2018 Drug Violence in Mexico Report

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 201704/11/18- Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2018 special report on Drug Violence in Mexico, co-authored by Laura Calderón, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. The report examines trends in violence and organized crime in Mexico through 2017. The study compiles the latest available data and analysis of trends to help separate the signals from the noise to help better understand the facets, implications, and possible remedies to the ongoing crisis of violence, corruption, and human rights violations associated with the war on drugs.

Mexico experienced dramatic increases in crime and violence over the last decade. The number of intentional homicides documented by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Information (INEGI) declined significantly under both presidents Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and Vicente Fox (2000-2006), but rose dramatically after 2007, the first year in office for President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). All told, throughout the Calderón administration, INEGI reported 121,669 homicides, an average of over 20,000 people per year, more than 55 people per day, or just over two people every hour. Over that period, no other country in the Western Hemisphere had seen such a large increase either in its homicide rate or in the absolute number of homicides.

Yet, over 116,000 people have been murdered under Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), despite his campaign pledge that violence would decline dramatically within the first year of his administration. In fact, there were an average of 23,293 homicides per year during the first five years of Peña Nieto’s term, nearly 4,000 more per year than during Calderón’s first five years in office. As such, the annual average number of homicides under the Peña Nieto administration is now about 20% higher than during the Calderón administration, whose first two years saw much lower levels of homicide.

In 2017, state-level increases in intentional homicide cases were found in all but 6 states. The top five states with the largest number of intentional homicide cases in 2017 were Guerrero (2,318), Baja California (2,092), Mexico State (2,041), Veracruz (1,641), and Chihuahua (1,369). In 2017, the state with the largest annual increase in total homicides was Baja California, with most of that increase concentrated in the city of Tijuana, as discussed below. However, the largest percentage increases in homicide cases were found in Nayarit (554% increase) and Baja California Sur (192% increase). At the state level, the largest numerical and percentage decrease in homicides was found in the state of Campeche, which saw 67 homicide cases in 2017, down 17 cases (20% less) compared to the previous year.


Journalists and mayors are several times more likely to be killed than ordinary citizens. According to a recent Justice in Mexico study by Laura Calderón using data from 2016, Mexican journalists were at least three times more likely to be killed (.7 per 1,000) than the general population (.21 per 1,000), and mayors are at least twelve times more likely (2.46 murders per 1,000). Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset includes 152 mayors, candidates, and former mayors killed from 2005 through 2017, with 14 victims in 2015, six in 2016, and 21 in 2017. In total, nine sitting mayors were killed in 2017.

Mexico’s recent violence is largely attributable to drug trafficking and organized crime. Tallies produced over the past decade by government, media, academic, NGO, and consulting organizations suggest that roughly a third to half of all homicides in Mexico bear signs of organized crime-style violence, including the use of high-caliber automatic weapons, torture, dismemberment, and explicit messages involving organized-crime groups. Based on INEGI’s projected tally of 116,468 homicides from 2013 to 2017, at least 29.7% and perhaps as many as 46.9% of these homicides (34,663 according to newspaper Reforma and as many as 54,631 according to Lantia consulting service) appeared to involve organized crime.

In early 2017, the notorious kingpin leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was extradited to New York to face charges of organized crime, murder, and drug trafficking, among others. The analysis in the Drug Violence in Mexico report suggests that a significant portion of Mexico’s increases in violence from 2015 through 2017 were related to inter- and intra-organizational conflicts among rival drug traffickers in the wake of Guzmán’s re-arrest in 2016. In particular, Guzmán’s downfall has given rise to a new organized crime syndicate called the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG). Thus, the surge of violence following Guzmán’s arrest is one of the negative effects of targeted leadership disruption by law enforcement, often known as the “kingpin strategy.”

The country’s recent violence could be a concern in Mexico’s 2018 presidential election. The worsening of security conditions over the past three years has been a major setback for President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who pledged to reduce violence dramatically during his administration. Peña Nieto has received record low approval ratings during his first five years in office, in part due to perceptions of his handling of issues of crime, violence, and corruption, particularly after the disappearance and murder of dozens of students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in 2014. Mexico will hold elections in July 2018 and the next president will take office in December 2018. Since there is widespread concern about Mexico’s elevated levels of crime and violence, candidates for public office will feel pressure to take a stand on these issues and may even be targeted for violence for violence.


March: A Month of High Profile Arrests

03/23/18 (written by Ashley Ahrens-Víquez)- In the month of March, there were several high profiles arrests from three Mexican drug trafficking organizations. Each of these arrests happened in significantly distinct regions, encompassing the U.S.-Mexico border region to the central states. They may have a notable impact within their communities.

Erick Uriel “N” alias “La Rana”

Source: Facebook/Román Sánchez Núñez

Source: Facebook/Román Sánchez Núñez

Erick Uriel “N” alias “La Rana,” an alleged member of the Guerreros Unidos, was arrested on March 12, 2018 in Cocula, Jalisco in relation to the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. He is facing charges of kidnapping and organized crime.

Prior to their disappearance, the 43 students were on their way to a march commemorating the 1968 Tlaltelolco Massacre. According to Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), the students were handed off to the Guerreros Unidos by Iguala local police on the orders of the mayor, José Luis Abarca. According to the New York Times, the purported leader of the Guerreros Unidos, Felipe Rodríguez Salgado, alleged that he had been ordered by Abarca to get rid of the students because they had been permeated by Los Rojos, a rival gang. The students were then reportedly incinerated in a landfill in Cocula and dumped in the San Juan River. This official account stands despite an Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts’ investigation that found critical inconsistencies in the story perpetuated by the PGR.

Family members of the 43 students gathered at the “Antimonumento” in Mexico City last Tuesday to discuss the latest arrest in connection with Ayotzinapa. In a statement, they said that the detention of Uriel does not indicate a development in the investigation, calling it a “smoke screen.” They claimed that the PGR is eager to prosecute Uriel to further reinforce their theory, thereby refuting experts and appeasing the public.

Uriel is currently being held in a correctional facility in Gómez Palacio, Durango.

Jordyn Axel V. alias “El Jordy”

Source: Especial and Mi Morelia

Source: Especial and Mi Morelia

Jordyn Axel V. “El Jordy,” was recently captured on March 15, 2018, according to the Attorney General of the state of Michoacán (Procurador General de Justicia del Estado), José Martín Godoy. The 18-year-old is the nephew of the head of Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG), Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes “El Mencho.” Axel V., a reputed sicario (hitman) for Los Viagras, was arrested along with 18 other people and has been charged with narcomenudeo (street-level drug dealing). Previous to his arrest, he was also wanted in relation to the murder of two people in 2014.

Axel V. was born in 1999 in Buenavista, Michoacán to Adrián Mendoza Oseguera and Nora Elia Villa Patricio. His father reportedly left his mother when Axel V. was young. According to El Universal, he is not in touch with his father, nor does he have a relationship with Oseguera Cervantes. He allegedly became a sniper and sicario for Los Viagras at the age of 14 and was the leader of a plaza in Antúnez, Parácuaro at the time of his arrest. Los Viagras, once a faction of the Knights Templar, is the dominant group in Tierra Caliente, located in the center of Michoacán. They are currently led by Nicolás Sierra Santana “El Gordo.”

Los Viagras reacted violently to the announcement of the arrests. Men associated with the organization burned cars and businesses throughout Tierra Caliente, located in the center of Michoacán, including a Nissan dealership and super market. They set up narcobloqueos (road blockades) along highways, threatening drivers before lighting their cars on fire. In the community of Las Cañas, alleged members of Los Viagras shot at a bus containing 40 students. Luckily, none were injured. In response to the violence, the government dispatched local and state police to maintain public security. Law enforcement seized Molotov cocktails, gasoline and firearms from the members. There have been no reported deaths in the unrest.

This is the second time in a month that Los Viagras caused disruptions within the state. After an earlier, attempted arrest of plaza chief, there were 10 hours of narco blockades within Apatzingán. In a press conference on March 15, Godoy emphasized that the governor Silvano Aureoles Conejo and law enforcement are working to apprehend those responsible.

Osiel Cárdenas Jr.

Source: Brownsville Police Department

Source: Brownsville Police Department

Osiel Cardenas Jr., the son of the former Gulf Cartel (Cártel del Golfo, CDG) leader is being held without bail for illegal possession of a firearm, public intoxication, and giving false testimony in Brownsville, Texas on March 13, 2018. A police spokesman said that Osiel Cárdenas Jr. was in a bar in Texas when an individual reported that he was carrying a gun. Before he was arrested, Cárdenas waved his gun in the air, showed patrons a Cameron County District Attorney badge, and threatened them with arrest if they did not leave the bar.

The twenty-five-year-old American citizen was on probation when arrested. In 2014, Cárdenas was arrested and sentenced to 10 months in prison for smuggling arms. Federal authorities are now filing charges against Cárdenas Jr. for obtaining a firearm through foreign commerce. His father, Osiel Cárdenas Guillen, is currently serving 25 years in a maximum-security prison in Colorado on drug trafficking charges, related to his activities as the former leader of the Gulf Cartel.

Luis Alberto Blanco Flores alias “El Pelochas”


Source: Especial

Source: Especial


The alleged leader of the CDG in Reynosa, Tamaulipas was arrested in Querétaro by local and federal police. Luis Alberto Blanco Flores “El Pelochas” or “M28” was arrested on the morning of March 20, 2018 following a report of domestic violence.

Blanco Flores was reportedly part of a CDG faction known as Los Metros. Los Metros purportedly control a strategic stretch of land along the border of Texas and Tamaulipas labelled “La Frontera Chica.” In 2017, the Mexican Marines launched an operation against the organization leading to the death of their former leader, Julián Manuel Loiza Salinas “El Comandante Toro.” In response, Los Metros set fire to cars and set up 32 blockades throughout Reynosa, in a dramatic show of force. Loiza Salina’s death, apparently, provoked an internal power struggle between Blanco Flores, Humberto Loiza Méndez “Betito” and Petronilo Moreno Flores “El Panilo.” In January, the Marines murdered Loiza Méndez in Nuevo Laredo. Blanco Flores was purportedly left as the leader of Los Metros. Moreno Flores’s current role in Los Metros is unclear.  State authorities offered up to 2 million pesos for information leading to the arrest of Moreno Flores and Blanco Flores. His arrest occurred after he and Moreno Flores went underground to avoid capture.

Flores’s arrest comes a month after the arrest of José Alfredo Cárdenas “El Sobrino,” the alleged head of the CDG and nephew of the former head, Osiel Cárdenas Guillen. Cárdenas was released after a judge ruled that his arrest by the Mexican Maries was unlawful. According to the PGR, more than 700 members and major leaders of the CDG have been arrested.




Archibold, Randal C. “Mexico Officially Declares Missing Students Dead.” The New York Times. January 27, 2015.

Najar, Alberto. “Mexico: cómo la captura y muerte del ‘Comandante Toro’ revela la fuerza del Cartel del Golfo, capaz de paralizar una ciudad por various días.” BBC Mundo. April 25, 2017.

Andrade, Mirna. “Caso Ayotzinapa: Padres de los 43 minimizan detención de ‘La Rana.’” Excelsior. March 13, 2018.

Detención de ‘La Rana’ no ayuda a localización de normalistas, señalan padres.” Aristegui Noticias. March 13, 2018.

Gang reacts violently to Michoacán Arrest.” Mexico News Daily. March 13, 2018.

Villalobos, Areli. “Con detención de ‘La Rana’ quieren insistir en que nuestros hijos fueron incinerados: padres de los 43.” Proceso. March 13, 2018.

Arrieta, Carlos. “Sobrino de ‘El Mencho,’ uno de los detenidos en Michoacán.” El Universal. March 14, 2018.

Detienen a hijo de Osiel Cárdenas en Texas.” Excelsior. March 14, 2018.

Detienen a hijo de Osiel Cárdenas en Texas.” La Jornada. March 14, 2018.

García Tinoco, Miguel.“Tras captura de ‘El Jordy’…bloqueos y quema de vehículos en Tierra Caliente.” Excelsior. March 14, 2018.

Detienen a Osiel Cárdenas Jr. en Brownsville.” El Universal. March 15, 2018.

’El Jordy,’ familiar de ‘El Mencho’ y supuesto líder viagra, entro los detenido tras operativos en Michoacán.” Proceso. March 15, 2018.

Dan formal prisión a “La Rana”, implicado en la desaparición de los normalistas de Ayotzinapa.” Proceso. March 19, 2018.

Espino Bucio, Manuel. “Detienen a ‘El Pelochas,’ líder del cártel del Golfo.” El Universal. March 20, 2018.







New Policy Brief: The New Generation—Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat

The New Generation: Mexico's emerging Organized Crime Threat03/19/18 (written by dshirk) – Over the past decade, more than 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, including the record 29,000 murders that occurred in 2017 alone. According to a new Justice in Mexico policy brief by Lucy La Rosa and David A. Shirk, the recent increase in violence is one of the unintended consequences of the Mexican government’s strategy to target top organized crime figures for arrest and extradition. In the policy brief, titled “The New Generation: Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat,” the authors contend that the “kingpin strategy” that led to the downfall of famed drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has now given rise to a new organized crime syndicate known as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG).

The authors provide a detailed history of the CJNG, an offshoot of the Milenio and Sinaloa Cartels. As recounted in the new report, the CJNG has managed to re-brand itself, consolidate splintered criminal networks, and emerge as one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. Based in Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, the CJNG has a widespread and growing presence that authorities say spans two thirds of the country. The CJNG is headed by Ruben “El Mencho” Oseguera, a small time drug trafficker who was convicted in California, deported to Mexico, and emerged as a ruthless and shrewd drug cartel leader.

The authors contend that the CJNG offers a timely case study of how organized crime groups adapt following the disruption of leadership structures, and the limits of the so-called “kingpin” strategy to combat organized crime, which has contributed to the splintering, transformation, and diversification of Mexican organized crime groups and a shift in drug trafficking into new product areas, including heroin, methamphetamines, and other synthetic drugs.

The authors offer three main policy recommendations. First, the authors argue that U.S. State Department and their Mexican partners must continue working earnestly to bolster the capacity of Mexican law enforcement to conduct long-term, wide-reaching criminal investigations and more effective prosecutions targeting not only drug kingpins but all levels of a criminal enterprise, including corrupt politicians and private sector money laundering operations. Second, the authors argue that U.S. authorities must work more carefully when returning convicted criminals back to Mexico, since deported criminal offenders like CJNG leader Oseguera are prime candidates to join the ranks of Mexican organized crime. Third, and finally, the authors contend that further drug policy reforms are urgently needed to properly regulate the production, distribution, and consumption of not only marijuana but also more potent drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.




February 2018: News Brief


03/08/18 (written by Genesis Lopez)

Discover the important headlines in Mexico from February 2018.

13 Police Officers Arrested in Veracruz


Picture by Victor Camacho. La Jornada

Picture by Victor Camacho. La Jornada.

On the morning of February 8, 2018 in Xalapa, Veracruz, 13 police officers were taken into custody due to allegations of involvement in over 54 forced disappearances. These forced disappearances were instances of imprisonment by the government that predominantly occurred during the tenure of former Veracruz governor, Javier Duarte (La Jornada). Duarte is currently detained and accused of being involved in organized crime, embezzlement and corruption. Previous to his arrest on April 16, 2017, he was hiding in Guatemala for almost six months (BBC).

Moreover, there are reports of an elite police force in Veracruz, headed by former director of Veracruz State Police, Roberto González Meza, that illegally detained civilians suspected of being involved with “Los Zetas”(Proceso). Among the 13 police officers arrested was former Veracruz Public Security Secretariat (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP), Nava Holguín and Arturo Bermúdez Zurita. It has been reported that during Duarte’s six-year term there were up to 200 cases of forced disappearances in Veracruz (La Jornada).



Fugitive Mexican governor Javier Duarte arrested in Guatemala.” BBC News. April 16, 2017.

Gómez, Eirinet, “Detienen a 13 policías de Veracruz vinculados con Javier Duarte.” La Jornada. February 8, 2018.

López, Lourdes, “Implican a exfuncionarios de Veracruz en delitos desaparición forzada.” Excelsior. February 8, 2018.

Pérez, Edgar, “Investigan a ex mando de seguridad de Javier Duarte por desaparición forzada de 15 personas.” El Universal. February 8, 2018.

Zavaleta, Noé, “Policia élite de Javier Duarte: perseguía a Zetas, levantaba a civiles.” Proceso. February 10, 2018.


Current Leader of Cartél de Tláhuac is arrested


Picture by Cua Rtoscuro. El Universal.

Picture by Cua Rtoscuro. El Universal.

On February 16, 2018, José Eduardo Zamora “El Cholo” was arrested for being linked to the Tláhuac Cartel in the municipality of San José de Iturbide in the state of Guanajuato (Milenio). Zamora was captured in a joint operation between the Investigative Police (Policía de Investigación, PDI) and local police department (Excelsior). He is the alleged successor of Felipe de Jesús Pérez Luna “El Ojos”, the previous leader of the Tláhuac Cartel, who died in November of 2017.

Zamora was detained in 2013 and 2016, respectively for street-level drug dealing and destruction of property. In both cases, he was released on a judge’s order. Authorities say that Zamora held a significant role in the  distribution of drugs in the southeast region of Mexico’s capital. In addition, Zamora is allegedly linked to the homicide of an ex-commander of the Mexico City municipal police in Iztapalapa in February of 2016. As of August 2016, 74 people involved with the Tláhuac Cartel have been arrested (El Universal).



Detienen en Guanajuato a operador de cártel de Tláhuac.” Milenio, February 16, 2018.

Roa, Wendy, “Fue capturado ‘El Cholo’, jefe de sicarios del Cártel de Tláhuac.” Excelsior. February 16, 2018.

Suárez, Gerardo, “Aprehenden a ‘El Cholo’ ligado a Cártel de Tlahuac.” El Universal. February 17, 2018.



Anonymous Jury is ordered for “El Chapo’s” Trial


Photo by U.S Law Enforcement. New York Times .

Photo by U.S Law Enforcement. New York Times.

New York federal judge Brian M. Cogan has ordered that the jury taking part in Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán’s upcoming trial in September will be anonymous and partly sequestered, citing potential danger to the jurors. Guzmán is facing 17 charges, which include leading a criminal enterprise, producing and exporting wholesale amounts of narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border, and ordering the targeted assassinations of people associated with  rival organized crime groups (LA Times).

Cogan cited Guzman’s history of violence as the main reason concealing the identities of the jurors. In addition, the selected jury will be under the protection of federal marshals throughout the duration of the trial, which is anticipated to last three to four months (NY Times). Guzmán’s lawyer, A. Eduardo Balarezo, countered that the judge’s order would give the jurors an unfairly perceive Guzman as a threat. Balarezo believes that keeping the jury anonymous will undermine the presumption of innocence, causing them to form a prejudiced opinion before listening to any evidence. “El Chapo” has a history of interference with the judicial processes in Mexico, prompting strict legal procedures following his extradition to the  United States (NY Times).



Agrawal, Nina, “Citing potential danger, judge orders anonymous jury in ‘El Chapo’ trial.” Los Angeles Times. February 6, 2018.

Feuer, Alan, “El Chapo Jurors Will Be Anonymous During Trial.” The New York Times. February 6, 2018.





New Working Paper: Organized Crime and Violence in Baja California Sur

Spatial distribution of homicides in BCS in 2017. Source: SNSP, 2017. Map generated by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira

Spatial distribution of homicides in BCS in 2017. Source: SNSP, 2017. Map generated by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira


02/16/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – A new Justice in Mexico working paper by Laura Y. Calderón, entitled Organized Crime and Violence in Baja California Sur, provides analysis on the elevated levels of violence directly impacting key Baja California Sur cities, Los Cabos and La Paz. Utilizing the latest information and statistics on this topic, Calderón found that much of the violence in Baja California Sur is linked to organized crime groups looking to control these key drug trafficking areas. The working paper further discusses the increase in violence linked to organized crime group rivalries and subsequent government action in these affected regions.

According to Calderón, Baja California Sur’s economy depends heavily on tourism and commerce. Historically, Baja California Sur is characterized by having some of the lowest rates of crime and violence in Mexico. The recent surge in violent crime over the last decade is connected to the region’s transformation into an important nexus for drug traffic operations in Mexico.

Since 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel has dominated the Baja California region- formally headed by drug trafficker, Joaquín “El Chápo” Guzmán. Guzmán’s organization looked to remove other competing organized crime groups in the region. Their success in consolidating a territory monopoly caused a drop in violence while opening their access to the U.S. market. The arrest and extradition of Guzmán caused a significant shift in the structure of Sinaloa, initiating internal competition between regional Sinaloan leaders. Additionally, with major kingpins like Guzmán being targeted by Mexican authorities, other cartels in the area took this as an opportunity to gain power. A new organized crime group called the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (Jalisco New Generation Cartel, CJNG), headed by Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes is rapidly becoming the main competitor to the Sinaloa Cartel.

In response to the increased violence, Mexican authorities deployed soldiers to Los Cabos and La Paz in an attempt to lower the rates of homicides through military presence in important hotspots. This deterrence tactic required the cooperation of municipal, state, and federal forces. However, local law enforcement is often under-trained and minimally equipped to meet the challenge presented by organized crime. Overall, the militarization approach has not proven to be successful.

Calderón posits that the recent violence seen in Baja California Sur could be linked to the spillover effect from other violent states nearby. According to scholars, Miming Pan, Benjamin Widner and Carl E. Enomoto, negative economic growth of one state exacts a consequence on neighboring states, causing the crime rates to increase. Although the Sinaloa cartel continues to hold dominance over almost the entire state, excluding the contested cities of La Paz and Los Cabos, there is a strong internal struggle over the lack of partnerships and centralized leadership for the organization. Moreover, the increasing prominence of the CJNG continues to challenge Sinaloa for the largest, operating organized crime group in Mexico.

Given the salient information presented in Calderón’s working paper, it is important to note that most of the violence happening in Baja California Sur is amongst individuals involved in organized crime. Tourists should exercise caution, but also keep in mind that the number of tourists of being targeted is currently low. Meanwhile, Mexican authorities in Baja California Sur, including local law enforcement and public officials, must be willing to engage in transparent and informed dialogue. Collaboration will be key to protecting the general citizenry and tourist flows, an important source of revenue to the state of Baja California Sur.



Pan, M., Widner, B. and Enomoto, C. E. (2012), GROWTH AND CRIME IN CONTIGUOUS STATES OF MEXICO. Review of Urban & Regional Development Studies, vol 24: p 51–64.