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.

New Working Paper: Violence within: Understanding the Use of Violent Practices Among Mexican Drug Traffickers

11/20/19-Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, released a working paper entitled, “Violence within: Understanding the Use of Violent Practices Among Mexican Drug Traffickers” by Dr. Karina García. This paper provides first-hand data regarding the perpetrators’ perspectives about their engagement in practices of drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico such as murder, kidnapping, and torture. Drawing on the life stories of thirty-three former participants in the Mexican drug trade—often self-described as “narcos”— collected in the North of Mexico between October 2014 and January 2015, this paper shows how violent practices serve different purposes, which indicates the need for different strategies to tackle them.

Figure 3. Participants’ Former Roles in the Cartels
Figure 3. Participants’ Former Roles in the Cartels

According to the author, there are four dimensions of drug trafficking-related violence identified in participants’ narratives: 1) as a business activity, 2) as a means of industry regulation, 3) as a source of excitement, adrenaline, and empowerment, and 4) as a ritual in the cult of the holy death [la santa muerte].  Practices of violence are normalized by participants in the Mexican drug trade as if it were any other business activity.  The logistics of violence in the Mexican drug trade include the casualization of work: workers at the bottom of the hierarchy are conceived as disposable, usually street drug dealers; a clear specialization and division of labour: not all participants in the drug trade—often described as “narcos”—engage in the same type of violence, some focus on torturing people, others on murder, and others transportation and/or disappearance of their bodies.

“Narcos” understand corporal punishments, mutilation and even death, as a way of establishing the ground rules for working within the drug trade. It is taken for granted that, given the illegal nature of the industry, violence is the only way in which drug traffickers can communicate and enforce norms and agreements among themselves, both within their own networks and in relation to their enemies. Murdering and torturing people are practices linked to releasing adrenaline, and even positive emotions such as happiness. Participants suggest that, in the context of poverty, performing acts of violence was the only way they had to feel powerful. Having control over other people’s lives gave them a sense of power that they could not obtain in any other way.

Some participated in violence not only as a necessary business activity, but as a hobby. Former Zetas pointed out that most members are invited to be part of the cult of the holy death [la santa muerte] and some of them are forced to worship her. This cult requires blood, torture and human sacrifices in exchange for protection. Participants explained that they joined this cult in order to have a dignified death rather than living a good life. Drug trafficking-related violence is likely to continue or increase as long as vulnerable groups prone to joining drug cartels remain neglected. In the context of the new administration of López-Obrador, and the creation of the controversial National Guard, this paper’s findings suggest that whereas this new security force may be necessary in some areas of the country, it cannot be the only strategy to minimise drug trafficking-related violence in the long run.

In order to address the first two dimensions of violence, decision makers should consider the legalization of drugs as a way to minimize both violence in Mexico and the quantity of drugs smuggled into the United State. Crucially, legalization should be understood as part of a wider strategy to tackle violence in Mexico. Considering that Mexico is one of the biggest producers of cannabis and opium, it is suggested to fully legalize the production, distribution, and consumption of these drugs in order to reduce the revenue potential of violent, illicit enterprises. The Mexican government should invest more on research and social programs targeted at the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the North of Mexico. Tackling everyday insecurities that children and young men have to cope with is of paramount importance to prevent increased labour pools for drug cartels.

About the Author:

Dr. Karina García is an Assistant Teacher at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Relations (SPAIS) and the department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies (HIPLA) at the University of Bristol. Her research interests include drug policy, drug violence, qualitative research methods, toxic masculinities, and gang violence in Latin America.

The Capture and Release of Ovidio Guzmán in Culiacán, Sinaloa

11/05/19 (Written by T McGinnis) – On October 17th, heavy fighting erupted in the Mexican city of Culiacán, Sinaloa after security forces detained Ovidio Guzmán López, the son of the jailed drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. According to El País, authorities initially reported that they found Guzmán during a routine search and arrested him due to the significant role he has played in his father’s illicit activities. However, as noted by the Los Angeles Times, the story evolved rapidly. Mexican officials later acknowledged that the operation had been planned, but suggested that it was physically carried out by rogue security forces without proper authorization. In either case, authorities lacked a search warrant upon entering Guzmán’s property, calling the legality of the mission into question from the beginning. Following this blunder, the cartel launched a large attack in retaliation. As videos and pictures of dead bodies and families scrambling for shelter surfaced and subsequently flooded the media, the public watched as the death toll gradually rose in the days following the violence. Univision later confirmed on October 21st that at least 13 people were killed and dozens more were injured.

According to Milenio, in reaction to the violence, authorities ultimately freed Ovidio Guzmán López and retreated, subsequently defending this course of action by arguing that the most important objective remains to avoid the loss of human lives. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke publicly regarding the matter stating, “We don’t want bloodshed. We do not want that. From anyone. We are also hurting with respect to the loss of the life of an alleged criminal. We are not oblivious to the pain caused by the death of any person.” Reiterating the position that his administration has taken from the outset, Obrador insisted that “you can’t fight fire with fire.” However, this response raised strong criticisms of López Obrador’s security strategy, which thus far has failed to quell Mexico’s rising tide of violence, which has reached more than 3,000 murders each month as noted by El Universal.

Indeed, critics charged that the cartel’s victory represented a stunning “humiliation” for the Mexican government. According to The New York Times, though Obrador rightly maintains that he inherited the problem of unchecked corruption, those who oppose the strategy of release and retreat utilized by the government last month argue that these actions send the wrong message and set a dangerous precedent. Cartels may now more strongly assume that through the leveraging violence, they can get their way and further their interests. Additionally, while the López Obrador administration may opt not to go after drug traffickers, vocal critics like Ioan Grillo point out that the drug “war does not stop even if the government is not attacking them.”

López Obrador has also been criticized for the lack of an effective security strategy, despite his efforts to build a new National Guard to restore order. Indeed, many members of the National Guard have been diverted from their public security role to focus on stopping Central American migrants from entering the United States. Meanwhile, López Obrador’s efforts have been beset by protests from federal law enforcement officers who object to the dissolution of their agency, the Federal Police, and their incorporation into the National Guard during the recent reorganization of security forces, as noted last month by Justice in Mexico. Engelbert Ruiz, a Federal Police Officer, commented that “What is really happening is that they are simply changing our uniforms [with] no explanations, clarity, no rights or guarantees.”

According to the Diario de Yucatán, compounding an already complicated set of internal tensions, “Mexican media outlets reported that elements in the army were unhappy with the outcome of Thursday’s debacle in Culiacán.” As noted by sources, such as Mexican News Daily, this rift between President López Obrador and military forces continued to grow in the days following the operation. On October 22nd, retired military general Carlos Gaytán gave a highly critical speech regarding the worrisome status of “today’s Mexico” under the Obrador administration. “…We cannot ignore that the head of the executive has been legally and legitimately empowered. However, it’s also an undeniable truth that fragile counterweight mechanisms have permitted a strengthening of the executive, which has made strategic decisions that haven’t convinced everyone, to put it mildly.” Though Gaytán never explicitly referred to the Culiacán operation, established sources within the military informed The Washington Post that the speech served as a response to the mission on behalf the armed forces.

However, other sources point out that the story of Ovidio Guzmán’s release remains subject to two very different interpretations. According to Consulta Mitofsky for El Economista, “in Sinaloa, 79% of the population and 53% nationally, considered that the federal government did the right thing by freeing Ovidio Guzmán López from the threat of the Sinaloa Cartel to attack the citizens.” The state of Sinaloa, the cradle of Mexican drug trafficking, is overwhelmed by the presence of crime and an ever-increasing tendency of cartels to use insurgent tactics to achieve their political aims, such as the use of roadblocks to hinder military reinforcement. Vladimir Ramirez, a political scientist in Culiacán, explained that although the gunmen did not intentionally target noncombatants initially, the menace posed by the cartel remained clear. The citizens of Sinaloa, who have been subject and well-exposed to cartel reign, recognized this. The usual elusive quality of cartel gunmen had, in this case, materialized; their visible and violent presence forcing families to hide in small, anxiety-provoking spaces as described by Televisa. “It was a threat of terrorism,” Ramirez said. “The government acted with great responsibility.” Additionally, El Universal reports that during the operation, Aguaruto prison experienced a breakdown in security, resulting in the escape of approximately 50 prisoners, most of whom originally forfeited their rights due to ties with organized crime. Additionally, many approve of the government’s strategy of release and retreat because according to Milenio, cartel hitmen threatened to kill hostage soldiers and their families if Guzmán remained held by authorities.


Photo: El Economista 

Moving forward, it remains to be seen whether the Mexican president will heed critics’ warnings by cracking down on drug traffickers or continue to pursue a self-described approach focused on “hugs, not gunfights” (abrazos, no balazos). Clearly, though, what occurred in Sinaloa on October 17th has increased pressure on the López Obrador administration to develop a coherent and effective strategy to reduce both violent crime and the threat of Mexico’s powerful organized crime groups.

Sources:

Camhaji, Elijah. “Ovidio Guzmán, el hijo de El Chapo cuya detención ha desatado la violencia en Culiacán.” El País. October 18th, 2019.

Milenio Digital. “Gobierno va tras hijo de ‘El Chapo’; ‘que no haya impunidad’, dice AMLO.” Milenio. October 22, 2019.

Espino, Manuel. “Semestre récord en violencia en México.” El Universal. 2 Jul. 2019. 

“En Sinaloa, Gabinete de Seguridad optó por proteger la vida de las personas: presidente AMLO.” Sitio Oficial de Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 18 Oct. 2019. 

Consulta Mitofsky. “Liberación de Ovidio Guzmán: dos visiones diferentes.” El Economista. 22 Oct. 2019. 

Heinle, K. “AMLO deploys National Guard amidst controversy.” Justice in Mexico. 24 Jul. 2019. 

Linthicum, Kate & Sanchez, Cecelia. “Eight killed in Mexico as cartel gunmen force authorities to release El Chapo’s son.” Los Angeles Times. October 18, 2019. 

Grillo, Ioan. “Drug Cartel Control Is No Peace.” The New York Times. October 22, 2019. 

Megamedia. “Trasciende molestia del jefe del Ejército con AMLO tras la fallida operación en Culiacán.” Diario de Yucatán.October 20, 2019. 

Noticieros Televisa. “Miedo y ansiedad: lo que dejó la violencia del Cártel de Sinaloa en Culiacán.” Televisa. 29 Oct. 2019. 

Beauregard, Luis Pablo. “El hijo de El Chapo, tras su detención en Culiacán: ‘Ya paren todo, ya me entregué, no quiero más desmadre.’” El Universal. 30 Oct. 2019.