Domestic Violence in Mexico During COVID-19

Overview

06/16/20 (M MacGregor)- According to a survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía), or“INEGI”, 7 out of 10 women in Mexico have experienced violence at some point in their lives, and among those, almost half (43.9%) of women were abused by their boyfriend, husband, or partner. Additionally, according to INEGI, the states with the highest levels of domestic violence are the State of Mexico, Aguascalientes, Jalisco, and Queretaro. Domestic violence is defined by the United Nations as a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain control over an intimate partner and encompasses physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological threats that influence another person. At the international and regional level, Mexico is part of various agreements that share the goal of eradicating violence against women. Some of these include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW 1979), the InterAmerican Commission of Women, and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995). Despite the country’s membership in these agreements, the current COVID-19 pandemic has shown the weaknesses in the Mexican government in protecting women from domestic violence and ensuring their safety.

Domestic Violence During COVID

According to Reuters, since the COVID-19 lockdown, women in Mexico have been fighting “another shadow pandemic”. There has been “an increase in reports of domestic violence, many of those psychological violence”, according to Blanca Aquino, director of the Municipal Institute for Women of Veracruz. Similarly, Maria Noel Baeza, the regional director for UN Women, believes that the lockdown is exacerbating violence against women by forcing them to stay in situations of confinement in which [women] are locked up with their abusers and have very limited outlets to escape violence. 

Before social distancing was implemented in the country, Expansión Política reported that the Mexican emergency number registered 21,727 domestic violence related calls during the month of February. According to El Universal, three weeks after the stay at home orders were issued, Mexican federal authorities estimated that violence against women had increased between 30 and 100%. Almost two months after the first case of COVID-19 in Mexico, the National Network of Shelters (la Red Nacional de Refugios)  observed an “increase of 5% in women’s admissions [to the shelters] and an increase of 60% in guidance via telephone calls, social networks, and email”. Additionally, women’s centers linked to the network are at “80% to 110% of their capacity, especially in entities such as Guanajuato, the State of Mexico, and Chiapas”. These cases of violence against women are expected to persist as the pandemic continues, as human rights specialists in an article by El Sol de Mexico are predicting domestic violence to grow by 92% during the quarantine period.

Government Response

At the national level, many lawyers and human rights activists have criticized the problematic remarks of current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as well as the Mexican government’s failure to release a comprehensive plan to tackle the spike in domestic abuse amid the COVID-19 emergency. According to Latino USA, AMLO stated in a press conference in May 2020 that “violence against women has not increased since the national lockdown” and that “there has been no increase in complaints from women”, despite statistical reports indicating otherwise. Jacqui Hunt, director of Equality Now, a non-governmental organization that aims to promote the rights of women and girls globally, told Independent, “the appalling increase in the number of women murdered and abused in Mexico since the start of 2020 should be seized upon as a watershed moment in which the government finally steps up to address the root causes of harm against women”. Hunt called for the Mexican government to “work closely alongside organizations which help women and girls and provide additional funding to make sure those locked up with their abusers can access safe housing and other specialist support”, as statistics collected by El Sol de Mexico estimate that “two-thirds of the female population in the country over the age of 15 will quarantine alongside a violent partner”.

A gender perspective to combat COVID-19

Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres called for measures to address a “shocking global upsurge in domestic violence against women and girls”, stating that “together, [the international community] can and will prevent violence everywhere, from war zones to people’s homes”. United Nations Women in particular has made a number of recommendations to the Mexican authorities in order to alleviate the conditions that women and girls have experienced during the lockdown. Some of these recommendations include: 

  • Raising awareness of the increased burden on female staff for extra care tasks against COVID-19.
  • Helping employers take into account the risks that their employees displacement will have, as well as ensuring their payments during the quarantine.
  • Protecting the workforce in manufacturing companies (maquiladoras) economically and through labor protection measures since women make up a large part of the workforce.
  • Procuring strategies to protect those affected by the sexual division of labor in areas such as education, social work, which are mostly composed of women.

“No estás sola, seguimos contigo” and “#ContingenciaSinViolencia”

On April 7th, the Mexican government in conjunction with the Citizens’ Council (Consejo Ciudadano) and the Women’s Secretariat (Secretaria de las Mujeres) launched the “No estas sola, seguimos contigo” (“You’re not alone, we are still with you”) initiative to address domestic violence during the quarantine. This program consists of several resources to help women report domestic violence and seek professional help. The resources include chat rooms in which victims can send video, audio, and photos, channels to Moon Centers, or Centro Lunas, which provide psychological and legal care for medium and high risk cases. 

In addition, the government and the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (CONAVIM) created a directory to publicize these resources as well as the National Shelter Network so that women can access safe spaces away from their abusers. The hashtag, #ContingencyWithoutViolence, or #ContingenciaSinViolencia was launched by the State of Mexico and has spread on social networks throughout the country. Despite these efforts to address violence against women, the National Shelter Network is lacking the budget and the space to operate effectively and this leads them to deal with double or triple contigency. Milenio reports that several organizations have argued that the “delay in the allocation of financial resources violates the shelters’ operation and rights of women to safety”. Wendy Figueroa, the director of the National Shelter Network, has demanded that the Mexican government “establish a budget, as well as evaluation and monitoring mechanisms that guarantee the permanent flow of resources allowing the shelters to work through the year without impediment”.

In conclusion, it is clear that COVID-19 has exacerbated the effects of domestic violence in Mexico, a country that already suffers from staggering statistics due to the normalization of gender based violence. The implications of the lockdown are widening gender inequalities and increasing violence against women. In order to address this crisis, the Mexican government must strengthen all mechanisms to combat domestic violence at the local, regional and national levels. Steps must be taken immediately because women’s lives depend on it.

Domestic Violence Resources

United States

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Online Chat: https://www.thehotline.org/what-is-live-chat/

Safety planning and legal information: https://www.thehotline.org/help/path-to-safety/

Resources for victims and survivors by State: https://www.thehotline.org/resources/victims-and-survivors/

Mexico:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 9-1-1

Shelter Network Directory: https://eldiadespues.mx/directorio-de-organizaciones/

Domestic Violence Hotlines by State:

Sources:

Bettinger-Lopez, Caroline. “A Double Pandemic: Domestic Violence in the Age of COVID-19.”  Council on Foreign Relations, 13 May 2020

Oppenheim, Maya. “Mexico sees almost 1,000 women murdered in three months as domestic abuse concerns rise amid coronavirus.” Independent. 28 April 2020. 

Machicao, Monica, Martinez, Ana Isabel, Ramos Miranda, Natalia, & Sigal, Lucila. “Another Pandemic: In Latin America, domestic abuse rises amid lockdown. Reuters. 27 April 2020.

Castellanos, Laura. “México abandona a las mujeres violentadas en esta contingencia.” Aristegui Noticias. 16 April 2020.  

Almazan, Jorge. “CdMx lanza programa para denunciar violencia familiar.” Milenio. 14 April 2020

Galvan, Melissa. “Otra contingencia: la violencia contra las mujeres va en aumento.” Expansión Política. 5 April 2020.

Noticias de las Naciones Unidas. “Ante el aumento de la violencia doméstica por el coronavirus, Guterres llama a la paz en los hogares.” Noticias ONU. 5 April 2020

Ortiz, Alexis. “Coronavirus en México. Estiman aumento de hasta 100% en violencia de género. El Universal. 4 April 2020.

Nava, Cecilia. “En cuarentena, violencia contra la mujer escalará 92%, prevén expertas.” El Sol de México. 26 March 2020. 

De la Peña, Angelica. “El Covid-19 y la perspectiva de género.” El Sol de México. 23 March 2020. 

United Nations Women: Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “Paying attention to women’s needs and leadership will strengthen COVID-19 responses.” UN Women. 19 March 2020.

Seguridad de Estado de México. “Contingencia sin Violencia.” Twitter. 2020. 

Gobierno de la Ciudad de México: Secretaría de las Mujeres. “Lunas.” Gobierno de la Ciudad de México. 2020.

United Nations. “What is Domestic Abuse?” United Nations. 2020. 

Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI). “Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares (ENDIREH 2016).” INEGI. 18 August 2017.

Red Nacional de Refugios. “Red Nacional de Refugios A.C.” 3 November 2014.

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.” United Nations. 18 December 1979.

United Nations Women: Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. “The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.” UN Women, September 1995.

 Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres (CONAVIM). “Sistema Nacional de Prevencion, Atencion, Sancion, y Erradicacion de la Violencia Contra las Mujeres.” 

Latin American News Dispatch. “AMLO Denies Rise of Violence Against Women During Lockdown.” 

National Domestic Violence Hotline. “Get Help.” 

Organization of American States (OAS). “Inter-American Commission of Women”. OAS.

Veracruz Gobierno del Estado. “Instituto Veracruzano de las Mujeres.” IVM. 

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

Huachicoleros on the rise in Mexico

Policeman inspects barrels containing stolen fuel Source: The Huffington Post Mexico

05/20/2017 (written by Laura Calderon) – A new form of organized crime has become a significant problem for Mexican authorities in over 22 states of Mexico: thefts of petroleum. Petroleum thieves are commonly known in Mexico as huachicoleros, a name adopted by gasoline truck drivers to refer to the stolen hydrocarbon, or chupaductos (pipeline suckers). Although petroleum stealing has been spreading throughout the country over the last few months, most of this activity takes place in an area called the Triángulo Rojo (Red Triangle) which encompasses the municipalities of Tepeaca, Palmar de Bravo, Quecholac, Acatzingo, Acajete and Tecamachalco, all in the state of Puebla. The Red Triangle has the most huachicolero activity because it is a transit zone for 40% of the fuel distributed from Mexico City to the rest of the country.

On average, huachicoleros are stealing 5.5 million liters of fuel nationwide. Huachicoleros are stealing petroleum in a variety of products: raw oil, gasoline, diesel, and other hydrocarbons found in major pipelines throughout Mexico and property of Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). Pipeline thefts became more popular as the gasoline supply in some areas decreased and prices drastically increased across the country. As a result, huachicoleros identified an opportunity to steal petroleum products and sell them in heavily transited highways for half the market price, costing PEMEX approximately 6 million pesos in losses from 2011 to 2016. Given these losses, foreign investments have become more difficult to attract to the Mexican government’s energy sector.

Social Impact

Groups of huachicoleros have managed to gain community approval and support in a variety of ways. First, they offer gasoline at significantly lower prices than official gasoline stations, benefiting from volume sales rather than pricing. Second, they take advantage of special holidays and events to give some of the stolen fuel and other goods to residents within strategic areas for fuel stealing and distribution in an effort to create stronger partnerships with the community. For example, every Mothers’ Day in San Salvador Huixcolotla (state of Puebla), huachicoleros give units of stolen gasoline and home appliances to residents in an effort to build rapport and ensure protection. Finally, local communities have adopted a new kind of huachicolero subculture reflected in a new character inspired by a Catholic saint “El Santo Niño Huachicolero,” to whom residents offer barrels of fuel as an offering and prayer for protection and abundance.

Violent altercations between huachicoleros and security forces

Huachicolero activities have not only had significant economic impact for PEMEX and local governments, but violent altercations have

Military officers seize stolen fuel from huachicoleros. Source: El Universal

ensued between huachicoleros and federal police and military forces in at least two different cities in Mexico.

On March 30th state and military forces and a group of huachicoleros were caught in an armed conflict in the city of Cuesta Blanca (state of Puebla). When officials were surveilling the zone and observed a group of huachicoleros with at least nine units full of stolen fuel, the huachicolero group began firing. The huachicolero group was identified to be part of the criminal gang headed by Roberto “El Bukanas”. Two people were wounded and arrested for being linked to the Bukanas gang, a gang presumed to be tied to the Zetas cartel.

Another shooting between military forces and huachicoleros occurred more recently on May 3rd in Palmarito Tochapan (state of Puebla). At least two military officers were killed and one wounded when they recognized several units of stolen fuel and were attacked by the huachicoleros who were reportedly shielding themselves behind women and children. However, this shooting is highly contested by the media and Mexican authorities due to security camera footage that captured the altercation. With the videos made public, there are now contesting narratives about the specific events during the shooting and number of casualties. As this event highlights, special attention must be paid to the extrajudicial execution of a presumed huachicolero by a military officer.

Government response

After the May 3rd attack, local, state, and federal authorities began to implement more strict surveillance operations in strategic areas, in an effort to deter huachicoleros from stealing more fuel. This increase in security measures has impacted the gasoline black market in two meaningful ways: First, given how much more difficult the extraction of petroleum has become for huachicoleros, the resale price of gasoline has increased 40% over the last couple of months. As a result, consumption of their gasoline has significantly decreased forcing huachicoleros to only provide their services for a limited number of days a week and to a privileged list of frequent consumers.

In addition, on April 28th the Mexican Congress approved a legislation reform that increases sentences for fuel stealing to up to 25 years in prison and fines up to 2 million pesos if found guilty. Congress approved this initiative with 321 votes in favor, 18 against, and 37 abstentions and is planned to become effective in September. However, the head of the Ministry of Treasure and Public Credit (Secretaría De Hacienda y Crédito Público), José Antonio Meade, recently appealed to Congress to expedite the reform’s effective date  given the gravity of the situation and to initiate further comprehensive reforms to address fuel stealing.

Huachicoleros have gained increased attention from the media after their recent confrontations with federal and military authorities. As they continue to challenge local and state measures, Congress will need to continue its search for more efficient measures to tackle the issue from its source in order to eliminate that practice and hopefully eradicate the violence generated by it.

 

Sources

“¿Quiénes son los huachicoleros?.” El Debate. 4 May 2017.

“Aprueban diputados aumentar penas por robo de combustible.” El Diario. 28 April 2017.

“Decomiso de combustible desata enfrentamiento en Cuesta Blanca.” El Sol de Puebla. 31 March 2017.

“El Bukanas, El Toñín y La Negra, los tres líderes huachicoleros de Puebla.” El Sol de Puebla. 15 May 2017.

“Mueren dos militares en enfrentamiento con huachicoleros en Palmarito Tochapan.” El Sol de Puebla. 3 May 2017.

“Perfil: el sanguinario capo del huachicol.” Diario Cambio. 13 March 2017.

Badillo, Jesús. “El Triángulo Rojo, mina de ‘oro negro’ de huachicoleros.” Milenio. 05 May 2017.

Flores, Leonor. “Pide Meade acelar reformas pendientes contra robo de gasolina.” El Universal. 16 May 2017.

Hernández, Gabriela. “Puebla: enfrentamiento con ‘huachicoleros’ deja dos integrantes de Los Bukanas detenidos.” Proceso. 30 March 2017.

Molina, Héctor and Torres Rubén. “En video, presunto choque con huachicoleros.” El Economista. 10 May 2017.

Pérez, Fernando and Xicoténcatl, Fabiola. “Huachicoleros aplican su ‘gasolinazo’; incautan 50mil litros en Tabasco.” Excelsior. 14 May 2017.

Impunity in Mexico: A Rising Concern

Written by Jose Luengo-Cabrera & Tessa Butler, Institute for Economics and Peace.

The failure or inability to penalize criminals in Mexico is a widespread phenomenon. In 2016, it was estimated that only 9 out of every 100 crimes resulted in convictions. Amid growing concerns over impunity, citizens need to feel confident that their government can protect them and that they can trust the authorities in the enforcement of the law. The government’s efforts, however, continue to fall short of citizens’ expectations.

The percentage of citizens reporting impunity as their most worrisome issue has been on the rise in Mexico.  Despite insecurity and unemployment being worrisome for a higher percentage of citizens, the number of those concerned about impunity more than doubled between 2012 and 2016, overtaking narco-trafficking at a time when the trend for corruption has also been on the rise.

Gauging the degree of impunity in Mexico remains elusive. This is largely due to the fact that the collection of data on crimes is hampered by the high levels of underreporting – itself a consequence of distrust in the authorities’ ability to respond to crimes. Underreporting has been exacerbated by a lack of transparency in the methods of statistical collection, with major discrepancies identified across the 32 states, as explored in the ‘Verifying Mexico’s Official Crime Data’ subsection of the 2017 Mexico Peace Index. Consequently, any data-driven estimates are bound to generate inferences that provide only a partial diagnostic of the true magnitude of violence, not to mention the extent to which the authorities are responding to it.

The problem of underreporting

The most significant indication of this challenge comes from the Encuesta Nacional de Victmización y Percepción sobre Seguridad Pública (ENVIPE), Mexico’s annual victimisation survey carried out by the national office of statistics (INEGI). In its 2016 iteration, it showed that 93.7 percent of crimes in 2015 were either not reported to the authorities, or went uninvestigated. Dubbed as the cifra negra (black figure), 2015 saw the second highest percentage of underreporting since 2010. When broken down by type of crime, levels of underreporting have been the highest for cases of extortion, reaching a peak of 99 percent in 2014.

The cifra negra phenomenon is a symptom of the state of Mexico’s criminal justice system. Indeed, the 2016 ENVIPE results show that 63 percent of citizens did not report a crime for reasons attributable to the authorities. Thirty-three percent of citizens who did not report a crime stated that it was due to perceiving it as a waste of time, while 17 percent claimed it was the result of distrust in the authorities. Moreover, 50.4 percent of the citizens that did report a crime claimed that treatment by the authorities was ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’.

This reality is compounded by results that shed light on the levels of citizen trust and perceptions of corruption across public security authorities. According to the 2016 ENVIPE results, an average of 45 percent of citizens reported to have ‘little’ or ‘no trust’ in the public security authorities – namely police, judges, state attorney generals and the public ministry. The average figure was 64.4 percent for those who perceived the same entities as corrupt.

The latest available data from 2014 shows that citizen trust in the enforcement of the law was pervasively low across states. The highest percentage was recorded in Chiapas, where no more than 14 percent of citizens perceived that criminals were being penalized. Nationally, close to 11 percent of the population reported the belief that criminals were never punished, with just over five percent believing it was always the case. Seventy-two percent reported it as sometimes being the case. In addition, out of the total crime investigations initiated in 2015 by the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público), 45.9 percent of them were either left unresolved or where no action was taken, with 25.9 percent remaining in process. Reparations were made in only eight percent of cases.

A nationwide phenomenon

The failure or inability to penalize perpetrators of crime in Mexico can be considered nationally ubiquitous. According to the 2016 Global Impunity Index (GII), the average score for the 32 Mexican states was 67.42 points on a scale of 0-100, where 0 represents a total absence of impunity. It placed Mexico 58th out of a total of 59 countries under study.

The impunity variance across states was small; 24 states were within ten points of the worst score of 77 recorded in Quintana Roo. This is an indication that impunity in Mexico is a nationwide phenomenon, especially when considering that three quarters of state impunity scores were within approximately six points of each other.

Mexico’s poor international ranking in the GII highlights the country’s structural weaknesses in addressing impunity, as explored in section four of the 2017 Mexico Peace Index. For example, the national average of magistrates and judges per every 100,000 people in Mexico was estimated at 3.5. The average for countries included in the GII was 16, or 4.5 times the level in Mexico. Moreover, there were 20 penitentiary officers for every 100 inmates in Mexico. The average across countries included in the GII was more than double that amount, 47 officers per every 100 inmates. In addition, according to the latest available data, Mexico’s prisons were found to be 12 percent over capacity, with some states facing prison overpopulation rates as high as 164 percent.

A barrier to peacefulness

High levels of impunity imply that the rule of law is not being fully enforced and that state governments are failing to provide adequate funding for the provision of justice. Notwithstanding, some notable progress has been made. For example, the investigation rate for torture complaints carried out by the office of the Federal Attorney General improved by four-fold between 2013 and 2014 alone, increasing from 17 percent to 67 percent.

This sudden increase could be attributable to better prosecution and investigation procedures. However, it could also be the result of rising political pressure to investigate human rights violations in the wake of the 2014 enforced disappearance (Desaparición Forzada) of 43 students in Iguala – where police officers were arrested for having tortured 17 suspects.

Moreover, the high level of impunity for violence against journalists undermines efforts to disseminate information on crime and the activities that support it. This is particularly telling considering that the number of media professionals murdered was three times higher in 2016 than in 2002, despite a downward trend since a peak of 143 murders in 2012.

Mexico has made and continues to make significant strides in improving the rule of law and the quality of governance. The rule of law and the provision of justice are two critical aspects of the well-functioning government domain of Positive Peace. Where impunity remains high, it stands as a barrier to peacefulness. Better legal processes for filing citizen complaints, tracking the instances of human rights violations, and investigating cases can reduce impunity and improve peace.

Justicebarometer 2016: Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System

04/13/17 – Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released the English version of the latest publication in the Justiciabarómetro series, Justiciabarómetro 2016- Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What do its operators think?, thanks to the generous funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The 2016 Justiciabarómetro provides a comparative analysis of the justice system operators’ demographics and perspectives, as well as comparisons to similar data collected in 2010. Survey participants included 288 judges, 279 prosecutors, and 127 public defenders in 11 Mexican states, with a response rate of 56%, a 2.4% margin of error, and a 95% confidence interval.

Justicebarometer 2016

The 2016 Justiciabarómetro builds on a series of surveys that Justice in Mexico has conducted since 2009. Through collaboration with bi-national teams of judicial system experts in Mexico, these Justiciabarómetro studies are intended to generate useful indicators of judicial system capacity and performance in order to contribute to both academic research and improved public policy efforts.

Some the most relevant findings include the following:

  • The majority of the operators of all judicial system operators are male (56%), under the age of 50 (79%), and have a post-graduate degree (57%).
  • 63% of judges surveyed earn more than $30,000 pesos each month, yet 72% of prosecutors and 82% of public defenders earn less than that amount.
  • Nearly all of the operators (89%) believe the justice system needed to be reformed and that the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has had positive effects since it began in 2008. An additional 90% think the NSJP creates greater trust in authorities, and 93% more argue it will accelerate judicial processes.
  • NSJP features are overwhelmingly well received, with roughly 95% of all operators preferring oral proceedings over previously implemented written methods, a significant increase from 2010 JABO results. Additionally, 98% prefer the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
  • The majority of respondents are in favor of the presumption of innocence (84% of judges, 76% of prosecutors, and 91% of public defenders) and believe the NSJP will help reduce corruption (80% of all operators).
  • • 96% of all judicial system operators view judges as the most effective in their work when compared with prosecutors and public defenders, and an additional 96% view judges as the trust-worthiest.
  • Despite overwhelming agreement when operators were asked if they were prepared for the NSJP’s implementation and operation (86% of judges, 93% of prosecutors, and 90% of public defenders), between 13% and 29% of operators reported having never been trained in oral litigation or alternative methods to resolve cases.
  • A concerning 48% of prosecutors, 29% of public defenders, and 13% of judges believe authorities can operate above the law to investigate and punish individuals for crimes committed.

Overall, the 2016 Justiciabarómetro provides unique perspective on the administration of Justice in Mexico from the operators of the system. As noted by Justice in Mexico Program Coordinator Octavio Rodriguez, a Mexican attorney and co-author of the study, “The survey provides a rare and penetrating look inside the Mexican criminal justice system, which traditionally has been like a ‘black box’ to outside observers.”

To read the full report, please click here:  Download

For public commentary in English or Spanish about the report or other criminal justice issues in Mexico, please contact the report’s authors directly: