Environmental Activists Under Attack in Mexico

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. 

Between 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.

Read more about Mexico’s New Energy Reform in this 2018 report from the Mexico Center at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Read 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

Overall 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

Mexico 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.

Following 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.

A 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 water.

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.

Sources:

“Adán Vez Lira.” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, www.business-humanrights.org/en/08042020-ad%C3%A1n-vez-lira.

Román, José Antonio. “Presenta Hoy Peña La Reforma Que Abre Los Energéticos a Particulares.” La Jornada. August 12, 2013. www.jornada.com.mx/2013/08/12/politica/003n1pol

Palma, Lilian. “A Struggle for Sacred Land: The Case of Wirikuta.” OpenDemocracy. September 26, 2013. www.opendemocracy.net/en/civilresistance/struggle-for-sacred-land-case-of-wirikuta/

“Terminan 75 Años De Veto a Privados En Energía; Diputados Aprueban Reforma.” Animal Político. December 13, 2013. www.animalpolitico.com/2013/12/diputados-aprueban-en-lo-general-la-reforma-energetica/

de la Fuente, Aroa. “La Reforma Energética En México: Retrocesos En La Gobernanza Democrática De Los Recursos Naturales.” Fundar. November 10, 2014. www.fundar.org.mx/la-reforma-energetica-en-mexico-retrocesos-en-la-gobernanza-democratica-de-los-recursos-naturales/

Wood, Duncan, and Jeremy Martin. Mexico’s New Energy Reform. Wilson Center. October, 2018. www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/media/documents/publication/mexicos_new_energy_reform.pdf

“El 80 % De Los Activistas Ambientales Asesinados En México Son Indígenas.” Infobae. August 1, 2019. www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2019/08/01/el-80-de-los-activistas-ambientales-asesinados-en-mexico-son-indigenas/

Fuentes López, Guadalupe. “La Cifra Presiona a AMLO: Ya Van 7 Periodistas y Además 14 Activistas Asesinados En Apenas Seis Meses.” sin embargo. June 12, 2019. www.sinembargo.mx/12-06-2019/3595702

“Wixárika: ‘We Will Not Give up Protecting the Wirikuta Territory.’” Intercontinental Cry. July 26, 2019. www.intercontinentalcry.org/wixarika-we-will-not-give-up-protecting-the-wirikuta-territory/

Global Analysis 2019. Front Line Defenders. 2020. www.frontlinedefenders.org/sites/default/files/global_analysis_2019_web.pdf

Sieff, Kevin. “He Told Me of His Battle to Save the Monarch Butterfly from Illegal Loggers. Now He’s Missing.” The Washington Post. January 23, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/he-told-me-of-his-battle-to-save-the-monarch-butterfly-from-illegal-loggers-now-hes-gone-missing/2020/01/23/353a6a94-3dea-11ea-afe2-090eb37b60b1_story.html

“Mexican Anti-Logging, Monarch Butterfly Activist Found Dead, Sparking Fears of Murder.” NBC News. January 31, 2020. www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/mexican-anti-logging-monarch-butterfly-activist-found-dead-sparking-fears-n1127721

“Second Mexico Monarch Butterfly Activist Found Dead.” BBC News. February 3, 2020. www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-51356265

Srikanth, Anagha. “A Second Monarch Butterfly Conservationist Found Dead in Mexico.” TheHill. February 3, 2020. https://thehill.com/changing-america/sustainability/environment/481198-a-second-monarch-butterfly-conservationist-has

Leyva Hernández, Alejandra, et al. Informe Sobre La Situación De Las Personas Defensoras De Los Derechos Humanos Ambientales. Edited by Andrea Davide Ulisse Cerami and Anaid Velasco Ramírez. Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental. March, 2020. www.cemda.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/informe-personas-defensoras-2019.pdf

Bacaz, Verónica. “Asesinan a Activista y Defensor De Reserva Natural ‘Los Venados’, En Morelos.” El Financiero. March 23, 2020. www.elfinanciero.com.mx/nacional/asesinan-a-activista-y-defensor-de-reserva-natural-los-venado-en-morelos

“Exigen Justicia Para Paulina Gómez, Defensora Del Territorio Sagrado De Wirikuta.” Servicios Para Una Educación Alternativa A.C. March 24, 2020. https://www.educaoaxaca.org/exigen-justicia-para-paulina-gomez-defensora-del-territorio-sagrado-de-wirikuta/

“Nature Reserve Activist Shot to Death in Central Mexico.” Star Tribune. March 24, 2020. www.startribune.com/nature-reserve-activist-shot-to-death-in-central-mexico/569070472/?refresh=true

Valadez Rodríguez, Alfredo. “La FGJZ Abre Investigación Por Asesinato De Campesina De SLP.” La Jornada, March 24, 2020. www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/estados/2020/03/24/la-fgjz-abre-investigacion-por-asesinato-de-campesina-de-slp-8052.html

den Held, Douwe. “Ambientalistas De México Asesinados Por Su Resistencia a Proyectos Energéticos.” InSight Crime. April 7, 2020. www.es.insightcrime.org/noticias/noticias-del-dia/ambientalistas-de-mexico-asesinados-por-su-resistencia-a-proyectos-energeticos/

Pradilla, Alberto. “Asesinan a Adán Vez Lira, Defensor Del Área Natural De La Mancha, En Veracruz.” Animal Político. April 8, 2020. www.animalpolitico.com/2020/04/asesinan-adan-vez-lira-defensor-veracruz/

“Asesinaron a Adán Vez, Ambientalista Opositor De Mineras En Actopan.” Infobae. April 9, 2020. www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/04/09/asesinaron-a-adan-vez-ambientalista-opositor-de-mineras-en-actopan/

Soberanes, Rodrigo. “COVID-19 No Detiene El Asesinato De Defensores Ambientales En México.” Mongabay Latam. April 13, 2020. www.es.mongabay.com/2020/04/mexico-covid-19-violencia-defensores-ambientales/

Bermúdez Liévano, Andrés. “COVID-19 Crisis: Attacks on Environmental Defenders Continue in Latin America.” OpenDemocracy. April 29, 2020. www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/covid-19-crisis-attacks-environmental-defenders-continue-latin-america/

“Condenan Asesinato De Joven Ambientalista Mexicano En Municipio De Oaxaca.” Los Angeles Times. May 11, 2020. www.latimes.com/espanol/mexico/articulo/2020-05-11/condenan-asesinato-de-joven-ambientalista-mexicano-en-municipio-de-oaxaca

Rodríguez, Óscar. “Asesinan a Biólogo Ambientalista En Oaxaca.” Milenio. May 11, 2020. www.milenio.com/estados/oaxaca-matan-ambientalista-eugui-roy-martinez

Miranda, Fernando. “Environmental Activist Eugui Roy Martínez Was Murdered in Oaxaca.” El Universal. May 12, 2020. www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/environmental-activist-eugui-roy-martinez-was-murdered-oaxaca

Homicides and Disappearances Reach New Levels in 2019

A relative holds a photo of her missing loved one during a protest in front of the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. Demonstrators presented a petition with 102 thousand signatures to demand that the disappeared be found and identified. Photo and Caption: The Associated Press, Marco Ugarte.

01/14/20 (written by kheinle) – The last year of the decade was one of Mexico’s most violent years on record. Homicides and disappearances played critical roles in driving up the numbers.

Homicides

When looking at homicides, several of the year’s top headlines and prominent stories emerge. Perhaps most important, more homicides occurred in Mexico in 2019 than in any other year in the country’s modern history. Additionally, Mexican journalists were particularly at risk, as they were more than three times as likely to be killed than journalists in any nation worldwide. The country also grappled with several high profile displays of violence, particularly in the second half of the year. This included when 27 individuals were burned to death at a strip club in Veracruz in August, as well as the catch and release of Ovidio Guzmán in October that left at least 13 people dead in Culiacán. The murder of nine dual U.S.-Mexican Mormon citizens in Sonora in November caught international headlines, and the year came to a close with more homicides (127 dead) registered on one day in December than any other day throughout 2019. 

Disappearances

At the beginning of the new year, violence in the news then turned to the topic of Mexico’s staggering number of disappeared persons. On January 6, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Human Rights, Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, announced at a conference that 9,164 individuals were disappeared in 2019, according to data from the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB). Including the 2019 data, 147,033 persons have thus been disappeared since 1964, said Karla Quintana, the director of Mexico’s National Search Commission (Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas). Of these, more than half (58%) have been found, meaning the remaining 42% of persons (61,637 individuals) are still missing. This is significantly higher than the estimated 40,000 disappeared persons that the government reported in early 2018 leading many to question the underreporting in previous years.

Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, Mexico’s Undersecretary of Human Rights, presents on disappearances at a conference on January 6, 2020. Photo: Reforma.

Demographics of the Disappeared

Many of these cases of missing persons are linked to organized crime and drug cartel violence. In fact, 97% of all those registered since 1964 came after 2006 when then-President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) launched his aggressive campaign against drug trafficking and organized crime. There are thus are several commonalities among the victims.

First, just over half (53%) of the 61,637 victims were between the ages of 15 and 34 years old when they were disappeared, reported Quintana. Over 13% were in their early twenties (20-24), another 13% in the late twenties (25-29), and 11.7% early thirties (30-34). Second, almost three-quarters are men. However, when considering all 147,033 persons documented since 1964, women between the ages of 10 and 24 actually have the highest rate of disappearance. Third, there are also geographical tendencies among the disappeared, as they have mostly been registered in just ten specific states (in descending order): Tamaulipas, Jalisco, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), Chihuahua, Nuevo León, Sinaloa, Coahuila, Puebla, Guerrero, and Veracrúz.

Head of Mexico’s National Search Commission, Karla Quintana. Photo: El Economista

Mass Graves

Not only did the number of disappearances increase in 2019, but so, too, did the discovery of mass graves containing many of said missing persons. Mexico’s National Search Commission located 873 clandestine graves housing 1,124 bodies since it began its focused search in late 2018. As the Associated Press reports, Tamaulipas has often been home to such graves, although that has come to include Jalisco with the Commission’s new findings. In fact, a discovery was made outside Guadalajara, Jalisco in early January of 26 plastic bags containing miscellaneous body parts. In addition, the states of Sinaloa, Veracruz, and Colima collectively accounted for nearly a third of all 1,124 bodies located by the Commission since its launch.

“These are data of horror,” lamented National Search Commission Director Quintana. She continued, “there are many painful stories from families both in Mexico and of migrants,” alluding to the serious dangers migrants face as they become easy targets while they make the journey north to the United States.

National Search Commission Efforts

Quintana’s Commission will continue to focus efforts and resources on unearthing mass graves and burial pits in 2020. In addition, the Commission also released a one-stop website in November 2019 to streamline reporting of a missing loved one. Mexico’s Ministry of the Interior developed the portal with the Commission as a means for family and friends to submit information if someone goes missing.

Sources:

“Homicide rates on pace for record-breaking year.” Justice in Mexico. August 8, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “Extreme acts of violence in Mexico are on the rise: 27 burned to death at a strip club.” Los Angeles Times. August 28, 2019.

“The Capture and Release of Ovidio Guzmán in Culiacán, Sinaloa.” Justice in Mexico. November 5, 2019.

Franco, Marina E. “Ante la crisis por desaparecidos, México presenta un portal para reportar nuevos casos.” Telemúndo. November 8, 2019.

Secretaría de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas reportadas por delito de homicidio.” Gobierno de México. December 1, 2019.

“Mexico homicide record: 127 deaths reported in a single day.” Al Jazeera. December 3, 2019.

“Municipal police chief arrested over Mexican Mormon massacre.” Reuters. December 27, 2019.

Franco, Marina E. “Son datos del horror’: México revela que hay más de 60,000 desaparecidos en el país.” Telemúndo. January 6, 2020.

González, Isabella. “Registran 9 mil desapariciones en 2019.” Reforma. January 6, 2020.

“Mexican missing persons search effort finds 873 burial pits.” The Associated Press. January 12, 2020.

Villegas, Paulina. “A New Toll in Mexico’s Drug War: More than 61,000 Vanished.” The New York Times. January 6, 2020.

Ordaz Díaz, Arturo. “Jóvenes mexicanos, los que más han desaparecido en 6 décadas.” Forbes. January 7, 2020.

“26 bags of body parts found in western Mexico ravine.” The Associated Press. January 9, 2020.

Website. Portal de Desaparecidos. Secretaría de Gobernación, Comisión Nacional de Búsquedas de Personas. Last accessed January 12, 2020.

A Look at Violence in Mexico City: Femicides and Underreporting

Source: SESNSP.

08/07/19 (written by kheinle) — Both the country of Mexico and the nation’s capital city, Ciudad de México (CDMX), have garnered attention for their high levels of crime and violence in recent months.

National Context

As a nation, Mexico is on pace to have the deadliest year on record, according to data released in mid-July by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (SESNSP). The government registered more than 17,000 intentional homicides in Mexico from January through June 2019, which is 94 victims of homicide per day thus far this year. Another 84,000 cases of intentional assault were reported that time frame, as well as more than 750 cases of kidnapping and 4,230 incidences of extortion.

Mexico City is also seeing elevated levels of homicide with estimates pointing to increases of 10-20% during the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. According to SESNSP, by the end of June, Mexico City had 10,616 victims of violent crime, including homicide, assault, femicide, kidnapping, rape, extortion, and corruption, among others. Mexico City also had the highest rate of mugging (street-level theft) during that time period with a rate of 117.8 cases per 100,000 residents. Animal Político noted that this rate is almost four times that of the national average for such crimes.

Mexico City’s Mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, weighed in on the levels of violence in the capital with regards to women and to the accuracy of reported data.

Violence against Women in Mexico City

 

Mayor Sheinbaum speaks at conference

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum speaks at an event with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in December 2018. Photo: Javier Ríos, Milenio.

In early July, Sheinbaum vowed to eliminate violence against women, also known as femicide. “To avoid and eliminate violence against women … finally, that is the objective,” she said. “It’s not fighting it – the objective is ultimately to eradicate violence. That should be the goal.” Sheinbaum is Mexico City’s first elected female mayor.

Femicide has long been a serious problem in Mexico. Almost half of all women (45%) in Mexico reported being victims of abuse at the hands of their partner, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). Another 18% said the violence was specifically physical violence. In the first half of 2019, there were 470 cases of femicide with an average of just over 78 cases per month, according to Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security. It is also worth noting that in just the first five months of 2019, more than 80 women were murdered in Mexico City alone.

Mayor Sheinbaum’s announcement is another step in the government’s strategy outlined to eliminate violence against women. As reported by Reuters, “such protective measures have quadrupled [in Mexico City] since last year,” which includes “the strengthening of the city’s 32 legal and psychological support shelters known as ‘Lunas.’”

Verifying Crime Rates

In mid-July, Mayor Sheinbaum’s administration made more news when it released government data on crime levels that call into question the previous administration’s reporting. Since taking office in December 2018, Sheinbaum has been criticized for escalating levels of violence in the nation’s capital. Some estimates said homicides had risen by more than a third since December. The data released in July, however, show that although murders in Mexico City have increased by 12%, violent crimes overall have decreased by 8% since Sheinbaum was elected. Thus, while some numbers continue to rise at lower rates in Mexico City, other crimes have actually reversed course.

Image from Mexico Evalua's Fallas de Origen report

Source: México Evalúa.

Sheinbaum’s administration argued that previously reported data was inaccurate or incomplete. For her part, Mexico City Attorney General Ernestina Godoy stated that the previous registry used by officials “was distorted.” She continued to explain that upwards of 24,000 ‘high impact criminal cases’ out of 214,000 reported cases had been doctored and misclassified when entered into the registry. For example, “In cases of rape,” she said, “they were classified as sexual harassment or abuse, or just injuries.” The United Nations stepped in to help reclassify the cases.

A Focus on CDMX

It is not uncommon in Mexico to underreport cases of crime and violence. México Evalúa addressed this topic in its publication, “Fallas de origen: Índice de Confiabilidad de la Estadística Criminal (ICEC).” The study measured the reliability of homicide data that prosecutors and attorney general’s report to SESNSP. Overall, Mexico City scored a 7.20 on the ICEC scale, just slightly below the national average of 7.62. Colima had the best score with 9.57 and the State of México (Estado de México, EDOMEX) scored the lowest with 2.50.

With a score of 7.20, Mexico City “ranks in the second half of the scoring, sitting in the 21st position in the ICEC ranking” of 32 Mexican states and federal entities, according to México Evalúa. The report noted that “there are federal entities that do not have similar conditions and resources [compared to CDMX] yet scored better…” Thus, Mexico City’s reporting of data on violent crimes like homicide falls below national averages and indicates an opportunity for the capital to strengthen its processes.

For more information on México Evalúa’s report, click here.

Sources:

“Homicide Rates and Clandestine Graves Highlight Mexico’s Systemic Challenges.” Justice in Mexico. June 26, 2019.

“Fallas de Origen 2019: Índice de Confiabilidad de la Estadística Criminal.” México Evalúa. July 2, 2019.

Lopez, Oscar. “Mexico City mayor promises to eradicate violence against women.” Reuters. July 9, 2019.

Cattan, Nacha. “Mexico City Says Ex-Government Changed Data to Hide Crime.” Bloomberg. July 20, 2019.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas de Delitos de Fuero Común 2019.” Gobierno de México. July 20, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. July 22, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Aumentan homicidios en 18 estados; en Nuevo León y Sonora el incremento fue superior al 65%.” Animal Político. July 23, 2019.

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.