2019 Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico Report

 

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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.

 

 

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Remembering the Allende Massacre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accountability for Allende

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

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

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

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

Sources

Ginger Thompson. ProPublica.

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

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

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

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

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

Award-winning Journalist Javier Valdez Murdered

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

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

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

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

Journalists targeted in Mexico

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

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

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

Criticism heightened on Mexican impunity

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hoover Institution report analyzes successful security strategies in Mexico

Cover image for "Security Strategies" report

Source: Hoover Institution.

10/05/16 (written by kheinle) — A report released in late August by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University provides an in depth look at security strategies in Mexico, an important contribution to the ongoing conversation about a country embroiled in crime and violence for years. In “Security Strategies: Experiences Of The Mexican States Of Chihuahua And Nuevo León,” co-authors Arturo Ramírez Verdugo and Reyes Ruiz González found that the state and local policies implemented in Mexico to combat insecurity related to drug trafficking organizations (DTO) have been more effective than efforts taken at the national level.

The report focuses on case studies in Chihuahua and Nuevo León, two states on the U.S.-Mexico border that have been hotspots for drug trafficking, crime, and violence. Chihuahua and Nuevo León have had some of the highest levels of ejecuciones, homicides related to organized crime, since 2007 when former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched the nationwide campaign against drug trafficking and related violence. The Hoover Institute report examines both states’ administrative policies implemented to reduce levels of violence, which resulted in clear decreases in Chihuahua’s and Nuevo León’s homicide rates, kidnapping rates, and the number of vehicle thefts from their peak in 2010-2011.

Overall, the public’s perception of state insecurity, and the absolute number of victims and crimes in both states declined between 2010 and 2014. Specifically in Chihuahua, for example, homicide rates per 100,000 inhabitants declined from 111 to 30 between 2010 to 2014, and from 7 to 0 inhabitants per 100,000 for kidnapping rates between 2009 and 2014. Similarly, Nuevo León saw homicide rates peak at 42 per 100,000 in 2011 and decline quickly to 10 per 100,000 in 2014, though the state’s kidnapping rates did not begin declining until 2012, decreasing from 1.25 to 0.80 by 2014. Extortion rates also declined in Chihuahua, although they increased steadily in Nuevo León from 1 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2008 to 8 per 100,000 in 2014. That said, the cifra negra (black number, or the number of unreported or uninvestigated crimes) decreased in Nuevo León during this time period, but increased in Chihuahua, an interesting finding considering that state’s otherwise positive strides in other areas.

2015 Drug Violence in Mexico-PortadaThe authors drew from Justice in Mexico’s research as a primary source of information, specifically from “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2014” released in April 2015. That publication is part of a series Justice in Mexico releases annually that compiles and analyzes the latest available data on crime and violence in Mexico as it relates to organized crime. The Drug Violence in Mexico series seek to inform a U.S. and English language audience, as international news media coverage of Mexico tends to be fleeting and gravitates toward sporadic sensationalistic incidents rather than the analysis of broader issues and longer-term trends. Justice in Mexico’s latest such report can be found here.

The Hoover Institute also relied on data from Mexico’s Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP), the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI), the National Population Council (Consejo Nacional de Población, CONAPO), and the National Survey of Victimization and Perception about Public Security (Encuesa Nacional de Victimización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública, ENVIPE), among others.

In the end, Ramírez Verdugo and Ruiz González found that strategies were most effective when several factors are incorporated into security strategies. First, “the state’s actions have a multiplicative effect when the civil society is involved.” Second, local law enforcement institutions must be strengthened, while, third, new procedural common law must be reformed. Next, convicted criminals must be better reinserted into society so to address recidivism and repeat offenders. Lastly, “strategies require a true commitment to fiscal discipline from [Mexican] states to make [them] viable and sustainable.” As Ramírez Verdugo and Ruiz González argue, Chihuahua and Nuevo León demonstrate that the rule of law can be improved when following strategies that prioritize and incorporate these factors.

Sources:

Heinle, Kimberly et al. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2014.” Justice in Mexico. April 2015.

Hoover Institution. “Security Strategies: Experiences Of The Mexican States Of Chihuahua And Nuevo León.” Stanford University. August 24, 2016.

Ramírez Verdugo, Arturo and Reyes Ruiz González. “Security Strategies: Experiences Of The Mexican States Of Chihuahua And Nuevo León.” Hoover Institution. August 2016.