Mexico’s 2021 Elections Rocked By Political Violence

06/29/2021 (written by rramos) – Against the backdrop of a relatively high voter turnout and a mixed result for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ruling leftist bloc, Mexico’s 2021 midterm elections were marred by widespread political violence throughout the country. On the polling day of June 6, various high-profile incidents, such as the tossing of a severed human head at a voting booth in Tijuana and the theft of ballot boxes by an armed group in San Luis Potosí, illustrated the climate of insecurity in which the election campaign took place. Indeed, the months leading up to June 6 had been characterized by heightened levels of violence aimed at various political actors, including elected officials, candidates, campaign aides, political party workers, and others. 

According to a report released by Etellekt, a risk analysis firm based in Mexico City, a total of 910 politically-related acts of aggression occurred between September 2020 and early June 2021, which roughly corresponds with the official campaigning period. This included 91 homicides, 48 attempted homicides, 45 kidnappings, and 321 threats of violence perpetrated against political targets, such as candidates, party members, and campaign activists. When compared to all other Mexican elections since 2000, the 2020-2021 campaign cycle saw the second-highest number of politically-linked homicides ever, with this latest election only falling behind the 2018 electoral process in which 152 politically-active individuals were murdered. The total number of 910 acts of political violence compiled by Etellekt, however, represented a 17.5% increase over the 774 incidents recorded in the 2018 election.

The pervasive insecurity surrounding the 2021 elections, as well as authorities’ apparent inability to prevent it, drew condemnation both domestically and internationally. Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) decried the threat posed by violence to citizens’ right to democracy and urged the federal government to fully investigate reported assaults against candidates. On June 8, two days after the election, a group of human rights experts from the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS) put out a press release condemning attacks against candidates and calling on authorities to ensure that future elections will be able to take place under more secure conditions.

Photo: Revista Semana, AFP.

Local-Level Candidates Disproportionately Impacted

Throughout the 2020-2021 election cycle, candidates for municipal offices appeared to be disproportionately affected by political violence. On June 2, CNN Español published a list of candidates and aspiring candidates who were murdered during the campaign using data compiled by DataInt security consulting firm. Of the 32 murdered candidates and aspiring candidates identified by CNN Español, 24 were reported to be running for local-level offices, such as mayor or city council. The high proportion of municipal-level candidates in the CNN Español list was roughly consistent with the Etellekt report, which had found that 77% of candidates murdered in the 2021 election were pursuing offices at the local level.

Furthermore, Observatoria Todas MX, a grouping of various feminist and human rights organizations, held a press conference in which they stated that 80% of female candidates that had been victims of political violence in the 2020-2021 electoral process were running for municipal offices, compared to 15% for state-level positions and only 5% for federal offices. This suggests that gender-based political violence, which has drawn increased attention, tends to occur primarily at the local level. 

Electoral Violence Concentrated in Certain States, Tied to Organized Crime

According to Animal Político, murders of candidates and aspiring candidates that had been reported by the end of May were most heavily concentrated in Veracruz, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Oaxaca, Jalisco, Quintana Roo, and Baja California, with nearly three-fourths of all candidate assassinations in Mexico taking place in these seven states. In March, a number of these states had been identified by the federal Security and Citizen Protection Secretariat (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, SSPC) as facing the greatest risk of political violence. SSPC Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez specifically attributed the heightened possibility of electoral violence to criminal organizations seeking to influence political outcomes through murders and other acts. In the specific case of Veracruz, which led the country in reported cases of political violence in the 2021 election, many incidents of electorally-motivated aggression have indeed been linked to the heavy presence of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) throughout the state. 

In an interview with Milenio, security analyst David Saucedo argued that organized crime groups carry out attacks against politicians and authorities in order to create a generalized sense of fear and intimidation. This enables criminal groups to then exert a level of control over political decision-making in the territories in which they operate. Moreover, Saucedo added that criminal attacks against elected officials and political candidates tend to take place in two general contexts. Firstly, criminal organizations may launch violent or intimidatory acts against politicians that they believe will attempt to crack down on existing institutional corruption that favors their operations. Secondly, criminal groups may target candidates and officials that are tied to rival organizations, in an attempt to reduce adversaries’ control over certain territories.

Most Cases in 2021 Remain Unsolved

Although President López Obrador has publicly committed to ensuring that there will be no impunity in any case of political violence, the vast majority of candidate murders during the 2021 election have seen little progress towards being solved. Out of the 35 homicides of candidates identified in the Etellekt report, only nine cases have seen at least one arrest. Unless authorities demonstrate a serious and sustained willingness to prevent, investigate, and sanction attacks on candidates and other politically active persons, the use of violence as a political tool may continue to be a regular feature of elections in Mexico. 

Sources

Domínguez, Pedro. “Detectan intromisión del crimen en elecciones en 7 estados.” Milenio. March 4, 2021. 

Cortez, Steven. “Mayoral Candidate Assassinated in Oaxaca.” Justice in Mexico. April 20, 2021.

Ángel, Arturo. “Veracruz, Guanajuato y Guerrero, los más peligrosos para candidatos en las elecciones 2021.” Animal Político. May 27, 2021. 

Domínguez, Pedro. “AMLO acusa amarillismo en violencia durante campañas.” Milenio. May 27, 2021. 

San Martín, Neldy. “Violencia política afecta más a las mujeres: van 21 asesinadas en este proceso electoral.” Proceso. June 1, 2021. 

“Elecciones 2021: CNDH condena violencia política en México.” La Razón. June 2, 2021.

Blanco, Uriel. “Elecciones teñidas de sangre: ellos son los candidatos y aspirantes asesinados de cara a los comicios de México en 2021.” CNN Español. June 2, 2021. 

Ramos, Rolando. “Persiste la impunidad en homicidios de aspirantes y candidatos a cargos.” El Economista. June 2, 2021. 

Radwin, Max & Dalby, Chris. “Why is Veracruz Mexico’s Most Dangerous State for Political Murders?” InSight Crime. June 3, 2021. 

Kahn, Carrie. “Mexico Is Holding Its Largest Elections Ever. They’re Also One Of Its Deadliest.” National Public Radio. June 4, 2021. 

“Sexto Informe de Violencia Política en México.” Etellekt Consultores. June 5, 2021. 

Arista, Lidia. “Con 90 políticos asesinados, en 2021, las campañas más violentas desde 2000.” Expansión Política. June 5, 2021. 

Rivas, Axel. “No se descartan ataques del crimen en elecciones: David Saucedo.” Milenio. June 5, 2021. 

“Veracruz: El foco de la violencia política en elecciones 2021.” El Heraldo de México. June 6, 2021. 

Nolasco, Santiago. “Violencia irrumpe en distintas casillas durante jornada electoral.” El Economista. June 6, 2021. 

Rodríguez, Juan Carlos. “Arrojan cabeza humana en una caja en casilla de Tijuana.” El Universal. June 6, 2021. 

Vázquez, Ivette. “Grupos armados disparan contra casilla ubicada en una escuela y roban urnas en San Luis Potosí.” Debate. June 6, 2021. 

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Wife of “El Chapo” Pleads Guilty to Drug and Money Laundering Charges

06/14/2021 (written by rramos) – The U.S. Department of Justice announced on June 10 that Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of jailed Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, pleaded guilty to several criminal charges related to drug trafficking and money laundering. The charges included conspiracy to distribute cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana in the United States; conspiracy to launder drug proceeds; and violating the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act by engaging in financial transactions and dealings with property belonging to Guzmán, who remains sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

According to Anthony Nardozzi, the federal prosecutor handling the case, Coronel’s role in the Sinaloa Cartel also included delivering messages from her imprisoned husband to cartel operatives after Guzmán’s 2016 arrest, allowing him to remain involved in the group’s operations from behind bars. Additionally, Nardozzi stated that Coronel had collaborated with El Chapo’s sons to “plan and coordinate” attempts to help Guzmán escape from prison, including his successful 2015 breakout from Altiplano federal prison in Mexico. 

Coronel’s defense attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, told the Associated Press that his client did not plead guilty as part of a deal to cooperate with federal investigators, but instead was aiming to receive a shorter prison term when she is sentenced in September. Nevertheless, Mike Vigil, a former head of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) speculated that Coronel may ultimately decide to work with authorities in exchange for getting her 9-year-old twin daughters (fathered by Guzmán) and herself into some sort of witness-protection program in the United States. 

Source: Dana Verkouteren, Associated Press

U.S. Investigators Targeting Families of Sinaloa Cartel Leaders

Emma Coronel’s guilty plea comes as U.S. authorities continue to target close relatives of the Sinaloa Cartel’s leading figures. Within the family of “El Chapo” Guzmán, U.S. law enforcement agencies have steadily increased their attention on his sons, often referred to collectively as “Los Chapitos.” Two sons from his first wife, Jesús Alfredo and Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, are regarded as particularly important actors within the Sinaloa network. Jesús Alfredo has appeared on DEA’s most wanted list since 2018, while Iván Archivaldo remains sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department under the Kingpin Act for being identified as a “key Sinaloa Cartel operative.” Another two sons, Ovidio and Joaquín Guzmán López, both from El Chapo’s second marriage, were accused by U.S. prosecutors of participating in the cartel’s drug trafficking activities in an indictment unsealed in February 2019. U.S. investigators’ interest in Ovidio was illustrated by the failed operation to arrest him in Culiacán, Sinaloa in October 2019, an operation that reportedly originated from the aforementioned U.S. indictment against him earlier that year. 

Another Sinaloa Cartel kingpin whose family continues to be pursued by U.S. authorities is Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García, who had been among El Chapo’s closest associates for many years. In April 2021, Ismael Zambada Imperial, known also by the criminal alias “Mayito Gordo,” pled guilty to drug trafficking charges in a federal court in San Diego. Along with Zambada Imperial, three other sons of El Mayo have also been in the crosshairs of U.S. investigators. Vicente “El Vicentillo” Zambada Niebla, who was a key witness in El Chapo’s criminal trial, and Serafin Zambada Ortiz have both been convicted of criminal charges in the United States, while Ismael Zambada Sicairos, known as “Mayito Flaco,” remains at large after being indicted in 2014. The U.S. Treasury Department has also reportedly sanctioned multiple companies established by El Mayo’s wife, Rosario Niebla Cardoza, and several of his daughters that U.S. authorities allege are used for laundering ill-gotten proceeds from cartel operations.  

Internal Disputes Continue to Rage On in Mexico

As the U.S. Government continues to go after the inner circles of the Sinaloa Cartel’s most prominent members, the organization itself remains engulfed in an internal conflict in which El Mayo and Los Chapitos are apparently competing for influence within the group. The dispute is playing out in a series of violent confrontations in some of the Sinaloa Cartel’s traditional strongholds in northwestern Mexico, such as Sonora, Sinaloa, and Durango. Intra-Sinaloa Cartel violence has been particularly acute in the strategically important border state of Baja California. The state’s capital city of Mexicali, which saw a marked increase in homicides throughout the early months of 2021, suffered additional clashes linked to infighting between El Mayo and Los Chapitos as recently as May 2021.

Although some observers have argued that Emma Coronel’s recent guilty plea paves the way for her to provide U.S. authorities with critical information regarding the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, it is unclear if these insights (even if shared with investigators) will be able to help prevent further divisions within the organization once headed by her husband. 

Sources

“Jesús Alfredo Guzmán: Estados Unidos incluye al hijo de “El Chapo” en la lista de los 10 fugitivos más buscados.” BBC. September 14, 2018.  

Romo, Vanessa. “Sons Of ‘El Chapo’ Indicted On Drug Conspiracy Charge.” National Public Radio. February 21, 2019. 

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

“Forman 6 mujeres escudo financiero del ‘Mayo’” El Universal. June 24, 2020. 

“Los Chapitos.” InSight Crime. July 2, 2020. 

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Castillo García, Gustavo. “Al alza, la disputa en estados del norte por trasiego de fentanilo.” La Jornada. March 14, 2021. 

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“‘Los Mayos’ atacan Mexicali.” Zeta Tijuana. May 3, 2021. 

Cohn, Scott. “El Chapo’s wife, Emma Coronel, could hold the keys to dismantling the world’s most dangerous drug cartel.” CNBC. June 4, 2021. 

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“Emma Coronel Aispuro, wife of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, pleads guilty to helping run his criminal empire.” Chicago Tribune. June 10, 2021.

“Wife of “El Chapo” Pleads Guilty to Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering.” U.S. Department of Justice. June 10, 2021. 

Balsamo, Michael. “Wife of drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ pleads guilty to US charges.” Associated Press. June 10, 2021. 

Hsu, Spencer S. “Wife of ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán pleads guilty to aiding husband’s drug-trafficking empire.” Washington Post. June 10, 2021. 

Tau, Byron & de Córdoba, José. “El Chapo’s Wife Emma Coronel Pleads Guilty to Helping Run Global Drug Cartel.” Wall Street Journal. June 10, 2021. 

Map of Disappearances in Jalisco Underscores Nationwide Human Rights Challenge

05/18/2021 (written by rramos) –  On April 27, Jalisco’s State Human Rights Commission (Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos, CEDH) published a map that highlighted the 30 municipalities in the state with the highest numbers of reported missing persons. According to the CEDH map, a significant portion of reported disappearances were concentrated in certain regions of the state. Jalisco’s capital city of Guadalajara and its surrounding suburbs had the largest total numbers of disappearance cases. Guadalajara led with 4,136 missing persons reported, followed by the neighboring municipalities of Zapopan (2,136 disappearances), Tlajomulco de Zúñiga (1,844), San Pedro Tlaquepaque (1,599), Tonalá (1,004), and El Salto (797). 

Source: NTR Guadalajara.

Outside of the Guadalajara metropolitan area, other regions of Jalisco also drew particular concern. The Highlands (Los Altos) region in the northeastern portion of the state suffered from high numbers of disappearances, with municipalities like Lagos de Moreno and Tepatitlán de Morelos reporting 478 and 321 missing persons respectively. Disappearances were also found to be concentrated in various towns in the Ciénega region, such as La Barca, Ocotlán, and Jocotepec, all of which are situated near Lake Chapala and the state border with Michoacán. Several municipalities along Jalisco’s Pacific coast also featured in the map, most notably the resort city of Puerto Vallarta with 474 disappearances and Cihuatlán with 124. According to the federal Interior Ministry (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB), these regions of Jalisco in which disappearances have been concentrated are “characterized by the operation of organized crime groups” (author’s own translation), suggesting a correlation between the presence of criminal actors and higher levels of disappearances.

Policy Recommendations for Local Governments

In a press release that accompanied the map’s publication, the Jalisco State Human Rights Commission (CEDH) issued a series of policy recommendations to all of Jalisco’s 125 municipalities in light of the growing number of unresolved disappearances throughout the state. The commission noted with particular concern the widespread absence of specialized municipal agencies or programs focused on preventing disappearances, as well as municipal governments’ general lack of coordination with relevant federal and state authorities. The CEDH stated that these factors contributed to a generalized failure to adequately address the problem of disappearances in Jalisco. 

The recommendations put forward by the CEDH concentrated on the areas of prevention, building institutional capacity, and assistance to victims. Regarding prevention, many recommendations focused on ways to obtain more reports and tips from the general public in the hope of acquiring actionable information that could enable authorities to quickly locate missing persons after their disappearance is reported. These included calls to work with federal and state agencies to develop public alert systems and to implement public awareness campaigns in schools targeted toward young people. 

To strengthen municipal governments’ ability to respond to disappearances, the CEDH recommended the creation of specialized units and groups dedicated to processing reports of missing persons and assisting with search efforts. The Commission also urged municipalities to collaborate with Jalisco’s Special Attorney General’s Office for Disappeared Persons (Fiscalía Especial en Personas Desaparecidas) to analyze geographic trends, time-based patterns, common characteristics among victims, and other data that may deepen officials’ understanding of how disappearances occur. 

In assisting victims and their families, the CEDH voiced support for greater municipal actions to guarantee the security of family members and others coming forward to report disappearances, including the establishment of municipal-run shelters to protect reporting parties from possible retribution. The CEDH argued that ensuring greater safety for those who come forward to report disappearances and provide information will encourage more people to work collaboratively with officials to find missing persons. 

Trends in Disappearances at the National Level

When assessing disappearances at the national level, a number of overarching trends appear to be taking hold.

Firstly, disappearances in Mexico seem to be highly concentrated geographically. A report by the Secretary of the Interior (SEGOB) released in January 2021 found that 76.6% of disappearances reported nationwide between December 2018 and December 2020 were concentrated in only ten states. This was roughly consistent with an earlier estimate from Alejandro Encinas, undersecretary for human rights at SEGOB, who had told El Economista in October 2020 that 81% of disappearances reported during the term of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (2018-2024) were concentrated in ten states. Within states, disappearances seem to be further concentrated at the municipal level. In one example, reported disappearances in Puebla were clearly more prevalent in certain municipalities, similar to the geographic distribution of disappearances in Jalisco. According to Puebla’s state interior secretary, David Méndez, a majority of disappearances were concentrated in only five municipalities. 

Another trend that has emerged in recent years is the steadily growing number of women who are reported missing and who have yet to be located. Data from the National Registry of Missing and Unlocated Persons (Registro Nacional de Personas Desaparecidas y No Localizadas), which is maintained and published by SEGOB, the number of women who have gone missing in Mexico reached a historic high during the administration of President López Obrador. According to SEGOG figures, the number of women and girls who were reported missing between December 2018 (the beginning of the López Obrador presidency) to March 2021 totaled 4,267. This marked a substantial increase from the total of 2,418 missing women reported at the same point of the administration of former president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), which, in turn, was a considerable spike from the total of 476 women reported missing during the same 28-month period of his predecessor’s term, Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). That equates to nearly ten times more women and girls disappeared during the López Obrador administration’s first 28 months in office compared to the Calderón administration’s, and almost double that under the Peña Nieto administration. Given that this continuous rise in disappearances of women coincides with a steady increase in reported femicides in recent years, the persistent growth of disappearances of women could suggest a broader escalation of gender-based violence.

Uncovering the full range of trends that characterize the problem of disappearances will require further scrutiny, but what is clear is that the prevalence of missing persons (and failure to locate many of them) remains a pervasive violation of human rights in Mexico. 

Sources

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Pérez, Maritza. “Diez estados concentran 81% de las desapariciones en México.” El Economista. October 7, 2020. 

Fernández, Karina. “Cinco municipios concentran mayoría de desaparecidos en Puebla.” Status Puebla. January 27, 2021. 

“Jalisco, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato y CDMX, los estados con más desaparecidos entre 2018 y 2020.” Animal Político. January 29, 2021. 

Pérez, Martiza, and Quiroga, Ricardo. “Desapariciones de mujeres, en niveles históricamente altos.” El Economista. March 8, 2021. 

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Chávez, Victor. “Han fallado los 125 municipios de Jalisco en contener las desapariciones forzadas.” El Occidental. April 27, 2021. 

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Drone Attack by CJNG on Aguililla Police Highlights Security Concerns

05/11/2021 (written by scortez) – On April 19, a group of police officers were attacked by drones rigged with explosives in the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacán. State authorities suspect that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) is behind the incident that left two police officers wounded. The drone attack comes as the Tierra Caliente has erupted in violence between CJNG and United Cartels (Cartéles Unidos), a drug trafficking organization with roots in Michoacán, for territorial dominance. Police officers were conducting an operation to clear several roadblocks set up by the CJNG outside the city when two drones rigged with explosives attacked the group. Two officers were injured and have since been released from the hospital. 

The assault was confirmed by the Secretary of Security of Michoacán (Secretaría de Seguridad de Michoacán). Authorities have yet to release further details into the drone attack, but they believe that the drones involved are nearly identical to two others found inside the vehicle of a CJNG member in August 2020. The drones seized in 2020 were filled with plastic explosives and ball bearings, designed to inflict severe damage upon impact. The head of the Secretary of Defense (Secretaría de Defensa, SEDENA), Luis Cresencio Sandoval, said that the CJNG has, in recent years, been using explosive drones in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Michoacán. He also minimized the severity of the attack and believes that the rigged explosives are not a pressing security issue. Although the Army approved $9.6 million in September 2020 to be spent on a national anti-drone system, indicating that SEDENA takes the cartel’s weaponization of drones more seriously than they publicly let on. 

This is not the first time CJNG has violently attacked authorities in the area. In 2019, 14 police officers were killed in an ambush in El Aguaje, a smaller town in the municipality, by CJNG members. The CJNG left handwritten messages that accused the officers of working for the United Cartels. Attacks against security forces have ramped up since the February 2020 extradition of Rubén Oseguera González, the son of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes aka “El Mencho”, to the United States. This attack marks a continued trend by the CJNG to target authorities without the fear of consequences.

CJNG painted across the wall of a bullet-riddled house in El Aguaje. Photo by: Jorge Carballo.

Battle for Aguililla

The municipality of Aguililla has recently become the center of conflict between CJNG and United Cartels. The Tierra Caliente region is an area long disputed by organized crime groups because of its opium cultivation and ownership of drug trafficking routes. The city of Aguililla also holds symbolic value to CJNG as it is the birthplace of “El Mencho.” On May 4, the cartel draped a banner underneath an Aguililla highway that issued a warning for United Cartels and declared that “El Mencho” is cementing his presence in the region.

One month prior, on April 1, eight decapitated bodies were found in the town of La Enramada. At the time, the State Attorney General of Michoacán (Fiscalía General del Estado de Michoacán, FGE) indicated that their killings were a result of a confrontation over territory between the CJNG and United Cartels. On April 15, the Governor of Michoacán, Silvano Aureoles, publicly acknowledged the state has been permanently in dispute between different criminal groups by stating, “There is a permanent threat from criminal groups from the Jalisco side and the confrontation between the groups that are operating or have been operating for a long time in the area of Buenavista, Tomatlán, Tepeque, and Aguililla,” (“La permanente amenaza de células delincuenciales del lado de Jalisco y la confrontación con las células que están operando o que operan desde hace mucho tiempo en la zona de Buenavista, Tomatlán y Tepeque y Aguililla.”). Many of the residents have been fleeing the city fearing that they would be caught in the crossfire.

As police continue to conduct operations to clear CJNG roadblocks that have completely cut off access to certain towns in the municipality, other areas remain under CJNG control. In the town of El Aguaje, the streets are marred with evidence of conflict that includes shell casings, walls riddled with bullets, and CJNG checkpoints. There is a state police presence in the town, but the dominant figure is the CJNG militant members blocking access to El Aguaje. They are dressed in camouflage uniforms with “CJNG” inscribed on their bulletproof vests and armed with high-caliber weapons.

Emerging Technologies Raise Questions about Security

At their disposal are tank-like vehicles and high-caliber weapons. Source: Newsflash.

CJNG’s Expanded Arsenal Raises Questions about Security

Since its inception in 2009, CJNG has been ascending to become one of the most powerful and militarized cartels in Mexico. CJNG has been previously known for its militancy and usage of military-grade assault weapons, but the drone bombing marks a significant escalation of the cartel’s use of sophisticated weapons. 

Recently in March 2021, CJNG showed off two modified armored trucks through the streets of Aguililla. The move was meant to send an intimidating signal to the rival cartel that they are fully equipped to engage in conflict. CJNG has been particularly adept to use technology to advance its strategies in the region. Dr. Robert J. Bunker, Director of Research and Analysis at C/O Futures, a security-focused consultancy firm based in Claremont College, CA, said, “This cartel is well on its way to institutionalizing the use of weaponized drones. None of the other cartels appear to be presently experimenting with the weaponization of these devices.” The accessibility to military-grade weapons has been made possible in part because of the high number of arms trafficked from the United States. In the last ten years, there has been an estimated 2.5 illegal firearms smuggled into Mexico.

For security forces, cartel violence remains a real threat to their lives, particularly from the CJNG. The growing militancy of the CJNG demonstrates a security risk for the authorities seeking to maintain order in the region. The 2020 Justice in Mexico Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico special report highlights that in 2019, CJNG claimed responsibility for 47 police homicides-the highest number of any cartel. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, faces a dilemma whether to crack down on the growing strength of the cartels or continue his “hugs not bullets” campaign promise meant to splinter cartel recruitment by focusing on social issues. Unlike his recent predecessors, AMLO so far has chosen not to take a heavy-handed approach to counter cartel violence with the exception of the 2018 establishment of National Guard (Guardia Nacional). While focused on social issues, the administration has yet to focus on cutting the supply of weapons from the United States and bolstering the protection of local authorities. Currently, local police officers remain a target for the cartels and as their strength and access to sophisticated weaponry grows, so, too, does the potential for such attacks. 

Sources

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“Advierte CJNG: se acabó violencia en Aguililla.” Reforma. May 4, 2021.

Federal Authorities Arrest Military Officials for Past Violence

04/29/21 (written by scortez) – In two separate cases, military personnel have been arrested for their alleged involvement in past abductions and murders. On April 9, the Mexican Navy reported that they had turned over 30 marines to federal prosecutors for their alleged involvement in the 2018 string of forced disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. In another investigation, seven soldiers of the Mexican Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) were arrested on April 1 for their involvement in the 2014 Tlatlaya massacre.

Marines patrolling the streets of Nuevo Laredo. Photo by: Dylan Clark.

In the 2018 case, it is alleged that the marines are responsible for the forced disappearances of 36 individuals, including at least five minors. The marines were part of an anti-crime operation in which they rounded up individuals suspected of being involved in organized crime. Ericka Janeth Castro, a witness to the case, recounted that the marines raided a party with gunfire and forcefully abducted several men, including her husband who was never seen again. This is just one of the 47 disappearances that had been carried out in 2018 by this group of marines. At the time, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the crimes as “horrific” and urged the federal government to investigate. It has been difficult for witnesses and family members to come forward because of their fear of retaliation from the military. According to Amnesty International, witnesses and family members of the disappeared have received threats, harassment, assaults, and abductions after filing complaints with the authorities. 

Not often seen, the Attorney General of Mexico (Fascalia General de la República, FGR) and Secretary of the Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) collaborated to execute the arrest and detention of the 30 soldiers involved. The soldiers of the elite armed forces group known as the Center for Analysis, Intelligence, and Studies of Tamaulipas (Centro de Análisis, Inteligencia y Estudios de Tamaulipas, CAIET) were arrested on charges of carrying out acts that were contrary to their duties. This event is not an isolated incident in the group’s history. Since then, other marines of the same elite armed forces group have been arrested for violent crimes. In January 2021, 12 marines were arrested for the massacre of 19 migrants in Camargo, Tamaulipas. The CAIET marines have had a frequent capacity to act above the law in the state of Tamaulipas. 

Rearresting the Suspects behind the 2014 Tlatlaya Massacre

Just over a week before the 30 soldiers were detained in Nuevo Laredo, seven soldiers of the army were arrested on April 1 for their involvement in the 2014 massacre of 22 suspected kidnappers in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex). The altercation began as a shootout between the suspects and soldiers that ended with the killing of the 22 suspects. Despite the fact that the suspects had already surrendered, the military executed the remaining eight individuals. In addition to the extrajudicial killings, the soldiers also tampered with the scene to conceal their involvement. 

Initially, the Mexican Army publicly denied the allegations that the soldiers executed the suspects and insisted that the victims were killed in the shoot out. After receiving public outcry, however, the army implemented the recommendations made by the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) in response to the human rights violations that had occurred. For example, in 2015, the involved officers were arrested, but were then quickly released after a federal judge ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to connect them to the crime. Rarely are armed forces held accountable in Mexico, a country with a notoriously high rate of impunity. Like prior presidents, the Peña Nieto Administration (2012-2018) was not known for holding the military responsible for crimes committed against civilians, as was the case with the Tlatlaya massacre. 

Nevertheless, in 2019, a court ordered that the soldiers be arrested again. It has taken the Mexican Army 16 months to turn them over to federal authorities. The Center for Human Rights Miguel Agustín Pro Juarez (Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez), which represents a woman whose daughter was killed in the massacre, confirmed that the soldiers had been arrested and the case against them remains open. In 2019, the human rights group said, “This ruling confirms what survivors and rights organizations have been saying for five years, that there were illegal executions…” The re-arrests are a step in the right direction towards imparting justice in the Tlatlaya massacre.

Learning from his Predecessors, AMLO Seeks Accountability

These arrests are part of continued efforts by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, to hold military personnel accountable for past crimes. These arrests are the most high-profile since January 2021 when members of the Mexican Army were arrested for their involvement in the 2014 Ayotzinapa disappearances. 

Since President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched the crackdown on the drug cartels in 2006, the army and the navy have played instrumental roles in carrying out the government’s security strategy. Yet this has not been without significant consequence to the protection of civilians’ human rights, as exemplified in the Nuevo Laredo and Tlatlaya cases. What more, the public security strategy across the presidential sexenios has failed to control the country’s notoriously high levels of crime and violence. Between 2006 and April 2021, 85,000 people disappeared in Mexico and in 2020 alone, there were over 34,000 victims of intentional homicide. 

In an effort to break with his predecessors, AMLO is working to slowly phase out the Mexican Army’s and Navy’s involvement in public security since he took office in December 2018. Under his leadership, the newly-formed National Guard (Guardia Nacional) is now charged with countering the cartels. The creation of the National Guard, however, was arguably just a rebranding strategy that put the military and police under a different name. It has been over three years since the 2018 Nuevo Laredo disappearances, and over seven years since the Tlatlaya massacre occurred. The AMLO administration’s arrests and re-arrests of suspected military officials in the two cases are an important step forward. 

Sources

“Mexico: Authorities’ claims of progress on disappearances in Nuevo Laredo ring hollow.” Amnesty International. July 31, 2018.

Stevenson, Mark. “Mexican court orders soldiers re-arrested in army massacre.” Associated Press. October 17, 2019.

Ferri, Pablo. “El Ejército mexicano detiene de nuevo a los militares implicados en el ‘caso Tlatlaya’.” El País. April 2, 2021.

“Búsqueda e Identificación de Personas Desaparecidas.” Subsecretaría de Derechos Humanos, Población y Migración. April 8, 2021.

“Mexico’s navy turns over 30 marines in disappearances cases.” Washington Post. April 12, 2021.

“Mexico arrests 30 marines over disappearances in Tamaulipas.” BBC News. April 13, 2021.

Pradilla, Alberto. “Víctimas esperaron tres años por la detención de 30 marinos señalados por desapariciones.” Animal Político. April 13, 2021.

“Mexico charges 30 marines over forced disappearances in border city.” Reuters. April 15, 2021.

Mosso, Rubén. “FGR califica de ejemplar la colaboración de Ojeda Durán para detener a 30 de Marina.” Milenio. April 15, 2021.