Conversations between Mexico and the United States Signal Changes on Cooperation

Photos: Cuartoscuro and AFP

03/18/21 (written by scortez) – On March 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, nicknamed AMLO, met virtually with U.S. President Joe Biden to discuss cooperation on several key issues. Among them was immigration, which along with drug trafficking, AMLO had also discussed the day prior to with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. These conversations highlight a greater move by both administrations to cooperate on such pressing issues. 

A Gradual Shift Away From Trump-Era Policies

The bilateral meeting represents a shift in cooperation between the two countries around the issue of immigration. The Biden Administration has already made several key changes in the United States’ approach to immigration since taking office in January 2021. For example, after the meeting between AMLO and President Biden, the United States committed $4 billion in aid to development projects in Central America to quell the overwhelming migration flow that is impacting both countries. In February, the Biden Administration also ended the Trump-era policy of “Remain in Mexico” and restored the asylum system process that had existed for decades. At the U.S. border asylum seekers are now beginning to be processed and admitted into the country after waiting in Mexico. Previously, human rights groups had criticized the “Remain in Mexico” as subjecting asylum seekers to further brutality as they waited for entrance into the United States. The Biden Administration is also supporting a bill that will grant temporary legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. The proposal would provide a pathway to citizenship to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as well as other temporary programs. As well as, restoring and expanding programs for refugee and asylum seekers that the Trump Administration effectively tried to prevent from entering. 

On the other hand, as reported by the New York Times, the Biden Administration has kept other Trump policies that empower the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents to rapidly expel new arrivals at the borders. Additionally, the U.S. Congress weighed in when it drafted a letter urging the Biden Administration to take on a bilateral agenda that focused on the protection of migrants, citizen security, and human rights. The letter reintroduces the conditions that asylum seekers hope to escape abhorrent conditions only to face new difficulties awaiting the status of their application. Recently, Human Rights Watch released a report chronicling the experience of asylum seekers left abandoned in Mexico who have become victims of extortion and kidnappings by Mexican authorities and criminal groups. The HRW report states that under the Remain in Mexico policy, there have been 1,100 reported cases of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture, and assault of asylum seekers while waiting at the border. Elected officials and advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch continue to put pressure on the Biden Administration to improve the conditions for migrants along the Southern Border.

Officials Reexamine Cooperation on Narcotrafficking

Most recently, officials from both countries discussed key aspects of their cooperation on narcotrafficking. Mexico has already enacted changes to the cooperation with the United States on counternarcotics by revoking the diplomatic immunity of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents after it was discovered that they were using shared intelligence to arrest Ex-Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos without alerting Mexican officials. This event was seen by both sides as hampering their cooperation efforts on the ever urgent issue. 

As Bloomberg reports, the senior director of the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council, Juan González, commented in early March on a call between officials regarding the tactics used to combat organized crime groups. González noted that in recent years, the tactics employed have not produced the results that both sides were seeking. He urged for new tactics to be adopted González did not specify which tactics in question, but he did add that aspects of the bilateral Merida Initiative do not adequately address other issues, like money laundering, cracking down on the production and distribution of precursor chemicals, and China’s role in fentanyl through Mexico. What more, Mexican officials have been pushing to include tactics to quell arms trafficking from the United States, which has played an important role in fueling the unprecedented levels of violence in Mexico. 

In 2020, the United Nations released a report that showed the unprecedented number of arms being trafficked from the United States to Mexico. According to the report, at the U.S.-Mexico border, traffickers pushed through small arms in fewer quantities, which account for 60 to 70 percent of all arms seized in 2016-17. This is in contrast to the worldwide flow of arms trafficking which was at a higher number of quantities in that same year. It is suspected that this form of “ant-trafficking” is a method to avoid seizures at the border. Under the current initiative, there is no coordination to counter this method of trafficking across the border into Mexico. To read more on the U.N.’s report, click here

These conversations mark a shift in direction from previous years for bilateral cooperation on the most urgent issues facing the two countries. AMLO and Biden have both agreed that the overwhelming number of migrants at the border needs to be controlled. While the conversations have yet to materialize into tangible bilateral agreements, they foreshadow a different direction the two countries will take on mitigating migration and narcotrafficking. 

Sources

“Global Study on Firearms Trafficking in 2020.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2020. 

“Like I’m Drowning.” Human Rights Watch. January 6,2021. 

Shear, Michael D. “Biden to Announce Broad Plan to Reverse Trump Immigration Plan.” New York Times. February 18, 2021. 

Spagat, Elliot. “US unwinds Trump policy making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico.” Associated Press. February 19, 2021. 

Stevenson, Mark. “Biden tries to reset relationship with Mexican president.”Washington Post. March 1, 2021. 

Haldenwang, Max De. “U.S. Tells Mexico Drug War’s Failure Requires New Strategy.” Bloomberg. March 3, 2021. 

“Congresistas de EU piden a Blinken trabajar con México atención a migrantes.” Animal Político. March 4, 2021. 

Kanno-Youngs, Zolan. “Biden Seeks Help on Border From Mexican President.” New York Times. March 4, 2021. 

“Migrantes solicitantes de asilo en EU son abandonados en México y sufren violaciones de sus derechos.” Animal Político. March 5, 2021. 

Mexican Security Law Reforms May Impact Bilateral Initiatives on Organized Crime

01/11/21 (written by tmcginnis) — The National Regeneration Movement (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, MORENA), President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) ruling party, passed a new law that curbs the role of foreign law enforcement agents operating within the country. This legislation calls into question the durability of the U.S.-Mexico bilateral efforts to combat the presence of powerful organized crime groups (OCG) exercising significant control over the Mexican state.

Source: InSight Crime.

Understanding the Legislation

“Con 329 votos a favor, 98 en contra y 40 abstenciones, aprueban dictamen por el que se adicionan diversas disposiciones de la Ley de Seguridad Nacional.” Author’s translation: “With 329 votes in favor, 98 against and 40 abstentions, they approved an opinion that incorporates several provisions to the National Security Law.” Source: Twitter – Cámara de Diputados (@Mx_Diputados).

As reported by InSight Crime, the law and subsequent reforms, approved on December 9 and 15 by the Senate and Congress respectively, strip diplomatic immunity from foreign officials, necessitate that foreign officials secure permits from the Defense Ministry (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) to carry firearms, and require the aforementioned officials to share any and all security-related intelligence gathered while in Mexico with their proper Mexican counterparts. Concerning information exchanges, Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at Brookings’ Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, further details that both Mexican officials and law enforcement officers, whether it be at the local, state, or federal level, must report all communication with foreign law enforcement, intelligence agents, etc. within three days of the initial occurrence. Furthermore, meetings with foreign agents must obtain prior approval from high-ranking federal officials and require the presence of a member of the Mexican Foreign Ministry (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, SRE). 

Possible Initial Impetus

Although the legislation does not overtly single out agents or officials from any particular country, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has maintained a strong operating presence in Mexico since the 1970s, will likely constitute one of the most impacted actors. According to Proceso, President AMLO put forth an initial proposal to regulate foreign officials in early December. As El Universal notes, this opening push came seemingly as a result of the arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, which occurred in October of 2020. Cienfuegos was arrested by DEA agents on U.S. soil on October 15 for alleged connections with drug trafficking and organized crime. At the time, El Universal reported that Mexican officials were unaware of the United States’ plans to arrest Cienfuegos. In fact, InSight Crime reports that Mexican officials had no knowledge of the multi-year investigation or the indictment filed in August of 2019. Furthermore, seeing that Cienfuegos represents the first senior Mexican military official to face arrest in the United States in connection to organized crime groups and drug trafficking, these gaps in intelligence simply compounded the existing shockwaves. 

General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda. Source: Brookings.

In attempting to rectify what Rita Kukertz of Justice in Mexico deems the “breach of trust” caused by the discrepancy in intelligence, the United States, in a move clearly breaking with decades of international law enforcement procedures and practices, dropped the charges and allowed Cienfuegos to return to Mexico. However, according to Brookings, this unprecedented action was predicated on the “premise of a bargain” to not expel U.S. law enforcement officials and agents from Mexico — a move the Mexican government had threatened in the past. Thus, the new law may be seen as a “double-cross” from Mexico, in that its significance or “practical impact” remains similar to expulsion. “Essentially, the law paralyzes Mexico’s cooperation with international law enforcement counterparts and eviscerates any remaining trust and meaningful law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Mexico,” writes Vanda Felbab-Brown of Brookings.  

Predicted Impact

U.S. agencies have long engaged in joint operations with their Mexican counterparts to combat organized crime groups. Unfortunately, these efforts, working in tandem with billions of dollars in U.S. assistance, have not always achieved the desired outcomes and have, at times, resulted in serious missteps by the United States, as in the case of Cienfuegos or the 2011 attack on Allende by the Zetas cartel. However, it remains of critical importance to highlight that U.S. intelligence-gathering operations have been instrumental in arresting, prosecuting, and convicting high-profile individuals, such as Joaquín Guzmán Loera (“El Chapo”), the former Sinaloa Cartel kingpin. Thus, the security reforms have raised concerns for several actors. For example, in a formal statement, former U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr expressed that the United States is “troubled by legislation currently before the Mexican Congress.” He continued, arguing that the “passage of this legislation can only benefit the violent transnational criminal organizations and other criminals that we are jointly fighting.” 

In assessing the principal impacts, a substantial amount of information sharing and intelligence gathering occurs at lower levels through potential informants and cooperative witnesses. However, actors like the DEA, who are now restricted and vulnerable to prosecution in Mexico, will be less willing to put themselves in danger to acquire and relay mutually beneficial intelligence. As detailed by Cecilia Farfán-Méndez, the Head of Security Research Programs at the University of California, San Diego’s Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, with little incentive to engage in those conversations or coordinate exchanges, crucial information channels will begin to dwindle and wane, eventually drying up the evidentiary ammunition previously used to disrupt organized crime operations. Furthermore, as noted by Brookings, with the previously discussed condition necessitating the presence of a member of the Mexican Foreign Ministry during meetings with foreign agents, the ability to secure the attendance of a Foreign Relations official in an urgent time frame or complicated location (e.g. deep in Guerrero, Jalisco, etc.) could be rather unfeasible.

President López Obrador’s Motivations

Though a previous section discusses the arrest of Cienfuegos as a possible impetus for the law, one can also think of it more as a tipping point. President AMLO has several possible and more complicated motivations in pursuing such legislation. Firstly, and arguably most directly, AMLO faced pressure from the Mexican military to prevent further investigations and shockwaves, akin to what was witnessed regarding General Cienfuegos. AMLO has additionally privileged the presence of the Mexican military, SEDENA, in many traditionally civilian-run operations, such as the construction of airports, repairs of hospitals, etc. Analysts continue to raise concerns about the Mexican military’s ever-expanding power and influence. 

Second, the president could be utilizing the legislation as a “bargaining chip.” AMLO still has to sign off on the law in order for it to reach formal implementation. However, if he delays signing, he could possibly generate leverage to hinder the U.S.’ incoming Biden Administration’s initiatives that will likely be controversial in the context of bilateral relations, such as energy reform and the mitigation of climate change. 

Though the impact of this legislation on the U.S.-Mexico bilateral effort to combat organized crime is rather apparent, AMLO should remain wary of the possible unintended consequences as well. Brookings notes that by restricting the operations of U.S. law enforcement, this includes those U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials in Mexico who authorize the preclearance of cargo. Their limited presence will lead to a bottleneck of trucks waiting for inspection, creating issues in the supply chain and putting significant revenue, such as produce, at risk.

Sources

Asmann, Parker. “What Do Security Law Reforms Mean for US-Mexico Organized Crime Fight?” InSight Crime. December 18, 2020. 

Cámara de Diputados (@Mx_Diputados). “Con 329 votos a favor, 98 en contra y 40 abstenciones, aprueban dictamen por el que se adicionan diversas disposiciones de la Ley de Seguridad Nacional. Pasa al Ejecutivo federal.” Twitter. December 15, 2020. 

Coordinación de Comunicación Social. “Aprueba Senado reforma a Ley de Seguridad Nacional.” Senado de la República. December 9, 2020. 

Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs. “Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on Mexico’s Proposed Legislation.” The United States Department of Justice. December 11, 2020. 

El Universal. “Por qué la reforma exprés de la Ley de Seguridad de México desafía a EU?” BBC Mundo. December 16, 2020. 

Felbab-Brown, Vanda. “A dangerous backtrack on the US-Mexico security relationship.” Brookings. December 21, 2020. 

Gaceta Parlamentaria. “De las Comisiones Unidas de Gobernación y Población, y de Defensa Nacional, con proyecto de decreto por el que se adicionan diversas disposiciones de la Ley de Seguridad Nacional.” Cámara de Diputados. December 15, 2020. 

Keefe, Patrick. “The Hunt for El Chapo.” The New Yorker. April 28, 2014. 

Kuckertz, Rita. “Former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda Arrested by U.S. Officials.” Justice in Mexico. October 19, 2020. 

Kuckertz, Rita. “United States Will Drop Charges against Former Mexican Defense Minister Cienfuegos.” Justice in Mexico. November 18, 2020. 

Linthicum, Kate and Patrick J. McDonnell. “Mexico’s military gains power as president turns from critic to partner.” Los Angeles Times. November 21, 2020. 

Pedro Villa y Caña. “No investigamos a Cienfuegos porque no teníamos información contra él: AMLO.” El Universal. October 17, 2020. 

Reuters Staff. “Mexican lawmakers vote to restrict foreign agents despite U.S. pressure.” Reuters. December 15, 2020. 

San Martín, Neldy. “Senado recibe iniciativa de AMLO que regula presencia de agentes extranjeros en México.” Proceso. December 4, 2020. 

Sheridan, Mary Beth. “Perdiendo el control: Mientras la seguridad en México se deteriora, el poder de las fuerzas militares crece.” The Washington Post. December 17, 2020. 
Thompson, Ginger. “Anatomía de una masacre.” ProPublica. June 12, 2017.

Former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda Arrested by U.S. Officials

10/19/20 (written by rkuckertz) – In a move that shocked Mexican citizens and officials alike, U.S. authorities arrested former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda on Thursday, October 15 just after he arrived at Los Angeles International Airport with his family. He was taken into custody after U.S. officials indicted him on various drug trafficking-related counts, including conspiracy to import and distribute heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana. The arrest sent shockwaves through Mexico, as Cienfuegos (also known as “El Padrino”) is the first high-ranking Mexican military official to be arrested in the United States in connection with drug trafficking and organized crime.

General Cienfuegos was a member of Mexico’s armed forces for 54 years and served as Mexico’s defense minister under President Enrique Peña Nieto from December 1, 2012 to November 30, 2018. Throughout his tenure as head of the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA), he was tasked with the military’s fight against organized crime. During this time, Cienfuegos defended military personnel against accusations of human rights violations, particularly in the widely-publicized extrajudicial killings in Tlatlaya and Iguala (2014). Notably, the former defense minister repeatedly refused to allow investigators to interview soldiers involved in these massacres. Nonetheless, he was thought by the public to be committed to the fight against organized crime. As the Los Angeles Times reports, he once denounced drug traffickers who attacked military personnel as “sick, insane beasts.”

Charges and Evidence against Cienfuegos

The charges against Cienfuegos were brought before a Brooklyn grand jury on August 14, 2019, on which day U.S. Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon issued an arrest warrant. On Friday, Cienfuegos appeared before a court by videoconference to hear the charges against him: three charges of conspiracy to manufacture, import, and distribute narcotics and one count of money laundering. He is currently being held without bail in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles, California as he awaits his next court appearance on Tuesday, October 20. Notably, Cienfuegos obtained legal representation from defense attorney Duane Lyons—the same attorney representing Mexico’s former Secretary of Public Security, Genaro García Luna, who was also arrested last year by U.S. officials in connection with drug trafficking.

Specific evidence obtained against Cienfuegos includes thousands of Blackberry messages exchanged between the former defense minister and members of the H-2 cartel, a successor organization to the Beltran Leyva cartel. The messages directly implicate Cienfuegos in assisting H-2 with its criminal operations, including facilitating drug shipments across the U.S.-Mexico border and introducing H-2 members to Mexican officials willing to receive bribes in exchange for cooperation with criminal actors. In addition, Cienfuegos allegedly informed H-2 members of ongoing U.S. law enforcement investigations into the organized crime group (OCG). As a result, H-2 was able to expand its operations throughout the state of Sinaloa with little inference from Mexico’s military.

Mexico’s Response

Mexican officials were not made aware of U.S. plans to charge Cienfuegos until after his arrest. In response to the news, President Andres Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) stressed that the Mexican government had not investigated Cienfuegos because it was not made aware of any evidence or complaints against the former defense minister. Nonetheless, López Obrador warned that anyone involved in the case against Cienfuegos that currently serves in the Mexican government or in SEDENA would be immediately removed and placed in the hands of authorities. The president also noted that Cienfuegos is the second high-ranking Mexican security official to be arrested in the United States since last year when Genaro García Luna was arrested on similar charges in Dallas, Texas. López Obrador characterized these arrests as evidence of rampant corruption under former President Enrique Peña Nieto.

However, President López Obrador emphasized a stark contrast between his predecessors and his own administration. He defended both SEDENA and the Mexican navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) as institutions that have assisted the government in the crucial task of ensuring Mexico’s public security. As AMLO stated, “[SEDENA and SEMAR] are institutions fundamental to the development of our country, pillars of the state, and they are so strong that not even matters such as the involvement of a secretary of defense in cases of drug trafficking can weaken them” [author’s translation].

Most recently, AMLO has attempted to separate his own administration from the corruption of past administrations by introducing a referendum to the Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de México, SCJN) that would allow former presidents to be charged for criminal conduct committed while in office. Approved by the court, the referendum will be put before the public for a vote in June 2021.

The Role of Mexico’s Military in the Fight Against Organized Crime

Despite AMLO’s reassurances, Cienfuegos’ arrest comes at a time when Mexican civil society groups and international organizations express grave concern regarding the expanding role of Mexico’s military in security operations.

This trend toward militarization of public security operations began prior to President López Obrador’s term. In 2017, Mexico passed a law affirming the military’s role in the fight against organized crime. Condemned by the United Nations and various human rights organizations, the law allowed Mexico to deploy soldiers to regions under the control of OCGs. Critics argued that the bill gave broad powers to the military that superseded the Mexican Constitution. In their view, the bill allowed the president to act unilaterally, militarizing any part of the country without clear limits or an exit strategy.

Under the current administration, AMLO has continued the expansion of militarized operations. As a cornerstone of his anti-corruption platform, López Obrador sought to overhaul the federal policing system, replacing it with the National Guard (Guardia Nacional). This new security institution recruited over 100,000 troops from both the military and former Federal Police. In AMLO’s view, the National Guard would be incorruptible and significantly more effective in counter-OCG operations. However, after a year of operation, skeptics continue to warn that the use of military-like tactics will cause human rights violations to continue unchecked.

In addition, Reforma points out that individuals directly connected to the former defense minister Cienfuegos continue to operate within Mexico’s security apparatus. In particular, General André Foullon, who serves as SEDENA’s sub-secretary and was considered to be part of Cienfuegos’ inner circle, previously commanded the third region (Tercera Región) consisting of the state of Sinaloa—the same region where Cienfuegos allegedly protected the H-2 cartel. Reforma identified several other current military officials who had close ties to Cienfuegos—individuals that U.S. officials believed would have assisted Cienfuegos in evading authorities if he were released.

While it remains to be seen whether other SEDENA officials will be implicated in Cienfuegos’ crimes, recent data demonstrate that the Mexican public holds a generally-favorable view of the military. In 2017, a Parametría poll showed that six of every ten Mexicans agreed that the military should continue to operate throughout Mexico in response to organized crime. The poll also found that the public viewed the military as one of the country’s most trusted institutions. However, given increasing criticism and the news of Cienfuegos’ arrest, it remains to be seen whether Mexico will continue to entrust its military institutions with the fight against organized crime.

Sources:

“Blackberry Messages, the Key to the Arrest of ‘The Godfather’ Cienfuegos.” The Yucatán Times. 18 October, 2020.

“La caída del general Cienfuegos: el recuento.” Aristegui Noticias. 17 October, 2020.

“No investigamos a Cienfuegos porque no teníamos información contra él”: AMLO.” El Universal. 17 October, 2020.

“Persiste en Sedena mano de Cienfuegos.” Reforma. 17 October, 2020.

Agren, David. “Former Mexico Defence Minister Arrested on Drug Charges in Los Angeles.” The Guardian. 16 October, 2020.

Ahmed, Azam. “Mexico’s Former Defense Minister Is Arrested in Los Angeles.”The New York Times. 16 October, 2020.

Associated Press. “Vistazo al cartel H-2 que general mexicano habría apoyado.” Los Angeles Times. 16 October, 2020.

McDonnell, Patrick J. “Mexico Stunned by L.A. Arrest of Former Defense Chief Allegedly on Drug Cartel’s Payroll.” Los Angeles Times. 16 October, 2020.

Morán Breña, Carmen. “López Obrador enmarca la detención de Cienfuegos en la ‘peste’ de la corrupción de los ‘narcogobiernos.’” El País. 16 October, 2020.

“Read the Indictment against Mexcio’s Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda.” The Washington Post. 16 October, 2020.

“Detienen al ex Secretario Salvador Cienfuegos en EU.” Reforma. 15 October, 2020.

“6 de cada 10 mexicanos confía en el Ejército y prefiere que ciude las calles: Parametría.” Animal Político. 23 February, 2017.

Malkin, Elisabeth. “Mexico Strengthens Military’s Role in Drug War, Outraging Critics.” The New York Times. 15 December, 2017.

Daly et al. Armed with Impunity: Curbing Military Human Rights Abuses in Mexico. 30 July, 2012.

Increased indigenous displacement within Mexico and its connections to mining operations in Guerrero

08/28/20 (written by cmurray)

Indigenous Displacement in Mexico

Over the past decade, as violent crime continues to rise in Mexico, large numbers of individuals have become victims of internal displacement with 7,100 new displacements being recorded between January 1 and December 31, 2019. Many of the reported displacements have been the result of land disputes, initiated by private companies and enforced by organized crime groups (OCGs) eager to mine precious metals within Mexico. The Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, CMDPDH) estimates that 310,527 individuals have been victims of internal displacement within Mexico between 2009 and January of 2017. Subsequent data released by the CMDPDH states that an additional 20,000 people within Mexico had been displaced in 2017, with 60% of them being indigenous peoples (Minority Rights). As of December 31, 2019, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre recorded that the total number of internally-displaced individuals in Mexico rose to 345,000. 

Escalating Tensions within Guerrero 

Indigenous displacement has become a pressing issue in the state of Guerrero, with an estimated 9,000 inhabitants having fled their homes between 2017 and 2018. This massive dispersal of individuals spans across 37 towns in 11 municipalities and has been attributed to an increased presence of organized crime within the state. According to Manuel Olivares, the Director of the José María Morelos y Pavón Regional Center for the Defense of Human Rights in Guerrero (Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos “José María Morelos y Pavón”), this phenomenon of indigenous displacement has been taking place since 2011 but has escalated in the past several years. Olivares also states that mining companies eager to conduct business in Guerrero ally themselves with OCGs as a way to assure their presence within the region. Moreover, OCGs  have learned that a more diversified revenue stream can bolster their regional control, with many of them claiming that mining has replaced heroin in the fight for power. Although the mining companies pay the local communities, the residual environment becomes uninhabitable as a result of the harmful emissions and pollutants. 

The Case of Carrizalillo

The community of Carrizalillo, located in the center of Guerrero, is situated in a region abundant with precious metals and became a major mining hub in 2003 after private companies were allowed temporary rights to the land. In 2006, corporations began mining at “El Bermejal” and the various chemicals used for gold extraction, such as sodium cyanide, began negatively affecting the surrounding environment as well as the 252 families living in the area. Tensions began to rise when the Carrizalillo residents realized that the land had been purchased illegally under agrarian law. The Unitary Agrarian Tribunal (Tribunal Unitario Agrario, TUA) issued a ruling upholding agrarian law and stated that the company was required to pay for the restoration of lands in addition to offering better agreement terms. In 2012, a community census was conducted by local health officials who stated that at least one member of every family had symptoms of one or more diseases related to mineral extraction (Environmental Justice Atlas). The village was diligent in documenting illness in accordance with the protocol set forth by the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining and the Mesoamerican Movement against the Mining Extractive Model (Red Mexicana de Afectadas y Afectados por la Minería y el Movimiento Mesoamericano contra el Modelo extractivo Minero, M4). The main water basin within Carrizalillo, occupying around 77.4% of the territory, was destroyed and caused 80% of the families to show signs of skin damage. Despite the indigenous community gaining control of the territorial lease and stipulations, there has been irreparable damage done within the region. Between 2011 and 2019, a total of 55 community members have been murdered as a result of various violent attacks, a majority of which were carried out by organized crime groups in the region. 

A Current Reality

Torex Gold Resources Inc, a Canadian mining company that has been operating in Guerrero under its subsidiary Media Luna Mine (Minera Media Luna S.A. de C.V.) since 2010, has been cited as having evaded many of the protective laws in place for indigenous peoples throughout the years. The community of La Fundición has faced continued persecution from groups like the Confederation of Mexican Workers (Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos, CMT) and other OCGs openly in favor of the mining company. One hundred and seventy families from the communities of La Fundición and Real del Limón were displaced after false land titles were used to strip the residents of their land rights. Further claims against Torex Gold Resources state that the Autonomous University of Guerrero (Universidad Autónoma de Guerrero, UAGro) manipulated data relating to contamination figures, as the university has previously received funds from the company. On May 12, Óscar Ontiveros Martínez, a miner in opposition of the Media Luna Mining Company was killed by an armed group in Real de Limón. The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre stated that this was the fourth individual who worked with or in the mine since 2017. The company released a statement in response to the four murders and denied any involvement in the crimes while also restating that as a company their protection of human rights remains paramount. 

An Uncertain Future

There are various organizations like the CMDPDH and the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre that condemn the continued persecution and violent displacement of indigenous communities throughout Mexico. However, government officials have been reticent about combating this phenomenon and OCGs continue to wage violence in an effort to advance their organizational interests. One certainty is that there are insufficient protections available to indigenous persons facing the threat of displacement and their safety has become contingent on the outcomes of the disputes emerging around them. Since the emergence of COVID-19, many cartels have become emboldened and are targeting mining facilities due to their current vulnerability. The Alamos Gold’s Mulatos mine, located in Sonora, reported on April 8 that armed criminals stole gold bars from the facility, estimated to be around $3 million dollars. A predicted decrease in drug trade revenues has forced organized crime groups to shift their sights towards metal and mineral mining facilities, as they are seen as easy targets. Much is yet to be determined as mining facilities and their surrounding communities, like Guerrero, are left susceptible to organized crime groups and face the uncertainties of COVID-19. 

Sources:

Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos. “Urge protección y atención a cientos de familias desplazadas en Chiapas.” CMDPDH. December 21, 2017.

Palma, Arturo de Dios. “Sin freno, éxodo por la violencia.” El Universal. January 12, 2018.

Movimiento Mesoamericano contra el Modelo extractivo Minero. “Canadian Mining Company Torex Gold Resources Inc; Archetype of Violence in Guerrero.” October 4, 2019.

Environmental Justice Atlas. “Mina Los Filos – El Bermejal, Carrizalillo, Guerrero, Mexico.” October 20, 2019.

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. “Mexico.” December 31, 2019.

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. “Mexico: Torex Gold responds to 4 cases of killings and the one disappearance of labour rights defenders and workers in the Media Luna mine in Guerrero over the past 3 years.” 2020.

Bnamericas. “Mexican crime gangs target miners amid COVID-19 crisis.” Bnamericas. April 14, 2020.

International Crisis Group. “Mexico’s Everyday War: Guerrero and the Trials of Peace.” May 4, 2020.

Contreras, Ezequiel Flores. “Ejecutan a opositor a la minera Media Luna en Cocula, Guerrero.” Proceso. May 16, 2020.

Torex Gold Resources Inc. “Torex Gold response.” Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. June 1, 2020.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “SODIUM CYANIDE : Systemic Agent.” CDC.

Minority Rights Group. “Indigenous Peoples.”

México\Procuraduría Agraria.

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: