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

Linthicum, Kate. “14 police officers killed in an ambush in Mexico, testing president’s security strategy.” Los Angeles Times. October 14, 2019.

Serrano, Noé. “Ejército va por sistema antidrones de cárteles del narco.” El Universal. September 21, 2020.

Virgin, Yami. “DEA says cartels are arming themselves with military grade weapons coming from the US.” Fox San Antonio. February 9, 2021.

García, Jacobo. “El Cartel Jalisco exhibe su poder de fuego con dos tanques caseros por las calles de Michoacán.” El País. March 4, 2021.

“Enfrentamiento con el CJNG deja ocho muertos en Aguililla, Michoacán.”Animal Político. April 2, 2021. 

“Con drones disparan y lanzan granadas contra policías en Aguililla, Michoacán.” Animal Político. April 20, 2021.

“Mexico cartel used explosive drones to attack police.” BBC News. April 21, 2021.

Hambling, David. “Mexican Cartel Injures Police Officers With Drone Bomb Attack (UPDATE: Second Cartel Allegedly Using Weaponized Drones).” Forbes. April 22, 2021.

Belmont, José Antonio. “El Aguaje, pueblo fantasma azotado por criminales en Michoacán.” Milenio. April 23, 2021.

“2 to stand trial for making exploding drones in Mexico.” Associated Press. April 24, 2021.

“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.

Corruption by Customs Officials Facilitating Cross-Border Criminal Activity

04/26/21 (written by rramos) – A growing number of customs officials in various parts of Mexico have come under investigation for alleged acts of corruption that purportedly enabled criminal networks to operate across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Animal Político reported on April 13 that the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) was investigating ten officials of the General Customs Administration (Administración General de Aduanas, AGA) who oversaw several ports of entry along Mexico’s northern border with the United States. This came after the Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UIF), the anti-money laundering office within the federal finance ministry (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, SHCP), detected numerous irregularities in the financial records of 29 AGA employees. As a result, all 29 officials were removed from their positions and ten were formally referred by the UIF to the FGR for further criminal investigation.

Specifically, the ten former customs officials are alleged to have accepted bribes in exchange for allowing contraband to pass uninterrupted through the border inspection sites under their supervision. The contraband that was illegally permitted to enter Mexico from the United States included firearms, gasoline, and drugs. According to investigators, ill-gotten proceeds from the alleged bribes were then laundered through a variety of complex methods, ranging from suspicious real estate transactions to the use of front companies.  

There are possible indications that corruption in Mexico’s customs service may be increasing. According to La Jornada, a total of 90 civil servants in the Tax Administration Service (Servicio de Administración Tributaria, SAT), the AGA’s parent agency, were referred to prosecutors for alleged corruption in 2020. This represents a nearly two-fold increase from 2019, when 46 SAT officials were formally denounced for possible corruption. Most of the SAT employees who faced criminal investigations in 2020 worked specifically for the AGA and were accused of receiving bribes related to the passage of contraband through Mexican customs.

Photo: El Sol de Tijuana.

Border Hot Spots

Investigations by the FGR and UIF have zoomed in on pervasive corruption in customs operations in two major border states: Baja California and Tamaulipas. Due to their geographic location, both states are of great strategic importance for criminal actors seeking to operate in both Mexico and the United States.

In Baja California, former administrators of customs inspection facilities in the border cities of Tijuana, Mexicali, and Tecate are accused of permitting the entry of illegally imported vehicles, some of which are believed to have contained firearms destined for recipients located in Mexico. Meanwhile in Tamaulipas, federal investigators believe high-level customs officials at border crossings in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros have received bribes in exchange for allowing trailer trucks to bring gasoline, diesel, and other fuels from the U.S. state of Texas to be illegally re-sold at low prices in Mexico. In one specific case, a March 2021 FGR report highlighted the critical role played by customs personnel in Tamaulipas in a sprawling conspiracy that allowed considerable amounts of fuel to be smuggled into Mexico without payment of import duties. Across all instances, UIF detection of suspicious financial activities was vital in identifying potentially corrupt officials that facilitated the illicit movement of goods across the international border. 

Impact on Crime and the Rule of Law

Corruption among customs authorities has significant implications for security and the rule of law in Mexico. Santiago Nieto Castillo, the UIF’s current director, told Animal Político that malfeasance among customs officials and the resulting “porous nature of our borders” (author’s own translation) heightened Mexico’s vulnerability to transnational security threats, particularly those related to illicit trafficking.

A prominent example of how customs corruption can exacerbate security challenges in Mexico has been the continuous southbound flow of firearms coming from the United States. A significant portion of firearms that are illegally imported from the U.S. end up in the possession of criminal groups in Mexico. Officials from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) told the Washington Post that roughly 70% of firearms found at crime scenes in Mexico can ultimately be traced back to the United States. According to National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) data cited by the Washington Post, this increase in the number of U.S. firearms in Mexico has coincided with a rise in homicides in Mexico that are committed with a firearm. Although Mexican officials have consistently pointed out the need for U.S. authorities to more strictly regulate the export of arms, interdiction of illegal weapons shipments at Mexican ports of entry remains severely hampered due to pervasive corruption among customs personnel. 

The apparent increase in cross-border fuel trafficking is also of particular concern. At a recent event at the Nuevo Laredo border crossing, new AGA Administrator Horacio Duarte Olivares underscored the need to combat fuel smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border as part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s broader emphasis on tackling government corruption. Duarte Olivares claimed that corruption in the customs service has allowed “millions of liters of fuel, of hydrocarbons” (author’s own translation) to illegally enter the country, resulting in substantial revenue losses for the Mexican government and legitimate businesses.

Customs Corruption Spurring Further Militarization

As a result of the growing number of reports of corruption among customs officials, the López Obrador administration announced on April 21 that the Mexican Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) would assume control of 14 customs facilities in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, with the long-term goal of establishing a military presence in all customs offices along the northern border with the United States. Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval explained the move was intended to prevent U.S. firearms from flowing to organized crime groups. According to Milenio, military officials who were recently assigned to lead customs operations in Nuevo Laredo were also given the additional task of impeding illicit fuel smuggling across the border. 

Expanding the responsibilities of the military has been a defining feature of President López Obrador’s approach to security policy. However, just as prior militarized strategies have been largely unable to solve Mexico’s complex public security challenges, it is not guaranteed that increasing the military’s role in customs operations will eradicate corruption at the country’s borders and ports of entry. 

Sources

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las aduanas y puertos mexicanos: la vía libre del crimen organizado.” El País. August 10, 2020. 

Sieff, Kevin & Miroff, Nick. “Los fusiles de francotirador que fluyen hacia los cárteles mexicanos revelan una década de fracaso estadounidense.” Washington Post. November 19, 2020.

Linthicum, Kate & McDonell, Patrick J. “Mexico’s military gains power as president turns from critic to partner.” Los Angeles Times. November 21, 2020. 

“SAT limpia de corrupción la casa; envía a 90 al MP.” El Universal. February 5, 2021.  

Rodríguez, Israel. “Se duplica cifra de funcionarios corruptos del SAT denunciados.” La Jornada. February 8, 2021.  

Rodríguez, Israel. “Aduanas continuarán con el combate al tráfico de combustibles.” La Jornada. March 1, 2021. 

“Mandos con perfiles militares toman control de aduana de Nuevo Laredo.” Milenio. March 2, 2021. 

Rivadeneyra, Gerardo. “Denuncian a empresa presuntamente involucrada en el contrabando de combustible.” Vanguardia. March 3, 2021. 

Maldonado, Mario. “Limpia en aduanas y denuncias de corrupción.” El Universal. March 10, 2021. 

Ángel, Arturo, Raziel, Zedryk, & Sandoval, Francisco. “10 oficiales de comercio de aduanas designados en este gobierno son indagados por lavado, narco y contrabando.” Animal Político. April 13, 2021. 

Hernández, Diego Joaquín. “Purga en Aduanas; pegan a círculo del exsubsecretario Peralta.” La Silla Rota. April 13, 2021.   

Ángel, Arturo, Raziel, Zedryk, & Sandoval, Francisco. “Presuntos sobornos por más de mil millones, empresas fantasma y nexos con el narco: la corrupción en aduanas.” Animal Político. April 14, 2021. 

Álvarez, Carlos. “UIF denuncia corrupción en aduanas de Tijuana, Mexicali y Tecate; empresas “fantasma”, sobornos y nexos con narco.” Zeta Tijuana. April 15, 2021. 

Domínguez, Pedro. “Sedena toma control de aduanas en frontera norte para frenar tráfico de armas.” Milenio. April 21, 2021. 

Violence Against Police in Guanajuato Highlights Complex Security Situation

04/21/21 (written by rramos) – Guanajuato’s state police force (Fuerzas de Seguridad Pública del Estado, FSPE) announced on April 5 that two of its officers were killed following a confrontation with armed civilians in the city of Irapuato. FSPE personnel were conducting patrols when they were suddenly ambushed by a group of armed men traveling in a pick-up truck that featured homemade armor plating. Milenio reported that after the attackers were repelled by the state police, investigators found multiple long guns and bulletproof vests with the logo of an unspecified criminal group at the scene. 

This latest assault comes on the heels of similar incidents in other parts of Guanajuato in recent weeks. In the city of Silao, to the northwest of Irapuato, a state police officer was kidnapped and later killed by armed civilians on March 31. Roughly a week and a half prior on March 20, the bodies of three agents from the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) were found inside an abandoned truck in the rural community of Campuzano, southeast of Guanajuato City. 

The state has been an epicenter of violence directed against police. According to the non-governmental organization Causa en Común, Guanajuato ended 2020 as the deadliest state in Mexico for law enforcement personnel, with the total number of slayings of police officers increasing 5% last year compared to the total seen in 2019. 

Current State of Play in Guanajuato’s Criminal Landscape

Frequent attacks against government security forces are one of the consequences of Guanajuato’s volatile security environment. Beginning roughly in 2017, a brutal conflict between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) and the locally-based Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL) has consistently made Guanajuato one of Mexico’s most violent states. Authorities had hoped that the August 2020 capture of the CSRL’s high-profile leader, José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez Ortiz, would help quell the fighting, with Governor Diego Sinhue calling the arrest “a great step towards reclaiming peace” (author’s own translation). 

However, violence in Guanajuato has continued as the state’s organized crime landscape appears to have grown more complex after the capture of El Marro. In October 2020, Alfonso Durazo Montaño, then-federal security secretary, stated that infighting had erupted within the CSRL following El Marro’s detention, with various factions violently competing to assume leadership of the organization. In line with this assessment, various potential replacements have been identified in rapid succession since the arrest. These have included El Marro’s father and brother, a close associate named Adán “El Azul” Ochoa who was arrested after fleeing persecution by CJNG hitmen, and most recently, an operative known as “El Dalugas” captured in March 2021 who had previously been identified by state authorities as El Marro’s lead hitman.  

Meanwhile, the CJNG has been attempting to expand its presence across Guanajuato, presumably to take advantage of the CSRL’s weakened position. According to El Universal, however, the CJNG has remained unable to establish complete control over the state due to three concurrent turf wars. In particular, the CJNG’s expansion efforts in Guanajuato have met resistance in: 1) traditional CSRL strongholds in the southeast, such as Celaya and Los Apaseos, where CSRL operatives continue to enjoy deeply-rooted local support, 2) León, Guanajuato’s largest city, where a local-level gang known as Unión de León reportedly refused to ally with the CJNG, and 3) areas of southern Guanajuato near the border with Michoacán, where elements linked to Los Viagras criminal group (which has fought an extended struggle with the CJNG in Michoacán) are reportedly active and have allegedly provided support to the CSRL. 

Fighting in these areas of Guanajuato has continued to rage on in 2021. In the southeast, narcomantas (posters featuring messages written by criminal groups) discovered at the end of March point to continued CSRL opposition to the CJNG’s entry into cities like Celaya. David Saucedo, a security analyst, told Zona Franca in an interview that an ongoing rise in homicides in León has been due in part to the Unión de León’s ongoing resistance to CJNG incursions into the city. As for Guanajuato’s southern border with Michoacán, the Defense Ministry (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) announced on April 8 that it would be sending an additional 700 troops to towns like Uriangato and Moroleón in response to simultaneous clashes between various groups, including the CJNG and CSRL.

Positive Signs Raise Uncertainty

According to El Financiero, Guanajuato ended 2020 as the state with the greatest total number of homicides, the second consecutive year in which Guanajuato led the nation in that regard. However, the number of homicides in the state appeared to drop considerably in the first two months of 2021, falling from 815 in January and February of 2020 compared to only 596 in the same period this year. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was quick to attribute the reduction in homicides to the deployment of the National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN).

However, the reasons behind the decrease in homicides in 2021 so far may have more to do with the state of Guanajuato’s organized crime situation than any government policy. In a separate interview, Saucedo argued that the fall in homicides could be due to the CJNG slowly consolidating its grip on an increasing number of municipalities. This would not be the first time that the establishment of relative hegemony by one criminal group in a hard-hit area of Mexico resulted in a drop in violence. When homicide rates began to fall in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, around 2013 following the brutal Sinaloa Cartel-Juárez Cartel turf war, some analysts asserted that the improving situation was more likely due to the Sinaloa Cartel winning control of the city than any of the security strategies pursued by government authorities. Given the persistent instability that has characterized Guanajuato’s security situation, it may be premature to start celebrating the positive signs that have been seen in the early parts of 2021. 

Sources

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Luna, Óscar. “Asesinan a tres agentes de la  FGR en Guanajuato.” Reforma. March 20, 2021.

Torres, Bryam. “Bajan homicidios en Guanajuato; presume AMLO a Guardia Nacional.” AM. March 23, 2021. 

“Fuerzas de Seguridad Pública abaten a cinco hombres tras ataque a policía en Silao.” El Sol de México. March 31, 2021. 

Solís, Carolina. “Sigue la guerra entre el CSRL y CJNG en Celaya; amanecen cuerpos desmembrados en distintos puntos.” Debate. March 31, 2020. 

“Enfrentamiento armado entre policías y civiles deja 5 muertos en Irapuato.” Milenio. April 5, 2021. 

Espinosa, Véronica. “Enfrentamiento en Irapuato deja dos policías y tres presuntos sicarios muertos.” Proceso. April 5, 2021. 

Orozco, Mariana. “Enfrentamiento en Irapuato deja seis muertos entre ellos dos elementos de la FSPE de Guanajuato.” Debate. April 5, 2021. 

Ángel, Arturo. “Violencia crece en diez estados, pese a mayor despliegue de la Guardia Nacional.” Animal Político. April 7, 2021. 

Reyes, Óscar. “Llegan 700 militares más para Guanajuato.” El Sol del Bajío. April 8, 2021.

Mayoral Candidate Assassinated in Oaxaca

04/20/21 (written by scortez) – On March 20, Ivonne Gallegos Carreños, a candidate running for mayor of Ocoltán de Morelos, Oaxaca under the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), was murdered. According to the initial investigation, Gallegos was traveling in a white van on a highway south of Oaxaca City with another individual when her vehicle was attacked by armed men. Her husband, José Luis Méndez Lara, was also assassinated back in 2015. Although prosecutors never released a concrete motive for his killing, they noted that he could have been targeted as a revenge killing and did not rule out that it may have been  to send a message to Gallegos.

Gallegos is seen attending a political event prior to her mounting a political campaign for mayoral office. Source: Códices Oaxaca.

The day before she was murdered, Gallegos submitted a request with the State’s Institute for Elections and Voter Participation (Instituto Estatal Electoral y de Participación Ciudadana de Oaxaca, IEEPCO) for more protection. She believed that her life was in imminent danger. She is the 18th pre-candidate to be assassinated since the campaigns to elect 153 municipal presidents began in September 2020. 

Gallegos had spent the last six years involved in social justice movements as her political career developed. This included combating violence against indigenous women while serving as president of the Gender Equity Commission (Comisión de Equidad de Género) in the local legislature, and as a former official of the Secretary of Indigenous Affairs (Secretaría de Asuntos Indígenas) of the state government of Oaxaca.

Forensic investigators analyzing the scene of the shooting that left two dead including Gallegos. Source: Daniel Ricárdez/ EFE.

The Attorney General’s Office of Oaxaca (Fiscalía del Estado de Oaxaca) announced that they were investigating her killing as a femicide. Arturo Peimbert Calvo, the newly appointed State Attorney General, said that he would use the full force of his office to bring justice in the case. He added that they have several viable theories and that warrants for individuals involved are imminent. The assassination of Gallegos is the second to occur within a two-month span. Leobardo Ramos Lázaro, the mayor of Chahuites, Oaxaca, was fatally shot on February 1while he was traveling in his vehicle.

Political Violence Against Candidates

Assassinations against female candidates and mayors continue to be a salient issue. Most recently in November 2020, Florisel Ríos Delfín, the mayor of Jamapa, Veracruz, was kidnapped and killed by a group of armed men. In two other instances of intimidation in Oaxaca, female candidates faced serious threats against their safety. On March 12, the home of Aime Rodríguez Vásquez, a candidate in Zamaltán de Álvarez, Oaxaca, was targeted with gunfire as an intimidation tactic to prevent her from running for office. On March 17, Aurelia Benítez, a pre-candidate for mayor of El Espinal, Oaxaca, denounced threats she received on social media and direct actions put out against her. Rosa Icela Rodríguez, the Secretary for Security and Citizen Protection (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana) reported in March that Oaxaca is among seven states that collectively experience half of all political violence in the country. Consequently, candidates in these states are more susceptible to be co-opted by criminal organizations. 

Organization Calls for Stronger Protections for Women

Local leaders are already calling for the government to enact stronger measures against violence towards pre-candidates and elected officials. Intimidation of pre-candidates is frequently seen across Mexico. In the wake of Gallegos’ death, organizations such as UN Women Mexico have condemned the killing and urged the federal government to create and implement measures to prevent any act of violence against women in politics. Mexico’s National Women’s Institute (Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres) released a statement highlighting that violence has no place in the country’s democratic process.

Recent Trend in Political Assassinations in Mexico

The graph shows the rise and fall of the national mayoral homicide rate. The most recent mayoral homicide rate is at 1.25 per 1,000 people. Source: Justice in Mexico, Memoria dataset.

Gallegos’ assassination also underscores the danger that mayoral candidates and mayors alike experience in Mexico. It is estimated that  Mexican mayors were 13 times more likely to be killed than the general public in 2019. According to the Memoria dataset by Justice in Mexico, from 2019 to 2020, the homicide rates of elected mayors, candidates, and former mayors have decreased by 62.5 percent. Although the homicide rates have steadily declined in recent years, local elected issues continue to be targeted victims of extortion by armed groups. As of 2020, the homicide rate of mayoral officials is 1.25 per 1,000 people. The gender-based violence that female candidates continue to face adds a new layer of risk. The 2020 Justice in Mexico Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico special report highlights the fact that the dangerous environment for these public officials becomes more threatening during election cycles. At a local level, the targeting of local elected officials demonstrates an obstruction of the democratic process in municipalities of Mexico.

Sources

Santiago, Jesús. “El asesinato de José Luis Méndez Lara puso en alerta a la clase política emanada del PAN. “ Press Libre. March 8, 2015.

Calderón, Laura. “Violencia criminal contra ediles en México.” Animal Político. November 16, 2020.

Camhaji, Elijah. “Asesinado en Oaxaca el alcalde Leobardo Ramos Lázaro.” El País. February 4. 2021.

Jiménez, Christian. “Investigan como feminicidio asesinato de Ivonne Gallegos, aspirante a edil en Oaxaca.” El Universal. March 3, 2021.

“Asesinan a Yuriel González, precandidato del PRI a Nuevo Casas Grandes, Chihuahua.” Animal Político. March 5, 2021.

“Inmujeres condena el asesinato de Ivonne Gallegos Carreño, candidata a la presidencia municipal de Ocotlán de Morelos, Oaxaca.” Instituto Nacional de la Mujeres. March 20, 2021. 

“Mexico worried by killings of politicians.” Associated Press. March 22, 2021.

Luciana, Citlalli. “Se registran agresiones contra mujeres que aspiran a un cargo de elección popular en Oaxaca.” NVI Noticias. March 23, 2021. 

Vasquez, Josefina. “Ivonne Gallegos defensora de los indígenas, asesinada.” Reporte Indigo. March 25, 2021. 

Rojas, Sandra. “Ivonne Gallegos, mujer indígena que buscaba presidencia municipal y terminó asesinada.” Milenio. March 27, 2021. 

Alfonso, Jorge Pérez. “Identificados, autores de homicidio de precandidata de Va por Oaxaca.” La Jornada. April 4, 2021.