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.
07/30/20- (written by jhale)- Justice in Mexico has released the second 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. Initially titled Drug Violence in Mexico, the report was reissued under a new name beginning last year with the tenth edition. The switch reflects recent shifts in the nature of organized crime, including the diversification of criminal activities. In an ever-changing world, Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico works to compile important statistics regarding key trends while providing insight to help understand an uncertain future.
Diversification of criminal enterprise
The report cites two factors that have contributed to recent patterns in crime: infighting amongst splinter groups and diversification of revenue sources. As larger criminal organizations disband, smaller groups are left in their wake. These small enterprises often lack the logistical capacity to form trans-national criminal partnerships, and instead turn to predatory crimes to maintain revenue. Robberies, kidnappings, and territorial violence can all be linked to the actions of low-level criminal organizations as they fight to increase their market share.
Meanwhile, crime syndicates have sought to diversify their streams of income as competition increases for a stake in the drug trade. Groups such as the Zetas cartel (los Zetas) have paved the way for the transformation of drug trafficking organizations into trans-national criminal organizations. These reiterations of existing groups pose a novel threat to Mexican internal security. In addition to trafficking drugs, criminal organizations have expanded into sex trafficking, fuel theft, and illegal trade of exotic animals. The constantly shifting strategies of organized criminal groups have made law enforcement increasingly difficult for Mexican authorities.
Homicide rates and organized crime
A key topic addressed in the report is Mexico’s homicide rate, which rose to record levels in 2019. The Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) reports that 29,406 cases of murder occurred in 2019, affecting 34,588 victims. While Mexico’s homicide rate has climbed since late-2014, the rate of increase has seemingly subsided. There was a 2.5% increase in homicides from 2018 to 2019, compared with a 20% jump from 2017 to 2018. Regardless, homicide remains a pressing issue in Mexican society. At present, homicide is the leading cause of death among individuals from the ages of 15-39. Mexico’s homicide crisis has caused incalculable suffering in families and communities throughout the country, stifling progress and cutting short the lives of thousands of young people.
Two Mexican media organizations, Milenio and Reforma, have attempted to quantify homicide as relating to organized crime. Figures reported by Milenio suggest that there were 23,393 homicides linked to organized crime groups in 2019, while Reforma has published a more conservative estimate of 15,108 such incidents. The numbers imply that 44% to 80% of homicides can be attributed to organized crime groups.
Although there are some methodological challenges to proving connections between homicide rates and organized crime, the report notes that many of the same regions frequented by organized criminal groups experience higher levels of violence. The report identifies five urban regions with over 450 homicides and a homicide rate exceeding 100 per 100,000 inhabitants: Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Culiacán, Acapulco de Juárez, and León. The report also highlights the three most violent regions in Mexico: the North-East border region; the mid-Pacific coast; and the so-called Golden Triangle of Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Durango, a hotbed for opium production. In addition to having high homicide rates, these areas have also served as de facto centers for drug trafficking and criminal activity. According to the report, the geographic correlation of crime and homicide allows researchers to better understand how organized crime can affect violence throughout Mexico.
In addition to homicide, the report provides insight regarding trends in crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, and robbery. The report found that the number of cases of intentional injury in Mexico increased in 2019 for a fourth year in a row. According to SNSP data, 1,856 of Mexico’s 2,326 municipalities reported at least one intentional injury. Reported kidnappings steadily rose over the years but leveled off in 2018 and 2019 with an increase of roughly 15% with 1,329 reported kidnappings in 2018 and 1,323 reported kidnappings in 2019. Extortion has also been on the rise with an increase from 5,072 cases in 205 to 8,500 cases in 2019. While official statistics provide valuable insight into crime rates, the report’s authors point out that crimes of lesser import are significantly underreported and may not be a reliable indicator of predatory crime trends observed from year to year. For example, an estimated 91.2% of kidnappings are uninvestigated and remain off the official record.
Gender violence and sex crimes
In light of recent social movements highlighting gender violence, the report has included a section dedicated to the topic. Almost half (45%) of women in Mexico report having been the victim of relationship violence. Femicide, or the murder of a woman because of her gender, has seen a 130% uptick since 2015. The authors note that statistics pertaining to violence against women are skewed by the impunity of abusers and a lack of funding for local attorneys general. President López Obrador himself has come under fire for his apparent dismissal of violence against women and his use of rhetoric which pundits have described as “tepid at best”.
The report points out that women may be more empowered to report incidents of violence and sex crimes in the wake of recent protests seeking to hold abusers accountable. Furthermore, the report notes that increased scrutiny of gender violence by authorities may reflect a shift in law enforcement objectives to reflect current issues. This may help explain recent increases in sex crimes, including sexual harassment, abuse, and rape. Despite advances in prosecuting violence against women, the report’s authors note that 77% of women in Mexico feel unsafe as the overwhelming majority of crimes continue to go unreported or uninvestigated.
Politically motivated violence and high-profile targets
The killings of high profile targets such as mayors, police, military officers, and journalists has also increased. In what the report describes as a threat to the rule of law, 25 current, former, or aspiring mayors were assassinated in 2019. Statistics drawn from Justice in Mexico’s Memoria database suggest that mayors are 13 times more likely to be murdered than the average individual. Police and military leaders were also frequently targeted for their role in law enforcement, sometimes at the behest of criminal groups. Lastly, although the number of journalists murdered decreased slightly in 2019, Mexico still ranks among the most dangerous places for journalists to go about their line of work. In Justice in Mexico’s estimation, 13 journalists and media workers were killed in 2019.
This chart, from Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset, illustrates the gradual increase in killings of journalists.
Diversification of violent crime
This report sets itself apart from previous editions by analyzing other predatory crimes perpetrated by small organized crime groups, such as intentional injury, kidnapping, and extortion. The report found that the number of cases of intentional injury in Mexico increased in 2019 for a fourth year in a row. According to SNSP data, 1,856 of Mexico’s 2,326 municipalities reported at least one intentional injury. Reported kidnappings steadily rose over the years but leveled off in 2018 and 2019 with an increase of roughly 15% with 1,329 reported kidnappings in 2018 and 1,323 reported kidnappings in 2019. Extortion has also been on the rise with an increase from 5,072 cases in 205 to 8,500 cases in 2019. The authors note that crimes such as kidnapping and extortion are chronically underreported, suggesting that official data may not be a reliable indicator of predatory crime trends observed from year to year. However, these data are useful in illustrating the aforementioned diversification of criminal enterprise.
Looking to the future
A multitude of causes and contextual factors have contributed to rising crime rates in Mexico. It is difficult to understand and easy to place blame for a problem tugging at the seams of Mexican society. Through an exhaustive overview of the data, statistics, and trends pertaining to crime in Mexico, Justice in Mexico’s Organized Crime and Violence aims to demystify a difficult subject. The authors of this report seek not only to assist in our understanding of the topic, but to paint a picture of crime in Mexico extending beyond the numbers.
05/26/20 (written by mvillaseñor in collaboration with aherrera) – Mexican environmental activists have increasingly been under attack. Just in the last five months, at least six environmental activists have been murdered. According to a 2019 report from the Mexican Center for Environmental Law (Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental, CEMDA), homicides are increasingly becoming the primary form of attack against environmental activists in the country. According to the report, environmental activists are at a particularly high risk of retribution due to their vocal criticism against political and economic interests, such as large infrastructure projects and developments.
2012 and 2019, Mexico has seen a total of at least 499 attacks against environmental
activists, including but not limited to threats, criminalization, assault, and
homicide. According to data from CEMDA, the number of attacks gradually
increased from 24 in 2012, 64 in 2013 and 78 in 2014 to its peak of 107 in 2015
and 85 in 2016. This represents a 346% increase in attacks against
environmental activists from 2012 to 2015.
Mexico’s Energy Reform
These observed increases in attacks
against environmental activists coincide with the implementation of Mexico’s
energy reform. In
fact, the aforementioned 2019 report from CEMDA notes the ratification of the
energy reform as a relevant factor in the significant increase in homicides of
environmental activists. The energy reform was first introduced by Enrique Peña
Nieto on August 12, 2013. The reform was backed by his political party, the
Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido
Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) as well as the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) and was
intended to modify the constitution to allow foreign investment in its energy
sector. Prior to the energy reform, state-owned Mexican Petroleum (Petróleos Mexicanos, PEMEX) ran the
country’s energy industry after President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río expropriated Mexico’s
oil sector in 1938. The constitutional reform was debated by congress and
approved on December 12, 2013. This was the first time in 75 years that private
and foreign investment became allowable in Mexico’s energy sector. On August
2014, further legislation was approved that leveled the playing field for all investors
in the sector.
more about Mexico’s New Energy Reform in this 2018 report from the Mexico Center
at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
more here about how legislation from the
Energy Reform has impacted transparency and human rights as well as infringed
on citizen participation at the local and national level.
Increase in Attacks Against Environmental Activists
the number of attacks has been decreasing with
53 in 2017, 49 in 2018, and most recently 39 in 2019. However, homicides,
within this time span, have seen an increase. According to CEMDA, in 2019,
homicide was the primary form of aggression with 21.1% of incidences resulting
in death, followed by threats with 19.3%, criminalization with 15.8%, and
intimidation with 14%. Moreover, CEMDA points out that the primary aggressor is
often the government itself. CEMDA attributed 40.5% of overall attacks
committed towards environmentalist in 2019 to the government, tied with
unidentified aggressors and followed by community members and organized crime
each with 4.8%. Attacks perpetrated by the government are primarily attributed
to local prosecutors, the National Guard (Guardia
Nacional), and state police.
Environmental Activist Homicides in 2020
has lost at least six environmental activists in 2020. The first case surrounds
the murder of 50-year-old Homero Gómez González, an outspoken critic of illegal
logging and manager of El Rosario’s monarch butterfly sanctuary in the state of
Michoacán. He was last seen on January 13 and was found dead
more than two weeks later on January 29. His body was floating in a holding
pond near the mountain forest reserve Gómez González was protecting. Initial
reports from Michoacán’s state prosecutors pointed to drowning as the cause of
death, but a more detailed autopsy later revealed evidence of a head injury.
Days before Gómez González was found, another environmental activist from the
same region was reported missing. Raúl Hernández Romero, a 44-year-old conservation
activist and part-time tour guide at El Rosario was reported missing on January
27. His body was found five days later at the top of a hill in El Campanario
monarch butterfly sanctuary. According to news reports, he too had a head injury and his
body was covered in bruises.
the deaths of these two activists, a third activist was reported missing on
March 19, 2020. Paulina Gómez Palacios Escudero, a 50-year-old environmental
activist from the state of San Luis Potosí disappeared when she was traveling
from Matehuala in her home state to the community of El Salvador in the
neighboring state of Zacatecas. Her body was later found on March 22, according
to the autopsy, she died from a gunshot wound to the face. She was considered a guardian of the sacred territory
Wirikuta and a friend of the indigenous community, Wixárika. According to a
report published by Intercontinental Cry, the Wixárika community has been
actively fighting for years to protect their sacred lands from mining
companies. On September 2013, a federal district judge approved a temporary
suspension on all concessions to mining companies in the sacred territory of
Wirikuta. In 2009, 36 concessions had been granted to
Canadian mining company, First Majestic Silver, 70% of these concessions were
within the Wirikuta territory.
day after Gómez Palacio Escudero’s body was found, the fourth environmental
activist was murdered. On March 23, 2020, Isaac Medardo Herrera Aviles was murdered in his home in
Jiutepec, Morelos when gunmen knocked at his door and shot him point blank,
fleeing the scene before they could be apprehended. Herrera Aviles was a
longtime activist and lawyer in the state of Morelos. Most recently he had
stopped the company, Casas Ara, from developing a real estate project in the
premises of “Los Venados,” a 56,000 square meter forest in the middle of Jiutepec. Herrera
Aviles and community members had successfully stopped the project and were
waiting for local authorities to deem the land a natural reserve. In 2007, the activist had legally
represented advocates of 13 communities who were attempting to stop another
real estate development project in Emiliano Zapata, Morelos, near the
Chihuahuita natural spring where developers were also seeking to extract the
Two weeks later, Adán Vez
Lira became the fifth environmental activist to be
murdered in Mexico. He was from the state of Veracruz and founder of the
ecotourism cooperative, “La Mancha en Movimiento”. According to news reports,
Vez Lira was shot to death on April 8 while
riding his motorcycle from La Mancha to Palmas de Abajo, Veracruz. He had
dedicated more than two decades of his life to defending the bird observatory
in La Mancha Ecological Reserve and El Llano. According to the Business &
Human Rights Resource Centre, he had also actively opposed mining projects by
Almaden Minerals and Candelaria Mining, both Canadian mining companies with interests
in the region.
The most recent homicide targeted Eugui Roy
Martínez Pérez, a 21-year-old environmental activist from the state
of Oaxaca murdered in San Agustín Loxicha, Oaxaca. Martínez Pérez was studying
biology at the Technological Institute of the Valley of Oaxaca (Instituto Tecnológico del Valle de Oaxaca,
ITVO) and was a member of the Organization for Environmental Protection in
Oaxaca. Additionally, people close to Martínez Pérez indicated he had a
particular passion for the care, defense, and conservation of reptiles and
amphibians. According to Oaxaca’s
Attorney General office, he was murdered on May 7 when a
group of armed individuals forcefully entered his home and removed him from the
premises. He was later found nearby with signs of torture and a gunshot
wound. According to his sister, Martínez
Pérez decided to spend his quarantine in San Agustín Loxicha, “collecting
insects, studying, writing for a magazine, looking after a few deer’s, [in
addition to] creating content for his blog.”
Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has called these deaths “regrettable” and “painful,” but human rights groups are demanding the government do more. For example, the Center for Human Rights Zeferino Ladrillero is asking the government to prioritize the lives of individuals defending the environment, land, forests, and water over the interest of private entities. Others are calling for better monitoring and prevention mechanisms to protect marginalized communities, particularly indigenous groups, who are vulnerable to the loss of land and private interest groups entering their territory. Furthermore, environmental activists point out that at least 80% of activists murdered defending the environment have been indigenous. A recent released report from Front Line Defenders, an international foundation based in Ireland that seeks to protect human rights around the globe, showed Mexico and Brazil tied as the fourth most dangerous countries in the world for activists. However, it is worth noting that Front Line Defenders’ report encompasses all human rights activists, not only environmentalists. Nonetheless, looking forward, it is imperative that the government analyze and address the divisive culture it is promoting against activists.
The agency reported 17,608 killings in the first six months of 2019, which is 894 more than the number recorded during the first half of 2018 or a 4% increase. If that number repeats in the second half of the year, Mexico could expect to see more than 35,200 homicides for all of 2019. That could be almost 1,900 more homicides than SNSP reported in 2018. For more information on 2018’s official numbers, check out Justice in Mexico’s “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018.”
Geographic Dispersion of Homicides
The majority of the homicides from January through June of 2019 were concentrated in 18 of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities. Nuevo León had the highest increase (70%) in the number of homicides during that time period compared to that in 2018. Sonora saw a 65% increase, followed by Hidalgo (52%), Morelos (43%), Tabasco (42%), Jalisco (31%), Tlaxcala (30%), Coahuila (26%), and the State of México (21%). Another six states had increases at lower levels, falling between 10% and 20% compared to 2018. Guanajuato, which had the single largest increase in all of 2018 from the year before, fell into this category for 2019. Three other states – Puebla, Zacatecas, and Querétaro – had increases less than 10%.
The remaining 14 states all saw decreases in homicide levels, most notably that of Baja California Sur, which experienced a 66% decline in recorded killings in the first half of 2019. This continues the downward trajectory that Baja CA Sur had in 2018. During that year, the state registered the largest decrease in homicides nationwide with a 74% decline, dropping from 448 cases in 2017 to 162 in 2018. In the first six months of 2019, Nayarit followed Baja CA Sur with a 64% decrease, then Guerrero (30%), Tamaulipas (29%), Sinaloa (27%), and Durango (20%).
A member of Mexico’s military sports the National Guard insignia while on patrol in El Manguito, Mexico. Photo: Oliver de Ros, Associated Press.
The increase in homicide rates in 2019 continues a multi-year upward trend that began in 2015. Eyes are now on the López Obrador administration for its response since taking office in December 2018.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took a significant, yet controversial step to implementing his strategy to address crime and violence when he launched the National Guard in June. Created from the ranks of the Mexican military and police, the National Guard will serve as a means to combat the record-breaking levels of crime and violence. President López Obrador is also approaching crime and violence through economic policies. Writes Reuters, “[the President] has blamed the economic policies of previous administrations for exacerbating the violence.” He has taken a hard stance on cultivating fiscal austerity in the country, revamping previous policies while trying to decrease the deficit and increase incoming funds.
Time will tell if the López Obrador administration’s militarized and economic strategies affect Mexico’s staggering levels of crime and violence. As the administration nears the end of its first year in office, however, the upward trend on homicide rates continue.
Mayor Gisela Mota waves at her inauguration ceremony on January 1, 2016. Photo: Associated Press, Tony Rivera.
01/06/15 (written by kheinle) – The newly inaugurated mayor of Temixco, Gisela Mota, was gunned down in her home in Morelos on Saturday, January 2, just one day after being sworn into office. Mota (33) is one of nearly 100 mayors killed in Mexico in the past ten years, writes the Association of Local Authorities in Mexico (Asociación de Autoridades Locales de México A.C., AALMAC), 75 of which occurred between 2006 and 2014, according to Justice in Mexico. Documented in its Memoria dataset and noted in its annual publication, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2014,” Justice in Mexico reported that the peak of violence towards mayors in recent years was in 2010 when 17 mayors or former mayors were killed. For its part, the AALMAC renounced Mayor Mota’s killing and demanded the Mexican government find and hold accountable those responsible. Three suspects have since been detained, including one woman and one minor.
Mota’s murder falls in line with previous mayoral assassinations given its alleged ties to cartel and gang activity. As part of her mayoral campaign and as a former federal congresswoman, Mota had accepted state police control in her municipality and had stood tough against crime and violence, both stances that drew negative attention from local gangs. According to Morelos Governor Graco Ramirez, writes the Associated Press, Mota was killed by the Rojos gang “as a warning to other officials to reject state police control of local cops and [to] let cartels co-opt low-paid local officers.”
Mayor Gisela Mota’s body was laid to rest after she was killed by members of Los Rojos gang on January 2, 2016. Photo: Associated Press, Tony Rivera.
The former of Mota’s two stances—the state police control—is part of a bigger, nationwide shift to restructure police forces throughout Mexico. In November 2014, President Enrique Peña Nieto presented the plan to create a Unified Police Force following the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero, an incident that some have said was a result of gang fighting between the Guerrero Unidos in Guerrero and the Rojos gang in nearby Morelos, and that was compounded by the involvement of corrupt local police. Under the new model, Mexican police forces are being restructured to dissolve the nearly 1,800 municipal forces, which are notorious for being corrupted, and transfer power to the 32 state forces. By accepting state police, Mota, along with other mayors and officials nationwide, relinquished local police control, a move that is sometimes met with resistance. For her part, Mota had agreed to police control at the state level, but insisted, writes the Associated Press, that traffic cops would stay under local control in Temixco. Nevertheless, Los Rojos still targeted Mota, sending a message to other mayors and officials nationwide.
Not only is the federal government revamping the police structure to address corruption and inefficiencies at the local level, but it is also requiring police training nationwide in preparation for the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). With less than six months until the NSJP must be implemented and operational throughout Mexico, the Washington Office on Latin American (WOLA) reported in September 2015 that at that time, “only approximately five percent of Mexican police officers [had] been trained on the criminal justice system reforms.” WOLA continued, “This means that 95 percent of Mexican police officers (over 333,000 agents) not only need to learn the new justice system but also how to conduct successful and rights-respecting criminal investigations, including crime scene preservation, evidence collection, and preliminary interviews with witnesses.” Police reforms and trainings are thus expected to continue in the New Year, especially in the first six months prior to the NSJP June 2016 deadline.