Homicide Rates and Clandestine Graves Highlight Mexico’s Systemic Challenges

06/26/19 (written by kheinle) — The first six months of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s sexenio (2018-2024) have proven to be the most violent such period for a president in Mexico’s recent history. Mexico’s ongoing struggles to combat crime and violence were highlighted of late with the release of data on the increasing homicide rates and clandestine graves throughout Mexico.

Intentional Homicide Rate Continues to Rise

Map of homicide victims by municipality in 2018

This map depicts the distribution of homicide victims by municipality in 2018, as reported by the National Public Security (SNSP). Source: Justice in Mexico, 2019.

According to Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP), 17,498 people were murdered between December 2018 and May 2019; an average of almost 3,000 per month. Despite a slight drop in the number of intentional homicides reported in April (2,724 homicides) compared to previous months, May saw an increase to the highest tally yet for 2019 with 2,903 killings, or the equivalent of 96 per day. February, however, continues to have the highest number of homicides per day on average in 2019 (102 homicides/day) thanks to similar numbers reported (2,877 homicides) over fewer days in the month (28 days).

The mid-year data also revealed that just over half of Mexico’s 32 state and federal entities saw increases in the number of homicides registered since the start of the López Obrador administration. According to SESNSP’s data, when compared to the same period of time the year before (December 2017 – May 2018), the most significant or “worrisome” increase in homicide rates occurred in Nuevo León. As reported by Animal Político, Nuevo León’s homicide rate increased from 5.3 homicides per 100,000 individuals to 9.2 homicides per 100,000 individuals. The 72% increase far surpassed the rises in Tabasco (50.7%), Mexico City (43.2%), Sonora (43.1%), and Morelos (42.5%). Meanwhile the states with the largest decreases in homicide rates during that time period were Baja California Sur (78.3% reduction), Nayarit (69%), and Guerrero (30.8%).

Map of Mexico and violence

Photo: El Universal.

The media’s role in disseminating information on homicides is also of note. A recent report by El Universal with support from Google News Initiative found that the Mexican media in ten different states have decreased the amount of coverage given to homicides reported in 2019 compared to previous years. In particular, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, and Nayarit have published the least information proportional to number of homicides committed in 2019. The states of Aguascalientes, Colima, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Puebla, Quinata Roo, Tamulipas, and Zacatecas round out the list of ten. The authors looked at official homicide data spanning from 2005 to 2019 vis-à-vis the press’ reporting on such killings.

Justice in Mexico’s annual report released in April 2019, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018,” also took an in depth look at SNSP’s 2018 data. The authors found, for example, that although Baja California had the highest number of intentional homicide cases in 2018 (2,805), Guanajuato had the largest annual increase in total homicides, nearly doubling its recorded number from 2017. To read more about Mexico’s crime and violence at the federal, state, and local levels in 2018, check out Justice in Mexico’s full report here.

Clandestine Graves and Desaparecidos

In addition to Mexico’s record-breaking levels of homicide, the nation continues to grapple with the existence of clandestine graves and associated disappearances (desaparecidos).

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

In mid-June, researchers with Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana confirmed the existence of 1,606 clandestine graves throughout Mexico. According to their report, “Violence and terror: findings on clandestine graves in Mexico 2006-2017” (“Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017”), the states in which the most sites were located were Guerrero, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas. The graves documented are from 2006 and 2017, a period of time that spans almost two presidents’ full sexenios (Felipe Calderón, 2006-2012; Enrique Peña Nieto, 2012-2018). According to the Associated Press, the graves found “may just scratch the surface of the true numbers behind what the [Universidad Iberoamericana] study called a ‘building phenomenon.’”

The reported graves contained nearly 2,500 bodies, of which the predominant majority are tied to the ongoing battles between drug-trafficking organizations (DTO) and organized crime groups (OCG). The researchers also clarified that their data was not comprehensive because eight of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities did not submit data or documentation to their research project, claiming that no graves had been found within their entities during the specified timeframe.

Contextualizing the data, the report out of Universidad Iberoamericana emphasized the role that Mexico’s high levels of impunity have in perpetuating the existence of secret graves. “It is reflective of the level of social decay and dehumanization that the country has reached,” the researchers wrote. Jan Jarab, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico, also weighed in on the findings. “This horror map of clandestine graves can only be combatted with strategies addressing impunity,” he said.

Such disappearances like the victims’ remains found in the graves have long been a critical issue in Mexico. According to the government’s national search commission, there are more than 40,000 persons estimated missing in Mexico.

Impunity vis-à-vis the NSJP

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

Mexico’s systemic challenges with crime, violence, impunity, and the ways in which they manifest themselves in society (i.e., clandestine graves) were recently at the center of criticism leveled by human rights activist Alejandro Martí toward the government. According to Martí, who is the head of the organization México SOS, Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) carries some of the responsibility in perpetuating impunity. “The fundamental problem of the [NSJP] is the corruption,” he said. “And corruption produces this terrible impunity, which I have said for years. Impunity is a result of all the wrongs of Mexico.”

Martí also called out elected officials – particularly governors – and the police for the pervasiveness of corruption within their systems. He reminded the media with which he spoke that “half of the group of kidnappers who killed my son were police,” referencing his son’s murder in 2008 that led him to become an activist. Martí leveled his criticisms during a press conference promoting Mexico’s 8th National Forum on Security and Justice (“8° Foro Nacional de Seguridad y Justicia”) held June 7-8.

Whether the New Criminal Justice System does indeed bear some of the responsibility, as Martí alleges, it is clear nonetheless that the López Obrador Administration faces systemic challenges when addressing Mexico’s notorious levels of crime and violence. Homicide rates, clandestine graves, disappearances, and impunity are but a few.

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Dávila, Patricia. “Corrupción en Nuevo Sistema de Justicia produce esta terrible impunidad’: Martí.” Proceso. June 2, 2019.

Román, Esteban. “En 10 estados guardan silencio sobre homicidios.” El Universal. June 13, 2019.

Krumholtz, Michael. “Researchers confirm 1,600 secret graves in Mexico since 2006.” Associated Press. June 20, 2019. 

“México enfrenta abismo de desinformación para encontrar a sus desparecidos.” Agencia EFE. June 20, 2019.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas de Delitos de Fuero Común 2019.” Centro Nacional de Información. June 20, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Con 17,500 asesinatos, el primer semestre de AMLO es el más violento de los últimos sexenios.” Animal Politico. June 21, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. June 21, 2019.

Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos. “Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017.” Universidad Iberoamericana. June 2019.

Fighting escalates between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel

kidnapping photos of El Chapo's sons

Images of the kidnapping of El Chapo’s sons, Iván and Jesús, captured on camera at La Leche Restaurant. Source: EFE.

08/29/16 (written by kheinle) — The turf battle between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel has heated up recently. The rivalry is likely one of the driving factors behind the uptick in the number of drug-related homicides in Mexico, as described below. Yet it also has played out in more high profile incidences, such as the CJNG’s kidnapping or potential involvement in the murder of several family members of the Sinaloa Cartel’s leaders, sending a clear message to kingpins Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.

The first incident happened on Monday, August 15 when CJNG gunmen brazenly kidnapped El Chapo’s sons, Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar (33) and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar (29), along with four others at La Leche restaurant in the tourist zone of Puerto Vallarta. The brothers’ decision to enter rival territory may have played a role in the kidnapping given Puerto Vallarta is known as CJNG territory. The New York Times quoted former director of Mexico’s intelligence services Guillermo Valdes on the matter: Their decision “…[is] a grave error that is going to cost them a lot, either in life or in a very costly negotiation.  If you’re in a fight with these gentlemen of the Jalisco New Generation, you don’t go to their territory without bodyguards.” It was not clear at first if Iván was one of the kidnapping victims, but a report from federal sources and the Río Doce weekly news outlet later confirmed that he was. The kidnappings were also more than likely a challenge to El Chapo, as an attempt to demonstrate the kingpin’s weakened alleged stature behind bars in Ciudad Juárez. El Chapo was arrested for the third time in Mexico in January 2016, and previously in 2001 and 2015; he currently awaits possible extradition to the United States. In the meantime, El Mayo Zambada has taken over control as the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Iván and Jesús Guzmán (left to right), son's of notorious kingpin, Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán. Source: Twitter - Iván Guzmán.

Iván and Jesús Guzmán (left to right), son’s of notorious kingpin, Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán. Source: Twitter – Iván Guzmán.

Iván, Jesús, and the other kidnapping victims were eventually freed just less than a week after their kidnapping, a move that has led to more public speculation. According to journalist Anabel Hernández who regularly covers drug trafficking and crime in Mexico, the brothers were let go as a result of negotiations between the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Furthermore, The New York Times writes El Mayo was reportedly directly involved in the negotiations for their release, during which they were likely used as “bargaining chips”. Furthermore, El Mayo was reportedly directly involved in the negotiations for their release. Río Doce’s director, Ismael Bojórquez, reported this in an interview with Radio Fórmula, noting that he had three sources of information confirming, though he could not disclose their identities. Few other details have emerged about El Chapo’s sons’ release, but CNN México did note that “there were certain requirements” that had to be met for them to be let go.

Just days after Iván’s and Jesús’ release, reports then revealed that the family of El Mayo had been targeted. According to the Sinaloa State Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de Sinaloa, PGJE), Édgar Juvanny Parra Zambada (42), El Mayo’s nephew, was gunned down in Culiacán alongside an individual known as Juan “N” (43). Authorities have not confirmed the CJNG’s role in the attack although their involvement may be likely given the upswing in fighting between the cartels.

As Justice in Mexico wrote in its 2015 “Drug Violence in Mexico” report, the CJNG, led by Nemesio Osegera Cervantes, “El Mencho,” formed in 2010 after the death of Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, who had been the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel in Jalisco, which left a power vacuum in the region that several criminal groups scrambled to fill. The group emerged as the predominant force in Jalisco thanks in large part to its ties with the Milenio Cartel, the organization that dominated Michoacán prior to the rise of the La Familia Organization and the Knights Templar Organization, which effectively took over that state in the 1990s and early 2000s. The CJNG struck off on its own and has had held a strong presence in neighboring Michoacán since 2000. It has expanded east from Jalisco and Michoacán to Veracruz, details The New York Times, and has more recently attempted to push further into Sinaloa Cartel territory by going north into Baja California Sur and along the border, which has escalated levels of violence in those respective areas.

data from SESNSP showing monthly homicides under President Peña Nieto

Source: Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública.

In fact, according to data released from Mexico’s National System of Public Security (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), there were more than 2,000 homicides nationwide in July 2016. Mexico Security Initiative Fellow Stephanie Leutert at the University of Texas at Austin and contributor to the blog Lawfare, writes that this number is “25 percent higher than [in July 2015] and the most violent month in Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency.” Still, Leutert notes that it is difficult to pin that increase on one cartel’s actions or a feud between several. However, “it’s clear that there seem to be power shifts—or at least attempts at power shifts—taking place across Mexico’s criminal landscape as various groups jockey for territory and power.” It will therefore be interesting to monitor how the situation between the Sinaloa Cartel and Jalisco New Generation Cartel further unfolds in coming months.

Sources:

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

The Associated Press. “Mexican Drug Lord’s Kidnapped Son Potential Bargaining Chip.” The New York Times. August 19, 2016.

Bojóquez, Ismael. “Los hijos del Chapo: asunto de Estado.” Río Doce. August 22, 2016.

EFE. “’El Mayo’ negoció liberación de hijos de ‘El Chapo’: Río Doce.” El Universal. August 22, 2016.

“Liberan al hijo de ‘El Chapo’ que había sido secuestrado del Puerto Vallarta, confirman fuentes a CNN.” CNN Español. August 22, 2016.

“’Mayo’ Zambada habría negociado liberación de hijos de ‘Chapo:’ Ríodoce. Con Ciro Gómez Leyva.” Radio Fórmula. August 22, 2016.

“Confirman asesinato del sobrino de ‘El Mayo’ Zambada.” Excélsior. August 27, 2016.

Leutert, Stephanie. “Mexico’s Resurging Violence.” Lawfare Blog. August 29, 2016.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Incidencia Delictiva Nacional.” Secretaría de Gobernación. Last accessed August 29, 2016.

Justice in Mexico publishes two new working papers

Justice in Mexico logo

3/17/16 (written by msmith) –  Two new working papers are now available from Justice in Mexico.  From examining the fundamental features of Mexico’s criminal justice system to analyzing whether there has been a real drop in homicides in Mexico recently, each author informs the reader of some of the most pressing issues and challenges facing Mexico today.

Jane Kingman-Brundage’s working paper, “Mexico’s Traditional Criminal Justice System: A Layperson’s Guide,” introduces the legal logic underpinning Mexico’s traditional ‘mixed inquisitorial’ Criminal Justice System in the tradition of Civil Law. The discussion begins by comparing salient characteristics of the Civil Law and Common Law traditions. Three fundamental features alien to Common Law are identified: authoritarian nature, reliance on a deductive process anchored in both a Penal Code and a Code of Criminal Procedure, and a formal documentary focus. Mexico’s traditional Criminal Justice System is then examined against this broad framework. A description of the Criminal Justice System’s structural components—including roles, responsibilities of various court officials—sets the stage for examining how the Criminal Justice System actually works—its four major procedural phases and the steps within those phases. The publication is available in English here.

The goal of Rafael Mora’s working paper, “A Subnational Analysis of Homicides and Disappearances in Mexico,” is to determine whether the recent drop of homicides in Mexico is real or not. This is determined by comparing data of homicides and disappearances in Mexico from 2007 to 2014 on a national, state, and municipal level. The paper presents analyses of homicides and disappearances in Mexico as a whole, Juarez, Tijuana, as well as a case study of homicides and disappearances in Estado de Mexico and Tamaulipas. The analyses of this paper were conducted utilizing primary sources of homicide and disappearance data. This report concludes that homicides have decreased on a national scale. However, the national trends of homicides and disappearances in Mexico are not representative of sub national trends. The publication is available in English here.