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: 

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.

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