New Justice in Mexico working paper: “Organized Crime and Violence in Guanajuato”

08/25/20 (written by aahrensvíquez)-Justice in Mexico released its latest working paper “Organized Crime and Violence in Guanajuato” by Laura Y. Calderón on Thursday. As mentioned in the Justice in Mexico 2020 Organized Crime and Violence Special Report, Guanajuato is one of the major hot spots of violence in Mexico. Calderón analyzes the surge in violence in the state, comparing the number of intentional homicide cases with the increasing problem of fuel theft in the state, and describing some of the state and federal government measures to address both issues. Following the national trend, the state of Guanajuato also had its most violent year in 2019 with two of its cities, León and Irapuato, featured in the country’s top ten most violent municipalities.

Context

Calderón provides context for the current security crisis by detailing the deadly territory dispute between Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) within Guanajuato. As she explains, the CSRL is a local organized crime group that emerged from Santa Rosa de Lima, a small town in the municipality of Villagrán, that has a history of drug dealing and fuel theft or huachicoleo.

CSRL gained national relevance in 2017, when Jose Antonio Yepez Ortiz, “El Marro,” assumed leadership and decided to monopolize organized crime activities, declaring a deadly war against CJNG, and more specifically, its leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes better known as “El Mencho.” Known for its famously violent tactics, the CJNG is looking to gain control over a drug trafficking corridor that would facilitate the transportation of their product from Lázaro Cárdenas, Michoacán to the northern border city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas. The rivalry between the two groups has had major security implications within the state, from targeting police officers and local officials, to using improvised explosive devices to deter rival groups. 

Government Response to Violence

The increasingly dire situation in Guanajuato has led to both federal and state responses. As Calderón stipulates, an increasingly pressing issue within Mexico, huachicoleo has led to millions of pesos stolen from Petróleos Mexicanos, better known as PEMEX, throughout Mexico.  Guanajuato saw the second highest number of illegal pipeline taps, totaling 5,091 cases from 2015 to 2019, constituting 16.14% of the total taps nationwide. For more on huachicoleo, please see the Justice in Mexico blog post previously authored by Calderón from 2017, “Huachicoleros on the rise in Mexico.” 

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) sought to address the issue of huachicoleo head-on in early 2019. Looking to decrease the number of illegal pipeline taps, AMLO notably tasked fuel tankers with delivering petroleum. This led to a major upset throughout the country during the transition as gas shortages led to hours-long waits. The administration maintains that fuel theft decreased from 81,000 barrels and 800 gas trucks stolen per day in 2018, to 5,000 barrels and 40 gas trucks stolen per day by July 2019. However, this has had the unintentional effect of leading criminal groups to steal liquified petroleum gas instead, as the process is virtually the same as for fuel theft. 

Additionally, AMLO deployed the National Guard and federal police to Guanajuato to address increasing insecurity. However, the steady increase in homicides since the deployment indicated that it did not lead to any significant decrease in violence within the state. 

Likewise, the government of the state of Guanajuato has taken steps in an attempt to decrease the violence. The state launched a special operation known as Golpe de Timón (or “steering the wheel” in English) that at first aimed to find and arrest “El Marro.” However, after little success, the strategy was shifted to address social issues- rehabilitating infrastructure, revamping education, and establishing a state-level police academy. 

Analysis

Calderón goes on to examine the potential causes of violence and crime within Guanajuato. Data gathered by Reforma shows that Guanajuato had the highest number of murdered police officials in 2019 with 56 victims. Both of the aforementioned organized crime groups, the CSRL and the CJNG, have escalated their turf dispute and have also targeted the state forces working to combat them. Additionally, as Viridiana Rios points out in her paper “Why did Mexico become so violent? A self-reinforcing violent equilibrium caused by competition and enforcement,”, violent territorial conflicts arise when a single organization does not have total control over a criminal market. With both groups looking to assert their control over strategic plazas, they have created an unstable environment leading to a higher number of homicides within Guanajuato. 

Organized crime groups have been diversifying their income through enterprises other than drug trafficking, as noted by the author. The huachicoleo favored by the CSRL is an especially tempting source of revenue in comparison to drug trafficking due to it being a lower risk enterprise and posing less of a logistical challenge. Additionally, criminal sentences for fuel theft are far less aggressive than those of drug trafficking. Likewise, the state has been seeing an increase in extortion and kidnapping with 18 reported cases of extortion and 10 reported cases of kidnapping in 2019.

Calderón  evaluates the effect of illegal fuel line taps on homicide rate. Calderón found that there was indeed a relationship with the number of illegal taps explaining 53% of the observed variation in homicides. She notes that there has been a geographic shift in homicide that has been mirrored in the amount of illegal taps in those areas. There are several successes in the government attempt to decrease the number of illegal tapping to mitigate the level of violence. This can be observed in the case of Irapuato. However, there were cases in which the reduction of illegal taps did not result in decrease in intentional homicide as in León and Salamanca. 

High profile arrests in Guanajuato

In a rare instance of federal and state government collaboration, 2020 has seen major blows delivered to the CSRL. Early in the year, various associates of “El Marro” and his parents were detained. His father would later be released to house arrest due to concerns of him contracting COVID-19 in his old age and his mother was released due to lack of evidence. Following the arrest of his parents, “El Marro” issued two videos of himself promising a continuance of the CSRL’s criminal activities and an increase of violence in the state. 

“El Marro” was arrested on August 2 in the municipality of Santa Cruz Juventino Rosas, just two weeks after publishing his videos. The arrest was touted as a major success by the administration of AMLO. Both federal and state governments hope that the arrest will lead to the dismantling of the CSRL and thereby lead to more peace in Guanajuato. For more information on the arrest of “El Marro,” please see the Justice in Mexico blog post, “Mexican kingpin ‘El Marro’ arrested in Guanajuato.”

Conclusion

Calderón concludes her paper by emphasizing the importance of federal and local strategies to reduce hauchicoleo operations without relying solely on the eradication of illegal taps. Doing so has proven to be a policy measure with grave unintended consequences in terms of security. She also urges for the development of a coherent security agenda within the country, citing the AMLO administration’s seemingly paradoxical approaches to ensuring public security. 

Click here for the full report: 

Click here for the 2020 Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico report: 

Justice in Mexico releases 2020 Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico Report

07/30/20- (written by jhale)- Justice in Mexico has released the second edition of Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico, coordinated by Laura Y. Calderón, Kimberly Heinle, Rita E. Kuckertz, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. Initially titled Drug Violence in Mexico, the report was reissued under a new name beginning last year with the tenth edition. The switch reflects recent shifts in the nature of organized crime, including the diversification of criminal activities. In an ever-changing world, Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico works to compile important statistics regarding key trends while providing insight to help understand an uncertain future.

Diversification of criminal enterprise

The report cites two factors that have contributed to recent patterns in crime: infighting amongst splinter groups and diversification of revenue sources. As larger criminal organizations disband, smaller groups are left in their wake. These small enterprises often lack the logistical capacity to form trans-national criminal partnerships, and instead turn to predatory crimes to maintain revenue. Robberies, kidnappings, and territorial violence can all be linked to the actions of low-level criminal organizations as they fight to increase their market share.

Meanwhile, crime syndicates have sought to diversify their streams of income as competition increases for a stake in the drug trade. Groups such as the Zetas cartel (los Zetas) have paved the way for the transformation of drug trafficking organizations into trans-national criminal organizations. These reiterations of existing groups pose a novel threat to Mexican internal security. In addition to trafficking drugs, criminal organizations have expanded into sex trafficking, fuel theft, and illegal trade of exotic animals. The constantly shifting strategies of organized criminal groups have made law enforcement increasingly difficult for Mexican authorities.

Homicide rates and organized crime

A key topic addressed in the report is Mexico’s homicide rate, which rose to record levels in 2019. The Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) reports that 29,406 cases of murder occurred in 2019, affecting 34,588 victims. While Mexico’s homicide rate has climbed since late-2014, the rate of increase has seemingly subsided. There was a 2.5% increase in homicides from 2018 to 2019, compared with a 20% jump from 2017 to 2018. Regardless, homicide remains a pressing issue in Mexican society. At present, homicide is the leading cause of death among individuals from the ages of 15-39. Mexico’s homicide crisis has caused incalculable suffering in families and communities throughout the country, stifling progress and cutting short the lives of thousands of young people.

Two Mexican media organizations, Milenio and Reforma, have attempted to quantify homicide as relating to organized crime. Figures reported by Milenio suggest that there were 23,393 homicides linked to organized crime groups in 2019, while Reforma has published a more conservative estimate of 15,108 such incidents. The numbers imply that 44% to 80% of homicides can be attributed to organized crime groups.

Although there are some methodological challenges to proving connections between homicide rates and organized crime, the report notes that many of the same regions frequented by organized criminal groups experience higher levels of violence. The report identifies five urban regions with over 450 homicides and a homicide rate exceeding 100 per 100,000 inhabitants: Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Culiacán, Acapulco de Juárez, and León. The report also highlights the three most violent regions in Mexico: the North-East border region; the mid-Pacific coast; and the so-called Golden Triangle of Chihuahua, Jalisco, and Durango, a hotbed for opium production. In addition to having high homicide rates, these areas have also served as de facto centers for drug trafficking and criminal activity. According to the report, the geographic correlation of crime and homicide allows researchers to better understand how organized crime can affect violence throughout Mexico.

A map indicating the geographic frequency of homicides in 2019.

In addition to homicide, the report provides insight regarding trends in crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, and robbery. The report found that the number of cases of intentional injury in Mexico increased in 2019 for a fourth year in a row. According to SNSP data, 1,856 of Mexico’s 2,326 municipalities reported at least one intentional injury. Reported kidnappings steadily rose over the years but leveled off in 2018 and 2019 with an increase of roughly 15% with 1,329 reported kidnappings in 2018 and 1,323 reported kidnappings in 2019. Extortion has also been on the rise with an increase from 5,072 cases in 205 to 8,500 cases in 2019. While official statistics provide valuable insight into crime rates, the report’s authors point out that crimes of lesser import are significantly underreported and may not be a reliable indicator of predatory crime trends observed from year to year. For example, an estimated 91.2% of kidnappings are uninvestigated and remain off the official record.

Gender violence and sex crimes

In light of recent social movements highlighting gender violence, the report has included a section dedicated to the topic. Almost half (45%) of women in Mexico report having been the victim of relationship violence. Femicide, or the murder of a woman because of her gender, has seen a 130% uptick since 2015. The authors note that statistics pertaining to violence against women are skewed by the impunity of abusers and a lack of funding for local attorneys general. President López Obrador himself has come under fire for his apparent dismissal of violence against women and his use of rhetoric which pundits have described as “tepid at best”. 

The report points out that women may be more empowered to report incidents of violence and sex crimes in the wake of recent protests seeking to hold abusers accountable. Furthermore, the report notes that increased scrutiny of gender violence by authorities may reflect a shift in law enforcement objectives to reflect current issues. This may help explain recent increases in sex crimes, including sexual harassment, abuse, and rape. Despite advances in prosecuting violence against women, the report’s authors note that 77% of women in Mexico feel unsafe as the overwhelming majority of crimes continue to go unreported or uninvestigated.

A map indicating the prevalence of sex crimes cases in Mexico. Sex crimes include sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and rape.

Politically motivated violence and high-profile targets

The killings of high profile targets such as mayors, police, military officers, and journalists has also increased. In what the report describes as a threat to the rule of law, 25 current, former, or aspiring mayors were assassinated in 2019. Statistics drawn from Justice in Mexico’s Memoria database suggest that mayors are 13 times more likely to be murdered than the average individual. Police and military leaders were also frequently targeted for their role in law enforcement, sometimes at the behest of criminal groups. Lastly, although the number of journalists murdered decreased slightly in 2019, Mexico still ranks among the most dangerous places for journalists to go about their line of work. In Justice in Mexico’s estimation, 13 journalists and media workers were killed in 2019.

This chart, from Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset, illustrates the gradual increase in killings of journalists.

Diversification of violent crime

This report sets itself apart from previous editions by analyzing other predatory crimes perpetrated by small organized crime groups, such as intentional injury, kidnapping, and extortion. The report found that the number of cases of intentional injury in Mexico increased in 2019 for a fourth year in a row. According to SNSP data, 1,856 of Mexico’s 2,326 municipalities reported at least one intentional injury. Reported kidnappings steadily rose over the years but leveled off in 2018 and 2019 with an increase of roughly 15% with 1,329 reported kidnappings in 2018 and 1,323 reported kidnappings in 2019. Extortion has also been on the rise with an increase from 5,072 cases in 205 to 8,500 cases in 2019. The authors note that crimes such as kidnapping and extortion are chronically underreported, suggesting that official data may not be a reliable indicator of predatory crime trends observed from year to year. However, these data are useful in illustrating the aforementioned diversification of criminal enterprise.

Looking to the future

A multitude of causes and contextual factors have contributed to rising crime rates in Mexico. It is difficult to understand and easy to place blame for a problem tugging at the seams of Mexican society. Through an exhaustive overview of the data, statistics, and trends pertaining to crime in Mexico, Justice in Mexico’s Organized Crime and Violence aims to demystify a difficult subject. The authors of this report seek not only to assist in our understanding of the topic, but to paint a picture of crime in Mexico extending beyond the numbers.

Justice in Mexico Director Provides Testimony on Capitol Hill

Dr. David Shirk, Maureen Meyer, and Richard Miles (from left to right) spoke on January 15, 2020 at the Committee on Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee hearing, Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico. Photo: YouTube.

01/27/20 (written by kheinle) — Justice in Mexico Director Dr. David Shirk recently provided expert testimony on Capitol Hill. On January 15, 2020, the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, which falls under the House of Representative’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, held a hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” Dr. Shirk spoke alongside two other distinguished experts in the field, Maureen Meyer with the Washington Office on Latina America and Richard Miles with the Center for Strategic & International Studies. The written remarks submitted for the hearing can be found on the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee Repository site.

The Resurgence of Violence

Dr. Shirk’s presentation looked specifically at the public security in Mexico. He began by contextualizing today’s historic levels of violence, which have been on the rise the past decade despite a brief lull from 2012 to 2014. While final figures are still being tabulated by the Mexican government’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP), the number of homicide cases reported for 2019 increased to a record of more than 34,000 victims, up from the previous peaks of 33,341 victims in 2018 and the 28,734 in 2017.

There have also been several high-profile displays of extreme violence this past year, noted Dr. Shirk, including the November 4, 2019 killing of nine women and children with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship in two ambush attacks by an organized crime group in Northern Mexico. The botched catch and eventual release of Ovidio Guzman, son of notorious Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in October in Culiacán was also highlighted, which showcased the serious levels of corruption ingrained in Mexico. Thirteen individuals were also killed during that incident. Read more about the record-breaking levels of violence in 2019 here.

Contributing Factors

The presentation then turned to outlining several systemic factors that contribute to this violence. Dr. Shirk first noted the impact of market shifts and innovations in the production of illicit drugs. Changes in the market for illicit psychotropic drugs (including the proliferation of synthetic drugs, like methamphetamine and fentanyl), have led to a restructuring of Mexican drug production and trafficking networks, resulting in newfound competition and violence.

Second, he pointed to the unintended consequences of counter-drug measures. The policy targeting high level leaders for arrest, known as the “kingpin strategy,” has long been questioned by security experts. It often fails to dismantle the mid-level organizational structures and ancillary support that allow organized crime groups to thrive in Mexico. This leads to newfound competition and violence.

Third, one must consider the changing strategic dynamics among organized crime groups, he said. The last few years have seen greater competition, splintering, and diversification among Mexico’s organized crime groups seeking profitability through extortion, kidnapping, robbery (including fuel theft), and local drug dealing.

Finally, Dr. Shirk called attention to the impact of the changes in Mexican government and policy, which has had disruptive effects on existing organized crime and corruption networks, thus leading to greater violence. He specifically highlighted President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s election in December 2018, as well as the unprecedented number of Mexican federal, state, and local offices that also turned over that year. In addition, the president had promised a new, more benevolent approach than his predecessor’s militarized security strategy, dubbing his plan “hugs, not gunfights” (“abrazos, no balazos”). With President López Obrador’s first full year in office as the most violent on record, the effectiveness of the government’s security strategy has certainly been called into question. 

Dr. Shirk concluded his testimony with ten key recommendations for U.S. authorities:

  1. Promote better monitoring and analysis of Mexico’s rule of law challenges;
  2. Assist Mexico in enhancing police and prosecutorial agencies;
  3. Aid Mexico’s fight against corruption;
  4. Strengthen controls to prevent illegal exports of firearms to Mexico;
  5. Establish better controls on money laundering and DTO financial operations;
  6. Strengthen cross-border cooperation and liaison mechanisms;
  7. Prevent blowback from U.S. deportations of criminal aliens;
  8. Allow Mexico to focus its scarce law enforcement resources on domestic security;
  9. Develop explicit performance measures for the fight against organized crime; and
  10. Evaluate alternatives to current counter-drug policy.

Other Observations and Recommendations

Maureen Meyer, WOLA’s Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights, also shared her expertise testimony on security and rule of law in Mexico. Her presentation focused more on justice in Mexico, specifically looking at the country’s “weak rule of law.” She covered topics including human rights violations, the National Guard, criminal justice reforms, the autonomy of justice institutions, government collusion, and the role of U.S. engagement in Mexico.

Richard Miles, the Senior Associate of the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Americas Program, spoke about the 2008 Merida Initiative – the shared agreement between the United States and Mexico that seeks to decrease violence and curtail drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico. Although the Merida Initiative has failed to reach its goal, he argued, it has certainly improved bilateral security cooperation. This in turn has led to further commitments from the U.S. government to continue supporting Mexico’s security and stability – commitments that he recommended need to be dutifully “tracked and measured.”

Conclusion

The three expert testimony witnesses approached the question of strengthening security and rule of law in Mexico from their own lens: Dr. Shirk emphasizing patterns of crime and violence, Maureen Meyer focusing on the weak rule of law and judicial angle, and Richard Miles noting the need to evaluate and reinvigorate efforts under Merida Initiative. Yet there was strong consensus in the hearing on the idea of “shared responsibility” between the United States and Mexico. There was also general agreement that recent discussion about designating Mexican organized crime groups as “terrorist” organizations were misplaced and could lead to an unnecessary diversion of funds from current U.S. counter-terror efforts. When asked why the U.S. government should not deploy all available tools to fight the cartels, Dr. Shirk noted that it is unwise to try to fix a cell phone with a hammer.

Moreover, there was general agreement that the approaches taken by the U.S. and Mexican governments to reducing violence in Mexico have not worked. This includes the failure to address systemic challenges like southbound firearms trafficking coupled with high demand for illicit drugs (United States), the kingpin strategy and “hugs, not gunfights” strategy (Mexico), and the Merida Initiative (bilateral). Given Mexico’s deadliest year on record in 2019, it is clear there is a long road ahead to strengthening the country’s security and rule of law.

Sources:

“Homicides and Disappearances Reach New Levels in 2019.” Justice in Mexico. January 14, 2020.

Meyer, Maureen. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Miles, Richard. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Shirk, David A. Testimony for the House Committee on Foreign Affair’s Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade hearing on “Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. January 15, 2020.

Website. Committee Repository. “Hearing: Strengthening Security and the Rule of Law in Mexico.” U.S. House of Representatives. Last updated January 15, 2020.

Washington Office on Latin America. “WOLA’s Maureen Meyer Testifies to House Subcommittee of Rule of Law, Security in Mexico.” YouTube. January 16, 2020.

2019 Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico Report

 

Download the full report here  

 

04/30/19- Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, released its 2019 report on Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico, co-authored by Laura Calderón, Kimberly Heinle, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. This report analyzes the latest available data to broadly assess the current state of violence, organized crime, and human rights in Mexico. The tenth edition in a series is published under a new title to reflect the gradual shift that has occurred to the restructuring illicit drug trade and the rise of new organized crime groups.

In 2018, Mexico saw record violence with 28,816 homicide cases and 33,341 victims reported by the Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP). This reflects the continued augmentation in violent crime in Mexico for more than a decade with a notable increase in the last few years. The homicide rate has dramatically escalated from 16.9 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 as reported to UNODC to 27.3 per 100,000 in 2018 based on SNSP figures. In this and past reports, the authors attribute much of the violence, between a third to a half, to the presence of organized crime groups, particularly drug trafficking organizations.

According to the report, violence has become more pervasive throughout the country but remains highly concentrated in a few specific areas, especially in the major drug trafficking zones located in the northwest and the Pacific Coast. The top ten most violent municipalities in Mexico accounted for 33.6% of all homicides in Mexico in 2018, with 24.7% concentrated in the top five: Tijuana (2,246), Ciudad Juárez (1,004), Acapulco (839), Cancún-Benito Juárez (537), Culiacán (500).

 

 

Tijuana’s rate of 115 homicide cases per 100,000 inhabitants ranks second to Acapulco’s rate of 127 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. According to Baja California State’s Secretary of Public Security (SSP) reporting, Tijuana saw a significant increase in 2018 of 41% victims up from 2017.

The authors have found that Mexican organized crime groups have become more fragmented, decentralized, and diversified in their activities. Notably, violence in the Mexican state of Guanajuato appears to have risen due to the increased presence of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and an increase in the prevalence of petroleum theft (huichicol). At least nine municipalities in Guanajuato had a murder rate of more than 100 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

Record violence in Mexico has disproportionally affected certain populations (e.g. politicians, journalist, and men). In 2018, a major election year, there were 37 victims among mayors, mayoral candidates, and former-mayors. These numbers are up slightly from 35 cases in 2017 but demonstrate a significant increase from 14 victims in 2015 and 6 victims in 2016. A 2018 Justice in Mexico study found that in recent years Mexican journalists were at least three times more likely to be murdered than the general population, while mayors were at least nine times more likely. There were 16 journalists and media workers that were killed in 2018. Additionally, the report finds that men are 8.3 times more likely to be homicide victims than women, with 28,522 male homicide victims.

All told, the authors of the report estimate that over 150,000 people were murdered during the six years of the Peña Nieto administration, the most homicides during any presidential term in recent Mexican history. The current Lopez Obrador administration has proposed a new security agenda centered on citizen security, changes in federal law enforcement, and efforts to minimize tensions in U.S.-Mexican relations. Two of the most important measures that the new government has put forward are the creation of a autonomous federal prosecutor and a national guard.

 

 

Download the full report here