2019 Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico Report

 

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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.

 

 

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2018 Drug Violence in Mexico Report

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 201704/11/18- Justice in Mexico, a research and public policy program based at the University of San Diego, released its 2018 special report on Drug Violence in Mexico, co-authored by Laura Calderón, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk. The report examines trends in violence and organized crime in Mexico through 2017. The study compiles the latest available data and analysis of trends to help separate the signals from the noise to help better understand the facets, implications, and possible remedies to the ongoing crisis of violence, corruption, and human rights violations associated with the war on drugs.

Mexico experienced dramatic increases in crime and violence over the last decade. The number of intentional homicides documented by Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Information (INEGI) declined significantly under both presidents Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) and Vicente Fox (2000-2006), but rose dramatically after 2007, the first year in office for President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). All told, throughout the Calderón administration, INEGI reported 121,669 homicides, an average of over 20,000 people per year, more than 55 people per day, or just over two people every hour. Over that period, no other country in the Western Hemisphere had seen such a large increase either in its homicide rate or in the absolute number of homicides.

Yet, over 116,000 people have been murdered under Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), despite his campaign pledge that violence would decline dramatically within the first year of his administration. In fact, there were an average of 23,293 homicides per year during the first five years of Peña Nieto’s term, nearly 4,000 more per year than during Calderón’s first five years in office. As such, the annual average number of homicides under the Peña Nieto administration is now about 20% higher than during the Calderón administration, whose first two years saw much lower levels of homicide.

In 2017, state-level increases in intentional homicide cases were found in all but 6 states. The top five states with the largest number of intentional homicide cases in 2017 were Guerrero (2,318), Baja California (2,092), Mexico State (2,041), Veracruz (1,641), and Chihuahua (1,369). In 2017, the state with the largest annual increase in total homicides was Baja California, with most of that increase concentrated in the city of Tijuana, as discussed below. However, the largest percentage increases in homicide cases were found in Nayarit (554% increase) and Baja California Sur (192% increase). At the state level, the largest numerical and percentage decrease in homicides was found in the state of Campeche, which saw 67 homicide cases in 2017, down 17 cases (20% less) compared to the previous year.

 

Journalists and mayors are several times more likely to be killed than ordinary citizens. According to a recent Justice in Mexico study by Laura Calderón using data from 2016, Mexican journalists were at least three times more likely to be killed (.7 per 1,000) than the general population (.21 per 1,000), and mayors are at least twelve times more likely (2.46 murders per 1,000). Justice in Mexico’s Memoria dataset includes 152 mayors, candidates, and former mayors killed from 2005 through 2017, with 14 victims in 2015, six in 2016, and 21 in 2017. In total, nine sitting mayors were killed in 2017.

Mexico’s recent violence is largely attributable to drug trafficking and organized crime. Tallies produced over the past decade by government, media, academic, NGO, and consulting organizations suggest that roughly a third to half of all homicides in Mexico bear signs of organized crime-style violence, including the use of high-caliber automatic weapons, torture, dismemberment, and explicit messages involving organized-crime groups. Based on INEGI’s projected tally of 116,468 homicides from 2013 to 2017, at least 29.7% and perhaps as many as 46.9% of these homicides (34,663 according to newspaper Reforma and as many as 54,631 according to Lantia consulting service) appeared to involve organized crime.

In early 2017, the notorious kingpin leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was extradited to New York to face charges of organized crime, murder, and drug trafficking, among others. The analysis in the Drug Violence in Mexico report suggests that a significant portion of Mexico’s increases in violence from 2015 through 2017 were related to inter- and intra-organizational conflicts among rival drug traffickers in the wake of Guzmán’s re-arrest in 2016. In particular, Guzmán’s downfall has given rise to a new organized crime syndicate called the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG). Thus, the surge of violence following Guzmán’s arrest is one of the negative effects of targeted leadership disruption by law enforcement, often known as the “kingpin strategy.”

The country’s recent violence could be a concern in Mexico’s 2018 presidential election. The worsening of security conditions over the past three years has been a major setback for President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who pledged to reduce violence dramatically during his administration. Peña Nieto has received record low approval ratings during his first five years in office, in part due to perceptions of his handling of issues of crime, violence, and corruption, particularly after the disappearance and murder of dozens of students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in 2014. Mexico will hold elections in July 2018 and the next president will take office in December 2018. Since there is widespread concern about Mexico’s elevated levels of crime and violence, candidates for public office will feel pressure to take a stand on these issues and may even be targeted for violence for violence.

 

Organized crime-related incidents occur in Michoacán

Cop cars at Tizupan Police Station

Five police were kidnapped from the Tizupan Police Station seen here in Aquila, Michoacán. Photo: Secretaría de Seguridad Pública.

03/06/17 (written by D. Blanchard and K. Heinle) – Michoacán has witnessed several events in early 2017 surrounding organized crime-related activity that have kept the state in the news. On February 5 in the early hours of the morning, five police officers were kidnapped from their police station in the village of Tizupan, Aquila in Michoacán by alleged cartel members posing as military personnel. Several hours later, the alleged suspects called the station using a payphone to demand that the Tizupan Municipal Police step down in exchange for the release of the kidnapped officers.

After news broke, the mayor of Aquila, José Luis Artega, accused former members of the Knights Templar Organization (Los Caballeros Templarios, KTO), Jesús Cruz Birrueta, “El Chuy Playas,” and Fernando Cruz Tena, “El Tena,” of being behind the kidnapping, reported news outlet Milenio. According to authorities mentioned in the same report, the kidnapping and subsequent demands were part of the organized crime affiliates’ efforts to regain control of the drug trafficking operations along the Pacific Coast, of which Michoacán is a prominent route. Michoacán’s Secretary of Public Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP) announced soon thereafter that security in the region had been strengthened and a search party was formed to locate the kidnapped officers.

On February 8, the five police officers were safely let go. A leader of the self-defense group (grúpo de autodefensa) in the region, Cemeí Verdía Zepeda, attributed their release to the “joint work of the state and local security forces, as well as the strength of the indigenous communities of Aquila.” He was unable, however, to give further details of the operation. Michoacán’s head of government (Secretario de Gobierno), Adrián López Solís, meanwhile, called for an investigation to determine who is responsible for the kidnapping, which appears to be ongoing.

Mayor seated for interview

Aquila Mayor José Luis Arteaga. Photo: Especial, Proceso.

This is not the first time the KTO’s presence in Aquila has caught the public’s attention. In 2013, Aquila’s residents rose up against the Knights Templar, fighting to regain control of their community that the organized crime group had secured. Since then, a statewide strategy to target criminal activity has been in force. As Justice in Mexico reported throughout the years, the strategy led to some noteworthy success in specifically bringing down the KTO. The KTO’s fourth and final leader, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez Martínez, was arrested in 2015 following the take down of the KTO’s other prominent leaders the year before. 2014 also saw the arrest of the sixth mayor in Michoacán with ties to the Knights Templar, a trend that exposed the deep-seated corruption within the state.

Just one month after the police officers’ kidnapping, a leader of the organized crime group (OCG) Los Viagras was shot and killed in a shootout between alleged rival cartels. Juan Carlos Sierra Santana, “La Sopa,” was gunned down on March 5 in Aguililla, Michoacán. The Secretaries of Public Security (SSP) and National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) confirmed the La Sopa’s death. He was one of seven brothers who allegedly helped coordinate and direct Los Viagras under the leadership of “El Gordo Santana,” writes Proceso.

Michoacán Governor Silvano Aureoles Conejo acknowledged in fall 2016 the “fragile calm” that existed in Michoacán thanks to current and previous administrations’ work to unify police (e.g., Unified Command, Policía Única), decrease levels of crime and violence, and strengthen public security and stability in part because of the military’s presence in the streets, among others. Still, some recognize “the problems Aureoles inherited” when he took office in 2015. Mayor Alfonso Martínez Alcázar of Morelia, Michoacán, for example, noted in Proceso that these challenges have gripped the state for years.

The kidnapping and safe release of the five policemen in Tizupan, as well as the death of Los Viagras’ leader La Sopa, shine a light on the ongoing presence of organized crime in the Michoacán region, and the coordinated efforts between federal, state, and local government to protect rule of law.

Sources:

“Mexico’s federal forces take down third Knights Templar leader in three-month span.” Justice in Mexico. April 1, 2014.

“News Monitor.” Vol. 9, No. 10. Justice in Mexico. October 2014.

“Servando ‘La Tuta’ Gómez captured in Michoacán.” Justice in Mexico. March 1, 2015.

Castellanos J., Francisco. “’Michoacán vive una calma frágil’, dice Aureoles en su primer informe.” Proceso. September 18, 2016.

“Secuestran a 5 policías en Aquila.” Milenio. February 6, 2017.

“Liberan a policies secuestrados en Aquila, Michoacán.” Proceso. February 8, 2017.

Arrieta, Carlos. “Aquila: liberan a los cinco policías secuestrados.” El Universal. February 9, 2017.

Castellanos J., Francisco. “En enfrentamiento muere uno de los líderes de Los Viagros en Michoacán.” Proceso. March 5, 2017.

Attack on Military Convoy Leaves Six Dead in Sinaloa

Military vehicle set to fire by organized crime.

Military vehicle set on fire during organized crime attack, September 30th. Source: Negocios 360

10/11/2016 (written by lcalderon) — During the dawn hours of September 30th, a military convoy was ambushed by a heavily armed group of organized crime members. The convoy was in charge of transporting Julio Oscar Ortiz Vega, a.k.a. “El Kevin”,  from a small town in Badiraguato to Culiacán, both in Sinaloa, Mexico. “El Kevin” was an organized crime member and an alleged cousin of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who was injured during an earlier shootout between drug cartels and the military in Badiraguato. After arresting him, military personnel provided medical assistance and decided to take him to a hospital in Culiacán, the capital city of the state of Sinaloa. The transfer was planned during the middle of the night to assure the detainee’s security.

The military escort was taken by surprise around 3:00 am on the international highway, Mexico 15, by a large group of criminals who were awaiting them with large caliber arms, grenades, and other explosives. During the confrontation, four military men died at the location and 11 were severely injured, including the paramedic who was in charge of assisting “El Kevin” in the ambulance. The criminals were successful in their mission and managed to take the ambulance with “El Kevin” inside. The injured individuals had to wait for almost an hour for aid and were then relocated to different hospitals in the state. Two of the survivors died later that day in the hospital.

After the attack, the Secretary of National Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) launched a major operation in Culiacán to capture the attackers. The operation led to the securing of large caliber arms, ammunitions, tactical suits, federal police badges, bulletproof vests, and other equipment linked to the organized crime unit but no arrest directly related to the attack.

SFEAFE

Major Alfonso Duarte Mujica, 9th Military Zone in Sinaloa declared that the ambush was linked to Joaquín Guzmán Loera’s sons, Ivan and Alfredo Guzmán. Source: Sinaloa en Linea

Initially, Alfonso Duarte Mujica, Major of the 9th Military Zone in Sinaloa declared that the ambush was linked to Joaquín Guzmán Loera’s sons Ivan and Alfredo Guzmán, who are now suspects of being fighting for control of the Sinaloa cartel. However, the accused went to their father’s lawyer, José Refugio Rodríguez to declare that they were not involved with the attack and requested an accurate and thorough investigation of the events. According to Milenio, the brothers declared “If we didn’t do it for our father, much less would we do it now!” when responding to the accusations.

Duarte Mujica’s allegations became even stronger when police started to believe that “El Kevin” was a cover up for the person who was in the ambulance that night. Sinaloa police started to suspect that the actual person in that ambulance was Aureliano Guzmán Loera “El Guano,” “El Chapo” Guzmán’s brother. Later, Mexico’s General Attorney’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República) and SEDENA released pictures of “El Kevin” before his rescue. In addition, media sources such as Mexico Rojo discarded the idea that “El Guano” was in that ambulance on September 30th.

Although not proven, Duarte Mujica’s allegations were not completely unreasonable. Badiraguato is a region in the Mexican state of Sinaloa that saw the birth of Mexico’s most famous drug kingpin: Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. Guzmán was one of the founders of the strongest drug cartel –until recently- in Mexico, with its headquarters in Culiacán, Sinaloa. After the last arrest of “El Chapo” Guzmán, Sinaloa has become a warzone between his sons Iván and Alfredo Guzmán Salazar defending what is left of the Sinaloa cartel against their cousin Alfredo Beltrán Guzmán “El Mochomito” on the side of the Beltran Leyva cartel. The territorial dispute between the two cartels has unleashed a spike of violence in Sinaloa, especially in Culiacán.

Sources:

Asesinan a militares durante brutal tiroteo en Culiacán.” El Debate. September 30, 2016.

Ataque a militares en Sinaloa deja al menos 4 muertos.” Excelsior. September 30, 2016.

Flores, Raúl. Ligan a primo de ‘El Chapo’ a ataque contra militares en Sinaloa.” Excelsior. September 30, 2016.

Suman 5 militares muertos en emboscada en Sinaloa.” SDP Noticias. September 30, 2016. 

Hijos de ‘El Chapo’ niegan ataque a militares.” Mundo Hispanico. October 1, 2016.

Los hijos de “El Chapo” Guzmán sospechosos por emboscada a militares que dejó cinco muertos y 11 heridos en México.” BBC Mundo. October 1, 2016.

Sánchez, Jesús Alejandro. “Abogados: Hijos de “El Chapo” se deslindan de ataque de militares en Sinaloa.” Milenio.  October 1, 2016.

Él fue rescatado en emboscada a militares.” El Debate. October 3, 2016.

La Familia del Chapo le preocupa cacería militar en su contra.” Mexico Rojo. October 3, 2016.

Difunden foto del “Kevin”, presunto sicario rescatado en emboscada de Culiacán.” Proceso. October 4, 2016.

“¿Quiénes son los hijos del “Chapo” que disputan el imperio de su padre?” La Opinión. October 5, 2016.