Former governor assassinated as CJNG continues asserting its power

12/28/20 (written by kheinle) – One of the most high-profile killings in recent years in Mexico occurred on December 18 when Aristóteles Sandoval was shot and killed in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. Sandoval was the former governor of the State of Jalisco from 2013 to 2018. He also served in a top post in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) until he recently resigned in October 2020, though not without pledging to continue being involved.

Former Jalisco Governor Aristóteles Sandoval was murdered on December 18. Photo: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco

Sandoval was murdered in the early hours of December 18 in a restaurant bathroom around 1:30am while his security team waited outside. Following a shootout outside the restaurant as the suspect fled, Sandoval was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities released a warrant for the arrest of one suspect on December 23 with possible connections to the homicide. The day after, the Jalisco Attorney’s General Office (Fiscalía de Jalisco) announced they had a suspect in custody. Additionally, they had secured some potential critical evidence, including a digital video recording from the restaurant.

The CJNG’s Likely Involvement

Authorities suspect that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) was involved in Sandoval’s murder. As Reuters reports, CJNG came to power while Sandoval was in office, bringing with it a dramatic rise in violence and threat to public security. That violence has continued through 2020 with the CJNG being one of Mexico’s most publicly violent and dominant cartels, battling primarily with the notorious Sinaloa Cartel formerly headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. According to security analyst Eduardo Guerrero from Lantia Consultores, Sandoval’s assassination was likely a message for the current governor of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro. “The message is: give in or negotiate with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel,” said Guerrero, “or you will have the same fate as Sandoval.”

The State of Jalisco. Photo: Wikipedia.

Violence in Mexico

The CJNG’s presence is felt far outside of just its namesake state of Jalisco. In early December, for example, 19 people were killed in a fight that broke out in Jerez, Zacatecas between the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel. A collaborative police/military sting a few days later led Zacatecas authorities to arrest 15 alleged CJNG members residing in a “narco-camp” in Jerez.

Violence in Mexico continues to soar. On December 18, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador gave updated statistics on the nation’s levels of crime and violence. Writes The New York Times, “More than 31,000 murders were recorded in Mexico this year as of November, the latest month for which government statistics are available, a figure roughly on pace with 2019.”

To read more about organized crime and violence in Mexico, check out Justice in Mexico’s annual reports here.

Sources:

Valadez Rodríguez, Alfredo. “Deja 19 muertos violencia en Zacatecas detienen a 15 miembros de CJNG.” La Jornada. December 9, 2020.

Bravo, Tomas. “Ex-governor of cartel-ravaged Mexican state gunned down in beach resort.” Reuters. December 18, 2020.

Lopez, Oscar. “An Ex-Governor Is Gunned Down, Punctuating a Deadly Year for Mexico.” The New York Times. December 18, 2020.

Rodríguez, Rey. “Giran órdenes de aprehensión por asesinato del exgobernador Aristóteles Sandoval.” CNN Español. December 23, 2020.

“Reporta fiscalía captura de persona y nueva evidencia en asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval | Video.” Aristegui Noticias. December 24, 2020.

Webpage. “Perfil: Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez.” Lantia Consultores. Last visited December 27, 2020.

Tension and Violence Rise in Guanajuato Following Arrests of Cartel Leader’s Mother

Municipalities in the State of Guanajuato.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.

06/30/20 (written by kheinle) – Tension and violence is growing in Guanajuato, already the country’s most violent state, after police arrested several family members of José Antonio Yepez, “El Marro.” The mother, sister, and cousin of El Marro, the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL) and one of Mexico’s most wanted drug kingpins, were picked up on June 20 in Celaya, Guanajuato. Two other women of no familial relation were also detained. Authorities also seized a kilogram of methamphetamine and $2 million pesos ($88,000 USD) during the operation. The women were arrested for allegedly playing key roles in the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel’s financial operations.

This came as part of a joint operation between the Secretary of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA), the National Guard (Guardia Nacional), and the Guanajuato Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de Guanajuato). Twenty-six other CSRL members were also arrested during the operation at different locations in surrounding municipalities, but they have since been released for lack of evidence, among other technicalities. 

El Marro Reacts

Following the arrests, El Marro released two short videos that quickly went viral during which he threatened to “unleash violence” in Guanajuato if his loved ones were not promptly released. “I’m going to be a stone in your shoe,” he said, directing his ire towards the Mexican government. “I’m going to blow up, you will see… In my mother’s and my people’s name… I don’t fear you.” He also claimed that authorities are working with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG), a bitter rival of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel. He then spoke of potentially establishing an alliance with other cartels to rise up in response to the authorities’ arrests, and thanked his supporters who had already taken up arms.

In the week since the June 20 operation, more than 100 people were killed in Guanajuato. Vehicles and businesses were set ablaze, narco-roadblocks established, four youth disappeared, and a bomb threat called in at a refinery in the municipality of Salamanca. In a unique turn of events, El Marro’s father, Rodolfo Yépez, was also released from prison on June 26 after having posted a $10,000 peso-bond. The judge who ordered his release and subsequent house arrest also noted the father’s senior age as a concern given the coronavirus pandemic. R. Yépez was serving time since March 2020 for robbery.

Violence in Guanajuato

Guanajuato is the most violent state in Mexico. From January to late June 2020, more than 1,725 homicides were registered, according to data from the Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). As El Universal writes, SESNSP data shows that “from January 1 to June 24 of 2020, about 9.9 homicides occur each day, or a murder every 2.4 hours, an unprecedented statistic for [Guanajuato].” In 2019, Guanajuato registered the highest number of organized crime related homicides with 2,673 cases, according to Reforma.

Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection Alfonso Durazo. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The violence is largely attributed to the battles between the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, “El Mencho.” The two have been in conflict since October 2017 when El Marro “declared war” on the CJNG over the control of fuel theft (huachicol) in Guanajuato, particularly in the municipalities of León, Irapuato, Salamanca, Celaya, and Los Apaseos, also known as the “Triángulo de las Bermúdas.” The control for the territory also lends itself to the cartels’ further control and involvement in drug tracking, kidnapping, and extortion. As Mexico’s most violent state, and with the battle between these two powerful cartels, there is also a large presence of high-power firearms in Guanajuato. El Universalreports that the “use of firearms is at a level not seen in any other state in the country.”

Government Response

Mexico’s Secretary of Security and Civilian Protection (Secretario de Seguridad y Protección Ciudana, SSPC), Alfonso Durazo, announced the government’s new strategy to address the rising levels of violence in Guanajuato. On June 26, Durazo said that more federal troops would be sent to the state, a decision that was in the process of being made before El Marro took to social media to call for violent uprisings in response to his loved ones’ arrests. The Secretary said more information about how the federal and state security forces would work together would be detailed in the coming week.

Sources:

Lastiri, Diana. “Sedena reporta detención de madre y hermana de ‘El Marro.’” El Universal. June 21, 2020.

Lastiri, Diana. “El Marro’ vows to wreak havoc in Guanajuato after his family members were arrested.” El Universal. June 6, 2020.

Martínez, César. “Amarga ‘El Marro’ con más violencia en Guanajuato.” Reforma. June 21, 2020.

Oré, Diego. “Tearful Mexican cartel chief threatens government after mother’s detention.” Reuters. June 21, 2020.

López Ponce, Jannet and Mariana Ramos. “Liberan a papa de ‘El Marro’ en Guanajuato, tras pagar 10 mil pesos de fianza.” Milenio. June 26, 2020.

Monroy, Jorge. “Ante amenazas de ‘El Marro”, gobierno replantea estrategia en Guanajuato.” El Economista. June 26, 2020.

Arrieta, Carlos. “Choques entre CJNG y Santa Rosa dejan mil 179 asesinatos.” El Universal. June 27, 2020.

“Ejecutómetro.” Grupo Reforma. Last accessed June 29, 2020.

Federal judge murdered in Colima

Authorities respond to the scene where Judge Uriel Villegas Ortiz (pictured to the right) and his wife, Verónica Barajas, were murdered. Photo: El Pais.

06/18/20 (written by kheinle) — A federal judge and his wife were killed on June 16, 2020 in Colima, Colima. Around 11:30am, gunmen fired nearly 20 rounds at Judge Uriel Villegas Ortiz and his wife, Verónica Barajas, as they left their residence, killing them both. The couple’s two young daughters and an employed domestic worker survived the attack. Judge Villegas was currently serving as a district judge in Colima’s Center for Federal Criminal Justice (Centro de Justicia Penal Federal en el Estado de Colima) at the time of his death.

Mexico’s Federal Judicial Branch (Poder Judicial de la Federación, PJF) immediately condemned the attacks. “We want to send a clear and categorical message: judicial activity will continue moving forward and we will not be stopped, much less by intimidating acts, in order that we fulfill the mission with which the Constitution has charged us and that which we have sworn to defend for the sake of every person’s rights,” wrote the PJF. The president of Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN), Judge Arturo Zaldívar, addressed Villegas’ murder during the middle of a court hearing on June 16, using it as a call to better protect members of the judiciary. “We call on the appropriate authorities to guarantee the security of magistrates, federal judges, and their families,” he said, “and that they investigate and hold those responsible.”

Nemesio Oseguera González, “El Mencho,” the leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Photo: U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

In theory, all federal judges are to have armored vehicles and bodyguards for protection, writes Reforma. Based on initial media reports, however, it does not appear that Villegas and his family had such protection at the time of the attack. Such measures were likely warranted considering Villegas was the sitting judge on a high-profile case in 2018 that involved the son of the presumed leader of the notorious Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG). Working then on Jalisco’s Federal Penal Processes as the Sixth Judge (Juez Sexto de Procesos Penales Federal), Villegas ordered the transfer of Rubén Oseguera González, “El Menchito,” to a federal maximum security prison (Centro Federal de Readaptación Social, CEFERESO). El Menchito was extradited to the United States in February 2020 to face drug trafficking charges. He was considered the CJNG’s second in command behind his father, Nemesio Oseguera González, “El Mencho,” who is also wanted by the United States for similar charges.

Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) immediately launched an investigation into Villegas’ homicide. Villegas was the first federal judge murdered since October 2016 when Judge Vicente Bermúdez Zacarías was killed in Metepec, México (Estado de México, Edomex). In October 2019, the FGR arrested Judge Bermúdez’s wife and two accomplices for their responsibility in his death.

Sources:

Otawka, Harper. “Mexican Federal Judge shot and killed while jogging in the city of Metepec.” Justice in Mexico. October 27, 2016.

Garcia Soto, Salvador. “La extradición del Menchito.” El Universal. February 27, 2020.

Castillo, Gustaov et al. “Asesinan a juez federal en Colima.” La Jornada. June 16, 2020.

Lastiri, Diana. “Poder Judicial califica como acto intimidatorio el asesinato de juez en Colima.” El Universal. June 16, 2020.

Fuentes, Victor. “Ejecutan a juez federal en Colima.” Reforma. June 16, 2020.

Villa y Caña, Pedro. “Un rumor, la detención o muerte de ‘El Mencho’: AMLO.” El Universal. June 15, 2020.

Website. “Most Wanted Fugitives: Nemesio Oseguera-Cervantes.” United States Drug Enforcement Agency. Last accessed June 17, 2020.

Attacks Against Police Highlight Violence in Guanajuato

12/25/19 (written by kheinle) — Guanajuato continues to be one of the most violent states in Mexico. A recent string of 13 police officers killed in just 11 days highlighted Guanajuato’s ongoing challenges with crime and violence. 

Police Under Attack

Officer Maria Sonia Arrellano was kidnapped and killed on December 10. Source: Mexico Daily News.
Officer Maria Sonia Arrellano was kidnapped and killed on December 10. Source: Mexico Daily News.

The most recent occurred on December 19 when the head of Acámbaro’s Public Security (Seguridad Pública), Jorge Valtierra Herrera, was murdered. He was shot outside his home at 7:15am along with his bodyguard who suffered severe injuries. Valtierra had only been in charge of Public Security since July, having taken over for his predecessor, Alejandro Rangel Amado, who was murdered on July 22. Rangel himself had taken on the position when his predecessor was gunned down just one week before during an ambush at the house of Acámbaro’s Commissioner of Public Security.

Just days before Valtierra’s December 19 murder, Officer Gabriela Núñez Duarte was shot and killed in Irapuato on December 14 inside her patrol car in Irapuato. Her partner survived the attack. Prior to that, on December 11, police were ambushed inside the Villagrán Police Station after armed members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) rushed the station. Three officers were shot and killed onsite. Four more were kidnapped; their bodies later discovered on the surrounding highway. The CJNG also claimed responsibility in the killing of María Sonia Arellano, a well-respected police officer who was known to be tough on local crime. She was kidnapped on December 10 from her home in Irapuato along with her husband and their son. Arellano’s body was later found dismembered with a cardboard message reading CJNG. Just two days before Arellano’s death, on December 8, two more officers were killed in León and Celaya. It is not clear if the CJNG claimed responsibility in those killings.

The recent rash of crime in violence in Guanajuato is not new. In July of this year, for example, another outbreak occurred in the state with four attacks on police in ten days. Two officials were killed, including the head of the Attorney General’s Antinarcotics Unit (Unidad Antidrogas de la Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE), Francisco Javier.

Federal Response

In response to the outbreak in violence against police, members of Mexico’s National Guard (Guardia Nacional) are being sent to reinforce the situation in Irapuato, Guanajuato. The mayor, Ricardo Ortiz Gutiérrez, announced that hundreds of additional National Guard troops were set to arrive on December 17, adding to the 200 already stationed there as part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s ongoing security strategy.

Source: BBC News

Mayor Ortiz Gutiérrez emphasized how important it will be to ensure coordination and communication between the different security agencies on the ground, including local, state, and now federal. “Now what we need to ensure is good coordination, a strong front made up just as much by Municipal Police (Policía Municipal) and State Police (Policía del Estado),” he said, “so that we can truly be more efficient in our work, not going at it alone, but truly a united force that can confront [the challenge].”

Before the influx of new National Guard troops arrived, however, security challenges boiled over with the agents already on the ground. In the early hours of the morning, members of the National Guard clashed with a group of armed civilians in a neighborhood in Irapuato that resulted in the death of one National Guard agent and seven civilians. The day after, Guanajuato Governor Diego Sinhue Rodríguez announced that members of the Mexican Navy (Marina) would be joining the National Guard troops to try to pacify the situation.

Crime and Violence Statewide

In general, violence in Guanajuato has increased dramatically in recent years. Justice in Mexico’s most recent “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico” report published April 2019 explored the issue. The authors found that Guanajuato had the second highest number of intentional homicide cases (2,609) in 2018, according to data from the Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP). It also was the state with the largest annual increase in total homicides, which saw more than double the 1,084 homicides registered in 2017. Much of that increase was concentrated in the cities of Irapuato (374 homicides) and León (350), but several smaller towns registered dozens of homicides each, including at least nine municipalities with homicide rates in excess of 100 per 100,000. Guanajuato also had the highest number of organized-crime style homicides in 2018 with 2,233, according to data reported by the Mexican newspaper Milenio. It is currently on track to be the most violent state in the nation in 2019, according to SNSP data.

Data collected from Milenio shows Guanajuato’s dramatic increase in organized-crime-style homicides from 2017 to 2018. Source: Justice in Mexico.

Much of this violence appears to be linked to the problem of petroleum theft (huachicol) and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL). Guanajuato is an alternative distribution channel through which stolen petroleum is transited. It became a hotly contested corridor in 2018 among organized crime groups like the CJNG and the CSRL, the latter cartel which actually came into existence after a split from the former in 2017. The BBC News reports that some of the continued violence threatening Guanajuato can still be attributed to this ongoing battle between the two. Similarly, a Congressional Research Service report detailing organized crime throughout Mexico notes that Guanajuato is also home to turf battles between the CJNG and its rivals Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.

To learn more about organized crime and violence in Mexico, click here.

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. April 30, 2019.

“Policías en la mira, los atacan cuatro veces en 10 días.” AM. July 12, 2019.

López, Karina. “Realizan homenaje a policía caído en ataque.” El Sol de Bajio. July 16, 2019.

Villafaña, Laura. “El martes llegan 250 elementos de la Guardia Nacional a Irapuato: alcalde.” Zona Franca. December 14, 2019.

“Mexico violence: 12 police killed in one week in Guanajuato.” BBC News. December 16, 2019.

“Civiles armados atacan a Guardia Nacional en Irapuato; hay 8 muertos.” El Universal. December 17, 2019.

“Emboscan y matan a jefe de la policía en Acámbaro, Guanajuato.” El Universal. December 19, 2019.

“En menos de un año dos jefes de Policía de Acámbaro fueron asesinados.” AM. December 19, 2019.

Espino, Manuel. “Rodríguez Bucio supervisa puestos de seguridad en Irapuato y Salamanca.” El Universal. December 19, 2019.

Villafaña, Laura. “Llegada de la Guardia Nacional a Irapuato.” Zona Franca. December 19, 2019.

Beittel, June S. “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations.” Congressional Research Service. December 20, 2019.

New Policy Brief: The New Generation—Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat

The New Generation: Mexico's emerging Organized Crime Threat03/19/18 (written by dshirk) – Over the past decade, more than 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, including the record 29,000 murders that occurred in 2017 alone. According to a new Justice in Mexico policy brief by Lucy La Rosa and David A. Shirk, the recent increase in violence is one of the unintended consequences of the Mexican government’s strategy to target top organized crime figures for arrest and extradition. In the policy brief, titled “The New Generation: Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat,” the authors contend that the “kingpin strategy” that led to the downfall of famed drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has now given rise to a new organized crime syndicate known as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG).

The authors provide a detailed history of the CJNG, an offshoot of the Milenio and Sinaloa Cartels. As recounted in the new report, the CJNG has managed to re-brand itself, consolidate splintered criminal networks, and emerge as one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. Based in Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, the CJNG has a widespread and growing presence that authorities say spans two thirds of the country. The CJNG is headed by Ruben “El Mencho” Oseguera, a small time drug trafficker who was convicted in California, deported to Mexico, and emerged as a ruthless and shrewd drug cartel leader.

The authors contend that the CJNG offers a timely case study of how organized crime groups adapt following the disruption of leadership structures, and the limits of the so-called “kingpin” strategy to combat organized crime, which has contributed to the splintering, transformation, and diversification of Mexican organized crime groups and a shift in drug trafficking into new product areas, including heroin, methamphetamines, and other synthetic drugs.

The authors offer three main policy recommendations. First, the authors argue that U.S. State Department and their Mexican partners must continue working earnestly to bolster the capacity of Mexican law enforcement to conduct long-term, wide-reaching criminal investigations and more effective prosecutions targeting not only drug kingpins but all levels of a criminal enterprise, including corrupt politicians and private sector money laundering operations. Second, the authors argue that U.S. authorities must work more carefully when returning convicted criminals back to Mexico, since deported criminal offenders like CJNG leader Oseguera are prime candidates to join the ranks of Mexican organized crime. Third, and finally, the authors contend that further drug policy reforms are urgently needed to properly regulate the production, distribution, and consumption of not only marijuana but also more potent drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.