08/05/20 (written by kheinle) – One of Mexico’s most wanted cartel leaders, José Antonio Yépez Ortíz, “El Marro,” was arrested on Sunday, August 2 in Guanajuato. El Marro is the alleged leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL).
El Marro’s Arrest
The raid that brought El Marro down was a show of force from the Mexican government. Over 1,000 state security forces, hundreds of soldiers, unmanned drones, and two fully-manned helicopters were all deployed to the area, both to arrest El Marro, as well as to maintain peace on the ground. The Yucatan Timesreports that the government tracked the cartel boss after receiving a tip about the cartel boss’ movements. Officials had narrowed their search down to four identified homes in which El Marro frequented. Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said they obtained an arrest warrant based on the information gleaned from learning that El Marro never spent more than one night in a location. They also had insight on the location of a truck and food delivery vehicle that were connected to the scene. The operation comes just one month after Mexican officials arrested El Marro’s mother and sister for their alleged roles in the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel’s financial operations.
The Government Reacts
The López Obrador administration was quick to publicize the El Marro’s arrest. This goes against what the president promised he would avoid, which was “to conduct arrests as public spectacles” like his predecessors had done, writes The New York Times. “It shows how desperate [President López Obrador] is to show he is doing something. The fact is he just did something that he said we would never do,” commented Dr. David Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico. “It’s the same old playbook as before.” It is also interesting coming on the heels of the administration’s monumental failure in October 2019 to arrest Ovidio Guzmán Loera, the son of Mexico’s most notorious kingpin, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Perhaps the government’s show of force against El Marro was to ensure a similar catch-and-release did not happen again.
Following El Marro’s arrest, police secured the area and surrounding locales to help deter such backlash of violence. They also enhanced their security presence in bordering states, such as neighboring Querétaro that lies just to the east of Guanajuato. Querétaro State Police (Policía Estatal) released a statement saying their increased presence along the connecting roadways is to “maintain peace and social order.”
Violence in Guanajuato
The CSRL has been in a bloody turf battle with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG). The bitter rivalry has driven Guanajuato to be one of the most violent states in Mexico. As Justice in Mexico noted in its recent report, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: 2020 Special Report,” Guanajuato had the highest number of organized crime-related homicides among states in 2019 with 2,673 cases, according to data from Reforma. In June 2019, Guanajuato State Governor Diego Sinhue Rodríguez Vallejo and Mexican officials agreed to enact “Golpe de Timón,” an operation to bolster public security. Violence continued, however, through the end of 2019 and into 2020. In the first half of this year alone, more than 1,725 homicides were registered in the Guanajuato, according to data from Mexico’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP).
Still, some are quick to acknowledge the impact of collaborative security operations, like Golpe de Timón, in bringing down El Marro. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Landau lauded the arrest via Twitter, posting, “Excellent news to start this Sunday: the capture of the criminal El Marro in Guanajuato. Criminals think they are so dynamic and smart, but in the end the good guys will always win.” Time will tell if the removal of the cartel’s leader will quell violence in Guanajuato or if it will have the “fantasia effect” and lead to more infighting within the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, splintering among factions, increased turf battles, and ultimately more insecurity.
07/30/20- (written by jhale)- Justice in Mexico has released the second edition of Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico, coordinated by Laura Y. Calderón, Kimberly Heinle, Rita E. Kuckertz, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. Initially titled Drug Violence in Mexico, the report was reissued under a new name beginning last year with the tenth edition. The switch reflects recent shifts in the nature of organized crime, including the diversification of criminal activities. In an ever-changing world, Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico works to compile important statistics regarding key trends while providing insight to help understand an uncertain future.
Diversification of criminal enterprise
The report cites two factors that have contributed to recent patterns in crime: infighting amongst splinter groups and diversification of revenue sources. As larger criminal organizations disband, smaller groups are left in their wake. These small enterprises often lack the logistical capacity to form trans-national criminal partnerships, and instead turn to predatory crimes to maintain revenue. Robberies, kidnappings, and territorial violence can all be linked to the actions of low-level criminal organizations as they fight to increase their market share.
Meanwhile, crime syndicates have sought to diversify their streams of income as competition increases for a stake in the drug trade. Groups such as the Zetas cartel (los Zetas) have paved the way for the transformation of drug trafficking organizations into trans-national criminal organizations. These reiterations of existing groups pose a novel threat to Mexican internal security. In addition to trafficking drugs, criminal organizations have expanded into sex trafficking, fuel theft, and illegal trade of exotic animals. The constantly shifting strategies of organized criminal groups have made law enforcement increasingly difficult for Mexican authorities.
Homicide rates and organized crime
A key topic addressed in the report is Mexico’s homicide rate, which rose to record levels in 2019. The Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) reports that 29,406 cases of murder occurred in 2019, affecting 34,588 victims. While Mexico’s homicide rate has climbed since late-2014, the rate of increase has seemingly subsided. There was a 2.5% increase in homicides from 2018 to 2019, compared with a 20% jump from 2017 to 2018. Regardless, homicide remains a pressing issue in Mexican society. At present, homicide is the leading cause of death among individuals from the ages of 15-39. Mexico’s homicide crisis has caused incalculable suffering in families and communities throughout the country, stifling progress and cutting short the lives of thousands of young people.
Two Mexican media organizations, Milenio and Reforma, have attempted to quantify homicide as relating to organized crime. Figures reported by Milenio suggest that there were 23,393 homicides linked to organized crime groups in 2019, while Reforma has published a more conservative estimate of 15,108 such incidents. The numbers imply that 44% to 80% of homicides can be attributed to organized crime groups.
Although there are some methodological challenges to proving connections between homicide rates and organized crime, the report notes that many of the same regions frequented by organized criminal groups experience higher levels of violence. The report identifies five urban regions with over 450 homicides and a homicide rate exceeding 100 per 100,000 inhabitants: Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Culiacán, Acapulco de Juárez, and León. The report also highlights the three most violent regions in Mexico: the North-East border region; the mid-Pacific coast; and the so-called Golden Triangle of Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Durango, a hotbed for opium production. In addition to having high homicide rates, these areas have also served as de facto centers for drug trafficking and criminal activity. According to the report, the geographic correlation of crime and homicide allows researchers to better understand how organized crime can affect violence throughout Mexico.
In addition to homicide, the report provides insight regarding trends in crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, and robbery. The report found that the number of cases of intentional injury in Mexico increased in 2019 for a fourth year in a row. According to SNSP data, 1,856 of Mexico’s 2,326 municipalities reported at least one intentional injury. Reported kidnappings steadily rose over the years but leveled off in 2018 and 2019 with an increase of roughly 15% with 1,329 reported kidnappings in 2018 and 1,323 reported kidnappings in 2019. Extortion has also been on the rise with an increase from 5,072 cases in 205 to 8,500 cases in 2019. While official statistics provide valuable insight into crime rates, the report’s authors point out that crimes of lesser import are significantly underreported and may not be a reliable indicator of predatory crime trends observed from year to year. For example, an estimated 91.2% of kidnappings are uninvestigated and remain off the official record.
Gender violence and sex crimes
In light of recent social movements highlighting gender violence, the report has included a section dedicated to the topic. Almost half (45%) of women in Mexico report having been the victim of relationship violence. Femicide, or the murder of a woman because of her gender, has seen a 130% uptick since 2015. The authors note that statistics pertaining to violence against women are skewed by the impunity of abusers and a lack of funding for local attorneys general. President López Obrador himself has come under fire for his apparent dismissal of violence against women and his use of rhetoric which pundits have described as “tepid at best”.
The report points out that women may be more empowered to report incidents of violence and sex crimes in the wake of recent protests seeking to hold abusers accountable. Furthermore, the report notes that increased scrutiny of gender violence by authorities may reflect a shift in law enforcement objectives to reflect current issues. This may help explain recent increases in sex crimes, including sexual harassment, abuse, and rape. Despite advances in prosecuting violence against women, the report’s authors note that 77% of women in Mexico feel unsafe as the overwhelming majority of crimes continue to go unreported or uninvestigated.
Politically motivated violence and high-profile targets
The killings of high profile targets such as mayors, police, military officers, and journalists has also increased. In what the report describes as a threat to the rule of law, 25 current, former, or aspiring mayors were assassinated in 2019. Statistics drawn from Justice in Mexico’s Memoria database suggest that mayors are 13 times more likely to be murdered than the average individual. Police and military leaders were also frequently targeted for their role in law enforcement, sometimes at the behest of criminal groups. Lastly, although the number of journalists murdered decreased slightly in 2019, Mexico still ranks among the most dangerous places for journalists to go about their line of work. In Justice in Mexico’s estimation, 13 journalists and media workers were killed in 2019.
This chart, from Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset, illustrates the gradual increase in killings of journalists.
Diversification of violent crime
This report sets itself apart from previous editions by analyzing other predatory crimes perpetrated by small organized crime groups, such as intentional injury, kidnapping, and extortion. The report found that the number of cases of intentional injury in Mexico increased in 2019 for a fourth year in a row. According to SNSP data, 1,856 of Mexico’s 2,326 municipalities reported at least one intentional injury. Reported kidnappings steadily rose over the years but leveled off in 2018 and 2019 with an increase of roughly 15% with 1,329 reported kidnappings in 2018 and 1,323 reported kidnappings in 2019. Extortion has also been on the rise with an increase from 5,072 cases in 205 to 8,500 cases in 2019. The authors note that crimes such as kidnapping and extortion are chronically underreported, suggesting that official data may not be a reliable indicator of predatory crime trends observed from year to year. However, these data are useful in illustrating the aforementioned diversification of criminal enterprise.
Looking to the future
A multitude of causes and contextual factors have contributed to rising crime rates in Mexico. It is difficult to understand and easy to place blame for a problem tugging at the seams of Mexican society. Through an exhaustive overview of the data, statistics, and trends pertaining to crime in Mexico, Justice in Mexico’s Organized Crime and Violence aims to demystify a difficult subject. The authors of this report seek not only to assist in our understanding of the topic, but to paint a picture of crime in Mexico extending beyond the numbers.
07/10/20 (written by CMurray) – During the early morning of June 21, 2020, 15 people were murdered in the municipality of San Mateo del Mar in Oaxaca, where a majority of the population identifies with the Ikoots indigenous people (Graham). State prosecutors announced that the victims, including 13 men and two women, were tortured and burned alive by armed attackers. Residents of San Mateo del Mar have claimed that the attack was orchestrated by the mayor’s supporters, who were upset about opposition towards large scale wind power projects within the region (Associated Press). The brutal attack was believed to have originated at a COVID-19 checkpoint where a group of around seven individuals initiated the attack on local dissidents (Chaca). Following the assault, the governor of Oaxaca, Alejandro Murat Hinojosa, confirmed the deployment of a security operation to the municipality in an effort to mitigate continued violence (La Jornada). According to El Universal, the security deployment included four detectives, 80 state police, and 39 National Guard members who were ultimately only able to rescue two men. Although no suspects have been identified, the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) stated that officials need to “determine the exercise of criminal action, with respect to the facts constituting offenses and the probable responsibility of the people involved” [author’s own translation]. The indigenous population within San Mateo del Mar has been the subject of various disputes during the past several years, most of which are related to land rights.
In January 2018, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a large-scale wind energy project be suspended after it failed to gain sufficient support from the local Zapotec community in the town of Juchitán (Mexico News Daily). Proponents of the infrastructure project, headed by Energía Eólica del Sur (Southern Wind Energy), were insistent that the $1.2 billion project would be profitable for the state and make it the largest wind park of its kind in Latin America (Mexico News Daily). In November of 2017, Governor Murat, attended the official groundbreaking ceremony and affirmed that the project was approved by local communities despite not having gone through the proper channels. A report that specifically addressed the Bíi Hioxo wind park in Juchitán argues that increased efforts to combat global warming through renewable energy resources have subsequently ignored indigenous groups’ territorial claims. There have been efforts on behalf of state authorities as well as private organizations to wage counterinsurgency tactics against indigenous groups that oppose the construction of these large energy projects. One local woman commented that these forms of clean energy could not possibly promote sustainability when they were also responsible for deforestation, polluting groundwater, and eliminating natural forms of medicine. Based on the legal precedent set forth by Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization, judges within the Mexican Supreme Court issued their ruling in favor of the indigenous community. This Convention states that native communities are guaranteed land rights as well as the ability to participate in managing and conserving the land that they safeguard. Despite the court ruling, tensions continue to rise in respect to the issue of land rights in the area, because although the project promises to generate around 1,500 new jobs, it jeopardizes the autonomy of indigenous land in the region (Rodríguez).
Environmental Violence in Oaxaca
The state of Oaxaca continues to be a hub for violence perpetrated against environmental activists, many of whom hail from indigenous communities. On May 7th of this year, 21 year old environmental activist, Eugui Roy Martínez Pérez was found murdered at a ranch in the town of San Agustín Loxicha. He was a student at the Technological Institute of the Valley of Oaxaca (Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca) and was reported to have been an outspoken supporter for environmental advocacy (Miranda). According to the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, CEMDA), 460 cases of aggression against environmentalists were reported between 2012 to 2018. Of these 460 cases, Oaxaca led with the highest number of reported attacks at 79. Additionally, 29% of all reported cases were associated with energy projects, of which 53 out of 460 constituted wind energy-specific cases (CEMDA).
Due to continued violent attacks against indigenous groups, especially within Oaxaca the past few years, many are calling for increased accountability from the government. The brutal assassinations that took place within San Mateo Del Mar are just some of the more recent attacks being perpetrated against indigenous communities that oppose these large scale energy projects. These communities have received support from the Mexican Supreme Court and human rights groups such as the Committee for the Integral Defence of Human Rights (Comité de Defensa Integral de Derechos Humanos, Gobixha, CODIGO DH), but still face the prospect of highly volatile attacks from those that oppose their territorial claims.
07/02/20 (written M MacGregor)- A day without any women in Mexico was the idea of feminist leaders on #UnDíaSinNosotras (#ADayWithoutUs), in which they showed their power through their absence in society. This strike took place after International Women’s Day on March 8th, 2020. During International Women’s Day, over 80,000 women took to the streets of Mexico City to call for the end of gender-based violence. They marched from the Revolution Monument to Constitution Plaza, carrying signs that said “We aren’t numbers, we’re lives”, and “living with fear is not living”. According to Remezcla, dozens of feminist organizations such as the Autonomous and Independent Feminist Assembly organized and informed women and allies of the march, which took months to plan.
The very next day, women stayed at home in a 24-hour strike carried out in the 20 largest cities in Mexico, with the capital being the epicenter of the movement. These strikes were in response to the staggering number of femicides that occur each year. According to Telemundo, this strike was estimated by the Mexican Confederation of Employers (Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana) to have had an economic impact of more than 6,000 million pesos ($290 million USD) on the country, given that in Mexico City alone women represent 44% of the working class population. Mexican women from all walks of life were visibly absent from workplaces and cities, and many businesses gave them their blessing to do so. According to the New York Times, Claudia Sheinbaum, the mayor of Mexico City, specifically instructed all department leaders in the city government not to penalize any employee who missed work on the day of the strike. The march and strike made an economic impact on the country, but violence against women continued to happen despite these important events. According to El Sol de Mexico, 11 women were victims of femicide during the events on March 8th and 9th.
In an interview with AA Noticias, prominent activist Sofia Sánchez Calderón described the movement as both a “political and economic strike” and a “call to action to the Mexican people to denounce the misogynist violence in the country that is in all spaces: private, intimate, and public”. As mentioned by Teagan McGinnis in her recent article on the Justice in Mexico News Monitor, Exploring the Legal Context of Femicide in Mexico, this protest was in response to the failure of the Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to address the problem of domestic violence and adequately protect women’s lives. It is also a part of the larger transnational #NiUnaMenos movement. According to The Globe Post, the current president has angered many women and activists by claiming that their protests and strikes are an attack on his regime. He blames past neo-liberal administrations for the femicide crisis although they have been steadily increasing during his regime, with Milenio reporting that 320 women were murdered in January 2020 alone.
The #NiUnaMenos Movement
Comprehending the origins of the #NiUnaMenos feminist movement is essential to understand the current climate regarding women’s rights in Mexico. According to The Globe Post, the movement’s slogan #NiUnaMenos, which means “Not One Less” in English, was adapted from the words of activist and poet Susana Chávez. After an outbreak of violent femicides in Ciudad Juarez in 1995, Chávez called for “ni una muerte más!” (not one more death), before she herself was murdered in 2011. After a string of violent femicides in Argentina in 2015 in which women were burned alive, hacked to pieces with machetes, even a pregnant woman was killed by her boyfriend, public protests erupted in the country under the new slogan of #NiUnaMenos. According to the #NiUnaMenos website, in particular, the whole country was shocked by the death of a 16 year-old student. In response, tens of thousands of protesters converged in Plaza de Mayo under the rain, waving portraits of women murdered echoing the slogan “we want to stay alive”. Since then, according to The Guardian, the #NiUnaMenos hashtag went viral and mobilized the masses against gender-based violence. It has grown rapidly into a transnational movement, in which millions of women and their allies have participated in more than 50 countries around the world.
According to the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), #NiUnaMenos has not been without controversy and contestation in the region. The protests have received backlash on social media, where there have been “ferocious debates between those who want to protect male privilege and those who want to protest it”. Additionally, the backlash has affected women with more than just words. According to NACLA, In March 2018, Afro-Brazilian city counselor and lesbian activist Marielle Franco was shot on her way home from consulting with women’s organizations. Her death, along with those of women human rights activists in the Amazon and Mexico, demonstrate a violent cultural reaction to women’s attempt to participate in public life and challenge the status quo.
However, Marta Dillon, a founder of the #NiUnaMenos movement, told The Guardian that she has seen important progress in these past five years, stating that “blaming the victim in these cases is no longer possible”. Dillon explains that although AMLO has been criticized for his inaction towards gender-based violence, he appointed the first cabinet with gender parity in Latin America. Mexico in particular has seen a wave of assertive protests by women’s groups, who credit #NiUnaMenos with the amplification of their voices. However, many Mexican activists still feel like they are not being heard. “As a first step, we want authorities to recognise there is a problem and that violence against women is increasing,” says Arussi Unda, who belongs to a Veracruz-based organization called Brujas del Mar. Dillion agrees there is still a lot of work to do. She told The Guardian, “Femicides are still happening because it’s a form of disciplining,” she says, “in general, the killer acts when a woman says: ‘enough is enough’.”
06/30/20 (written by kheinle) – Tension and violence is growing in Guanajuato, already the country’s most violent state, after police arrested several family members of José Antonio Yepez, “El Marro.” The mother, sister, and cousin of El Marro, the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL) and one of Mexico’s most wanted drug kingpins, were picked up on June 20 in Celaya, Guanajuato. Two other women of no familial relation were also detained. Authorities also seized a kilogram of methamphetamine and $2 million pesos ($88,000 USD) during the operation. The women were arrested for allegedly playing key roles in the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel’s financial operations.
This came as part of a joint operation between the Secretary of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA), the National Guard (Guardia Nacional), and the Guanajuato Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de Guanajuato). Twenty-six other CSRL members were also arrested during the operation at different locations in surrounding municipalities, but they have since been released for lack of evidence, among other technicalities.
El Marro Reacts
Following the arrests, El Marro released two short videos that quickly went viral during which he threatened to “unleash violence” in Guanajuato if his loved ones were not promptly released. “I’m going to be a stone in your shoe,” he said, directing his ire towards the Mexican government. “I’m going to blow up, you will see… In my mother’s and my people’s name… I don’t fear you.” He also claimed that authorities are working with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG), a bitter rival of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel. He then spoke of potentially establishing an alliance with other cartels to rise up in response to the authorities’ arrests, and thanked his supporters who had already taken up arms.
In the week since the June 20 operation, more than 100 people were killed in Guanajuato. Vehicles and businesses were set ablaze, narco-roadblocks established, four youth disappeared, and a bomb threat called in at a refinery in the municipality of Salamanca. In a unique turn of events, El Marro’s father, Rodolfo Yépez, was also released from prison on June 26 after having posted a $10,000 peso-bond. The judge who ordered his release and subsequent house arrest also noted the father’s senior age as a concern given the coronavirus pandemic. R. Yépez was serving time since March 2020 for robbery.
Violence in Guanajuato
Guanajuato is the most violent state in Mexico. From January to late June 2020, more than 1,725 homicides were registered, according to data from the Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). As El Universal writes, SESNSP data shows that “from January 1 to June 24 of 2020, about 9.9 homicides occur each day, or a murder every 2.4 hours, an unprecedented statistic for [Guanajuato].” In 2019, Guanajuato registered the highest number of organized crime related homicides with 2,673 cases, according to Reforma.
The violence is largely attributed to the battles between the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, “El Mencho.” The two have been in conflict since October 2017 when El Marro “declared war” on the CJNG over the control of fuel theft (huachicol) in Guanajuato, particularly in the municipalities of León, Irapuato, Salamanca, Celaya, and Los Apaseos, also known as the “Triángulo de las Bermúdas.” The control for the territory also lends itself to the cartels’ further control and involvement in drug tracking, kidnapping, and extortion. As Mexico’s most violent state, and with the battle between these two powerful cartels, there is also a large presence of high-power firearms in Guanajuato. El Universalreports that the “use of firearms is at a level not seen in any other state in the country.”
Mexico’s Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection (Secretario de Seguridad y Protección Ciudana, SSPC), Alfonso Durazo, announced the government’s new strategy to address the rising levels of violence in Guanajuato. On June 26, Durazo said that more federal troops would be sent to the state, a decision that was in the process of being made before El Marro took to social media to call for violent uprisings in response to his loved ones’ arrests. The Secretary said more information about how the federal and state security forces would work together would be detailed in the coming week.