Totoaba Poaching Seizures Point to Increases in Environmental Crime

08/31/21 (written by rramos) – Officials from the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) seized four properties in San Felipe, Baja California on August 12 after a joint investigation by multiple agencies determined the buildings were being used by a criminal network dedicated to the illegal trafficking of totoaba fish. Along with a cache of totoaba organs and fishnets, FGR officials also discovered firearms, tactical vests, and radio equipment while inspecting the seized properties. Investigators told La Jornada that they believe the totoaba fish found in the confiscated buildings were meant to be exported illegally from Baja California to China as part of a transnational criminal venture. 

The High Price of Totoaba Fish

The totoaba is a species of saltwater fish native to the Gulf of California that is protected under international and Mexican law. It has become increasingly endangered due to poaching. In particular, the totoaba’s swim bladder is highly sought after in parts of East Asia for use in traditional medicines and as a culinary delicacy. The strong demand for totoaba has resulted in remarkably high prices for illegally harvested totoaba bladders and meat. Dr. Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, director of the environmental advocacy group Proyecto Vaquita CPR, told Milenio in a 2019 interview that one kilogram of totoaba could be sold for as much as $100,000 U.S. dollars on the black market in China. Similarly, an investigative article published by Excelsior in July 2021 found that one kilogram of totoaba bladder could command a price of up to one million Mexican pesos in Hong Kong. 

The potential for large profits is compelling a growing number of organized crime groups in Mexico to add totoaba poaching to their portfolio of illicit activities. In June 2021, investigators in Baja California reported that criminal cells linked to Los Chapitos—the sons of jailed Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán—were seeking to deepen their presence in towns near the Gulf of California like San Felipe in order to forge operational ties with suspected totoaba traffickers. According to a report by non-governmental organization Earth League International, criminal groups in northwestern Mexico may be increasingly attracted to totoaba trafficking because it can generate profits comparable to those gained from drug trafficking, but with a perceived lower risk of being detected by authorities.

Display of totoaba fish organs seized by the National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN) in Mazatlán, Sinaloa. Photo: Radio Turquesa

Growth in Environmental Crimes

The illegal poaching of totoaba fish is just one example of a range of environmentally-related crimes that are gaining popularity among criminal groups in Mexico. Both the Center for Biological Diversity in Mexico (Centro para la Diversidad Biológica en México) and the Mexican Environmental Impact Academy (Academia Mexicana de Impacto Ambiental) warned in May 2021 that the illicit trade of rare and exotic animals, such as tigers, chinchillas, freshwater turtles, and other species, has increased considerably in recent years. In Mexico City alone, data from the Federal Prosecutor for Environmental Protection (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente, PROFEPA) showed that the number of exotic animals rescued in anti-wildlife trafficking operations skyrocketed from roughly 5,000 in 2019 to over 33,000 in 2020. A joint statement by the federal Secretary of Environmental and Natural Resources (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales, SEMARNAT) and the Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UIF) affirmed that many wildlife trafficking cases can be linked to organized crime networks. 

Another environmental crime that continues to raise alarm is illegal logging. Statistics compiled by PROFEPA suggest that illegal logging carried out by criminal groups is increasing. In 2020 alone, Mexico suffered the loss of around 127,770 hectares of forest due to illegal logging, an amount greater than the total deforestation recorded between 2010 and 2015.  Heightened interest in the illegal timber trade has not only generated increased fighting between criminal groups in places like Chihuahua, but it has also had a devastating impact on the natural environment in areas in which it occurs. According to Rodrigo de la Garza, a geology professor at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua (Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua), the accelerated growth of illegal logging has begun to result in desertification in previously forested areas of the Sierra Tarahumara mountain range in western Chihuahua. 

Diversification of Illicit Economies

The steady expansion of criminal organizations into illicit activities related to the environment and wildlife is consistent with the broader diversification of criminal enterprises that has been observed in recent years. Although organized crime groups in Mexico have been traditionally associated with drug trafficking, criminal actors have increasingly broadened the scope of illicit activities through which they earn profits. The factors driving diversification are diverse, but one widely cited reason is that as larger criminal organizations in Mexico fragment and splitter into increasingly smaller groups, criminal networks become more localized and therefore turn to revenue sources that “require no supply chains and have very low barriers to entry.” Another possible cause is that stringent enforcement actions by authorities against drug trafficking have reduced profits and increased risks, thereby compelling criminal groups to explore new and emerging revenue sources.

As has been seen with the larger phenomenon of diversification, the increasing visibility of environmentally-related crimes in Mexico is another demonstration of organized crime groups’ ability to remain adaptable and resilient. In the absence of comprehensive efforts to build and sustain the rule of law in Mexico, criminal economies that negatively impact the environment, like totoaba poaching, may continue to emerge and grow in the country.

Sources:

“NORMA Oficial Mexicana NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010.” Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente. December 30, 2010. 45.  

Miranda, Fanny. “Buche de totoaba alcanza los 100 mil dólares por kilo; ya supera a la cocaína.” Milenio. December 11, 2019. 

Esberg, Jane. “Más que carteles: contando las organizaciones delictivas de México.” International Crisis Group. May 8, 2020. 

“‘La cocaína del mar’: los buches de la totoaba, el pez mexicano afrodisíaco por el que se pagan fortunas.” Clarín. May 20, 2020. 

Calderón, Laura Y., Heinle, Kimberly, Kuckertz, Rita E. et al. “Organized Crime and Violence

in Mexico 2020 Special Report.” Justice in Mexico. July 2020. 46-47. 

Urbina, Ian. “Unmasking China’s invisible fleet.” CBC News. July 23, 2020. 

Beittel, June S. “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations.” Congressional Research Service. July 28, 2020. 28-29. 

Ford, Alessandro. “Ruge el tráfico de vida silvestre en Ciudad de México.” InSight Crime. January 4, 2021. 

Ramos, Randall. “Violence in Western Chihuahua Driven by Heightened Cartel Rivalry.” Justice in Mexico. February 22, 2021. 

Smith, Zak et al. “Re: Mexico’s New Fishing Regulations Applicable to CITES Totoaba and Vaquita Decisions 18.292-18.295.” Center for Biological Diversity. April 1, 2021. 

Zauzeta Zauzeta, Ernesto. “Sigue aumentando el tráfico de especies, y muchos seguimos en la lucha para contenerlo.” Debate. May 1, 2021. 

“‘Los Chapitos’ en San Felipe.” Zeta Tijuana. June 7, 2021. 

Méndez, Ernesto. “Puedes comer Totoaba por 350 pesos… es legal si es de cautiverio.” Excelsior. July 1, 2021. 

Sánchez, Paloma. “Tala ilegal acaba con fertilidad de bosques.” El Heraldo de Chihuahua. July 7, 2021. 

Huerta, Juan Carlos. “Tala clandestina: el ‘macizo’ negocio del crimen organizado en México.” El Financiero. July 18, 2021. 

“Operation Fake Gold: The Totoaba Supply Chain – From Mexico’s Totoaba Cartels to China’s Totoaba Maw Wholesalers.” Earth League International. July 24, 2021. 

“Semarnat y la UIF buscan combatir delitos ambientales ligados al crimen organizado.” Sin Embargo. July 29, 2021. 

“FGR asegura inmuebles utilizados para el tráfico de especies marinas protegidas en San Felipe.” Zeta Tijuana. August 12, 2021. 


Enciso, Angélica & Castillo, Gustavo. “Asegura la Femdo cuatro inmuebles con enseres que atentan contra vaquita marina.” La Jornada. August 13, 2021.

Rising Violence Along Baja California-Sonora Border Tied to Larger Organized Crime Disputes

04/08/21 (written by rramos) –

Continuous Increase in Homicides in Mexicali

Recent data from government agencies and civil society appear to indicate a considerable increase in homicides in Mexicali, the capital city of Baja California. On March 25, Juan Manuel Hernández Niebla, president of the Citizen Public Security Council of Baja California (Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Pública de Baja California, CCSPBC) told El Heraldo de México that homicides in Mexicali rose 32% in January and February of 2021 compared to the same period last year. Official figures released by the state Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) three days earlier had shown an even larger jump, with reported homicides in the municipality increasing 43% in the first two months of this year compared to the same period in 2020. According to the FGE, a significant portion of homicides in 2021 so far have been concentrated in the Mexicali Valley region, which lies east of Mexicali’s urban core and is composed of various rural communities situated near Baja California’s border with Sonora. 

The steady growth in homicides in Mexicali in the early part of 2021 reveals a worrying trend that appears to have taken hold of the city within the past year. In December 2020, data from the National Citizen Observatory (Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano, ONC) showed that Mexicali had suffered a 36% increase in homicides during the first 10 months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. If the growth in murders seen at the beginning of this year continues, the city may experience another year-on-year increase in homicides by the end of 2021.

Photo: Radio Patrulla.

Cross-Border Criminal Activity in San Luis Rio Colorado

The uptick in violence is not confined to Mexicali. Located across the state border in neighboring Sonora, the municipality of San Luis Rio Colorado has also seen a rise in violent crime during the same period in which Mexicali has faced higher murder rates. Local media outlets reported in July 2020 that figures from the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) showed a 6% increase in homicides in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. That year, San Luis Rio Colorado had suffered a dramatic spike of nearly 250% in the number of homicides recorded in the city.  

Due to the geographic proximity between the Mexicali Valley (where most of the homicides in Mexicali have been concentrated) and areas of San Luis Rio Colorado that have seen criminal activity, authorities have assessed that incidents of violence seen on both sides of the state border are likely interconnected.

Organized Crime Conflicts Driving the Surge in Violence

The upsurge in violence in both Mexicali and San Luis Rio Colorado appears to be driven by larger conflicts that have implications beyond the Baja California-Sonora border region. According to Zeta Tijuana, public security agencies in Baja California have determined that the sharp rise in homicides in Mexicali is due largely to two criminal groups, both with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel. One group has been identified as Los Rusos, led by Jesús Alexander “El Ruso” Sánchez Félix and Felipe Eduardo “El Omega” Barajas Lozano. The other group is Los Salazar, a longstanding branch of the Sinaloa Cartel known for its strong criminal influence in Sonora. 

Both Los Rusos and Los Salazar are themselves linked to the larger struggle within the Sinaloa Cartel between the sons of jailed kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, known collectively as Los Chapitos, and their father’s former associate, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García. “El Ruso” and “El Omega” have been identified as members of the faction headed by El Mayo, while Los Salazar are widely reported to be associated with Los Chapitos. Media reports indicate that Los Salazar have been gradually entering Mexicali from San Luis Rio Colorado as part of Los Chapitos’ broader efforts to target Sinaloa Cartel operatives who have remained loyal to El Mayo. This has meant that Los Salazar have been locked in an ongoing clash with “El Omega” and “El Ruso” for control of Mexicali. For his part, “El Ruso” has at times been active in San Luis Rio Colorado as part of a continuous struggle with Los Chapitos. These cross-border incursions by both sides have turned the region between Mexicali and San Luis Rio Colorado into yet another theater of operations in the larger conflict between Los Chapitos and El Mayo. 

There are recent indications that the fighting that has straddled the border between Baja California and Sonora may intensify further. In early March 2021, government intelligence officials determined that Los Salazar had formed an alliance with Los Garibay, a local criminal group active in the Mexicali Valley. Authorities reportedly expect that this partnership will enable Los Salazar to more effectively compete against the forces of “El Omega” and  “El Ruso.” In particular, Los Garibay, with their familiarity of the local terrain in the Mexicali Valley, may provide assistance to Los Salazar in navigating the area’s numerous rural roads, thereby allowing Los Salazar to move between Sonora and Baja California more easily. With these recent developments, it is likely that high levels of violence will persist along the border between the two states. 

Sources

Navarrete Forero, Maria Alejandra. “Narco Funeral Draws Attention to Los Salazar in Mexico.” InSight Crime. August 20, 2019. 

Rodríguez, Leonardo. “Incrementan los niveles de violencia en SLRC.” El Sol de Hermosillo. December 7, 2019. 

Gómez, Óscar. “Aumenta en 2020 el índice de homicidios en SLRC.” Tribuna de San Luis. July 25, 2020. 

Melgoza Vega, Humberto. “En San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora, se ha desatado una lucha a muerte por el control del corredor de la droga.” Animal Político. October 23, 2020. 

Jones, Nathan P., Sullivan, John P., & Bunker, Robert J. “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 31: Escalating Violence in the Greater Tijuana Plaza.” Small Wars Journal. December 4, 2020. 

“Histórica cifra de asesinatos en Mexicali narco, la principal causa.” Zeta Tijuana. January 11, 2021. 

“‘Los Chapitos’, en la pugna por BC.” Zeta Tijuana. February 1, 2021. 

“‘Los Chapitos’ disputan BC con ‘El Mayo’, reclutan a ‘Menchos’ para enfrentarlo.” Vanguardia. February 3, 2021. 

Gómez, Óscar. “Grupos armados desatan violencia en SLRC y su valle.” Tribuna de San Luis. February 23, 2021. 

“Los Salazar y Los Garibay, por el control del Valle de Mexicali.” Zeta Tijuana. March 1, 2021. 

“Los Chapitos and Los Salazar form a truce with Los Garibay to enter Baja California.” Borderland Beat. March 9, 2021. 

“‘El Zabe’, le llaman. Es el hombre de Los Salazar en Mexicali, donde se libra una guerra sin cuartel.” Sin Embargo. March 17, 2021. 

Villa, Eduardo. “Grupo armado ‘levanta’ a dos personas de un convivio familiar, en Mexicali.” Zeta Tijuana. March 20, 2021. 

“Encabeza BC Estados más violentos del Noroeste.” El Imparcial. March 22, 2021. 

Garibay, Atahualpa. “Baja California tiene uno de los índices delictivos más altos del país.” El Heraldo de México. March 25, 2021. 

Tapia, Mariela. “Incrementaron homicidios en BC, pese a “disminución” de incidencia delictiva: Consejo Ciudadano.” La Voz de la Frontera. March 25, 2021. 

Remnants of Arellano-Félix Organization Attracting Renewed Interest in Baja California

03/11/21 (written by rramos) – Recent developments in and around the major border city of Tijuana suggest that the remnants of the weakened Arellano-Félix Organization (AFO), once one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, could be regaining relevance in the strategically important Baja California trafficking corridor.

Within the past year, authorities in Tijuana have intensified their focus on criminal cells associated with the AFO. In October 2020, the Municipal Security and Citizen Protection Secretariat (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana Municipal, SSPCM) announced a joint operation with the Army and National Guard aimed at capturing the cartel operatives assessed to be most responsible for the estimated 2,000 homicides in the city throughout 2020. Of the 15 “priority” individuals targeted by the action, six were tied to the AFO. This was followed by a sweeping operation by federal forces in January 2021 that resulted in the arrest of dozens of AFO members after six separate search warrants were carried out in Tijuana. By March 2021, officials announced plans to send more than 100 National Guard troops to Tijuana in an effort to contain rising violence in recent months stemming from competition between criminal groups. In justifying the deployment, Isaías Bertín Sandoval, representative of the federal Security and Citizen Protection Secretariat (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, SSPC) in Baja California, specifically cited the Arellano-Félix Organization as one of the groups responsible for the recent increases in violence, and added that the AFO was “regaining strength” (author’s own translation).

Elsewhere in the greater Tijuana metropolitan area, there are further indications that the AFO is resurfacing as a relevant criminal actor. The group appears to be particularly active in the neighboring municipality of Ensenada, where investigators from the Baja California Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) recently determined that AFO remnants are among the groups responsible for “exponential growth” in homicides in various parts of the city. This assessment is in line with numerous reports throughout 2020 indicating that the AFO was engaging in violent clashes over control of Ensenada’s port and retail-level drug sales.

The AFO’s Evolving Role in the Tijuana Plaza

The AFO’s renewed ability to capture the attention of officials and the broader public demonstrates that the role played by the group in Tijuana’s organized crime landscape continues to evolve. Following a period of dominance in the 1990s, the AFO was severely weakened in the 2000s by the arrests of its main leaders, internal disputes, and a protracted conflict with the Sinaloa Cartel, which eventually “gained control” of most of the Tijuana plaza. After years of decline and a relatively low profile, the first significant resurfacing of the AFO came with the incursion of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) into Baja California roughly around 2016. Most of the AFO’s remaining cells began to align with the CJNG in an effort to bolster their position vis-à-vis the Sinaloa Cartel. This alliance gave rise to a regional branch of the CJNG known as the Tijuana New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Tijuana Nueva Generación, CTNG) charged with seizing control of the Tijuana trafficking corridor away from the Sinaloa Cartel. However, media reports have consistently pointed to the existence of a group of AFO holdouts, led in part by Pablo “El Flaquito” Huerta Nuño, who have actively resisted any alliance with the CJNG and have remained committed to preserving the AFO as a separate, independent organization. This has resulted in a three-way conflict in Tijuana between the Sinaloa Cartel, CJNG-CTNG, and independent AFO remnants that is currently fueling elevated levels of violence in the city. 

Although the AFO’s role in the three-sided struggle for control of Tijuana is often overshadowed by the rivalry between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG (a contest with nationwide implications), AFO remnants have added a further destabilizing dimension to Baja California’s already complex security situation. For example, the AFO has repeatedly provoked or exacerbated internal divisions within its larger rivals. In August 2020, the AFO secured the defection of a high-ranking CJNG operative in the nearby municipality of Tecate after authorities began to target CJNG activities in the city. The AFO was also quick to capitalize on disagreements between CJNG members over changes in leadership by recruiting disaffected hitmen and drug dealers in Tijuana and Ensenada and integrating them into the AFO network. Furthermore, the AFO has been able to hold its own in Tijuana’s widespread retail-level drug trade, which has become a significant driver of violence in numerous parts of the city. Police sources who spoke to Aristegui Noticias cited residual cells of the AFO, alongside the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG, as the primary perpetrators of homicides linked to local-level drug distribution. Thus, although the AFO in its current state is not nearly as powerful as it was at the peak of its influence, the group has regained an ability to observably impact criminal dynamics in the greater Tijuana area.

Photo: Excelsior

Outlook for the AFO in Baja California’s Increasingly Complex Criminal Panorama

Looking forward, there are emergent issues that may provide indications as to the ways in which the AFO’s place in Baja California’s criminal panorama might change in the near future.

One possibility is that the AFO may play a role in the internal conflict within the Sinaloa Cartel between the sons of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera (known collectively as “Los Chapitos”) and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García that has been unfolding across various parts of Mexico. Forces affiliated with “Los Chapitos” have reportedly extended the dispute to Baja California by targeting associates of “El Mayo” in the state capital city of Mexicali. To expand their efforts to other parts of the state, “Los Chapitos” have allegedly forged alliances with Pablo “El Flaquito” Huerta Nuño, mentioned previously as a leader of the AFO “dissidents” who refused to ally with the CJNG, and David “El Lobo” López Jiménez, identified by authorities as one of the former CJNG operatives who was later recruited into the AFO. Another indication of AFO involvement in internal frictions within the Sinaloa Cartel can be found in reports that Alfonso “El Aquiles” and René “La Rana” Arzate García, two brothers who have long been assessed to be high-ranking figures within the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations in Baja California, sought an alliance with “El Flaquito” and the AFO after a falling out with “El Mayo.” These potential scenarios, while based on open source reporting, would constitute important steps towards renewed relevance for a group previously thought to have been effectively dismantled.

Still, there are questions as to whether the AFO will be able to fully re-establish itself as a significant player on the national and international stages. The group was recently excluded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from a list of Mexican criminal organizations with the greatest impact on the U.S. drug market that was featured in the latest National Drug Threat Assessment. Given that criminal cells linked to the AFO have been split between those that are closely aligned with the CJNG through the CTNG branch and those that operate independently, it is likely that the AFO’s impact will remain limited to Baja California, with analysts anticipating that the AFO will continue to play a supplemental role in the larger battle between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG for control of the critical Tijuana border region. 

Sources

Reyna, Juan Carlos. “Last Link to the Tijuana Cartel Gets Arrested While Celebrating Mexico’s World Cup Win.” VICE News. June 29, 2014. 

“Crece Cártel de Jalisco por alianza con Arellano.” Diario de Juárez. August 20, 2016.

Alonso, Luis Fernando. “Expert Says Weakened Sinaloa Cartel Under Attack by Rivals.” InSight Crime. October 10, 2016. 

Davis, Kristina. “El hijo de un capo de la droga describe una infancia cargada de violencia; en su fiesta de dos años explotó un coche bomba.” Los Angeles Times. March 24, 2018. 

Gutiérrez González, Rodrigo. “Cártel Tijuana Nueva Generación: La temible fusión de ‘El Mencho’ y los Arellano Félix.” La Silla Rota. March 22, 2019. 

Villalba, Javier. “Internal Strife Within the CJNG in Baja California, Mexico.” InSight Crime. August 27, 2019. 

“CS vs CAF por el puerto.” Zeta Tijuana. March 16, 2020. 

Mosso, Rubén. “Vinculan a proceso a ‘El Cabo 20’, presunto líder de sicarios de los Arellano Félix.” Milenio. April 7, 2020. 

Beittel, June S. “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations.” Congressional Research Service. July 28, 2020. 17-18. 

“El CJNG se divide. Células en BC brincan a los Arellano Félix y a “Los Erres”, del Cártel de Sinaloa.” Sin Embargo. August 12, 2020. 

Calderón, Vicente & Rubio, Daniel Ángel. “Tijuana: Zona libre para el narcomenudeo.” Aristegui Noticias. August 26, 2020. 

Betanzos, Said. “Narco intenta controlar puerto en Ensenada, advierten autoridades.” Milenio. October 20, 2020. 

Rubio, Eduardo. “Van tras los 15 sicarios más violentos de Tijuana.” La Silla Rota. October 23, 2020. 

“El regreso de los Arzate.” Zeta Tijuana. November 9, 2020. 

Alvarado, Isaías. “Sicarios por un sueldo de $95: el comando de los hijos de ‘El Chapo’ que fracasó en la frontera.”  Univision. November 15, 2020.

Jones, Nathan P., Sullivan, John P., & Bunker Robert J. “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 31: Escalating Violence in the Greater Tijuana Plaza.” Small Wars Journal. December 4, 2020. 

Rivera, Salvador. “In 2020, Tijuana reached grim milestone: 2,000 murders.” Border Report. January 4, 2021. 

Murillo, Eduardo. “Detienen a casi 40 miembros de los ‘cárteles’ de Sinaloa y Tijuana.” La Jornada. January 31, 2021. 

“‘Los Chapitos’, en la pugna por BC.” Zeta Tijuana. February 1, 2021. 

“‘Los Chapitos’ disputan BC con ‘El Mayo’, reclutan a ‘Menchos’ para enfrentarlo.” Vanguardia. February 3, 2021. 

“Tijuana, una ciudad aterrorizada por las disputas entre cárteles.” El Sol de México. February 13, 2021. 

Domínguez, Alejandro. “AMLO no viene a jalar orejas por inseguridad.” La Voz de la Frontera. February 18, 2021. 

“El Valle, foco rojo del narco.” Zeta Tijuana. February 22, 2021. 

“2020 National Drug Threat Assessment.” Drug Enforcement Administration. March 2, 2021.

“Betrayals and New Alliances: Los Chapitos in Baja California.” Borderland Beat. March 2, 2021. 

Fabela, Octavio. “Violencia en BC por reorganización de cárteles, explica Bertín.” Uniradio Informa. March 2, 2021. 

Zavala, Marinee. “Cientos de elementos de la Guardia Nacional llegarían a Baja California para combatir violencia.” Telemundo. March 2, 2021. 

Governor elect in BC seeks to extend his term

Jaime Bonilla Valdez, governor elect of Baja California

Jaime Bonilla was elected Governor of Baja California on June 2nd, 2019. Source: El Tamaulipeco

08/06/19 (written by lcalderon) — Jaime Bonilla Valdez was elected governor for Baja California on June 2, 2019, along with five mayors and 25 state Congress representatives. He was initially elected for an extraordinary term of two years, from November 1, 2019 to October 31, 2021. This extraordinary period of governorship was set forth by a Constitutional reform in 2014 that established that the governor elected in 2019 would serve a term of two years (instead of six) in order for the federal midterm elections and state governor elections to coincide, exactly three years after the presidential election.

However, on July 8, 2019, Baja California Congressman Víctor Moran (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, Morena) called for a secret, unscheduled session, which was held in Playas de Rosarito –about two and a half hours from the state’s capital, Mexicali. At said session, Congressman Moran passed a motion to extend governor-elect Bonilla’s term from two to five years, ending in October 31, 2024 instead of 2021. Mr. Moran’s argument was that having another election in two years would impose a grave economic burden on Baja California’s economy, which is already facing a serious public spending deficit, thus making it more desirable to postpone it until 2024. He also emphasized the importance of giving the government-elect enough time to complete their long-term projects, specifically those designed to address public security concerns at the state level. The motion passed with 21 out of the 25 votes in favor, only three of which were affiliates of the Morena Party. Congressional representatives voted through concealed voting slips and only one National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) Congressman expressed his disagreement with the procedure and the motion. Congressional representatives from the local party, Baja California’s Party (Partido de Baja California, PBC) were not present at the session; allegedly, PBC representatives were not even summoned.

During that same session, State Congress also approved to create two important positions: Counselor for the Instituto de Transparencia y Acceso a la Información Pública (Institute for Transparency and Access to Public Information, ITAIP) and Superior Auditor for the State. Sources such as El Economista and Sin Embargo allege these positions were Morena’s negotiating assets to convince PAN and PRI’s Congressional representatives to vote for the initiative. Allegations grew stronger when the appointment of Carlos Montejo Oceguera, a longtime PAN member and collaborator of current Baja Calfornia Governor Francisco Vega de Lamadrid, as Superior Auditor was deemed official immediately after the confidential session. Montejo’s appointment became notably suspicious when he was declared to be in charge of auditing the state government’s performance during the last three years. This came just weeks after the Federal Superior Auditor declared that Governor Vega’s government was involved in the embezzlement of over $4.5 billion Mexican pesos (roughly $240 million USD).

Initial reactions

Citizens' protests

Citizens protest against “Bonilla Law.”
Source: Diario de Mexico

Public opposition to what is now being called “Bonilla Law” manifested soon thereafter. Citizens throughout Baja California called for protests at the local office for the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH), demanding that the national Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) evaluate the reform. They also requested that Congressmen who voted in favor of what they perceive as an unconstitutional action be politically tried. Additionally, they argued that the opinion expressed on June 2nd must prevail, which is when citizens elected Bonilla for a term of just two years – not the expanded five years.

Bonilla’s decision to extend his term made it to the national headlines almost immediately, and the reactions came from all political levels. One of the first institutions to show its discontent was the National Action Party (PAN). The PAN’s national management expressed its condemnation of the term extension, highlighting its discontent with the state Congressman representing their party who voted in favor of extending Bonilla’s governorship. A few weeks later, the PAN started removing its state Congressmen from Baja California.

For his part, Bonilla argued that the term’s extension eliminates the need to have another round of elections in two years. Regardless of the vote on the governorship, Baja Californians still have to vote in five mayors and 25 Congressmen in 2021. The Morena Party also threw its support behind Bonilla’s term extension, noting that the two-year term represents a violation of Bonilla’s political-electoral rights, a claim that Bonilla already submitted to the Electoral Court. This challenge was successful at the state court, but not at the federal court.

Government Response

When concerns began to be raised, President Andres Manuel López Obrador during his morning address to the media and public said, “If [Jaime Bonilla] would have asked, I would have not approved it” (Jimenez, 2). According to López Obrador, Bonilla’s policy does not does not align with his political ideology;. It is important to note, however, that such topics are often not the types of issues brought before the president. Still, President López Obrador did weigh in given the gravity of the situation. For one, the president clarified that extending the governor’s term did not mean that Bonilla would seek reelection, as  he was not looking to violate the Constitution. Similarly, he stressed, this was certainly not implying that he would seek presidential reelection when his sexenio expires (2018-2024). López Obrador finished by saying that he would not intervene in the matter. It is up to the Judiciary’s Electoral Court to decide whether the term extension is valid in an impartial process that is not deserving of presidential influence, he said.

In response, the federal Congress approved a resolution asking state Congressmen to revert the approval

Congress of Baja California confirms term extension

State Congress confirms “Bonilla Law” after being called to a session to re-consider it.

of the “Bonilla Law.” Doing so would  respect the two-year term that citizens chose for governor-elect Bonilla. In return, the Congress of Baja California decided to have an extraordinary, closed-door session in Playas de Rosarito with only 14 Congressmen present. Instead of revesting their decision during this session; state Congressional representatives instead confirmed Bonilla’s term extension from two years to five years. They justified their decision by arguing that the economy of the state had to be preserved and that it was of outmost importance to prioritize state sovereignty in this matter.

After reconfirming “Bonilla Law,” federal legislators started a movement to take the matter to the national Supreme Court arguing that this extension is an act against the Constitution.

State Status

In the meantime, outgoing Governor Vega de Lamadrid announced that he would not declare the new reform in the State’s Official Newspaper out of respect for the citizen’s decision to vote for a two-year term. This statement is Governor Vega’s declaration of support for public opposition to the “Bonila Law” since the State’s Official Newspaper is the medium to publish State legislation.

The President of the PAN in Baja California also noted that it would have been possible for Bonilla to challenge the 2014 two-year term reform within the state legal frameworks if he followed the proper procedure 90 days before the election. Bonilla failed to meet the dates and conditions to submit his disagreement, however, thus removing that possible course of action.

Sources

“AMLO se habría pronunciado en contra de ampliación de mandato de Bonilla,” El Sol de México, July 12, 2019.

“Ciudadanos protestan contra ‘Ley Bonilla’ en BC; piden la intervención de la CNDH,” Milenio, July 15, 2019.

“El ‘agandalle’ de Bonilla en BC es parte de un pacto de protección al Gobierno de ‘Kiko’ Vega, acusan,” Sin Embargo, July 18, 2019.

“El pacto: ampliación de mandato a cambio del auditor,” El Economista, July 21, 2019.

“En 2021, BC elegirá a cinco alcaldes y 25 diputados,” La Jornada, July 9, 2019.

“Impunidad a ‘Kiko’ Vega, entrega de cargos públicos y ‘sobornos’ millonarios, a cambio de la ‘Ley Bonilla’,” Proceso, July 16, 2019.

“Jaime Bonilla gobernará cinco años en Baja California en medio de controversia,” San Diego Union Tribune, July 23, 2019.

“‘Kiko’ desvió 4 mil 600 mdp, ocultó 802 en deuda y pagó intereses sin razón,” Zeta Tijuana, March 4, 2019.

“Kiko Vega no publicará en Diario Oficial ampliación a periodo de Jaime Bonilla en BC,” Proceso, July 9, 2019.

“Mexico border state extends governor’s term amid criticism,” Washington Post, July 24, 2019.

“PAN inicia expulsión de diputados que ampliaron la gubernatura de Jaime Bonilla en Baja California,” Aristegui Noticias, July 11, 2019.

“Panistas regalan gubernatura de cinco años a Bonilla,” Zeta Tijuana, July 8, 2019.

 

 

 

 

New Working Paper: Organized Crime and Violence in Baja California Sur

Spatial distribution of homicides in BCS in 2017. Source: SNSP, 2017. Map generated by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira

Spatial distribution of homicides in BCS in 2017. Source: SNSP, 2017. Map generated by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira

 

02/16/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – A new Justice in Mexico working paper by Laura Y. Calderón, entitled Organized Crime and Violence in Baja California Sur, provides analysis on the elevated levels of violence directly impacting key Baja California Sur cities, Los Cabos and La Paz. Utilizing the latest information and statistics on this topic, Calderón found that much of the violence in Baja California Sur is linked to organized crime groups looking to control these key drug trafficking areas. The working paper further discusses the increase in violence linked to organized crime group rivalries and subsequent government action in these affected regions.

According to Calderón, Baja California Sur’s economy depends heavily on tourism and commerce. Historically, Baja California Sur is characterized by having some of the lowest rates of crime and violence in Mexico. The recent surge in violent crime over the last decade is connected to the region’s transformation into an important nexus for drug traffic operations in Mexico.

Since 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel has dominated the Baja California region- formally headed by drug trafficker, Joaquín “El Chápo” Guzmán. Guzmán’s organization looked to remove other competing organized crime groups in the region. Their success in consolidating a territory monopoly caused a drop in violence while opening their access to the U.S. market. The arrest and extradition of Guzmán caused a significant shift in the structure of Sinaloa, initiating internal competition between regional Sinaloan leaders. Additionally, with major kingpins like Guzmán being targeted by Mexican authorities, other cartels in the area took this as an opportunity to gain power. A new organized crime group called the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (Jalisco New Generation Cartel, CJNG), headed by Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes is rapidly becoming the main competitor to the Sinaloa Cartel.

In response to the increased violence, Mexican authorities deployed soldiers to Los Cabos and La Paz in an attempt to lower the rates of homicides through military presence in important hotspots. This deterrence tactic required the cooperation of municipal, state, and federal forces. However, local law enforcement is often under-trained and minimally equipped to meet the challenge presented by organized crime. Overall, the militarization approach has not proven to be successful.

Calderón posits that the recent violence seen in Baja California Sur could be linked to the spillover effect from other violent states nearby. According to scholars, Miming Pan, Benjamin Widner and Carl E. Enomoto, negative economic growth of one state exacts a consequence on neighboring states, causing the crime rates to increase. Although the Sinaloa cartel continues to hold dominance over almost the entire state, excluding the contested cities of La Paz and Los Cabos, there is a strong internal struggle over the lack of partnerships and centralized leadership for the organization. Moreover, the increasing prominence of the CJNG continues to challenge Sinaloa for the largest, operating organized crime group in Mexico.

Given the salient information presented in Calderón’s working paper, it is important to note that most of the violence happening in Baja California Sur is amongst individuals involved in organized crime. Tourists should exercise caution, but also keep in mind that the number of tourists of being targeted is currently low. Meanwhile, Mexican authorities in Baja California Sur, including local law enforcement and public officials, must be willing to engage in transparent and informed dialogue. Collaboration will be key to protecting the general citizenry and tourist flows, an important source of revenue to the state of Baja California Sur.

 

Sources

Pan, M., Widner, B. and Enomoto, C. E. (2012), GROWTH AND CRIME IN CONTIGUOUS STATES OF MEXICO. Review of Urban & Regional Development Studies, vol 24: p 51–64.