Violence Against Police in Guanajuato Highlights Complex Security Situation

04/21/21 (written by rramos) – Guanajuato’s state police force (Fuerzas de Seguridad Pública del Estado, FSPE) announced on April 5 that two of its officers were killed following a confrontation with armed civilians in the city of Irapuato. FSPE personnel were conducting patrols when they were suddenly ambushed by a group of armed men traveling in a pick-up truck that featured homemade armor plating. Milenio reported that after the attackers were repelled by the state police, investigators found multiple long guns and bulletproof vests with the logo of an unspecified criminal group at the scene. 

This latest assault comes on the heels of similar incidents in other parts of Guanajuato in recent weeks. In the city of Silao, to the northwest of Irapuato, a state police officer was kidnapped and later killed by armed civilians on March 31. Roughly a week and a half prior on March 20, the bodies of three agents from the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) were found inside an abandoned truck in the rural community of Campuzano, southeast of Guanajuato City. 

The state has been an epicenter of violence directed against police. According to the non-governmental organization Causa en Común, Guanajuato ended 2020 as the deadliest state in Mexico for law enforcement personnel, with the total number of slayings of police officers increasing 5% last year compared to the total seen in 2019. 

Current State of Play in Guanajuato’s Criminal Landscape

Frequent attacks against government security forces are one of the consequences of Guanajuato’s volatile security environment. Beginning roughly in 2017, a brutal conflict between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) and the locally-based Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL) has consistently made Guanajuato one of Mexico’s most violent states. Authorities had hoped that the August 2020 capture of the CSRL’s high-profile leader, José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez Ortiz, would help quell the fighting, with Governor Diego Sinhue calling the arrest “a great step towards reclaiming peace” (author’s own translation). 

However, violence in Guanajuato has continued as the state’s organized crime landscape appears to have grown more complex after the capture of El Marro. In October 2020, Alfonso Durazo Montaño, then-federal security secretary, stated that infighting had erupted within the CSRL following El Marro’s detention, with various factions violently competing to assume leadership of the organization. In line with this assessment, various potential replacements have been identified in rapid succession since the arrest. These have included El Marro’s father and brother, a close associate named Adán “El Azul” Ochoa who was arrested after fleeing persecution by CJNG hitmen, and most recently, an operative known as “El Dalugas” captured in March 2021 who had previously been identified by state authorities as El Marro’s lead hitman.  

Meanwhile, the CJNG has been attempting to expand its presence across Guanajuato, presumably to take advantage of the CSRL’s weakened position. According to El Universal, however, the CJNG has remained unable to establish complete control over the state due to three concurrent turf wars. In particular, the CJNG’s expansion efforts in Guanajuato have met resistance in: 1) traditional CSRL strongholds in the southeast, such as Celaya and Los Apaseos, where CSRL operatives continue to enjoy deeply-rooted local support, 2) León, Guanajuato’s largest city, where a local-level gang known as Unión de León reportedly refused to ally with the CJNG, and 3) areas of southern Guanajuato near the border with Michoacán, where elements linked to Los Viagras criminal group (which has fought an extended struggle with the CJNG in Michoacán) are reportedly active and have allegedly provided support to the CSRL. 

Fighting in these areas of Guanajuato has continued to rage on in 2021. In the southeast, narcomantas (posters featuring messages written by criminal groups) discovered at the end of March point to continued CSRL opposition to the CJNG’s entry into cities like Celaya. David Saucedo, a security analyst, told Zona Franca in an interview that an ongoing rise in homicides in León has been due in part to the Unión de León’s ongoing resistance to CJNG incursions into the city. As for Guanajuato’s southern border with Michoacán, the Defense Ministry (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) announced on April 8 that it would be sending an additional 700 troops to towns like Uriangato and Moroleón in response to simultaneous clashes between various groups, including the CJNG and CSRL.

Positive Signs Raise Uncertainty

According to El Financiero, Guanajuato ended 2020 as the state with the greatest total number of homicides, the second consecutive year in which Guanajuato led the nation in that regard. However, the number of homicides in the state appeared to drop considerably in the first two months of 2021, falling from 815 in January and February of 2020 compared to only 596 in the same period this year. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was quick to attribute the reduction in homicides to the deployment of the National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN).

However, the reasons behind the decrease in homicides in 2021 so far may have more to do with the state of Guanajuato’s organized crime situation than any government policy. In a separate interview, Saucedo argued that the fall in homicides could be due to the CJNG slowly consolidating its grip on an increasing number of municipalities. This would not be the first time that the establishment of relative hegemony by one criminal group in a hard-hit area of Mexico resulted in a drop in violence. When homicide rates began to fall in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, around 2013 following the brutal Sinaloa Cartel-Juárez Cartel turf war, some analysts asserted that the improving situation was more likely due to the Sinaloa Cartel winning control of the city than any of the security strategies pursued by government authorities. Given the persistent instability that has characterized Guanajuato’s security situation, it may be premature to start celebrating the positive signs that have been seen in the early parts of 2021. 

Sources

Pachico, Elyssa. “Juarez Murder Rate Reaches 5-Year Low.” InSight Crime. January 4, 2013.

Heinle, Kimberly. “Attacks Against Police Highlight Violence in Guanajuato.” Justice in Mexico. December 25, 2019. 

González, Juan Manuel. “Los Viagras, el grupo criminal que protege al ‘Marro’ en Michoacán.” La Silla Rota. March 13, 2020. 

Calderón, Laura Y. “Organized Crime and Violence in Guanajuato.” Justice in Mexico. August 2020. 

García, Carlos. “Detienen a ‘El Marro’.”  La Jornada. August 2, 2020. 

Espino, Manuel. “Padre y hermano controlan cártel a la caída del ‘Marro’.” El Universal. August 3, 2020. 

Arrieta, Carlos. “Pese a captura, la guerra de ‘El Marro’ aún no termina.” El Universal. August 4, 2020. 

Pérez, Scarleth. “La Unión León, no se unió al CJNG; sin alianzas defienden la plaza.” La Silla Rota. August 31, 2020. 

Muñoz, Alma E. “Se divide el ‘cártel de Santa Rosa’, tras captura de ‘El Marro’: Durazo.” La Jornada. October 4, 2020. 

López Ponce, Jannet. “’El Azul’, el ‘rey’ del cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima que duró 72 días en el trono.” Milenio. October 26, 2020. 

Dittmar, Victoria. “Mexico Facing Predictable Bloody Fallout After El Marro’s Arrest.” InSight Crime. November 12, 2020. 

Morán Breña, Carmen. “El Walo, otro nombre para explicar la violencia en Guanajuato.” El País. December 5, 2020. 

Vela, David Saúl. “Guanajuato será, por segundo año al hilo, el líder en asesinatos.” El Financiero. December 22, 2020. 

Silva, Martha. “Guanajuato cierra el 2020 como el estado más peligroso para los policías: 83 fueron asesinados.” Sin Embargo. January 1, 2021. 

“Tres organizaciones criminales se disputan León: especialista.” Zona Franca. January 6, 2021. 

“La explicación de la baja de homicidios en Guanajuato: el CJNG estaría ganando la batalla al Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima.” InfoBae. February 27, 2021. 

“Así es la guerra en el Bajío del Cártel Jalisco.” El Universal. March 1, 2021. 

Guerrero Gutiérrez, Eduardo. “Todos unidos contra ‘El Mencho’.” El Financiero. March 1, 2021.

“Capturan a ‘El Dalugas’, líder del Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima.” Quinto Poder. March 17, 2020.

Luna, Óscar. “Asesinan a tres agentes de la  FGR en Guanajuato.” Reforma. March 20, 2021.

Torres, Bryam. “Bajan homicidios en Guanajuato; presume AMLO a Guardia Nacional.” AM. March 23, 2021. 

“Fuerzas de Seguridad Pública abaten a cinco hombres tras ataque a policía en Silao.” El Sol de México. March 31, 2021. 

Solís, Carolina. “Sigue la guerra entre el CSRL y CJNG en Celaya; amanecen cuerpos desmembrados en distintos puntos.” Debate. March 31, 2020. 

“Enfrentamiento armado entre policías y civiles deja 5 muertos en Irapuato.” Milenio. April 5, 2021. 

Espinosa, Véronica. “Enfrentamiento en Irapuato deja dos policías y tres presuntos sicarios muertos.” Proceso. April 5, 2021. 

Orozco, Mariana. “Enfrentamiento en Irapuato deja seis muertos entre ellos dos elementos de la FSPE de Guanajuato.” Debate. April 5, 2021. 

Ángel, Arturo. “Violencia crece en diez estados, pese a mayor despliegue de la Guardia Nacional.” Animal Político. April 7, 2021. 

Reyes, Óscar. “Llegan 700 militares más para Guanajuato.” El Sol del Bajío. April 8, 2021.

Quintana Roo Police Violently Disperse Feminist Protest

Content warning: the following blog post contains mentions of sexual violence and assault

11/20/20 (written by vrice)— On November 9 at around 4:00pm, 2,000 protestors marched to the Quintana Roo Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía Central), located in the city of Cancún. Demonstrators gathered to demand justice for Bianca Alejandrina Lorenzana Alvarado (“Alexis”) and implore the government to take more substantial action against femicide. The 20-year-old had gone missing on November 7, and her body was found two days later, dismembered in trash bags. The police of Benito Juárez, the municipality where Cancún is located, violently dispersed the protestors who had gathered. Four journalists were injured, two of which suffered bullet wounds, and two of the eight detained demonstrators reported sexual assault by the police. These acts are a reflection of a larger pattern of police repression of feminist protests and attacks on journalists in Mexico.

Feminist demonstrators outside the Quintana Roo Attorney General’s Office. Photo: Lourdes Cruz (EFE) via El País

To Serve and Protect?

On the evening of November 9, 50 Benito Juárez police officers began firing on feminist protestors who attempted to break into the Attorney General’s Office. Following the event, the head of the police force, Eduardo Santamaría, was dismissed on grounds of “abuse of power” for ordering officers to fire on protesters. Santamaría argued that he had ordered officers to fire into the air, but demonstrators reported seeing police aim directly at protestors. Despite the otherwise peaceful nature of the protest, journalists Cecilia Solís (from the media outlet Energy FM) and Roberto Becerril (from The Truth News, La Verdad Noticias) suffered gunshot wounds in the leg and arm, respectively. 

The Quintana Roo Attorney General’s Office falsely claimed no protestors had been detained via Twitter, despite reports from the Network of Quintana Roo Journalists (Red de Periodistas de Quintana Roo) that eight people had been detained a few hours prior. The Quintana Roo Human Rights Commission (La Comisión de los Derechos Humanos del Estado de Quintana Roo), whose personnel provided support to the detainees, corroborated the Network’s claims.

In addition to the police shootings, Animal Político reported that police used excessive force and sexually assaulted two peaceful demonstrators, María Elena and Quetzalli, after arresting them. María Elena also recounted seeing police aggressively beat a woman at the protest, even after she told them she was merely a journalist doing her job. Another journalist, Selene Hidrogo from Sipse TVCUN, cited how the police explicitly targeted reporters who attempted to record and broadcast the violence. Julián Ramírez, director of Cancún’s Kukulcán high school where he once had Alexis as a student, was detained at the protest and severely beaten by law enforcement. He shared that upon telling the police that Alexis was his student, the officers said they were going to “leave him worse off than her” (“me dijeron que me iban a dejar peor que ella”). After being released at 9:30pm the night of the protest, María Elena, Quetzalli, and Julián went to the State Human Rights Commission to file complaints.

The alleged abuses of power by the local police are in direct violation of the municipality’s law enforcement bylaws. Article 20, Sections V states that police must, “treat all persons with respect, abstaining from any arbitrary acts and from unduly limiting the public’s ability to carry out peaceful manifestations in exercise of their constitutional rights.” Additionally, Section VIII states that police must, “ensure the life and physical integrity of detained persons until the Public Ministry or a competent authority is available.” Given these clear legal violations, the actions of the Benito Juárez police have been met with widespread condemnation.

Will Chorus of Condemnations Translate Into Meaningful Action?

Hours before the protest, Mara Lezama, the Municipal President of Benito Juárez, tweeted, “Cancún is a city of liberties and rights, and because of this free, peaceful demonstrations will be protected.” After news of the shooting surfaced, Lezama tweeted again and released a video saying that she rebukes all acts of violence and that she had ordered an investigation into the “illegal and immoral” police actions. Carlos Joaquín González, Governor of Quintana Roo, also took to Twitter to clarify that he had given specific instructions that no aggression or weapons be used against protestors. The chorus of condemnations continued with Quintana Roo Chief of Police Alberto Capella, who deemed the police repression inacceptable and said that security camera footage would be reviewed to determine the perpetrators. Capella even resigned the next day in order to conduct an unbiased investigation. Gerardo Solis Barreto, the Secretary of the Benito Juárez City Council, also resigned in protest of the police’s actions, while also filing a complaint that police violated the Law on the Use of Force (Ley de Uso de la Fuerza).

At his daily morning press conference on November 10, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said that an investigation must be conducted into what occurred in Cancún, and that those responsible must be punished. The President denied that the National Guard took part in the repression, which journalists present at the protest confirmed—with the caveat that the officers were bystanders during the abuses. AMLO said that if Governor Joaquín failed to carry out these investigations, then bodies like the National Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) would have to intervene. For their part, the CNDH released a communication on November 10 rebuking the police repression. In it, the CNDH cited how the Inter-American Human Rights System (Sistema Interamericano de los Derechos Humanos) stipulates that in public demonstrations, state operatives must only use as little force as possible with the ends of protecting protestors. The Ministry of the Interior (Ministerio del Interior) and Mexican chapters of Amnesty International and United Nations Women echoed the condemnations. 

Beyond digital denouncements, feminists in Mexico City (Ciudád de México, CDMX) organized a protest against femicide and the Benito Juárez police repression on November 11, outside of the Quintana Roo government office in the Colonia Roma district. City police surrounded the building with riot shields to prevent any attempted entry by demonstrators. Observers from the CDMX Human Rights Commission (Comisión de Derechos Humanos de la Ciudad de México, CDHCM) were in attendance to make sure no rights violations occurred.

Police surrounding the Quintana Roo government office in CDMX to prevent protestors from entering. Photo: Animal Político

The Larger Pattern of Oppression

Femicides and police violence against feminist protestors and journalists are part of a larger pattern in Quintana Roo and Mexico as a whole. In 2020, twelve femicides have already been registered in Quintana Roo. Moreover, Atizapán Municipal Police in the state of Mexico (Estado de México) violently attacked feminist demonstrators in September, while in Mexico City protestors marching for International Safe Abortion Day were teargassed and beaten. Just one day before the Cancún demonstration, Cuautitlán Municipal Police, also in the State of Mexico, tear gassed protestors. The demonstrators were demanding justice for the femicide of 17-year-old Ámbar Viridiana Uicab Tapia, who was found on November 6 in a sewage canal after having gone missing since October 23. These demonstrations in Atizapán and Cuautitlán are a product of the dangerous environment women face in the State of Mexico, which last year recorded the second highest number of femicide cases in the country. Mexico City also registered the greatest number of sex crimes of any city nationwide in 2019—accounting for nearly 13% of the national total for that year. Such violent police repression of feminist protests only seems to further impede women’s access to justice across Mexico. 

Not only is Mexico one of the most dangerous countries for women, but it also consistently ranks amongst the most unsafe nations in the world for journalists. During 2019, the country recorded three times as many journalist murders than any other country worldwide. This threatening media climate is reflected in Mexico’s ranking of 143rd out of 180 countries on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, even behind less democratic countries like Nicaragua (117th, rated “not free” at 31/100 by Freedom House), and South Sudan (138rd, rated “not free” at -2 by Freedom House). For reference, Freedom House has rated Mexico “partly free” with a score of 62/100. Moreover, over the last month, three journalists have been killed in Mexico: Arturo Alba (Ciudad Juárez), Jesús Alfonso Piñuelas (Sonora), and Israel Vazquez Rangel (Guanajuato). 

Attacks on peaceful protestors and journalists like those in Cancún and across the State of Mexico, for example, undermine Mexicans’ constitutional rights—even more so when they come at the hands of the police. Damaging effects on citizens’ sense of trust and security are reflected in the 2020 Gallup Law and Order Index. Public opinion polls from the index display how Mexican citizens’ confidence in local police is the second lowest in all of Latin America. Venezuela, which is currently under the authoritarian dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro, was the only country where citizens exhibited lower confidence in local police than in Mexico.

Sources:

“Reglamento para la función policial del municipio de Benito Juárez, Quintana Roo.” Periódico Oficial del Gobierno del Estado. May 4, 2007. 

Calderon Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: 2020 Special Report.” Justice in Mexico. July 31, 2020.

“Global Law and Order.” Gallup. 2020. 

“Index Details: Data of press freedom ranking 2020.” Reporters Without Borders. 2020. 

“Mexico.” Freedom House. 2020. 

“Nicaragua.” Freedom House. 2020. 

Ray, Julie. “Most of the World Remains Confident in Police, Feels Safe.” Gallup. October 27, 2020

“South Sudan.” Freedom House. 2020.

Jiménez, Rebeca. “Encuentran el cuerpo de Ámbar Viridiana, de 17 años, en Cuautitlán.” El Universal. November 7, 2020.

Martínez, Rafael. “A balazos, policía de Cancún dispersa protesta feminista.” El Sol de México. November 9, 2020.

“Policías disparan para dispersar protestas por asesinatos de mujeres en Cancún; al menos 4 heridos.” Animal Político. November 9, 2020. 

Ríos, Mariana. “En Cancún, policías dispersan con balazos protesta por feminicidios.” Milenio. November 9, 2020. 

“Varios heridos en protesta feminista en Cancún por la muerte de una joven.” Reuters. November 9, 2020. 

Diaz, Lizbeth. “Rights groups seek investigation of police use guns at Mexican protest.” Reuters. November 10, 2020. 

“Disparos en protesta en Cancún fueron acción planeada, acusa Red Feminista; piden salida de Capella.” Animal Político. November 10, 2020. 

Guillén, Beatriz. “La ONU pide que se investiguen los disparos de la policía en la protesta feminista de Cancún.” El País. November 10, 2020. 

“‘Nada de estar protegiendo a nadie’: AMLO pide a gobernador de Quintana Roo aclarar disparos en protesta.” Animal Político. November 10, 2020. 

“ONU Mujeres condena represión a protesta feminista en Cancún.” El Universal. November 10, 2020. 

Varillas, Adriana. “Señala gobernador de Quintana Roo a director de policía como responsable de represión en protesta feminista.” El Universal. November 10, 2020. 

Wattenbarger, Madeleine. “Mexico police open fire on femicide protest in Cancún.” The Guardian, November 10, 2020. 

“Policías encapsulan a mujeres que protestan en CDMX contra feminicidios y represión en Cancún.” Animal Político, November 11, 2020. 
Vega, Andrea. “Mujeres detenidas durante protesta en Cancún denuncian agresiones sexuales de los policías.” Animal Político. November 11, 2020.

American teen killed in Mexico in latest instance of police violence

06/25/20 (written by JHale)- In a widely circulated video online, a coffin emblazoned with a glossy image of Our Lady of Guadalupe lies adjacent to a makeshift soccer goal. A young man passes a ball so that it ricochets off the coffin and into the bottom right corner. Immediately, a group of individuals dressed in white swarms the coffin, jumping up and down and celebrating. Inside the coffin lies the body of Alexander Martínez Gómez, a 16 year old soccer player who dreamt of becoming a star before he was killed in Mexico’s most recent incident of police violence (Miranda, “Despide Multitud a Alexander”).

A troubling incident

An American citizen born in North Carolina, Gómez was visiting family in Oaxaca at the time of the shooting (“Mexico Police Officer Investigated”). Gómez split his time between the two countries, but hoped to move to Mexico permanently to become a professional soccer player. This dream would come to an end on the night of June 9th, when he was killed by police. The incident occurred as Gómez and a friend were riding motorbikes to a local store when, according to official reports, a police car with its lights off stopped ahead of the duo and blocked the road. An officer exited the vehicle and opened fire without warning. Alexander was killed, while his companion lost control of his motorbike and was injured (Miranda, “Dan Prisión Preventiva”).

The incident prompted a swift reaction from multiple parties. Gómez’s mother released a video to social media denouncing the police and asserting that her son had been denied first aid after the shooting. The town of Acatlán de Pérez Figueroa, where Gómez was killed, issued a statement expressing that the officer’s actions were not in bad faith (Agren). Nonetheless, the Attorney General of the State of Oaxaca (Fiscalía General del Estado de Oaxaca, FGEO) secured a judge’s approval to preemptively detain Alexander’s accused killer. Furthermore, prosecutors told reporters that the accused officer would be charged to the full extent of the law (Miranda, “Dan Prisión Preventiva”).

An uncertain road forward

As outraged locals demanded justice, officials hurried to provide solutions. The Secretary of Public Safety of Oaxaca (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública de Oaxaca, SSPO) promised changes, including greater accountability and increased training of police. Many local residents and members of Gómez’s family have rejected the police entirely, calling for the protection of Mexico’s National Guard. The SSPO expressed understanding, even going so far as to suggest that a National Guard base would be installed in the local municipal center (Rangel). It is still unclear whether the National Guard has a plan in place to prevent the same abuses of power that have plagued local police forces. 

Mexico’s police force has come under increased scrutiny after recent instances of violence against unarmed citizens. The killing of Alexander Gómez follows the death of construction worker Giovanni López in police custody after being detained for not wearing a facemask (“Giovanni López: ‘Justicia Para Giovanni’”). Both incidents have sparked protests, riots, and challenging conversations surrounding the role of police in enforcing justice in Mexico. It remains to be seen whether outrage over police brutality will lead to concrete changes in law enforcement practices.

Sources

gren, David. “Mexico: US Teenager Shot Dead by Police in Oaxaca.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 10 June 2020, www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/10/mexico-teenager-oaxaca-police-shot-dead.

Miranda, Fernando. “Dan Prisión Preventiva a Policía Que Presuntamente Asesinó a Alexander.” El Universal, 13 June 2020, 10:24, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/dan-prision-preventiva-policia-que-presuntamente-asesino-alexander.

Miranda, Fernando. “¡Queremos Justicia! Despide Multitud a Alexander, De Blanco y Con Globos Azules.” El Universal, 12 June 2020, 12:08, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/alexander-se-despidio-de-la-cancha-con-un-ultimo-gol-su-familia-clama-justicia.

Associated Press. “Mexico Police Officer Investigated for Alleged Murder of Boy.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 June 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/protest-over-mexico-police-killing-of-mexican-american-teen/2020/06/12/faeb494c-ad17-11ea-a43b-be9f6494a87d_story.html.

Rangel, Alejandro. “Familia De Alexander Rechaza Las Policías De Acatlán; Piden a La Guardia Nacional.”

Https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/Estados/Familia-De-Alexander-Rechaza-Policias-De-Acatlan-Piden-La-Guardia-Nacional, 12 June 2020, 20:29, www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/familia-de-alexander-rechaza-policias-de-acatlan-piden-la-guardia-nacional.

Redacción. “Giovanni López: ‘Justicia Para Giovanni’, El Caso De Brutalidad Policial Que Conmociona a México.” BBC News Mundo, BBC, 5 June 2020, www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-52935685.

El Universal. “Vinculan a Proceso a Policía De Acatlán Por Asesinato De Alexander.” El Siglo, El Siglo De Torreón, 18 June 2020, www.elsiglodetorreon.com.mx/noticia/1713183.vinculan-a-proceso-a-policia-de-acatlan-por-asesinato-de-alexander.html.