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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 Newsreports
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
03/19/18 (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.