10/22/21- (written by rramos)- Justice in Mexico has released the third edition of Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico, coordinated by Laura Y. Calderón, Kimberly Heinle, Rita E. Kuckertz, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. Previously titled Drug Violence in Mexico, the release marks the third consecutive year in which the report has been issued under its current name, in recognition of ongoing shifts in the nature of organized crime. During a consequential period for Mexico, this latest edition of Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico seeks to provide a comprehensive analysis of the country’s dynamic public security situation by compiling key statistics and exploring the broader significance of emerging and persistent trends.
Trends in Violent Crimes
Mexico experienced a slight decrease in homicides in 2020. Data from the Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) indicated that 2020 saw a 0.3% decline in the number of homicides compared to the number of homicides in 2019. With data from the first half of 2021 continuing to show modest decreases in the number of homicides, there are indications that the surge in homicides that began in 2015 may be starting to level off. Nevertheless, the number of homicides in Mexico remains at exceptionally high levels.
Additionally, SNSP data showed that the occurrence of other violent crimes, such as extortion, kidnappings, and intentional injuries, decreased in 2020 compared to 2019. However, the report notes that widespread underreporting of crimes, as well as disruptions of data collection activities and reporting mechanisms caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, leaves open the possibility that the actual numbers of crimes committed may be higher than official figures.
Special attention continued to be paid to violence against certain populations, including women and journalists. When combining totals of femicide victims and female victims of intentional homicide, the 2020 daily average of women killed each day was virtually unchanged from the average recorded in 2019. With regards to journalists, Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset showed that 2020 was the deadliest year for journalists and media workers, with a 169% increase in killings compared to 2019.
Impact of COVID-19
Reflecting the widespread and unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the globe since early 2020, the report features a section dedicated to examining the ways in which COVID-19 and measures to contain the pandemic have affected criminal groups in Mexico. Organized crime networks adjusted to the logistical challenges of supply chain disruptions and limited access to key infrastructure through a variety of methods, including artificially inflating drug prices and withholding shipments in order to maximize revenues and compensate for lost profits. As noted by the report, the impact of COVID-19 on organized crime activities may compel criminal actors to reshape and redesign their illicit operations in the future.
Also of note, criminal organizations demonstrated their ability to exploit economic hardship caused by the pandemic. A number of organized crime groups across the country engaged in delivery of aid packages and similar measures in a bid to attract support within the local communities in which these groups operate. Among those groups that provided humanitarian assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic were some of Mexico’s most well-known criminal organizations, including the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel.
Mexican Government Responses
The 2021 report also evaluated the potential impacts of certain key policies pursued by the Mexican Government in response to the country’s ongoing security challenges.
Among the topics covered was the continuing role of the National Guard, a critical pillar of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s public security strategy. Despite the National Guard’s continued centrality in efforts to address violence and similar measures that point to ongoing militarization of public security, official data indicates that violence and crime have remained at extraordinarily high levels throughout the López Obrador administration.
Moreover, the report touches upon the possible implications of recent developments in security cooperation between Mexico and the United States. In particular, the report delves into the ways in which the December 2020 adoption of changes to the National Security Law (Ley de Seguridad Nacional) may interrupt flows of information between Mexican and U.S. authorities or damage efforts to build trust between the two sides.
Security and violence in Mexico will remain significant challenges in the foreseeable future. Through a broad, encompassing survey of key data and statistics, Justice in Mexico’s 2021Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico report seeks to shed further light on the complex trends and patterns influencing the overall trajectory of Mexico’s security situation. Through better understanding of the nature of crime and violence, Justice in Mexico hopes to contribute to efforts to more effectively tackle these issues.
04/06/21 (written by scortez) – In late March, four women were brutally killed across the state of Quintana Roo. The femicides span the last weekend of March 2021 and occurred in Tulum, Holbox, and Cancún. The murders have sparked outrage across the country and demonstrations have taken place in cities across the state.
The most high-profile of the femicides occurred on March 27 in Tulum when a Salvadoran woman, Victoria Esperanza Salazar, was allegedly killed by police while she was detained. Animal Político reports that she was held by police for disturbing the public. On social media, videos surfaced from bystanders present during the incident showing four police officers kneeling down on the back of Salazar’s neck until she became unresponsive. Since then, four police officers have been arrested on femicide charges for the murder of Salazar. In addition to their arrest, the Tulum Police Director, Nesguer Vicencio Méndez, was removed from his position. Their role in the killing of Salazar has also brought condemnation from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, who said that her death brought on “shame, pain, and embarrassment.” He vowed to bring justice to those responsible for Salazar’s death. .
The day after Salazar’s death, the body of Karla was found on March 28, on the shores of the island of Holbox. Her body was found with signs of strangulation and with deep knife cuts. On that same day, the State Attorney’s Office (Fiscalía General de Quintana Roo) announced that a suspect only publicly identified as Roger C. had been arrested for his alleged role in her murder. Authorities believe that the homicide stemmed from a personal dispute between the suspect and the victim. Her murder may also be connected to the disappearances of two other women that went missing before Karla was found dead.
Finally, two more women were killed in Cancún on March 28. The victims have yet to be identified by authorities. According to Expansión Política, the two women were killed in separate events. The first victim was shot three times in her apartment; the other was burned alive.These deaths rocked the community in Quintana Roo and have resurfaced communal outrage towards the violence that targets women.
Demonstrators Protest the Deadly Weekend
For the past few years, demonstrators have continued to push the federal government to act swiftly to end the epidemic of femicides occurring across the country. Renewed protests kicked off following the reports of the first two femicides of Salazar and Karla in Tulum and Holbox, respectively. On March 28, feminist organizations demanding justice began protesting in Cancún, Tulum, and Mexico City. The protestors are demanding reforms to the police system that call for the excessive use of force and the maneuver used to kill Salazar. The demonstrations are reminiscent of the November 2020 Cancún protests that resulted in a violent dispersal by police. During that protest, there were reports that police used excessive force and sexually assaulted protestors. The recent femicides that occurred in the state is part of a larger uptick of gendered violence occurring across the country.
Femicide: A National Crisis
Despite the apprehension of those involved in these recent killings, the threat to women’s safety remains an ongoing issue. Approximately 10 women are killed each day due to gender-related violence in Mexico. According to a Justice In Mexico report in 2019, 945 femicides occurred across the country. In that same report, the SNSP highlighted that from 2015 to 2019, the number of femicides increased by 130%. The growing statistics matched with the rise in demonstrations over the past years make this one of Mexico’s most pressing issues that remain unsolved. Human Rights Watch writes that femicides occur because of long-existing social problems such as the tendency to romanticize partner violence and a lack of police investigations. On International Women’s Day, March 2020, protesters demanding justice and accountability for the high femicide rates caught the world’s attention with the massive demonstrations urging the government to act. It is uncertain if the AMLO administration will take on these recent calls for strengthening the protection of women and implement changes that target this issue.
12/02/20 (written by vrice)— Florisel Ríos Delfín, Mayor of Veracruz’s Jamapa municipality, was kidnapped from her home late on November 10, 2020 by ten armed men. The mayor was found dead early the next morning in a rural area of Medellín de Bravo, a neighboring municipality. Police speculate that an organized criminal group was behind the attack. In Mexico, such violence against local mayors, former mayors, mayoral candidates, and alternate mayors has become increasingly frequent. Justice in Mexico’s (JIM) Laura Calderón argues that this violence threatens the democratic process and undermines rule of law.
A Disarmed Police Force and Accusations of Corruption
Ríos is the second female mayor murdered during the term of Cuitláhuac García Jiménez, current governor of Veracruz. Maricela Vallejo, the mayor of Veracruz’s Mixtla de Altamirano municipality, was murdered in April 2019 alongside her husband and driver. The Saturday before her murder, Mayor Ríos attended a meeting with all the other municipal presidents of Veracruz affiliated with the Revolutionary Democratic Party (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, PRD). At the meeting, the mayor expressed feelings of being in danger and asked for help. In her last interview before the murder, she voiced similar sentiments of fearing for her life, which she attributed to the disarmament of local police and a municipal budget that was insufficient to pay for personal security. Veracruz Government Secretary Éric Cisneros Burgos had ordered for Jamapa police to be disarmed shortly before Ríos was killed because the majority of officers had been using firearms that were not registered and approved by the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA). Therefore, the officers had been using the weapons illegally. In the week before her murder, Ríos met with Secretary Cisneros to request that she and her family receive state protection. Cisneros denied the request.
Since she took office in 2018, Ríos’ term was marred by various scandals. Last July, the Captain of the Jamapa Municipal Police, Miguel de Jesús Castillo, accused the mayor of being involved in the disappearance of citizens. The Captain was later murdered and dismembered by what police suspect to be a criminal organization. Then, in January of this year, the Jamapa municipal palace was occupied for various months by protesters who demanded that dismissed workers be rehired. The occupiers also filed eight complaints with the Veracruz State Attorney General (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) against Ríos and other Jamapa government officials for mismanagement. Then, early this November, Ríos’ husband, Fernando Hernández Terán, now ex-president of Jamapa’s National System for Integral Family Development (Sistema Nacional para el Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, DIF), was accused of diverting public funds. After the Veracruz FGE ordered for his arrest, Hernández went into hiding, where he remained at the time of Mayor Ríos’ murder.
In his daily morning press conference on November 12, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) mourned Mayor Ríos’ death and said that his administration has been attentive to the ongoing investigation. Local Jamapa politicians and leaders of the PRD, the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN), and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) also lamented Ríos’death. Veracruz PAN Senator Indira Rosales requested that Governor García clarify the circumstances of the murder and sanction those responsible. Leaders like Citlali Medellín Careaga (PRI mayor of Tamihua) and Viridiana Bretón Feito (PAN mayor of Ixhuatlán del Café) denounced and demanded justice for Rios’ murder. Via Twitter, Jesús Zambrano Grijalva, National President of the PRD, used the anti-femicide #NiUnaMenos hashtag to condemn Ríos’ murder and criticize Governor García’s administration.
Additionally, Ángel Ávila, the PRD representative in the National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral, INE) took to social media to say that the Governor and Secretary Cisneros should stop threatening the PRD and instead “get to work.” Ávila also denounced Veracruz as a state that “doesn’t have a government.” For his part, the Governor released a video on Twitter sharing that his administration had requested for the FGE to accelerate investigation into Ríos’ death. The Veracruz Secreatariat of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) shared via Twitterthat air and ground surveillance operations had been launched in Jamapa and the surrounding area to investigate and find those culpable for the mayor’s murder. From his unknown location, Ríos’ husband published a Facebook message mourning his wife’s death and attributing unsafe conditions in Mexico to rampant organized crime.
On November 16, Jamapa municipal employees along with dozens of citizens protested in the streets to demand justice for the mayor’s murder. Ríos’ children were also in attendance, including her daughter Yzayana Hernández Ríos, who has since taken over presidency of Jamapa’s DIF since her father’s removal. Yzayana said that she feared for the lives of herself and her siblings and reproached statements by Governor García, which she said blamed the Mayor for her own murder. Ríos’ daughter Yzayana also stated, “My mother was a very hardworking and honest woman, who day to day fought to improve this municipality” and accused Governor García of “re-victimizing” her mother.
The Assassination: An Exception or Endemic?
Thus far in 2020, four municipal public servants have been murdered. This violence is part of a larger pattern, exemplified in data from the National Association of Mayors (La Asociación Nacional de Alcaldes, ANAC), which found that 158 Mexican mayors were murdered from 2006-2019. Justice in Mexico’s research has documented the intentional homicide of at least 264 local politicians from 2002-2019, 98 of whom were murdered just from 2015-2019. While JIM’s analysis revealed a 26% decrease in the number of victims from 2018 to 2019, this past year of 2019 was the most violent for ex mayors, who accounted for 15 of the 25 total murders.
The killing of Mayor Ríos is consistent with other data Justice in Mexico has collected regarding violent conditions in Veracruz and the political affiliation of murdered mayors, former mayors, mayoral candidates, and alternate mayors. While significantly behind the PRI with 89 victims, those affiliated with the PRD—Mayor Ríos’ party—were murdered at the second highest rates of any party, with 40 victims from 2002-2019. Moreover, Justice in Mexico found that during this period, Veracruz reported the fourth highest murder rate of for the aformentioned local politicians. In 2019, Veracruz also recorded the second most murders of mayors, former mayors, mayoral candidates, and alternate mayors (3) nationwide, the highest number of femicides (157) and of officially reported kidnappings (298), and the fourth most cases of extortion (560).
Justice in Mexico’s research has revealed the unique vulnerability of local politicians in Mexico. In 2019, it was revealed that Mexican mayors were 13 times more likely to be assassinated than the general public. The murder rate for mayors was 3.25 per 1,000 mayors, versus 0.24 per every 1,000 citizens amongst the general public. In a working paper by JIM’s Calderón, “An Analysis of Mayoral Assassinations in Mexico, 2000-17”, three potential hypotheses to explain mayoral murders are explored: a mayor’s perceived level of corruptibility (which influences how much organized crime groups view them as a threat), rates of drug production/trafficking in a state (violence is more concentrated in states with of such higher rates), greater vulnerability in more rural territories with less population density. To combat this violence, Calderón emphasizes: the responsibility of the federal government to provide sufficient budgets and adequately enforce federal protections; the fundamentality of strengthening state institutions with transnational justice processes to allow for democratic consolidation; and the necessity of implementing policies and social incentives to dissuade public participation in organized criminal activities as a means of survival.
Violence Against Women in Mexican Politics
The phenomenon of “political violence and political harassment against women,” seen across Latin America and the world, can be characterized by “behaviors that specifically target women as women to leave politics by pressuring them to step down as candidates or resign a particular political office” (Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2015, 127). Such behaviors may include, but are not limited to, acts of physical, symbolic, psychological, economic, and sexual violence—from kidnapping, rape, and murder to the spreading of false rumors, release of private photographs, and refusal of parties to fund female candidates’ campaigns (ibid, 138).
For many years, Mexico’s General Law on Electoral Crimes failed to collect gender disaggregated data on acts of political violence. This meant that specific statistics for violence against female politicians, like Mayor Ríos, or against women trying to exercise their political rights were unavailable. The Mexican government has slowly taken strides to better protect women’s ability to participate in politics, but these have often not lived up to expectations. A 2008 reform aimed to increase female political participation by “requiring parties to earmark 2% of their public funding to activities supporting women’s leadership development” (ibid, 142). When parties’ accounts were reviewed in 2011, it was revealed that these funds had been used for alternative purposes, like “cleaning supplies, stationery, and fumigation services” (ibid). Even in 2013, when the INE introduced a set of guidelines on implementing the earmark, party leaders openly asked auditors how they could avoid adhering to the requirement (ibid). More recently, in October 2020, the INE unanimously endorsed guidelines for political parties to help combat gender-based political violence. Amongst other requirements, these stipulated that, beginning in 2021, no aspiring candidate can be convicted or accused of domestic violence, sexual misconduct, or have defaulted on alimony payments.
In Mexico, gender-based political violence occurs in a greater context where women’s fundamental rights to life and security are routinely transgressed. In 2019, Mexico recorded the second highest absolute number of femicides in all of Latin America and the Caribbean at 983, a rate of 1.5 per 100,000 women.
This data is reflective of the increasing prevalence of femicide in the country, which from 2015 to 2019 saw a 139% increase, per Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). These high rates are even more troubling given how in 2019 the impunity rate for femicide in Mexico was 51.4%. This impunity is not just restricted to cases of femicide, but rather is endemic in Mexico, seen by the country’s 89.6% impunity rate for intentional homicides. The Mexican government has played a significant role in allowing rampant violence against women to continue. Of the 3,522 Public Ministry (Ministerio Público, MP) agencies in the country, only 177—less than 5%—are focused on addressing crimes against women. These few agencies are expected to handle an immense caseload, as 482 women report cases of familial violence each day—equivalent to about 20 cases each hour. Moreover, only 3.3% of these agencies focus on sexual crimes, and are expected to manage the more than 40,281 cases of such crimes that were registered from January to September 2020. The lack of resources and government employees to handle cases of violence against women in these few MP agencies contribute to high rates of femicide and impunity for these crimes.
These dangerous conditions for Mexican women have only been exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19. El Sol Mexico estimated that two-thirds of women over 15 years of age in the country would be forced to quarantine with a violent partner. Moreover, during the eight months of lockdown thus far, the National Network of Shelters (Red Nacional de Refugios), which aids female victims of violence and their children, has provided services to over 34,716 women. These requests for help represent a 51% increase from the same period during 2019. The Network registered that 9% of male aggressors (about 3,123 individuals) from whom women sought assistance had military or political ties. This data is particularly troubling given the role of male politicians in perpetrating violence against women in politics. In 2004, a female candidate running for municipal president of San José Estancia Grande (in the state of Oaxaca), Guadalupe Ávila Salinas, was shot dead by the sitting municipal president at that time (Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2015, 140). Other female municipal candidates have been kidnapped by their political opponents, in some instances, by opponents in collaboration with the female candidate’s own party and/or spouse (ibid). All of these rampant forms of violence against women in Mexican politics renders near gender parity in Congress more symbolic than actually indicative of equal rights and respect for women. If it is not telling enough that political gender quotas took 15 years to be implemented, female politicians continue to be discriminated against, prevented from presenting proposals, and denied essential campaign funds. Moreover, men continue to serve as the heads of important legislative bodies including the “Executive Board, Political Coordination Board, and 15 out of 16 party caucuses”.
Failing to address attacks against women in politics allows this kind of violence to continuously be construed as the “cost of doing politics” for women (Krook and Restrepo Sanín 2015, 145). Such an understanding normalizes endemic mistreatment of women both inside and outside the political sphere. As a result, violent acts against women in politics threaten the level and quality of democracy in Mexico and question to what degree women have truly been incorporated as full political actors in Mexico (Krook 2017, 74).
Content warning: the following blog post contains mentions of sexual violence and assault
11/20/20 (written by vrice)— On November 9 at around 4:00pm, 2,000 protestors marched to the Quintana Roo Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía Central), located in the city of Cancún. Demonstrators gathered to demand justice for Bianca Alejandrina Lorenzana Alvarado (“Alexis”) and implore the government to take more substantial action against femicide. The 20-year-old had gone missing on November 7, and her body was found two days later, dismembered in trash bags. The police of Benito Juárez, the municipality where Cancún is located, violently dispersed the protestors who had gathered. Four journalists were injured, two of which suffered bullet wounds, and two of the eight detained demonstrators reported sexual assault by the police. These acts are a reflection of a larger pattern of police repression of feminist protests and attacks on journalists in Mexico.
To Serve and Protect?
On the evening of November 9, 50 Benito Juárez police officers began firing on feminist protestors who attempted to break into the Attorney General’s Office. Following the event, the head of the police force, Eduardo Santamaría, was dismissed on grounds of “abuse of power” for ordering officers to fire on protesters. Santamaría argued that he had ordered officers to fire into the air, but demonstrators reported seeing police aim directly at protestors. Despite the otherwise peaceful nature of the protest, journalists Cecilia Solís (from the media outlet Energy FM) and Roberto Becerril (from The Truth News, La Verdad Noticias) suffered gunshot wounds in the leg and arm, respectively.
The Quintana Roo Attorney General’s Office falsely claimed no protestors had been detained via Twitter, despite reports from the Network of Quintana Roo Journalists (Red de Periodistas de Quintana Roo) that eight people had been detained a few hours prior. The Quintana Roo Human Rights Commission (La Comisión de los Derechos Humanos del Estado de Quintana Roo), whose personnel provided support to the detainees, corroborated the Network’s claims.
In addition to the police shootings, Animal Político reported that police used excessive force and sexually assaulted two peaceful demonstrators, María Elena and Quetzalli, after arresting them. María Elena also recounted seeing police aggressively beat a woman at the protest, even after she told them she was merely a journalist doing her job. Another journalist, Selene Hidrogo from Sipse TVCUN, cited how the police explicitly targeted reporters who attempted to record and broadcast the violence. Julián Ramírez, director of Cancún’s Kukulcán high school where he once had Alexis as a student, was detained at the protest and severely beaten by law enforcement. He shared that upon telling the police that Alexis was his student, the officers said they were going to “leave him worse off than her” (“me dijeron que me iban a dejar peor que ella”). After being released at 9:30pm the night of the protest, María Elena, Quetzalli, and Julián went to the State Human Rights Commission to file complaints.
The alleged abuses of power by the local police are in direct violation of the municipality’s law enforcement bylaws. Article 20, Sections V states that police must, “treat all persons with respect, abstaining from any arbitrary acts and from unduly limiting the public’s ability to carry out peaceful manifestations in exercise of their constitutional rights.” Additionally, Section VIII states that police must, “ensure the life and physical integrity of detained persons until the Public Ministry or a competent authority is available.” Given these clear legal violations, the actions of the Benito Juárez police have been met with widespread condemnation.
Will Chorus of Condemnations Translate Into Meaningful Action?
Hours before the protest, Mara Lezama, the Municipal President of Benito Juárez, tweeted, “Cancún is a city of liberties and rights, and because of this free, peaceful demonstrations will be protected.” After news of the shooting surfaced, Lezama tweeted again and released a video saying that she rebukes all acts of violence and that she had ordered an investigation into the “illegal and immoral” police actions. Carlos Joaquín González, Governor of Quintana Roo, also took to Twitter to clarify that he had given specific instructions that no aggression or weapons be used against protestors. The chorus of condemnations continued with Quintana Roo Chief of Police Alberto Capella, who deemed the police repression inacceptable and said that security camera footage would be reviewed to determine the perpetrators. Capella even resigned the next day in order to conduct an unbiased investigation. Gerardo Solis Barreto, the Secretary of the Benito Juárez City Council, also resigned in protest of the police’s actions, while also filing a complaint that police violated the Law on the Use of Force (Ley de Uso de la Fuerza).
At his daily morning press conference on November 10, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said that an investigation must be conducted into what occurred in Cancún, and that those responsible must be punished. The President denied that the National Guard took part in the repression, which journalists present at the protest confirmed—with the caveat that the officers were bystanders during the abuses. AMLO said that if Governor Joaquín failed to carry out these investigations, then bodies like the National Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) would have to intervene. For their part, the CNDH released a communication on November 10 rebuking the police repression. In it, the CNDH cited how the Inter-American Human Rights System (Sistema Interamericano de los Derechos Humanos) stipulates that in public demonstrations, state operatives must only use as little force as possible with the ends of protecting protestors. The Ministry of the Interior (Ministerio del Interior) and Mexican chapters of Amnesty International and United Nations Women echoed the condemnations.
Beyond digital denouncements, feminists in Mexico City (Ciudád de México, CDMX) organized a protest against femicide and the Benito Juárez police repression on November 11, outside of the Quintana Roo government office in the Colonia Roma district. City police surrounded the building with riot shields to prevent any attempted entry by demonstrators. Observers from the CDMX Human Rights Commission (Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Ciudad de México, CDHCM) were in attendance to make sure no rights violations occurred.
The Larger Pattern of Oppression
Femicides and police violence against feminist protestors and journalists are part of a larger pattern in Quintana Roo and Mexico as a whole. In 2020, twelve femicides have already been registered in Quintana Roo. Moreover, Atizapán Municipal Police in the state of Mexico (Estado de México) violently attacked feminist demonstrators in September, while in Mexico City protestors marching for International Safe Abortion Day were teargassed and beaten. Just one day before the Cancún demonstration, Cuautitlán Municipal Police, also in the State of Mexico, tear gassed protestors. The demonstrators were demanding justice for the femicide of 17-year-old Ámbar Viridiana Uicab Tapia, who was found on November 6 in a sewage canal after having gone missing since October 23. These demonstrations in Atizapán and Cuautitlán are a product of the dangerous environment women face in the State of Mexico, which last year recorded the second highest number of femicide cases in the country. Mexico City also registered the greatest number of sex crimes of any city nationwide in 2019—accounting for nearly 13% of the national total for that year. Such violent police repression of feminist protests only seems to further impede women’s access to justice across Mexico.
Not only is Mexico one of the most dangerous countries for women, but it also consistently ranks amongst the most unsafe nations in the world for journalists. During 2019, the country recorded three times as many journalist murders than any other country worldwide. This threatening media climate is reflected in Mexico’s ranking of 143rd out of 180 countries on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, even behind less democratic countries like Nicaragua (117th, rated “not free” at 31/100 by Freedom House), and South Sudan (138rd, rated “not free” at -2 by Freedom House). For reference, Freedom House has rated Mexico “partly free” with a score of 62/100. Moreover, over the last month, three journalists have been killed in Mexico: Arturo Alba (Ciudad Juárez), Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas (Sonora), and Israel Vazquez Rangel (Guanajuato).
Attacks on peaceful protestors and journalists like those in Cancún and across the State of Mexico, for example, undermine Mexicans’ constitutional rights—even more so when they come at the hands of the police. Damaging effects on citizens’ sense of trust and security are reflected in the 2020 Gallup Law and Order Index. Public opinion polls from the index display how Mexican citizens’ confidence in local police is the second lowest in all of Latin America. Venezuela, which is currently under the authoritarian dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, was the only country where citizens exhibited lower confidence in local police than in Mexico.
09/22/20 (written by vrice)—While rising feminist protests in Mexico during the early months of 2020 were hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, feminist collectives have begun mobilizing again by occupying two nationally-recognized human rights facilities. Mexico possesses the highest number of femicides per capita in Latin America. In the wake of a 60% uptick in domestic violence cases during the pandemic lockdown, Mexican women’s call for justice has taken on increased urgency.
Occupation of the CNDH
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) is headquartered in Mexico City. Since Thursday, September 3, these headquarters have been occupied by feminist collectives Frente Nacional Ni Una Menos (National Front Not One (Woman) Less) and Aequus, Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (Equal, Promotion and Defense of Human Rights). Occupiers demand greater government action to protect against and investigate increasing cases of violence against women. The collectives have turned the headquarters into a shelter for those facing gender-based violence, equipped with medical and legal professionals who have served about 100 women in the first week of September.
Occupation of the CODHEM
On September 10, in solidarity with the CNDH occupation, feminist collectives occupied the headquarters of the Human Rights Comission for the State of Mexico (Comisión de Derechos Humanos del Estado de México, CODHEM) in the municipality of Ecatepec. The collectives said that they were given CODHEM’s permission to peacefully occupy the office and cited motives akin to those of occupiers in the CNDH. Mexican state authorities have been accused of excessive force in their removal of occupiers, during which they detained 11 women, two men, and multiple minors. A few hours after the arrestees’ release on September 11, protestors set fire to and spray painted the CODHEM office to rebuke the police’s violent arrest and removal of occupiers.
Responses could suggest growing solidarity
In response to the CNDH occupation, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said that he respects the just demand presented by the collectives. Although, AMLO maintained that he condemns violence and occupiers who spray painted walls and painted on a portrait of Mexican revolutionary and former president Francisco I. Madero. The president denounced the latter acts as vandalism. Akin to AMLO’s call for nonviolence, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum emphasized in a press conference that the fight must be peaceful, citing rights to freedom of expression and to protest. The CNDH has also weighed in, maintaining that the organization has no intention to file charges against occupiers and even offering the feminist collectives a different building from which to continue conducting work to combat gender-based violence. The president of the CNDH, Rosario Piedra Ibarra—whose resignation the collectives have requested—affirmed that she is on the side of victims and that the occupiers are not the enemy that needs to be defeated; rather, she called for dialogue. Yesenia Zamudio, one of the Ni Una Menos collective leaders, expressed to El Universal that government officials were less equipped than occupiers to run the CNDH offices.
Meanwhile, the police removal of the CODHEM office occupiers was denounced via Twitter by the State of Mexico’s Governor, Alfredo Del Mazo Maza. The governor also shared that he instructed two officials (including the State of Mexico’s Secretary of Justice and Human Rights, Rodrigo Espeleta) to support the women and safeguard their rights. The State of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de Justicia del Estado de México, FGJEM) released a statement denying the use of excessive force and stating that individuals had been detained on charges of illegally occupying a public service building. Similar to the CNDH case, the FGJEM maintained that it will not pursue criminal charges against the occupiers. CODHEM expressed that it was on the side of the feminist movement and stands with victims of violence and femicide, parallel with the sentiments of Pierda regarding the CNDH’s occupation. However, hours later when protestors set fire to the office, CODHEM released a tweet condemning these acts as hindering efforts to protect human rights in the State of Mexico. In a press conference on September 11, AMLO asserted that he had not been briefed on the feminist occupiers’ removal. He then requested that the occurrences be investigated and the women be protected from harm.
Significance of occupation locations and the larger pattern of mobilization
Various catalyzing events for the Mexican feminist movement have taken place in Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CDMX), the nation’s capital. Public demonstrations erupted after the rape of a 17-year-old girl by four police men in a patrol car in 2019 and the murders of 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla and 7-year-old Fatima Cecelia Aldrighett Anton in 2020. The murders of Escamilla and Aldrighett occurred a few weeks before International Women’s Day on March 8, and led to the greatest turnout in such a march in Mexico’s history.
The CNDH headquarters are located in Mexico City. In 2019, Mexico City saw the greatest number of registered sex crimes for any city across Mexico with 6,507—nearly 13% of the national total. This type of crime includes but is not limited to sexual abuse, rape, and varying forms of sexual assault. In the same year, the city also registered the nation’s third highest number of femicides at 71. The CODHEM office, meanwhile, is located in the State of Mexico, which also saw 123 cases of femicide in 2019. These rates make it the state with the second highest cases in all of Mexico. Moreover, in 2019, Ecatepec the municipality where the CODHEM office is located, registered the highest number of cases of intentional injury (5,392), the most cases of extortion (296), and the second most robberies (25,168) in the country. The threatening environments for women in CDMX and Ecatepec may explain parallel demands of CNDH and CODHEM occupiers for the government to more actively address gender-based violence.
The CNDH and CODHEM occupations are not isolated incidents. In fact, over the last two weeks in solidarity with Ni Una Más, feminist collectives have also symbolically occupied local human rights commissions in Aguascalientes, Michoacán, Puebla, Tabasco, and Veracruz. The violent removal of occupiers in Ecatepec is part of a pattern of police behavior in which feminist demonstrations are met with violence. For example, police violently ended a march in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua against police brutality last week and arrested 28 women. Furthermore, an August manifestation against sexual assault in León, Guanajuato ended in the arrests of various women, who reported sexual assault against the officers who detained them.
Feminists have grown increasingly aggravated as the threat of gender-based violence continues to rise in Mexico. Data from the Mexican National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) shows 2019 was the most violent year on record for women, and just this August the country registered the highest monthly total for femicides in Mexican history. Statistics from El Sol Mexico estimated that two-thirds of women over 15 years of age in Mexico would be forced to quarantine with a violent partner due to the coronavirus outbreak. Moreover, during the first three weeks after stay at home orders were issued at the end of March, violence against women surged by 30-100%, according to approximates by Mexican authorities. For more resources and statistics, visit Justice in Mexico’s recent blog post examining violence against women during the COVID-19 lockdown here.