Remembering the Allende Massacre

The destruction of the 2011 Allende massacre is still evident to this day. Source: ProPublica

The destruction of the 2011 Allende massacre is still evident to this day. Source: ProPublica

6/27/2017 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa)- Over six years ago, a small ranching community near the Texas border of Mexico bore witness to the vengeful assault of Las Zetas, one of Mexico’s historically violent drug trafficking organizations. A recent publication by Ginger Thompson, a Pulitzer distinguished senior reporter at ProPublica, offers a unique account of the Allende massacre. Titled “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico”, the article was co-published by ProPublica and National Geographic. The article is centered around eyewitness testimonies on both sides of the tragedy, including families of the Allende victims, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents, and ex-Zetas informants, reverberating the voices of Allende.

The publication follows how the Zetas cartel descended upon Allende and neighboring towns in the northern state of Coahuila. The Zetas were acting upon rumors that Jose Luis Garza, Jr., affiliated with the cartel, had snitched to U.S. authorities. The Garzas were one of the oldest Allende families, owning multiple livestock ranches in and around the region. Armed Zetas arrived in Allende on the evening of March 18, 2011, and began by targeting the Garza ranches. Then, the Zetas moved north of the region, pillaging, kidnapping and killing those unfortunate to cross their path. Emergency management personnel from the region were pressured by the cartel to ignore cries for help. Evaristo Treviño, Allende’s fire chief at the time, said, “The only thing we could do is stand down, out of fear of the threats we faced… We were afraid for our lives. We couldn’t fight bullets with water” (ProPublica).

As specified by Thompson’s publication, the Zetas’ violent retribution can be traced back to premature information sharing by the DEA and institutional corruption in Mexico. Several months before the Allende massacre, the DEA persuaded Jose Vasquez, Jr., a Zetas operative, to submit the personal identification numbers (PINs) of Miguel and Omar Treviño’s cell phones. The Treviño brothers were powerful Zetas leaders, highly sought after by the DEA. After Vasquez procured the PINs, the information was released to a DEA supervisor in Mexico, who regrettably shared it with a Mexican police force with a reputation of collaborating with criminal organizations.

It was not difficult for the Zetas to trace the leak to Allende, due to the small number of people with access to the Treviños’ PINs. Although the Zetas misidentified Garza as the leak, Vasquez also held ties to Allende. Both Garza and Vasquez fled Allende into the U.S. in return for cooperating with U.S. law enforcement, leaving the town to bear the brunt of the Zetas’ wrath. Still today, the Allende massacre is testimony to the importance of information security in a country fraught with institutional corruption. In a recent email correspondence, Thompson commented, “I worry that this story, and the accountability issues it raises for American security agencies working in Mexico, could be lost.”

Accountability for Allende

Thompson’s fears are not unfounded. The Allende massacre was left largely unacknowledged and uninvestigated by the Mexican government. Three years after the fact, Rubén Moreira Valdés, governor of the state of Coahuila, finally launched an investigation into the Allende massacre. However, families of the victims in Allende touted the overdue government efforts as a publicity stunt. Victim associations report about 300 people dead or missing from the Allende massacre. Whereas, according to a 2016 interview of Coahuila attorney general Homero Ramos Gloria, the Mexican government has identified only 28 human remains and 54 disappearances in relation to the Allende massacre.

The failure of Mexican institutions to hold the Zetas accountable for the violence in Allende did not go unnoticed. Renowned Mexican human rights activist, Sergio Aguayo, actively led a research campaign in 2016, highlighting the institutional corruption that both perpetuated and obscured the violence in Allende. Soon after, former Governor of Coahuila, Humberto Moreira Valdés, sued Aguayo for defamation of character due to an opinion piece labeling Moreira as “corrupt”. Aguayo publicly postulated that Moreira was attempting to indirectly intimidate him for his investigation into Allende.

Six years later, the violence and corruption that led to the Allende massacre is un-abated. As reported by The Guardian, government statistics disclosed a record-breaking number of 2,186 homicides in May of 2017, eclipsing the previous high of 2,131 in May of 2011. Additionally, Mexico has experienced an approximately 30% increase in homicides this year, in comparison to January-May of 2016. These numbers are significantly impacting the popularity of current Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, who campaigned on the promises of reducing violence. Viridiana Ríos, a Wilson Centre analyst, remarked, “The increase in violence is a clear sign that the strategy Enrique Peña Nieto sold us has failed” (The Guardian).

Although the 2011 massacre is a sore reminder of violence and corruption in Mexico, commemorating the voices of Allende is an important step in addressing the institutional problems Mexico faces still today. In the words of Thompson, “[The Allende] story [is] about the permeability of the border… of what it’s like when a cartel infiltrates your town and most of all, what it’s like to live in a country where you don’t trust anyone enough to help.”

Sources

Ginger Thompson. ProPublica.

Former Governor sues Mexican academic and activist Sergio Aguayo for editorial.” Justice in Mexico. August 9, 2016.

Martinez, Marcos. “¿En qué está la investigación de la masacre Mexicana de Allende, en la que mataron a 300 personas?” Univision. August 15, 2016.

Malkin, Elisabeth. “Report Criticizes Mexican Officials for Ignoring 2011 Masscre.” New York Times. October 9, 2016.

Thompson, Ginger. “How the U.S. Triggered a Massacre in Mexico.” ProPublica. June 12, 2017.

Agren, David. “Mexico’s monthly murder rate reaches 20-year high.” The Guardian. June 21, 2017.

Judges of Michoacán Affirm Their Commitment to Public Security

Marco Antonio Flores addressing the accusations made by Governor Silvano Aureoles. Source: Mi Morelia

Marco Antonio Flores addressing the accusations made by Governor Silvano Aureoles. Source: Mi Morelia

06/27/17 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa)- On Monday, June 12th, Marco Antonio Flores Negrete, head of the Supreme Court of Justice in the state of Michoacán, delivered a public statement before Michoacán’s Supreme Court of Justice and various judicial officials promoting the objectives of Michoacán judicial authorities. The statement directly addressed accusatory comments of judicial negligence made by Michoacán governor, Silvano Aureoles Conejo, before the Ministry of Public Security’s (Secretarios de Seguridad Publica, SSP) National Conference on Wednesday, June 7th in Morelia, Michoacán.

At the conference, Aureoles asked judicial authorities to recognize their role in public security, strongly implying a lack of juridical vigor in the state of Michoacán. The Michoacán governor emphasized the ardent efforts of the state’s executive officials on behalf of public security. However, he argued that these efforts were in vain without the joint support of the judicial administration. Aureoles argued that executive and judicial officials were not acting with “the same velocity” against violence and organized crime in Michoacán. He pointed to judicial authorities citing insufficient evidence resulting in the release of an alleged Michoacán organized crime leader on June 7th. “This significantly discourages and disheartens the efforts made [by the SSP],” declared Aureoles (El Sol de Morelia).

In response, Supreme Court Justice Marco Flores publicly defended the judiciary and insisted that the actions of Michoacán judges and magistrates were in accordance with both federal and state legislation. He stated that Aureole’s accusations were “unfounded and unsupported” (Mi Morelia). Flores emphasized the role of the judiciary within the parameters of Mexico’s democracy, highlighting the importance of justice unhampered by political agendas. “At all times, we have respected the division of powers in the State, which is the basis of democracy that protects us from unilateral and authoritarian intentions (Mi Morelia).”

The Michoacán judiciary is fully in support of public security efforts against violence and crime, asserted Flores. However, he reminded his audience that all magistrates and judges must act within the parameters of Mexico’s constitutional rule of law. Indirectly touching upon the release of the alleged criminal mentioned by Aureoles, Flores added, “Hence, if you fail to prove, with legal, appropriate and sufficient evidence, the alleged criminal act attributed to a person…the judge is obligated to release him, because the Constitution expects and demands it.”

Aureoles’ divisive accusations elicited other responses as well. Javier Gil Oseguera, president of the Association of Judges (Asociación de Jueces de Primera Instancia), echoed Flores’ public sentiments. “Justice is given in strict adherence to the law, respecting the principles of equality (Quadratín).” Furthermore, Judge Ramón Sánchez Magaña, the judge with jurisdiction over the disputed release of the supposed criminal on June 7th, continued to endorse the decision to release the individual due to a lack of evidence.

Violence and Crime in Michoacán

The heightened tensions between executive and judicial officials on the topic of public security are set among increasing levels of violence and crime in Michoacán. As documented by the latest Justice in Mexico Drug Violence in Mexico (2017) report, Michoacán was the Mexican state with the third highest number of intentional homicides in 2016 with 1,287 homicides. This number was a significant increase from 2015 with 922 categorized as organized crime group (OCG) homicides.

Additionally, the Drug Violence in Mexico report highlights a pattern of violence in Mexico against two categories of special victims: public officials and journalists.  According to the report, Michoacán ranked as one of the deadliest states in Mexico for both public officials and journalists in 2016. This trend continued into 2017 with the abduction of Salvador Adame Pardo, a journalist from southern Michoacán. Adame has not been heard of since his abduction. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Adame had reached out to them with concerns for his safety.

Sources

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016.” Justice in Mexico. March 30, 2017.

Mexican journalist abducted in Michoacán state.” Committee to Protect Journalists. May 22, 2017.

Jueces deben dar la cara para que seguridad no sea “sólo por hoy.” El Sol de Morelia. June 7, 2017.

Exige respeto Supremo Tribunal de Justicia; ‘jueces dan la cara en audiencias públicas‘”: Flores.” El Sol de Morelia. June 12, 2017.

Poder judicial pide al ejecutivo se respete división de poderes y trabajo de los jueces.” Mi Morelia. June 12, 2017.

Se excedió, dicen jueces por declaración de Ejecutivo del Poder Judicial.” Quadratín. June 12, 2017.

Award-winning Journalist Javier Valdez Murdered

Javier Valdez speaking at a book launch in November 2016. Source: The Committee to Protect Journalists

Javier Valdez speaking at a book launch in November 2016. Source: The Committee to Protect Journalists

06/08/17 (written by Lucy Clement La Rosa)- Mexican journalist, Javier Valdez Cárdenas, was shot and killed on a busy street of his hometown, Culiacán, Sinaloa, on Monday, May 15th. So far, the gunmen are unidentified. Valdez was an awarded journalist and author, well-known for his outspoken stance on drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. In 2011, Valdez received the International Press Freedom Award from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as well as the Maria Moors Cabot Prize from the Colombia Graduate School of Journalism. Valdez recently published a book on the dangers of narco-journalism in 2016.

At the time of his death, Valdez was working as a correspondent for La Jornada, a daily newspaper based in Mexico City. In the past, Valdez also worked for Agence France-Presse and cofounded Ríodoce, a weekly newspaper based in Culiacán, capital of the Mexican state, Sinaloa. Sinaloa is home to the Sinaloa cartel, one of the most prominent drug cartels in Mexico, as well as home of the infamous drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Ríodoce was independently founded in 2003, and the weekly newspaper focused its efforts on the need for honest reports of drug cartel activities in Sinaloa. With the recent extradition of Guzmán to the United States, Valdez had warned that violence in Sinaloa was rising.

Journalists targeted in Mexico

Valdez is the sixth journalist murdered in Mexico this year. According to 2016 CPJ reports, Mexico ranked 7thOn the other hand, the Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset identifies journalists murdered regardless of motive. With this less conservative approach, Justice in Mexico identified the murders of 14 journalists and other media workers in 2016, bringing the total number of journalists murdered from 2000-2016 to 142. According to Justice in Mexico, the Memoria project offers a more pragmatic perspective of violence against journalists in Mexico and seeks to increase the transparency and accuracy of crime reports in Mexico.

The pattern of violence against journalists has been publicly recognized both within and outside of Mexico. Earlier this March, dozens of local journalists protested and demanded justice for Mexican journalists after their former colleague at La Jornada, Miroslava Breach, was murdered. Additionally, the CPJ recently published a special report titled, “No Excuse: Mexico must break cycle of impunity in journalists’ murders.”

Following reports of Valdez’s death, several journalists and government officials continued to convey their outrage, including Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Nieto condemned the murder over Twitter and expressed his support for “freedom of expression and press.” CPJ representative, Jan-Albert Hoosten, called Valdez’s murder “an attack on independent journalism not just in Sinaloa, but in Mexico as a whole.”

Criticism heightened on Mexican impunity

Local journalists protesting the pattern of violence against journalists in Mexico. Source: Noroeste

Local journalists protesting the pattern of violence against journalists in Mexico. Source: Noroeste

Since Valdez’s death, public backlash concerning the pattern of violence against journalists in Mexico has only grown. Several public protests have specifically demanded that perpetrators be identified and held responsible for their crimes against journalism. The public blames government negligence, pointing to various ominous statistics. As reported by El País, only three cases, out of more than 798 cases of violence (including harassment, assault and homicide) against journalists since 2010, have concluded with convictions. According to The New York Times, out of 117 murders investigated since 2000, only eight cases have been pursued and one solved. President Nieto has been especially criticized for his failure to improve the cycle of impunity in Mexico, despite his repeated promises to protect journalists and freedom of expression.     

Among heightened tensions, journalists continue to be targeted. On the same day of Valdez’s murder, unidentified gunmen shot Sonia Córdoba and her son, Jonathan Rodríguez Córdoba; both were associated with a weekly newspaper in the Jalisco state. Sonia was hospitalized with injuries while her son was killed in the attack. On May 18th, Salvador Adame, a journalist from the Michoacán state, was abducted and has yet to be heard from. Adame had been targeted by organized crime groups several times before his abduction.

On May 24th, under the slogan, “Basta Ya (Enough Already),” around 40 Mexican media agencies, both national and international, signed a joint statement asking the government to honor their promises to end violence against journalists. The agencies included El Pais, El Nacional, Ríodoce, Noroeste, and Animal Político. The statement read, “The right to information guaranteed by the state is another principle of freedom of expression in our country that we demand, today more than ever.” 

Sources

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016.” Justice in Mexico. March 30, 2017.

Ahmed, Azam. “In Mexico, ‘It’s Easy to Kill a Journalist.'” The New York Times. April 29, 2017.

Crusading Mexican journalist Javier Valdez shot dead in Sinaloa.” The Guardian. May 15, 2017.

Mexican journalist and CPJ awardee Javier Valdez Cárdenas murdered.” Committee to Protect Journalists. May 15, 2017.

Asesinado en México Javier Valdez, el gran cronista del narco en Sinaloa.” El País. May 16, 215.

Award-Winning Journalist Killed in Mexico.” The Atlantic. May 16, 2017.

Mexican drug trade reporter Javier Valdez killed.” BBC News. May 16, 2017.

Separate attacks kill renowned Mexican reporter, wound local magazine executive.” Reuters. May 16, 2017.

Exigen periodistas justicia para Javier Valdez.” Noroeste. May 17, 2017.

El presidente acaba de descubrir que en México matan periodistas.” El País. May 18, 2017.

La desaparición de Salvador Adame indigna a los periodistas del Estado mexicano de Michoacán.” El País. May 23, 2017.

La prensa Mexicana dice “basta ya” a las agresiones contra periodistas.” El País. May 24, 2017.

 

Huachicoleros on the rise in Mexico

Policeman inspects barrels containing stolen fuel Source: The Huffington Post Mexico

05/20/2017 (written by Laura Calderon) – A new form of organized crime has become a significant problem for Mexican authorities in over 22 states of Mexico: thefts of petroleum. Petroleum thieves are commonly known in Mexico as huachicoleros, a name adopted by gasoline truck drivers to refer to the stolen hydrocarbon, or chupaductos (pipeline suckers). Although petroleum stealing has been spreading throughout the country over the last few months, most of this activity takes place in an area called the Triángulo Rojo (Red Triangle) which encompasses the municipalities of Tepeaca, Palmar de Bravo, Quecholac, Acatzingo, Acajete and Tecamachalco, all in the state of Puebla. The Red Triangle has the most huachicolero activity because it is a transit zone for 40% of the fuel distributed from Mexico City to the rest of the country.

On average, huachicoleros are stealing 5.5 million liters of fuel nationwide. Huachicoleros are stealing petroleum in a variety of products: raw oil, gasoline, diesel, and other hydrocarbons found in major pipelines throughout Mexico and property of Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). Pipeline thefts became more popular as the gasoline supply in some areas decreased and prices drastically increased across the country. As a result, huachicoleros identified an opportunity to steal petroleum products and sell them in heavily transited highways for half the market price, costing PEMEX approximately 6 million pesos in losses from 2011 to 2016. Given these losses, foreign investments have become more difficult to attract to the Mexican government’s energy sector.

Social Impact

Groups of huachicoleros have managed to gain community approval and support in a variety of ways. First, they offer gasoline at significantly lower prices than official gasoline stations, benefiting from volume sales rather than pricing. Second, they take advantage of special holidays and events to give some of the stolen fuel and other goods to residents within strategic areas for fuel stealing and distribution in an effort to create stronger partnerships with the community. For example, every Mothers’ Day in San Salvador Huixcolotla (state of Puebla), huachicoleros give units of stolen gasoline and home appliances to residents in an effort to build rapport and ensure protection. Finally, local communities have adopted a new kind of huachicolero subculture reflected in a new character inspired by a Catholic saint “El Santo Niño Huachicolero,” to whom residents offer barrels of fuel as an offering and prayer for protection and abundance.

Violent altercations between huachicoleros and security forces

Huachicolero activities have not only had significant economic impact for PEMEX and local governments, but violent altercations have

Military officers seize stolen fuel from huachicoleros. Source: El Universal

ensued between huachicoleros and federal police and military forces in at least two different cities in Mexico.

On March 30th state and military forces and a group of huachicoleros were caught in an armed conflict in the city of Cuesta Blanca (state of Puebla). When officials were surveilling the zone and observed a group of huachicoleros with at least nine units full of stolen fuel, the huachicolero group began firing. The huachicolero group was identified to be part of the criminal gang headed by Roberto “El Bukanas”. Two people were wounded and arrested for being linked to the Bukanas gang, a gang presumed to be tied to the Zetas cartel.

Another shooting between military forces and huachicoleros occurred more recently on May 3rd in Palmarito Tochapan (state of Puebla). At least two military officers were killed and one wounded when they recognized several units of stolen fuel and were attacked by the huachicoleros who were reportedly shielding themselves behind women and children. However, this shooting is highly contested by the media and Mexican authorities due to security camera footage that captured the altercation. With the videos made public, there are now contesting narratives about the specific events during the shooting and number of casualties. As this event highlights, special attention must be paid to the extrajudicial execution of a presumed huachicolero by a military officer.

Government response

After the May 3rd attack, local, state, and federal authorities began to implement more strict surveillance operations in strategic areas, in an effort to deter huachicoleros from stealing more fuel. This increase in security measures has impacted the gasoline black market in two meaningful ways: First, given how much more difficult the extraction of petroleum has become for huachicoleros, the resale price of gasoline has increased 40% over the last couple of months. As a result, consumption of their gasoline has significantly decreased forcing huachicoleros to only provide their services for a limited number of days a week and to a privileged list of frequent consumers.

In addition, on April 28th the Mexican Congress approved a legislation reform that increases sentences for fuel stealing to up to 25 years in prison and fines up to 2 million pesos if found guilty. Congress approved this initiative with 321 votes in favor, 18 against, and 37 abstentions and is planned to become effective in September. However, the head of the Ministry of Treasure and Public Credit (Secretaría De Hacienda y Crédito Público), José Antonio Meade, recently appealed to Congress to expedite the reform’s effective date  given the gravity of the situation and to initiate further comprehensive reforms to address fuel stealing.

Huachicoleros have gained increased attention from the media after their recent confrontations with federal and military authorities. As they continue to challenge local and state measures, Congress will need to continue its search for more efficient measures to tackle the issue from its source in order to eliminate that practice and hopefully eradicate the violence generated by it.

 

Sources

“¿Quiénes son los huachicoleros?.” El Debate. 4 May 2017.

“Aprueban diputados aumentar penas por robo de combustible.” El Diario. 28 April 2017.

“Decomiso de combustible desata enfrentamiento en Cuesta Blanca.” El Sol de Puebla. 31 March 2017.

“El Bukanas, El Toñín y La Negra, los tres líderes huachicoleros de Puebla.” El Sol de Puebla. 15 May 2017.

“Mueren dos militares en enfrentamiento con huachicoleros en Palmarito Tochapan.” El Sol de Puebla. 3 May 2017.

“Perfil: el sanguinario capo del huachicol.” Diario Cambio. 13 March 2017.

Badillo, Jesús. “El Triángulo Rojo, mina de ‘oro negro’ de huachicoleros.” Milenio. 05 May 2017.

Flores, Leonor. “Pide Meade acelar reformas pendientes contra robo de gasolina.” El Universal. 16 May 2017.

Hernández, Gabriela. “Puebla: enfrentamiento con ‘huachicoleros’ deja dos integrantes de Los Bukanas detenidos.” Proceso. 30 March 2017.

Molina, Héctor and Torres Rubén. “En video, presunto choque con huachicoleros.” El Economista. 10 May 2017.

Pérez, Fernando and Xicoténcatl, Fabiola. “Huachicoleros aplican su ‘gasolinazo’; incautan 50mil litros en Tabasco.” Excelsior. 14 May 2017.

Justice in Mexico released its most updated data on crime and violence in Mexico

Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, created in 2016 a Data Center to make publicly available data and analysis to evaluate trends related to crime, violence, drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico.

Updated data on crime and violence in Mexico.

Data used in the 2017 special report entitled, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2016,” and other datasets, such as the Justice barometer series are now available for download.

 

To visit the data click here: Visit the Data Center