The Role of Mexico’s Drug Cartels in the U.S. Fentanyl Crisis

 

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Todd Heisler/The New York Times

05/13/19- (written by Aitanna Ferrez) The surge of opioid overdoses in the United States has killed tens of thousands of people in recent years and, according to the New York Times, has become the leading cause of death for U.S. citizens under the age of 55.  In particular, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and has been a major contributor to the crisis. Fentanyl is often used by drug traffickers and dealers as an additive to enhance the effect of other drugs, including heroin, cocaine, MDMA, and even counterfeit prescription drugs. In recent years, numerous opioid deaths have been attributed to the proliferation of fentanyl, because even small variations in quantity can lead to overdoses.

 

Historically, fentanyl has been predominantly manufactured in China and often directly shipped to the United States. Mexican drug cartels have predominantly functioned as intermediaries in the distribution of fentanyl. Following an April 1st decision by the Chinese National Narcotics Control Commission to regulate fentanyl and all chemically similar variants as a class of controlled substances, it is possible that Mexican cartels will now become more important suppliers of illicit fentanyl. According to an InSight Crime report focused on the severity of Mexico’s contribution to the deadly rise of fentanyl, Mexico has become not only a major transit country, but also a key production point for fentanyl and its chemical variants. Furthermore, Insight Crime’s investigation shows that Mexican traffickers appear to be playing a role in the distribution of fentanyl within the United States, with Mexico’s two largest criminal organizations—the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG)—being the two most prominent purveyors of the drug. According to the report, these and other Mexican criminal organizations continue to transport and distribute fentanyl using the same routes employed for other illicit drugs.

 

According to the Insight Crime report, the Mexican government “does not see fentanyl as an important issue yet and has not devoted significant resources towards finding the principal drivers of the trade inside its borders.” This is a serious concern given the degree to which fentanyl is dramatically reshaping the illicit drug trade. Simultaneously, this is having disastrous effects in Mexican drug producing regions, according to a report produced by the Wilson Center, NORIA, and Justice in Mexico. This report emphasizes that with “the upsurge in fentanyl use, the demand for Mexican heroin has sharply fallen,” causing village economies to “dry up” and “out migration” on the upward trend. Altogether, the report highlights the how a modernization of Mexico’s drug policies would solve problems to a wealth of unanswered questions and help bring marginalized regions into the country for good.

 

The new paradigm, created by the rise of fentanyl, may require Mexico and the United States to move away from past approaches dealing with drugs. As fentanyl begins to atomize the market, it will be more difficult to identify and arrest major traffickers like Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, a practice that has not been particularly effective in preventing drug use. According to Insight Crime founder Steven Dudley in a contribution to Foreign Affairs Magazine, “Dealing with illicit drugs requires a holistic approach dedicated to understanding the complexity of drug use and its ripple effects on everything from the rule of law to democracy.”

 

Sources:

Dudley, Steven, et al. “Mexico’s Role in the Deadly Rise of Fentanyl – Investigation.” InSight Crime, Wilson Center: Mexico Institute, Feb. 2019

Dudley, Steven. “The End of the Big Cartels.” Foreign Affairs, Foreign Affairs Magazine, 4 Mar. 2019, www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/mexico/2019-02-27/end-big-cartels

Hassan, Adeel. “Deaths From Drugs and Suicide Reach a Record in the U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Mar. 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/07/us/deaths-drugs-suicide-record.html

Le Cour Grandmaison, Romain, et al. “The U.S. Fentanyl Boom and the Mexican Opium Crisis: Finding Opportunities Amidst Violence?” Wilson Center, 12 Feb. 2019, www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/the-us-fentanyl-boom-and-the-mexican-opium-crisis-finding-opportunities-amidst-violence.

 

 

 

 

 

2019 Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico Report

 

Download the full report here  

 

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.

 

 

Download the full report here

 

 

 

The Potential Effects of Violence on the Mexican Economy

Source: DIMSA

06/01/18 (written by Quinn Skerlos)- In the shadow of its most violent year in decades, Mexico experienced economic challenges and a downturn in economic growth rates. As the country faced an average of 80 intentional homicides per day in 2017 (El País), CNN reports that Mexico’s economic growth rate also fell almost a full percent, while 2% GDP, rising interest and inflationary rates show more signs of economic trouble. While levels of rising violence cannot be held fully accountable for this period of economic contraction- as lengthy NAFTA negotiations and widespread distrust in electoral processes also play a part- the Mexico Peace Index has suggested that violence is an obstacle for the Mexican economy.

 

Violence Generating Threats to Business

According to the American Chamber of Commerce of Mexico, companies are consistently tasked to deal with the threat of theft, extortion, and violent attacks against their employees and supply chains. Mexican companies, such as “Grupo Lala,” closed distribution centers in states with high crime and intentional homicide rates like Tamaulipas.

In Guerrero, another state grappling with high homicide rates, the Coca Cola bottler, Coca-Cola FEMSA, closed a major distribution center. The firm previously employed 160 people at that location. FEMSA may be a major international business player, but most small and medium companies face similar challenges. According to Canacintra, a Mexican industry association, in recent years approximately 6% of annual revenue goes into defense for these small and medium sized firms. FEMSA pinned the violence on “a lack of rule of law and the prevalence of impunity (Associated Press).” According to Consejo Coordinador Empresarial (CCE), “high levels of violence have become the greatest obstacle to economic activity,” ultimately impeding economic activity across Mexico and heightening the risk workers face in their everyday occupations (Reuters).

 

International investment in Mexico is has also been impacted. Just recently, in the state of Chihuahua, Canada’s Pan American Silver Corp scaled down operations after a series of threats by armed groups against employees. A large number of employees were sheltered in the mine over the weekend of May 25-27, while others were airlifted out. As workers are impeded from getting to job sites, large and local companies deal with threats and broken supply chains, multinational firms potentially reconsider investment in Mexico. While this incident highlighted the challenges for international companies operating in Mexico, Mexico’s nationalized companies, such as Mexican Petroleum (Petróleos Mexicanos, PEMEX), have faced similar dilemmas. It is estimated that the theft of oil and gas from PEMEX is equal to about one billion dollars annually.

 

Source: CNN

The Bigger Picture

According to Reuters, in 2017 alone, violence cost the economy 2.18 trillion pesos (106 million US dollars), and the Mexico Peace Index shows that the Mexican government increased violence containment spending by 70% in the past decade. According to the Mexico Peace Index, said statistics could suggest a parallel between violence with economic instability.

According to a recent Pew Research poll, in 2017, Mexicans were generally unsatisfied with their country’s progress. The ruling party, Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), presidential candidate is sitting behind the pack in a distant third place. The emergence of a new popular party in the recent elections might show a dissatisfaction with the status quo. A 2018 Bloomberg poll shows that the leadership of Mexico will likely change after the upcoming election. What that means for the rule of law and the economy in Mexico is still unknown.

 

 

Sources

Angulo, Sharay., Esposito, Anthony. “Businesses turn up the heat on Mexican government over crime surge.” Reuters. May 28, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-violence/businesses-turn-up-heat-on-mexican-government-over-crime-surge-idUSKCN1IU031

Verza, Maria. “Canadian mine latest business affected by Mexico violence.” Associated Press. May 28, 2018. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/canadian-owned-mine-cuts-back-mexico-safety-55491513.

“El Banco Mundial en Mexico.” Banco Mundial. April 16, 2018. http://www.bancomundial.org/es/country/mexico/overview

“3 Focos Rojos Para El Crecimiento Economico de Mexico En 2018” Expansion. March 12, 2018. https://expansion.mx/economia/2018/03/12/3-focos-rojos-para-el-crecimiento-economico-de-mexico-en-2018

Stargardter, Gabriel. “The Refinery Racket.” Reuters. January 24, 2018.  https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/mexico-violence-oil/

“Mexico Peace Index 2018.” Institute for Economics and Peace. 2018.

Perez, David Marcial. “Mexico cerrara 2017 como el mas violente en 20 anos.” El Pais. December 23, 2017. https://elpais.com/internacional/2017/12/23/actualidad/1513997748_288693.html

Vice, Margaret. Chen, Hanyu. “Mexicans are Downbeat on their Country’s Direction.” Pew Reseearch Center, September 14, 2017. http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/09/14/mexicans-are-downbeat-about-their-countrys-direction/

Ahrens, Jan Martin. “Sobrevivir en Tamaulipas.” El Pais. April 15, 2015. https://elpais.com/internacional/2015/04/15/actualidad/1429128474_283895.htm

Gayol, Rafeal. Manuel Rodriguez, Carlos. Spinetto, Juan Pablo. Walsh, Brandon. “Mexican Election Coverage.” Bloomberg. June 25, 2018. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-mexican-election/

 

 

 

2018 Drug Violence in Mexico Report

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 201704/11/18- Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2018 special report on Drug Violence in Mexico, co-authored by Laura Calderón, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. The report examines trends in violence and organized crime in Mexico through 2017. The study compiles the latest available data and analysis of trends to help separate the signals from the noise to help better understand the facets, implications, and possible remedies to the ongoing crisis of violence, corruption, and human rights violations associated with the war on drugs.

Mexico experienced dramatic increases in crime and violence over the last decade. The number of intentional homicides documented by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Information (INEGI) declined significantly under both presidents Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and Vicente Fox (2000-2006), but rose dramatically after 2007, the first year in office for President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). All told, throughout the Calderón administration, INEGI reported 121,669 homicides, an average of over 20,000 people per year, more than 55 people per day, or just over two people every hour. Over that period, no other country in the Western Hemisphere had seen such a large increase either in its homicide rate or in the absolute number of homicides.

Yet, over 116,000 people have been murdered under Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), despite his campaign pledge that violence would decline dramatically within the first year of his administration. In fact, there were an average of 23,293 homicides per year during the first five years of Peña Nieto’s term, nearly 4,000 more per year than during Calderón’s first five years in office. As such, the annual average number of homicides under the Peña Nieto administration is now about 20% higher than during the Calderón administration, whose first two years saw much lower levels of homicide.

In 2017, state-level increases in intentional homicide cases were found in all but 6 states. The top five states with the largest number of intentional homicide cases in 2017 were Guerrero (2,318), Baja California (2,092), Mexico State (2,041), Veracruz (1,641), and Chihuahua (1,369). In 2017, the state with the largest annual increase in total homicides was Baja California, with most of that increase concentrated in the city of Tijuana, as discussed below. However, the largest percentage increases in homicide cases were found in Nayarit (554% increase) and Baja California Sur (192% increase). At the state level, the largest numerical and percentage decrease in homicides was found in the state of Campeche, which saw 67 homicide cases in 2017, down 17 cases (20% less) compared to the previous year.

 

Journalists and mayors are several times more likely to be killed than ordinary citizens. According to a recent Justice in Mexico study by Laura Calderón using data from 2016, Mexican journalists were at least three times more likely to be killed (.7 per 1,000) than the general population (.21 per 1,000), and mayors are at least twelve times more likely (2.46 murders per 1,000). Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset includes 152 mayors, candidates, and former mayors killed from 2005 through 2017, with 14 victims in 2015, six in 2016, and 21 in 2017. In total, nine sitting mayors were killed in 2017.

Mexico’s recent violence is largely attributable to drug trafficking and organized crime. Tallies produced over the past decade by government, media, academic, NGO, and consulting organizations suggest that roughly a third to half of all homicides in Mexico bear signs of organized crime-style violence, including the use of high-caliber automatic weapons, torture, dismemberment, and explicit messages involving organized-crime groups. Based on INEGI’s projected tally of 116,468 homicides from 2013 to 2017, at least 29.7% and perhaps as many as 46.9% of these homicides (34,663 according to newspaper Reforma and as many as 54,631 according to Lantia consulting service) appeared to involve organized crime.

In early 2017, the notorious kingpin leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was extradited to New York to face charges of organized crime, murder, and drug trafficking, among others. The analysis in the Drug Violence in Mexico report suggests that a significant portion of Mexico’s increases in violence from 2015 through 2017 were related to inter- and intra-organizational conflicts among rival drug traffickers in the wake of Guzmán’s re-arrest in 2016. In particular, Guzmán’s downfall has given rise to a new organized crime syndicate called the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG). Thus, the surge of violence following Guzmán’s arrest is one of the negative effects of targeted leadership disruption by law enforcement, often known as the “kingpin strategy.”

The country’s recent violence could be a concern in Mexico’s 2018 presidential election. The worsening of security conditions over the past three years has been a major setback for President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who pledged to reduce violence dramatically during his administration. Peña Nieto has received record low approval ratings during his first five years in office, in part due to perceptions of his handling of issues of crime, violence, and corruption, particularly after the disappearance and murder of dozens of students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in 2014. Mexico will hold elections in July 2018 and the next president will take office in December 2018. Since there is widespread concern about Mexico’s elevated levels of crime and violence, candidates for public office will feel pressure to take a stand on these issues and may even be targeted for violence for violence.

 

New Policy Brief: The Resurgence of Violent Crime in Tijuana

02/05/18 (written by David A. Shirk) — A new Justice in Mexico policy brief by Jaime Arredondo Sánchez Lira, Zulia Orozco, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk, entitled The Resurgence of Violent Crime in Tijuana, provides an assessment of the recent resurgence of violent crime in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in the state of Baja California. Drawing on the latest available information and statistics, the authors examine the varied trends in the major categories of violent crimes in Tijuana: homicide, assault, robbery, extortion, kidnapping, rape, and other sex crimes.

According to the Baja California State Secretariat for Public Security, the number of murders in 2008 and 2009 reached 1,094, which at the time constituted record levels of violence for the city. However, beginning in 2015, the city saw a gradual increase in the number of homicides in 2015 (612 with 674 victims), 2016 (872 cases with 919 victims), and 2017 (1,618 cases with 1,780 victims) that has now placed the city at the forefront of a national surge in homicides, with Tijuana accounting for close to 6% of all homicide victims in Mexico.

The authors find that the distribution of violence within Tijuana is uneven and reflects geographic, economic, and social divisions in the city. Examining neighborhood level homicide data, the authors found such violence to be highly concentrated in specific areas, primarily in three clusters that correspond to specific zones within the city: Eastern Tijuana (comprising the delegations of La Presa, La Presa Este, and Otay), the Sanchez Taboada delegation, and the Centro delegation. They also found that 20% of all homicides were concentrated in only 10 out of the roughly 850 neighborhoods in Tijuana. Of those, the three most violent neighborhoods accounted for 10% of all homicides in the municipality: Camino Verde (75), Zona Norte (49), Zona Centro (32).

Meanwhile, crime trends have been mixed for other forms of violent crime in Tijuana over the past few years. For example, armed robberies in public spaces have also generally declined since the peak in 2008-10, when was an average of over 300 reported incidents per month: in 2015-17, the average monthly incidence was down to roughly half that amount. However, there has been a sharp increase in the number of armed robberies in Tijuana’s commercial establishments in recent years, reaching as high as 300 incidents per month, and a surge of car thefts from the 7,655 cases reported in 2016 to 10,148 in 2017, an increase of 32.6%.

In an effort to explain these trends, the authors provide a general overview of the recent history of organized crime in Tijuana, with consideration of the role it has played in recent surges in violence. The authors find that there has been an important shift in organized crime in Tijuana, due to the arrest and extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who once controlled the Sinaloa cartel. Since his fall, a new criminal organization, known as the “Jalisco New Generation Cartel” has asserted its presence in Tijuana and has directly clashed with the remnants of the Sinaloa cartel. Amid the conflict between these powerful criminal organizations—and the leadership vacuum among the city’s criminal “shot callers”—there has been a lack of control over local gangs and dealers engaged in illicit drug sales and other illicit activities at the neighborhood and street-corner level.

To address the city’s recent crime problems, the authors provide a discussion of the public security responses and policy options available to address Tijuana’s current security crisis, with some general policy recommendations for addressing the city’s recent challenges. The authors present five overarching sets of policy recommendations:

  • Addressing Social and Economic Marginalization:
    1. Invest in social and economic development programs in Tijuana.
    2. Implement community policing in highly violent areas
    3. Improve public transportation and neighborhood accessibility
    4. More youth outreach and social development programs
    5. Recovery and creation of public spaces
  • Combatting Organized Crime:
    1. Reduce dependence on the Kingpin Strategy
    2. Re-enforce local law enforcement capacity amid shifting crime dynamics
    3. Focused deterrence of violence
  • Attending to Special Populations:
    1. Focus on preventing and stopping domestic violence
    2. Increase sensitivity to special victims in local policing
    3. Seasonal adjustments in force deployment and victim response efforts
  • Getting Smart on Drugs:
    1. Drug rehabilitation programs
    2. Drug prevention programs
    3. Binational collaboration on new marijuana regulations in California
    4. Evidence-based public health measures
  • Improving the Analysis of Crime and Violence
    1. Report precise geospatial coordinates of crimes
    2. Professionalize crime monitoring and analysis
    3. Strengthen criminological studies programs
    4. Dissemination of public information