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.
05/26/20 (written by mvillaseñor in collaboration with aherrera) – Mexican environmental activists have increasingly been under attack. Just in the last five months, at least six environmental activists have been murdered. According to a 2019 report from the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, CEMDA), homicides are increasingly becoming the primary form of attack against environmental activists in the country. According to the report, environmental activists are at a particularly high risk of retribution due to their vocal criticism against political and economic interests, such as large infrastructure projects and developments.
2012 and 2019, Mexico has seen a total of at least 499 attacks against environmental
activists, including but not limited to threats, criminalization, assault, and
homicide. According to data from CEMDA, the number of attacks gradually
increased from 24 in 2012, 64 in 2013 and 78 in 2014 to its peak of 107 in 2015
and 85 in 2016. This represents a 346% increase in attacks against
environmental activists from 2012 to 2015.
Mexico’s Energy Reform
These observed increases in attacks
against environmental activists coincide with the implementation of Mexico’s
energy reform. In
fact, the aforementioned 2019 report from CEMDA notes the ratification of the
energy reform as a relevant factor in the significant increase in homicides of
environmental activists. The energy reform was first introduced by Enrique Peña
Nieto on August 12, 2013. The reform was backed by his political party, the
Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido
Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) as well as the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) and was
intended to modify the constitution to allow foreign investment in its energy
sector. Prior to the energy reform, state-owned Mexican Petroleum (Petróleos Mexicanos, PEMEX) ran the
country’s energy industry after President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río expropriated Mexico’s
oil sector in 1938. The constitutional reform was debated by congress and
approved on December 12, 2013. This was the first time in 75 years that private
and foreign investment became allowable in Mexico’s energy sector. On August
2014, further legislation was approved that leveled the playing field for all investors
in the sector.
more about Mexico’s New Energy Reform in this 2018 report from the Mexico Center
at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
more here about how legislation from the
Energy Reform has impacted transparency and human rights as well as infringed
on citizen participation at the local and national level.
Increase in Attacks Against Environmental Activists
the number of attacks has been decreasing with
53 in 2017, 49 in 2018, and most recently 39 in 2019. However, homicides,
within this time span, have seen an increase. According to CEMDA, in 2019,
homicide was the primary form of aggression with 21.1% of incidences resulting
in death, followed by threats with 19.3%, criminalization with 15.8%, and
intimidation with 14%. Moreover, CEMDA points out that the primary aggressor is
often the government itself. CEMDA attributed 40.5% of overall attacks
committed towards environmentalist in 2019 to the government, tied with
unidentified aggressors and followed by community members and organized crime
each with 4.8%. Attacks perpetrated by the government are primarily attributed
to local prosecutors, the National Guard (Guardia
Nacional), and state police.
Environmental Activist Homicides in 2020
has lost at least six environmental activists in 2020. The first case surrounds
the murder of 50-year-old Homero Gómez González, an outspoken critic of illegal
logging and manager of El Rosario’s monarch butterfly sanctuary in the state of
Michoacán. He was last seen on January 13 and was found dead
more than two weeks later on January 29. His body was floating in a holding
pond near the mountain forest reserve Gómez González was protecting. Initial
reports from Michoacán’s state prosecutors pointed to drowning as the cause of
death, but a more detailed autopsy later revealed evidence of a head injury.
Days before Gómez González was found, another environmental activist from the
same region was reported missing. Raúl Hernández Romero, a 44-year-old conservation
activist and part-time tour guide at El Rosario was reported missing on January
27. His body was found five days later at the top of a hill in El Campanario
monarch butterfly sanctuary. According to news reports, he too had a head injury and his
body was covered in bruises.
the deaths of these two activists, a third activist was reported missing on
March 19, 2020. Paulina Gómez Palacios Escudero, a 50-year-old environmental
activist from the state of San Luis Potosí disappeared when she was traveling
from Matehuala in her home state to the community of El Salvador in the
neighboring state of Zacatecas. Her body was later found on March 22, according
to the autopsy, she died from a gunshot wound to the face. She was considered a guardian of the sacred territory
Wirikuta and a friend of the indigenous community, Wixárika. According to a
report published by Intercontinental Cry, the Wixárika community has been
actively fighting for years to protect their sacred lands from mining
companies. On September 2013, a federal district judge approved a temporary
suspension on all concessions to mining companies in the sacred territory of
Wirikuta. In 2009, 36 concessions had been granted to
Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver, 70% of these concessions were
within the Wirikuta territory.
day after Gómez Palacio Escudero’s body was found, the fourth environmental
activist was murdered. On March 23, 2020, Isaac Medardo Herrera Aviles was murdered in his home in
Jiutepec, Morelos when gunmen knocked at his door and shot him point blank,
fleeing the scene before they could be apprehended. Herrera Aviles was a
longtime activist and lawyer in the state of Morelos. Most recently he had
stopped the company, Casas Ara, from developing a real estate project in the
premises of “Los Venados,” a 56,000 square meter forest in the middle of Jiutepec. Herrera
Aviles and community members had successfully stopped the project and were
waiting for local authorities to deem the land a natural reserve. In 2007, the activist had legally
represented advocates of 13 communities who were attempting to stop another
real estate development project in Emiliano Zapata, Morelos, near the
Chihuahuita natural spring where developers were also seeking to extract the
Two weeks later, Adán Vez
Lira became the fifth environmental activist to be
murdered in Mexico. He was from the state of Veracruz and founder of the
ecotourism cooperative, “La Mancha en Movimiento”. According to news reports,
Vez Lira was shot to death on April 8 while
riding his motorcycle from La Mancha to Palmas de Abajo, Veracruz. He had
dedicated more than two decades of his life to defending the bird observatory
in La Mancha Ecological Reserve and El Llano. According to the Business &
Human Rights Resource Centre, he had also actively opposed mining projects by
Almaden Minerals and Candelaria Mining, both Canadian mining companies with interests
in the region.
The most recent homicide targeted Eugui Roy
Martínez Pérez, a 21-year-old environmental activist from the state
of Oaxaca murdered in San Agustín Loxicha, Oaxaca. Martínez Pérez was studying
biology at the Technological Institute of the Valley of Oaxaca (Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca,
ITVO) and was a member of the Organization for Environmental Protection in
Oaxaca. Additionally, people close to Martínez Pérez indicated he had a
particular passion for the care, defense, and conservation of reptiles and
amphibians. According to Oaxaca’s
Attorney General office, he was murdered on May 7 when a
group of armed individuals forcefully entered his home and removed him from the
premises. He was later found nearby with signs of torture and a gunshot
wound. According to his sister, Martínez
Pérez decided to spend his quarantine in San Agustín Loxicha, “collecting
insects, studying, writing for a magazine, looking after a few deer’s, [in
addition to] creating content for his blog.”
Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has called these deaths “regrettable” and “painful,” but human rights groups are demanding the government do more. For example, the Center for Human Rights Zeferino Ladrillero is asking the government to prioritize the lives of individuals defending the environment, land, forests, and water over the interest of private entities. Others are calling for better monitoring and prevention mechanisms to protect marginalized communities, particularly indigenous groups, who are vulnerable to the loss of land and private interest groups entering their territory. Furthermore, environmental activists point out that at least 80% of activists murdered defending the environment have been indigenous. A recent released report from Front Line Defenders, an international foundation based in Ireland that seeks to protect human rights around the globe, showed Mexico and Brazil tied as the fourth most dangerous countries in the world for activists. However, it is worth noting that Front Line Defenders’ report encompasses all human rights activists, not only environmentalists. Nonetheless, looking forward, it is imperative that the government analyze and address the divisive culture it is promoting against activists.
04/30/19- Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, released its 2019 report on Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico, co-authored by Laura Calderón, Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. This report analyzes the latest available data to broadly assess the current state of violence, organized crime, and human rights in Mexico. The tenth edition in a series is published under a new title to reflect the gradual shift that has occurred to the restructuring illicit drug trade and the rise of new organized crime groups.
In 2018, Mexico saw record violence with 28,816 homicide cases and 33,341 victims reported by the Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP). This reflects the continued augmentation in violent crime in Mexico for more than a decade with a notable increase in the last few years. The homicide rate has dramatically escalated from 16.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 as reported to UNODC to 27.3 per 100,000 in 2018 based on SNSP figures. In this and past reports, the authors attribute much of the violence, between a third to a half, to the presence of organized crime groups, particularly drug trafficking organizations.
According to the report, violence has become more pervasive throughout the country but remains highly concentrated in a few specific areas, especially in the major drug trafficking zones located in the northwest and the Pacific Coast. The top ten most violent municipalities in Mexico accounted for 33.6% of all homicides in Mexico in 2018, with 24.7% concentrated in the top five: Tijuana (2,246), Ciudad Juárez (1,004), Acapulco (839), Cancún-Benito Juárez (537), Culiacán (500).
Tijuana’s rate of 115 homicide cases per 100,000 inhabitants ranks second to Acapulco’s rate of 127 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. According to Baja California State’s Secretary of Public Security (SSP) reporting, Tijuana saw a significant increase in 2018 of 41% victims up from 2017.
The authors have found that Mexican organized crime groups have become more fragmented, decentralized, and diversified in their activities. Notably, violence in the Mexican state of Guanajuato appears to have risen due to the increased presence of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and an increase in the prevalence of petroleum theft (huichicol). At least nine municipalities in Guanajuato had a murder rate of more than 100 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.
Record violence in Mexico has disproportionally affected certain populations (e.g. politicians, journalist, and men). In 2018, a major election year, there were 37 victims among mayors, mayoral candidates, and former-mayors. These numbers are up slightly from 35 cases in 2017 but demonstrate a significant increase from 14 victims in 2015 and 6 victims in 2016. A 2018 Justice in Mexico study found that in recent years Mexican journalists were at least three times more likely to be murdered than the general population, while mayors were at least nine times more likely. There were 16 journalists and media workers that were killed in 2018. Additionally, the report finds that men are 8.3 times more likely to be homicide victims than women, with 28,522 male homicide victims.
All told, the authors of the report estimate that over 150,000 people were murdered during the six years of the Peña Nieto administration, the most homicides during any presidential term in recent Mexican history. The current Lopez Obrador administration has proposed a new security agenda centered on citizen security, changes in federal law enforcement, and efforts to minimize tensions in U.S.-Mexican relations. Two of the most important measures that the new government has put forward are the creation of a autonomous federal prosecutor and a national guard.
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.
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.
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.
“¿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.