 police officers killed in just 11 days highlighted Guanajuato’s ongoing challenges with crime and violence. 

Police Under Attack

Officer Maria Sonia Arrellano was kidnapped and killed on December 10. Source: Mexico Daily News.
Officer Maria Sonia Arrellano was kidnapped and killed on December 10. Source: Mexico Daily News.

The most recent occurred on December 19 when the head of Acámbaro’s Public Security (Seguridad Pública), Jorge Valtierra Herrera, was murdered. He was shot outside his home at 7:15am along with his bodyguard who suffered severe injuries. Valtierra had only been in charge of Public Security since July, having taken over for his predecessor, Alejandro Rangel Amado, who was murdered on July 22. Rangel himself had taken on the position when his predecessor was gunned down just one week before during an ambush at the house of Acámbaro’s Commissioner of Public Security.

Just days before Valtierra’s December 19 murder, Officer Gabriela Núñez Duarte was shot and killed in Irapuato on December 14 inside her patrol car in Irapuato. Her partner survived the attack. Prior to that, on December 11, police were ambushed inside the Villagrán Police Station after armed members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) rushed the station. Three officers were shot and killed onsite. Four more were kidnapped; their bodies later discovered on the surrounding highway. The CJNG also claimed responsibility in the killing of María Sonia Arellano, a well-respected police officer who was known to be tough on local crime. She was kidnapped on December 10 from her home in Irapuato along with her husband and their son. Arellano’s body was later found dismembered with a cardboard message reading CJNG. Just two days before Arellano’s death, on December 8, two more officers were killed in León and Celaya. It is not clear if the CJNG claimed responsibility in those killings.

The recent rash of crime in violence in Guanajuato is not new. In July of this year, for example, another outbreak occurred in the state with four attacks on police in ten days. Two officials were killed, including the head of the Attorney General’s Antinarcotics Unit (Unidad Antidrogas de la Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE), Francisco Javier.

Federal Response

In response to the outbreak in violence against police, members of Mexico’s National Guard (Guardia Nacional) are being sent to reinforce the situation in Irapuato, Guanajuato. The mayor, Ricardo Ortiz Gutiérrez, announced that hundreds of additional National Guard troops were set to arrive on December 17, adding to the 200 already stationed there as part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ongoing security strategy.

Source: BBC News

Mayor Ortiz Gutiérrez emphasized how important it will be to ensure coordination and communication between the different security agencies on the ground, including local, state, and now federal. “Now what we need to ensure is good coordination, a strong front made up just as much by Municipal Police (Policía Municipal) and State Police (Policía del Estado),” he said, “so that we can truly be more efficient in our work, not going at it alone, but truly a united force that can confront [the challenge].”

Before the influx of new National Guard troops arrived, however, security challenges boiled over with the agents already on the ground. In the early hours of the morning, members of the National Guard clashed with a group of armed civilians in a neighborhood in Irapuato that resulted in the death of one National Guard agent and seven civilians. The day after, Guanajuato Governor Diego Sinhue Rodríguez announced that members of the Mexican Navy (Marina) would be joining the National Guard troops to try to pacify the situation.

Crime and Violence Statewide

In general, violence in Guanajuato has increased dramatically in recent years. Justice in Mexico’s most recent “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico” report published April 2019 explored the issue. The authors found that Guanajuato had the second highest number of intentional homicide cases (2,609) in 2018, according to data from the Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP). It also was the state with the largest annual increase in total homicides, which saw more than double the 1,084 homicides registered in 2017. Much of that increase was concentrated in the cities of Irapuato (374 homicides) and León (350), but several smaller towns registered dozens of homicides each, including at least nine municipalities with homicide rates in excess of 100 per 100,000. Guanajuato also had the highest number of organized-crime style homicides in 2018 with 2,233, according to data reported by the Mexican newspaper Milenio. It is currently on track to be the most violent state in the nation in 2019, according to SNSP data.

Data collected from Milenio shows Guanajuato’s dramatic increase in organized-crime-style homicides from 2017 to 2018. Source: Justice in Mexico.

Much of this violence appears to be linked to the problem of petroleum theft (huachicol) and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL). Guanajuato is an alternative distribution channel through which stolen petroleum is transited. It became a hotly contested corridor in 2018 among organized crime groups like the CJNG and the CSRL, the latter cartel which actually came into existence after a split from the former in 2017. The BBC News reports that some of the continued violence threatening Guanajuato can still be attributed to this ongoing battle between the two. Similarly, a Congressional Research Service report detailing organized crime throughout Mexico notes that Guanajuato is also home to turf battles between the CJNG and its rivals Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.

To learn more about organized crime and violence in Mexico, click here.

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. April 30, 2019.

“Policías en la mira, los atacan cuatro veces en 10 días.” AM. July 12, 2019.

López, Karina. “Realizan homenaje a policía caído en ataque.” El Sol de Bajio. July 16, 2019.

Villafaña, Laura. “El martes llegan 250 elementos de la Guardia Nacional a Irapuato: alcalde.” Zona Franca. December 14, 2019.

“Mexico violence: 12 police killed in one week in Guanajuato.” BBC News. December 16, 2019.

“Civiles armados atacan a Guardia Nacional en Irapuato; hay 8 muertos.” El Universal. December 17, 2019.

“Emboscan y matan a jefe de la policía en Acámbaro, Guanajuato.” El Universal. December 19, 2019.

“En menos de un año dos jefes de Policía de Acámbaro fueron asesinados.” AM. December 19, 2019.

Espino, Manuel. “Rodríguez Bucio supervisa puestos de seguridad en Irapuato y Salamanca.” El Universal. December 19, 2019.

Villafaña, Laura. “Llegada de la Guardia Nacional a Irapuato.” Zona Franca. December 19, 2019.

Beittel, June S. “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations.” Congressional Research Service. December 20, 2019.

Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security arrested in Texas

Former Secretary of Public Security giving a speech during his tenure. Photo: The Associated Press, Alexandre Meneghini.
Former Secretary of Public Security giving a speech during his tenure. Photo: The Associated Press, Alexandre Meneghini.

12/19/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico’s former Secretary of Public Security, Genaro García Luna, was arrested in Dallas, Texas on Monday, December 9. According to The Los Angeles Times, he is thought to be the highest ranking Mexican official ever to be charged with drug trafficking in the United States. He served as Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) from 2006 to 2012 during the Calderón Administration. Prior to that, he led Mexico’s Federal Investigation Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigación, AFI) from 2001 to 2005 during the Fox Administration.

Four-Count Charge

The indictment against García Luna was unsealed on December 10 in the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Eastern District of New York, leveling three counts of conspiracy to traffic cocaine and one count of making false statements in his U.S. citizenship application. With the former secretary’s protection, the Sinaloa Cartel was able to safely import tons of cocaine and other drugs into the United States between 2006 and 2012. The indictment specifically alleges that García Luna:

  1. “…[conspired] to distribute a controlled substance, intending, knowing and having reasonable cause to believe that such substance would be lawfully imported into the United States from a place outside thereof, which offense involved a substance containing cocaine…”
  2. “…[conspired] to distribute and possess with intent to distribute one or more controlled substances, which offense involved a substance containing cocaine…”
  3. “…[conspired] to import a controlled substance into the United States from a place outside thereof, which offense involved a substance containing cocaine…”
  4. “…[made] one or more materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations, in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States…”

Systemic Corruption

García Luna’s arrest is emblematic of the serious challenges facing Mexico. The country is notorious for its inability – in some cases unwillingness – to curtail corruption, to check the extremely high levels of impunity, and to hold elected officials accountable. In García Luna’s case, as Secretary of Public Security from 2006 to 2012, he was “the man considered to be the brains behind the Mexican government’s militarized war on drug traffickers,” writes The New York Times. According to the indictment, however, on two occasions García Luna received briefcases full of cash from the Sinaloa Cartel totaling USD $3 million and USD $5 million. Thus, he was simultaneously receiving millions of dollars in exchange for protecting the Sinaloa Cartel and allowing it to operate with impunity while leading the government’s “tough on crime” security plan targeting the Sinaloa Cartel, among others.

In hind sight, García Luna undermined his own strategy. “We are obligated to confront crime,” he said in an interview in 2008 discussing the potential to negotiate with cartels. “That is our job, that is our duty, and we will not consider a pact.”

Funds Received

This indictment unveiled in the Eastern District of New York also sheds some light on the previously unaccounted for growth in García Luna’s personal wealth, as detailed by El Universal. “According to official numbers, García Luna’s salary increase[d] by 120% and his assets increased their value five times.” In 2002, the former secretary earned MXN $1.7 million in 2002, but then jumped to MXN $3.7 million in 2008. He and his wife also owned two homes valued around MXN $500,000 each in 2002, but then owned a MXN $7.5 million-home in 2008 worth more than seven times that his two properties combined just six years earlier. They then purchased two homes just four years later in 2012 in Florida valued at USD $5.5 million combined. There have long been questions surrounding García Luna’s ability to purchase such luxury homes; the indictment may help fill in these gaps.

A Step Forward

With the blatant show of corruption on display in García Luna’s indictment, his arrest is being applauded. “García Luna stands accused of taking millions of dollars in bribes from ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel while [García Luna] controlled Mexico’s Federal Police Force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico,” wrote U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue. His “arrest demonstrates our resolve to bring to justice those who help cartels inflict devastating harm on the United States and Mexico, regardless of the positions they held while committing their crimes.”

If convicted, García Luna faces between ten years and life in prison. Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) is also working with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, SRE) to extradite García Luna to face charges in Mexico.

Sources:

Indictment. CR 19-576. United States District Court, Eastern District of New York. December 4, 2019.

Espino, Manuel. “FGR solicitará extradición de Genaro García Luna.” El Universal. December 10, 2019.

Gringlas, Sam. “Former Top Mexican Security Official Arrested On Cocaine Trafficking Charges.” National Public Radio. December 10, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “Former Mexican security official arrested in U.S., accused of taking millions in bribes from ‘El Chapo.’” The Los Angeles Times. December 10, 2019.

Press Release. “Former Mexican Secretary of Public Security Arrested for Drug-Trafficking Conspiracy and Making False Statements.” Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of New York. December 10, 2019.

Semple, Kirk and Paulina Villegas. “Arrest of Top Crime Fights Stuns Mexico, Where Corruption Is All Too Routine.” The New York Times. December 11, 2019.

Zavala, Susana. “Genaro García Luna inexplicably built a fortune in 6 years.” El Universal. December 12, 2019.

Nine Members of Local Mormon Family Killed in Cartel-Related Ambush in Mexico

One of the vehicles seen here, torched from the ambush. Photo: Meghan Dhaliwal, The New York Times.

11/22/19 (written by T McGinnis) On November 4, 2019, nine members of a local Mormon family were killed in a cartel-related ambush in northeastern Sonora. Among the deceased, officials found and identified the bodies of three women and their six children, all belonging to the LeBarón family.

Ambushed en Route

According to El Universal and The Wall Street Journal, at 10:00am on the morning of November 4, the mothers and 14 of their children left their homes in the small village of La Mora in three separate vehicles. Two of the vehicles were traveling to the neighboring state of Chihuahua , while the third was headed to Phoenix, Arizona, all to visit family. Witness accounts from affected family members who survived say that around 10:20am, one of the SUVs was discovered engulfed in flames. Three armed men were seen fleeing the scene.

About 40 minutes later, closer to 11:00am, the other two SUVs were attacked ten miles further down the road. One of the vehicles contained Christina Marie Langford and her seven-month-old baby. The other was driven Dawna Ray Langford and her seven children. Dawna’s 13-year-old son, Devin, survived the ambush along with several of his other siblings. After fleeing the attack and hiding in bushes along the roadside, the surviving children then walked 14 miles back into La Mora to alert authorities.

Suspects Behind the Massacre

The attacks were the result of a clash between rival gangs in the surrounding area. General Homero Mendoza Ruiz, the Chief of Staff for Mexico’s National Defense, said that two criminal groups had previously engaged in a shootout along the U.S.-Mexico border in the town of Agua Prieta. They were identified as Los Salazar, based in the state of Sonora, and La Línea, based in the neighboring state of Chihuahua. The New York Times thenreported that in an effort to create barriers of entry for Los Salazar, La Línea had dispatched gunman to the region that straddles Sonora and Chihuahua, which is where the attacks took place.  

Motives Involved

The motive behind the massacre has been debated. One theory is that it was a case of mistaken identity. General Mendoza noted that the suburban model of the SUV driven by two of the three mothers is commonly used by criminal gangs, which could have led to confusion about who was inside the vehicles. Additionally, investigators cited that because the children in one of the vehicles were allegedly able to flee, this suggests that the attack was not specifically directed toward the families.

Family and friends mourn the death of their loved ones following the November 4 attack. Photo: Meghan Dhaliwal, The New York Times.

Another theory, however, speculated that the LeBarón family was somehow more intimately entangled and actively engaged in the rivalry. Even some family members themselves said that what transpired on November 4 was most likely a targeted, intentional operation by criminal groups. According to Milenio, Julián LeBarón, the cousin of a victim, stated that although the community remains bewildered by the guiding motivations of the involved groups, there is no doubt that “they [were] intentionally murdered.”

Still, accounts differ with regard to the relationship between the Mormon community and local cartels. Some investigators suggested that the motive behind the attack may be linked to the community’s “cordial” relationship with Los Salazar criminal group, which controls most of the activity in that region. Los Salazar are thought to be aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán – a stringent enemy of La Línea. Some speculate that the ambush served as a message to the Sinaloa factions that La Línea, and more broadly the Juárez Cartel, control the road and therefore the drug trafficking routes that lead into the state of Chihuahua.

Mormon History in Northern Mexico

Although various news stories have portrayed the massacre as a violent attack against visiting U.S. citizens, the community of over 5,000 Mormons living in northern Mexico dates back to the early 20th century and consists of many dual nationals. According to El Universal, the LeBarón family initially made the move into Mexico to practice polygamy, a convention that since then, has largely faded out among members.

While some press accounts have focused on this aspect—including conspiracy theories attempting to link the victims’ families to the human trafficking ring known as NXIVM—others have focused on the family’s activism in advocating for the rights of crime victims and local disputes over land tenure and water. A decade earlier, two members of the LeBarón family were kidnapped and murdered following their confrontation of the drug gangs that control the borderlands south of Arizona. That incident spurred family members to organize locally and nationally to pressure the government to act to improve citizen security and victim protections.

U.S.-Mexico Relations

Source: The New York Times.

Though authorities are still working to identify possible suspects and uncovering the real motivations for the massacre, the implications for the U.S.-Mexico relationship remain much more evident. Since the attack occurred approximately 70 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border and against dual U.S.-Mexico citizens, U.S. politicians have become increasingly vocal regarding the security policy of Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador. According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. President Donald Trump offered help in combating cartel violence. “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth…the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!” he tweeted. Given the historical legacy of U.S. interventionism in Mexico and apprehensions about armed U.S. agents operating in Mexico, President López Obrador swiftly declined the offer.

Jorge Chabat, an analyst at the University of Guadalajara, stated that this incident will likely “raise the temperature among conservative sectors in the U.S. precisely during election season.” Other political actors, such as U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.), have asserted that Mexico remains dangerously close to assuming the classification of a failed state, especially given the violence seen in Culiacán and Veracruz. “Mexico’s president hasn’t taken the threat seriously and innocent lives have been lost again.” He urged Mexico to heed President Trump’s advice and join U.S. military forces to launch a “full-scale offensive against these butchers.”

Trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Ironically, sources point out the underlying complicity of the U.S. in the recent violence targeting La Mora’s Mormon community. The New York Times reports that at a news conference two days after the attacks, Mexican government officials offered additional details regarding the incident. According to investigators, “the ammunition used in the attack were .223 caliber cartridges manufactured in the United States by Remington” and usually associated with AR-15 and M16 rifles. Each year, approximately 200,000 American guns illegally cross the border into Mexico, many of which land in the hands of the criminal organizations that fight to control the multibillion drug trade to the United States.

Since taking office, President Obrador has issued public statements signaling that his time in office would constitute the end of entrenched political corruption and Mexico’s “War on Drugs.” With Obrador’s strategy of “hugs, not bullets,” he discusses a prioritized focus on alleviating the poverty that drives individuals to join gangs and fall prey to cartel influence. However, record homicide rates in 2019 alone have caused many to call this strategy into question. To intensify an already escalated situation, the incident on November 4 happened only two weeks after the Sinaloa Cartel laid siege to the city of Culiacán following the military’s arrest of El Chapo’s son, Ovidio Guzmán. For many, the subsequent release of Guzmán and retreat of military forces signaled a weak government security strategy. María Elena Morera, director of civil society organization Causa in Común, told The Wall Street Journal that, “Mr. López Obrador’s strategy is clearly not working. He can’t keep thinking that a government using legitimate force against criminals is what generates violence.”

Next Steps

Mexico’s Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection Alfonso Durazo initially reported that a suspect had been brought into custody, but information later gathered indicated he was not involved. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, at the alleged request of the Mexican government, later agreed to join the investigation into the massacre. With internal and external pressures equally intensifying, it remains to be seen whether President López Obrador’s security strategy will evolve in the face of increased scrutiny and international political pressure.

Sources:

Belmont, José Antonio. “Familia LeBarón cree que ataque a mujeres y niños fue directo.” Milenio. November 5, 2019.

Kaleem, Jaweed. “La masacre de ciudadanos estadounidenses apunta a la comunidad mormona con profundas raíces en México.” Los Angeles Times. November 6, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “For Mexico ambush victims, there was no safety in numbers.” Los Angeles Times. November 6, 2019.

Santiago, Patricia Vélez. “Autoridades presumen que ataque a familia LeBarón en México se debió a lucha territorial entre dos grupos delictivos.” Univisión. November 6, 2019.

Ahmed, Azam. “After Mormon Family’s Terror in Mexico, a Message Emerges: No One Is Safe.” The New York Times. November 7, 2019.

Diaz, Lizbeth. “The LeBarón Case: Drug Cartels & the Fight to Control Drug Trafficking Routes.” El Universal. November 7, 2019.

Semple, Kirk. “Mormon Massacre in Mexico May Be Tied to Gang War, Officials Say.” The New York Times. November 8, 2019.

Ahmed, Azman. “9 Members of Mormon Family in Mexico Are Killed in Ambush.” The New York Times. November 8 2019.

Allyn, Bobby. “FBI Joins Investigation Into Killing Of 9 Members Of Mormon Family In Mexico.” NPR. November 11, 2019.

Kryt, Jeremy. “A New Twist in the Horrific Massacre of American Moms and Kids in Mexico.” The Daily Beast. November 11, 2019.