The Capture and Release of Ovidio Guzmán in Culiacán, Sinaloa

11/05/19 (Written by T McGinnis) – On October 17th, heavy fighting erupted in the Mexican city of Culiacán, Sinaloa after security forces detained Ovidio Guzmán López, the son of the jailed drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. According to El País, authorities initially reported that they found Guzmán during a routine search and arrested him due to the significant role he has played in his father’s illicit activities. However, as noted by the Los Angeles Times, the story evolved rapidly. Mexican officials later acknowledged that the operation had been planned, but suggested that it was physically carried out by rogue security forces without proper authorization. In either case, authorities lacked a search warrant upon entering Guzmán’s property, calling the legality of the mission into question from the beginning. Following this blunder, the cartel launched a large attack in retaliation. As videos and pictures of dead bodies and families scrambling for shelter surfaced and subsequently flooded the media, the public watched as the death toll gradually rose in the days following the violence. Univision later confirmed on October 21st that at least 13 people were killed and dozens more were injured.

According to Milenio, in reaction to the violence, authorities ultimately freed Ovidio Guzmán López and retreated, subsequently defending this course of action by arguing that the most important objective remains to avoid the loss of human lives. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador spoke publicly regarding the matter stating, “We don’t want bloodshed. We do not want that. From anyone. We are also hurting with respect to the loss of the life of an alleged criminal. We are not oblivious to the pain caused by the death of any person.” Reiterating the position that his administration has taken from the outset, Obrador insisted that “you can’t fight fire with fire.” However, this response raised strong criticisms of López Obrador’s security strategy, which thus far has failed to quell Mexico’s rising tide of violence, which has reached more than 3,000 murders each month as noted by El Universal.

Indeed, critics charged that the cartel’s victory represented a stunning “humiliation” for the Mexican government. According to The New York Times, though Obrador rightly maintains that he inherited the problem of unchecked corruption, those who oppose the strategy of release and retreat utilized by the government last month argue that these actions send the wrong message and set a dangerous precedent. Cartels may now more strongly assume that through the leveraging violence, they can get their way and further their interests. Additionally, while the López Obrador administration may opt not to go after drug traffickers, vocal critics like Ioan Grillo point out that the drug “war does not stop even if the government is not attacking them.”

López Obrador has also been criticized for the lack of an effective security strategy, despite his efforts to build a new National Guard to restore order. Indeed, many members of the National Guard have been diverted from their public security role to focus on stopping Central American migrants from entering the United States. Meanwhile, López Obrador’s efforts have been beset by protests from federal law enforcement officers who object to the dissolution of their agency, the Federal Police, and their incorporation into the National Guard during the recent reorganization of security forces, as noted last month by Justice in Mexico. Engelbert Ruiz, a Federal Police Officer, commented that “What is really happening is that they are simply changing our uniforms [with] no explanations, clarity, no rights or guarantees.”

According to the Diario de Yucatán, compounding an already complicated set of internal tensions, “Mexican media outlets reported that elements in the army were unhappy with the outcome of Thursday’s debacle in Culiacán.” As noted by sources, such as Mexican News Daily, this rift between President López Obrador and military forces continued to grow in the days following the operation. On October 22nd, retired military general Carlos Gaytán gave a highly critical speech regarding the worrisome status of “today’s Mexico” under the Obrador administration. “…We cannot ignore that the head of the executive has been legally and legitimately empowered. However, it’s also an undeniable truth that fragile counterweight mechanisms have permitted a strengthening of the executive, which has made strategic decisions that haven’t convinced everyone, to put it mildly.” Though Gaytán never explicitly referred to the Culiacán operation, established sources within the military informed The Washington Post that the speech served as a response to the mission on behalf the armed forces.

However, other sources point out that the story of Ovidio Guzmán’s release remains subject to two very different interpretations. According to Consulta Mitofsky for El Economista, “in Sinaloa, 79% of the population and 53% nationally, considered that the federal government did the right thing by freeing Ovidio Guzmán López from the threat of the Sinaloa Cartel to attack the citizens.” The state of Sinaloa, the cradle of Mexican drug trafficking, is overwhelmed by the presence of crime and an ever-increasing tendency of cartels to use insurgent tactics to achieve their political aims, such as the use of roadblocks to hinder military reinforcement. Vladimir Ramirez, a political scientist in Culiacán, explained that although the gunmen did not intentionally target noncombatants initially, the menace posed by the cartel remained clear. The citizens of Sinaloa, who have been subject and well-exposed to cartel reign, recognized this. The usual elusive quality of cartel gunmen had, in this case, materialized; their visible and violent presence forcing families to hide in small, anxiety-provoking spaces as described by Televisa. “It was a threat of terrorism,” Ramirez said. “The government acted with great responsibility.” Additionally, El Universal reports that during the operation, Aguaruto prison experienced a breakdown in security, resulting in the escape of approximately 50 prisoners, most of whom originally forfeited their rights due to ties with organized crime. Additionally, many approve of the government’s strategy of release and retreat because according to Milenio, cartel hitmen threatened to kill hostage soldiers and their families if Guzmán remained held by authorities.


Photo: El Economista 

Moving forward, it remains to be seen whether the Mexican president will heed critics’ warnings by cracking down on drug traffickers or continue to pursue a self-described approach focused on “hugs, not gunfights” (abrazos, no balazos). Clearly, though, what occurred in Sinaloa on October 17th has increased pressure on the López Obrador administration to develop a coherent and effective strategy to reduce both violent crime and the threat of Mexico’s powerful organized crime groups.

Sources:

Camhaji, Elijah. “Ovidio Guzmán, el hijo de El Chapo cuya detención ha desatado la violencia en Culiacán.” El País. October 18th, 2019.

Milenio Digital. “Gobierno va tras hijo de ‘El Chapo’; ‘que no haya impunidad’, dice AMLO.” Milenio. October 22, 2019.

Espino, Manuel. “Semestre récord en violencia en México.” El Universal. 2 Jul. 2019. 

“En Sinaloa, Gabinete de Seguridad optó por proteger la vida de las personas: presidente AMLO.” Sitio Oficial de Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 18 Oct. 2019. 

Consulta Mitofsky. “Liberación de Ovidio Guzmán: dos visiones diferentes.” El Economista. 22 Oct. 2019. 

Heinle, K. “AMLO deploys National Guard amidst controversy.” Justice in Mexico. 24 Jul. 2019. 

Linthicum, Kate & Sanchez, Cecelia. “Eight killed in Mexico as cartel gunmen force authorities to release El Chapo’s son.” Los Angeles Times. October 18, 2019. 

Grillo, Ioan. “Drug Cartel Control Is No Peace.” The New York Times. October 22, 2019. 

Megamedia. “Trasciende molestia del jefe del Ejército con AMLO tras la fallida operación en Culiacán.” Diario de Yucatán.October 20, 2019. 

Noticieros Televisa. “Miedo y ansiedad: lo que dejó la violencia del Cártel de Sinaloa en Culiacán.” Televisa. 29 Oct. 2019. 

Beauregard, Luis Pablo. “El hijo de El Chapo, tras su detención en Culiacán: ‘Ya paren todo, ya me entregué, no quiero más desmadre.’” El Universal. 30 Oct. 2019. 

New Criminal Justice System (NSJP) Garners Mixed Reactions

Gavel in courtroom

Photo: Associated Press.

09/01/19 (written by kheinle) – Mexico’s high levels of violence are indisputable. The country is on track to have more homicides in 2019 than any year on record. Journalists are three times more likely to be killed in Mexico in 2019 than any other nation in the world. The country is grappling with a recent display of extreme violence when 27 individuals were burned to death at a strip club in Veracruz on August 27. What the causes and solutions of that violence are, however, have been widely debated.

Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has often been labeled the cause of the crime and violence, the effect, and/or the solution. Some of these opposing takes are discussed below.

Background on the NSJP

Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) has been in effect for over three years. Former President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018) rang in the system’s official launch on June 18, 2016, in Mexico City. This ended the judicial system’s eight-year implementation period stretching from 2008 to 2016 that was inaugurated by former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). Read more about the NSJP in Justice in Mexico’s special report, “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.”

The life of the NSJP has spanned multiple presidents’ sexenios. It has been more than 11 years since the launch of its implementation in 2008, and more than three years since the end of the implementation period in 2016. Unprecedented amounts of resources (financial, capacity building, academic, infrastructure, etc.) have been poured into the NSJP’s development and significant progress has been made. Yet the system still garners mixed reactions from the public, government officials, judicial system operators, academics, and beyond.

Critics Weigh In

Human rights activist Alejandro Martí, head of the organization México SOS, has been a critic of the overhauled justice system, arguing that it plays a role in perpetuating impunity in Mexico. “The fundamental problem of the [NSJP] is the corruption,” he said in June 2019. “And corruption produces this terrible impunity, which I have said for years. Impunity is a result of all the wrongs of Mexico.” A recent study by México Evalúa found that more than 90% of crimes committed in 31 of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities were left unresolved. In seven states, impunity rates top 99%.

Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference

Human rights activist Alejandro Martí. Photo: SIPSE.

Martí also called out elected officials – particularly governors – and the police for the pervasiveness of corruption within their systems. He reminded the media with which he spoke that “half of the group of kidnappers who killed my son were police,” referencing his son’s murder in 2008 that led him to become an activist. Martí leveled his criticisms during a press conference that was promoting Mexico’s 8th National Forum on Security and Justice (“8° Foro Nacional de Seguridad y Justicia”) held June 7-8.

Former Mayor of Mexico City (Ciudad de México, CdMx) Miguel Ángel Mancera also voiced his concern that the New Criminal Justice System is responsible for higher levels of insecurity in the nation’s capital. In an interview with Ciro Gómez Leyva in June 2019, Mancera argued that the NSJP led to the release of nearly 15,000 formerly incarcerated individuals to the streets of Mexico City in 2014 as part of the legal reforms. The NSJP is therefore, he reasoned, partially to blame for the kidnappings and assaults that now occur. Mancera did acknowledge that Mexico City has long dealt with challenges related to drug trafficking and criminal activity, but that they were being addressed. Mancera’s comments came in response to criticism from current Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, who said the actions of former government administrations are responsible for today’s crime.

Supporters Come to the Defense

Understandably so, a strong supporter of the New Criminal Justice System is the president of Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN). Justice Arturo Zaldívar, who joined the court in 2009, recently came to the justice system’s defense.

Supreme Court Justice

President of Mexico’s Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar. Photo: Noticieros Televisa.

“With the unfortunate situation our country encounters with high levels of insecurity and impunity, there is no shortage of voices that claim the new [justice] system is responsible for these ills,” said Justice Zaldívar. “What is certain is that the new criminal justice system is neither the cause nor the effect of that problems that we face. More likely, it is the probable solution to them.” He continued, emphasizing that a strong and effective criminal justice system is critical to achieving peace and justice. “If we want a better country, if we want a country in which laws are respected, if we want a country where we live in harmony with peace and justice,” he said, “we should advance on the path on which we’ve come, we should perfect the accusatorial criminal system, [and] we should respect and value the richness of due process, the presumption of innocence, and the right to defense.”

His comments came as part of the bilateral conference, “Diálogos sobre el Sistema de Justicia Penal con el Reino Unido,” held August 12-15, 2019, in Mexico City. It is an annual meeting between the United Kingdom and Mexico that started in 2015. Each year, justices from both countries gather to exchange experiences and best practices, host mock courtroom hearings, and learn from one another, writes Excélsior. Despite the U.K. and Mexico operating different styles of criminal justice systems, the conference offers an opportunity for judges, public defenders, prosecutors, and law students to convene. This year’s topic focused specifically on oral trials, a pillar of the New Criminal Justice System in Mexico.

These are but a few of the many examples of criticism and support leveled towards Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System and its role or lack thereof in crime and violence nationwide. Justice in Mexico has explored both these topics throughout the years, which can be read about here.

Sources:

Rodriguez, Octavio and David A. Shirk. “Criminal Procedure Reform in Mexico, 2008-2016.” Justice in Mexico. October 2015.

Cortes, Nancy G. et al. “Perspectives on Mexico’s Criminal Justice System: What Do Its Operators Think?” Justice in Mexico. April 2017.

Zaldívar, Arturo. “Cambio cultural y nuevo sistema de justicia penal.” Milenio. November 14, 2017.

Dávila, Patricia. “Corrupción en Nuevo Sistema de Justicia produce esta terrible impunidad’: Martí.” Proceso. June 2, 2019.

“Atribuye Mancera inseguridad a Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal.” Excélsior. June 12, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Más del 90% de los delitos denunciados en el país no se resuelven, muchos los ‘congela’ el MP.” Animal Político. August 7, 2019.

“Violencia que vive el país no es responsabilidad del sistema penal: SCJN.” Noticieros Televisa. August 12, 2019.

“Defiende Zaldívar nuevo sistema penal.” Reforma. August 13, 2019.

Robertson, Corin. “México y el Reino Unidos: tres años de compartir experiencias en la impartición de justicia.” Excélsior. August 19, 2019.

Linthicum, Kate. “Extreme acts of violence in Mexico are on the rise: 27 burned to death at a strip club.” Los Angeles Times. August 28, 2019.

“Tercera Edición, 2019.” Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación. Last accessed August 30, 2019.

Homicide Rates on Pace for Record-Breaking Year

Map of homicides in 2018 by municipality

Homicides by municipality in 2018, according to data from SNSP. Source: Justice in Mexico.

08/18/19 (written by kheinle) — Mexico is on pace to have the deadliest year on record, according to data released in mid-July by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP).

The agency reported 17,608 killings in the first six months of 2019, which is 894 more than the number recorded during the first half of 2018 or a 4% increase. If that number repeats in the second half of the year, Mexico could expect to see more than 35,200 homicides for all of 2019. That could be almost 1,900 more homicides than SNSP reported in 2018. For more information on 2018’s official numbers, check out Justice in Mexico’s “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Analysis Through 2018.”

Geographic Dispersion of Homicides

The majority of the homicides from January through June of 2019 were concentrated in 18 of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities. Nuevo León had the highest increase (70%) in the number of homicides during that time period compared to that in 2018. Sonora saw a 65% increase, followed by Hidalgo (52%), Morelos (43%), Tabasco (42%), Jalisco (31%), Tlaxcala (30%), Coahuila (26%), and the State of México (21%). Another six states had increases at lower levels, falling between 10% and 20% compared to 2018. Guanajuato, which had the single largest increase in all of 2018 from the year before, fell into this category for 2019. Three other states – Puebla, Zacatecas, and Querétaro – had increases less than 10%.

The remaining 14 states all saw decreases in homicide levels, most notably that of Baja California Sur, which experienced a 66% decline in recorded killings in the first half of 2019. This continues the downward trajectory that Baja CA Sur had in 2018. During that year, the state registered the largest decrease in homicides nationwide with a 74% decline, dropping from 448 cases in 2017 to 162 in 2018. In the first six months of 2019, Nayarit followed Baja CA Sur with a 64% decrease, then Guerrero (30%), Tamaulipas (29%), Sinaloa (27%), and Durango (20%).

Government Strategy

solder in uniform on patrol

A member of Mexico’s military sports the National Guard insignia while on patrol in El Manguito, Mexico. Photo: Oliver de Ros, Associated Press.

The increase in homicide rates in 2019 continues a multi-year upward trend that began in 2015. Eyes are now on the López Obrador administration for its response since taking office in December 2018.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took a significant, yet controversial step to implementing his strategy to address crime and violence when he launched the National Guard in June. Created from the ranks of the Mexican military and police, the National Guard will serve as a means to combat the record-breaking levels of crime and violence. President López Obrador is also approaching crime and violence through economic policies. Writes Reuters, “[the President] has blamed the economic policies of previous administrations for exacerbating the violence.” He has taken a hard stance on cultivating fiscal austerity in the country, revamping previous policies while trying to decrease the deficit and increase incoming funds.

Time will tell if the López Obrador administration’s militarized and economic strategies affect Mexico’s staggering levels of crime and violence. As the administration nears the end of its first year in office, however, the upward trend on homicide rates continue.

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

“President López Obrador continues to prioritize fiscal austerity.” Justice in Mexico. July 7, 2019.

“Murders in Mexico surge to record in first half of 2019.” Reuters. July 21, 2019. 

“Mexico sets 1st half murder record, up 5.3%.” Associated Press. July 22, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Aumentan homicidios en 18 estados; en Nuevo León y Sonora el incremento fue superior al 65%.” Animal Político. July 23, 2019.

“AMLO Deploys National Guard amidst controversy.” Justice in Mexico. July 24, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. July 24, 2019.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas de Delitos de Fuero Común 2019.” Gobierno de México. July 20, 2019.

A Look at Violence in Mexico City: Femicides and Underreporting

Source: SESNSP.

08/07/19 (written by kheinle) — Both the country of Mexico and the nation’s capital city, Ciudad de México (CDMX), have garnered attention for their high levels of crime and violence in recent months.

National Context

As a nation, Mexico is on pace to have the deadliest year on record, according to data released in mid-July by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (SESNSP). The government registered more than 17,000 intentional homicides in Mexico from January through June 2019, which is 94 victims of homicide per day thus far this year. Another 84,000 cases of intentional assault were reported that time frame, as well as more than 750 cases of kidnapping and 4,230 incidences of extortion.

Mexico City is also seeing elevated levels of homicide with estimates pointing to increases of 10-20% during the first six months of 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. According to SESNSP, by the end of June, Mexico City had 10,616 victims of violent crime, including homicide, assault, femicide, kidnapping, rape, extortion, and corruption, among others. Mexico City also had the highest rate of mugging (street-level theft) during that time period with a rate of 117.8 cases per 100,000 residents. Animal Político noted that this rate is almost four times that of the national average for such crimes.

Mexico City’s Mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, weighed in on the levels of violence in the capital with regards to women and to the accuracy of reported data.

Violence against Women in Mexico City

 

Mayor Sheinbaum speaks at conference

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum speaks at an event with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in December 2018. Photo: Javier Ríos, Milenio.

In early July, Sheinbaum vowed to eliminate violence against women, also known as femicide. “To avoid and eliminate violence against women … finally, that is the objective,” she said. “It’s not fighting it – the objective is ultimately to eradicate violence. That should be the goal.” Sheinbaum is Mexico City’s first elected female mayor.

Femicide has long been a serious problem in Mexico. Almost half of all women (45%) in Mexico reported being victims of abuse at the hands of their partner, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). Another 18% said the violence was specifically physical violence. In the first half of 2019, there were 470 cases of femicide with an average of just over 78 cases per month, according to Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security. It is also worth noting that in just the first five months of 2019, more than 80 women were murdered in Mexico City alone.

Mayor Sheinbaum’s announcement is another step in the government’s strategy outlined to eliminate violence against women. As reported by Reuters, “such protective measures have quadrupled [in Mexico City] since last year,” which includes “the strengthening of the city’s 32 legal and psychological support shelters known as ‘Lunas.’”

Verifying Crime Rates

In mid-July, Mayor Sheinbaum’s administration made more news when it released government data on crime levels that call into question the previous administration’s reporting. Since taking office in December 2018, Sheinbaum has been criticized for escalating levels of violence in the nation’s capital. Some estimates said homicides had risen by more than a third since December. The data released in July, however, show that although murders in Mexico City have increased by 12%, violent crimes overall have decreased by 8% since Sheinbaum was elected. Thus, while some numbers continue to rise at lower rates in Mexico City, other crimes have actually reversed course.

Image from Mexico Evalua's Fallas de Origen report

Source: México Evalúa.

Sheinbaum’s administration argued that previously reported data was inaccurate or incomplete. For her part, Mexico City Attorney General Ernestina Godoy stated that the previous registry used by officials “was distorted.” She continued to explain that upwards of 24,000 ‘high impact criminal cases’ out of 214,000 reported cases had been doctored and misclassified when entered into the registry. For example, “In cases of rape,” she said, “they were classified as sexual harassment or abuse, or just injuries.” The United Nations stepped in to help reclassify the cases.

A Focus on CDMX

It is not uncommon in Mexico to underreport cases of crime and violence. México Evalúa addressed this topic in its publication, “Fallas de origen: Índice de Confiabilidad de la Estadística Criminal (ICEC).” The study measured the reliability of homicide data that prosecutors and attorney general’s report to SESNSP. Overall, Mexico City scored a 7.20 on the ICEC scale, just slightly below the national average of 7.62. Colima had the best score with 9.57 and the State of México (Estado de México, EDOMEX) scored the lowest with 2.50.

With a score of 7.20, Mexico City “ranks in the second half of the scoring, sitting in the 21st position in the ICEC ranking” of 32 Mexican states and federal entities, according to México Evalúa. The report noted that “there are federal entities that do not have similar conditions and resources [compared to CDMX] yet scored better…” Thus, Mexico City’s reporting of data on violent crimes like homicide falls below national averages and indicates an opportunity for the capital to strengthen its processes.

For more information on México Evalúa’s report, click here.

Sources:

“Homicide Rates and Clandestine Graves Highlight Mexico’s Systemic Challenges.” Justice in Mexico. June 26, 2019.

“Fallas de Origen 2019: Índice de Confiabilidad de la Estadística Criminal.” México Evalúa. July 2, 2019.

Lopez, Oscar. “Mexico City mayor promises to eradicate violence against women.” Reuters. July 9, 2019.

Cattan, Nacha. “Mexico City Says Ex-Government Changed Data to Hide Crime.” Bloomberg. July 20, 2019.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas de Delitos de Fuero Común 2019.” Gobierno de México. July 20, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. July 22, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Aumentan homicidios en 18 estados; en Nuevo León y Sonora el incremento fue superior al 65%.” Animal Político. July 23, 2019.

Homicide Rates and Clandestine Graves Highlight Mexico’s Systemic Challenges

06/26/19 (written by kheinle) — The first six months of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s sexenio (2018-2024) have proven to be the most violent such period for a president in Mexico’s recent history. Mexico’s ongoing struggles to combat crime and violence were highlighted of late with the release of data on the increasing homicide rates and clandestine graves throughout Mexico.

Intentional Homicide Rate Continues to Rise

Map of homicide victims by municipality in 2018

This map depicts the distribution of homicide victims by municipality in 2018, as reported by the National Public Security (SNSP). Source: Justice in Mexico, 2019.

According to Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP), 17,498 people were murdered between December 2018 and May 2019; an average of almost 3,000 per month. Despite a slight drop in the number of intentional homicides reported in April (2,724 homicides) compared to previous months, May saw an increase to the highest tally yet for 2019 with 2,903 killings, or the equivalent of 96 per day. February, however, continues to have the highest number of homicides per day on average in 2019 (102 homicides/day) thanks to similar numbers reported (2,877 homicides) over fewer days in the month (28 days).

The mid-year data also revealed that just over half of Mexico’s 32 state and federal entities saw increases in the number of homicides registered since the start of the López Obrador administration. According to SESNSP’s data, when compared to the same period of time the year before (December 2017 – May 2018), the most significant or “worrisome” increase in homicide rates occurred in Nuevo León. As reported by Animal Político, Nuevo León’s homicide rate increased from 5.3 homicides per 100,000 individuals to 9.2 homicides per 100,000 individuals. The 72% increase far surpassed the rises in Tabasco (50.7%), Mexico City (43.2%), Sonora (43.1%), and Morelos (42.5%). Meanwhile the states with the largest decreases in homicide rates during that time period were Baja California Sur (78.3% reduction), Nayarit (69%), and Guerrero (30.8%).

Map of Mexico and violence

Photo: El Universal.

The media’s role in disseminating information on homicides is also of note. A recent report by El Universal with support from Google News Initiative found that the Mexican media in ten different states have decreased the amount of coverage given to homicides reported in 2019 compared to previous years. In particular, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, and Nayarit have published the least information proportional to number of homicides committed in 2019. The states of Aguascalientes, Colima, Guerrero, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Puebla, Quinata Roo, Tamulipas, and Zacatecas round out the list of ten. The authors looked at official homicide data spanning from 2005 to 2019 vis-à-vis the press’ reporting on such killings.

Justice in Mexico’s annual report released in April 2019, “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018,” also took an in depth look at SNSP’s 2018 data. The authors found, for example, that although Baja California had the highest number of intentional homicide cases in 2018 (2,805), Guanajuato had the largest annual increase in total homicides, nearly doubling its recorded number from 2017. To read more about Mexico’s crime and violence at the federal, state, and local levels in 2018, check out Justice in Mexico’s full report here.

Clandestine Graves and Desaparecidos

In addition to Mexico’s record-breaking levels of homicide, the nation continues to grapple with the existence of clandestine graves and associated disappearances (desaparecidos).

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

Forensic experts move a body found in a clandestine grave on a farm in Guadalajar, Jalisco in April 2019. Photo: Francisco Guasco, EFE.

In mid-June, researchers with Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana confirmed the existence of 1,606 clandestine graves throughout Mexico. According to their report, “Violence and terror: findings on clandestine graves in Mexico 2006-2017” (“Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017”), the states in which the most sites were located were Guerrero, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas. The graves documented are from 2006 and 2017, a period of time that spans almost two presidents’ full sexenios (Felipe Calderón, 2006-2012; Enrique Peña Nieto, 2012-2018). According to the Associated Press, the graves found “may just scratch the surface of the true numbers behind what the [Universidad Iberoamericana] study called a ‘building phenomenon.’”

The reported graves contained nearly 2,500 bodies, of which the predominant majority are tied to the ongoing battles between drug-trafficking organizations (DTO) and organized crime groups (OCG). The researchers also clarified that their data was not comprehensive because eight of Mexico’s 32 states and federal entities did not submit data or documentation to their research project, claiming that no graves had been found within their entities during the specified timeframe.

Contextualizing the data, the report out of Universidad Iberoamericana emphasized the role that Mexico’s high levels of impunity have in perpetuating the existence of secret graves. “It is reflective of the level of social decay and dehumanization that the country has reached,” the researchers wrote. Jan Jarab, representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Mexico, also weighed in on the findings. “This horror map of clandestine graves can only be combatted with strategies addressing impunity,” he said.

Such disappearances like the victims’ remains found in the graves have long been a critical issue in Mexico. According to the government’s national search commission, there are more than 40,000 persons estimated missing in Mexico.

Impunity vis-à-vis the NSJP

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

México SOS Director Alejandro Martí speaks at a conference. Photo: La Otra Opinión.

Mexico’s systemic challenges with crime, violence, impunity, and the ways in which they manifest themselves in society (i.e., clandestine graves) were recently at the center of criticism leveled by human rights activist Alejandro Martí toward the government. According to Martí, who is the head of the organization México SOS, Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP) carries some of the responsibility in perpetuating impunity. “The fundamental problem of the [NSJP] is the corruption,” he said. “And corruption produces this terrible impunity, which I have said for years. Impunity is a result of all the wrongs of Mexico.”

Martí also called out elected officials – particularly governors – and the police for the pervasiveness of corruption within their systems. He reminded the media with which he spoke that “half of the group of kidnappers who killed my son were police,” referencing his son’s murder in 2008 that led him to become an activist. Martí leveled his criticisms during a press conference promoting Mexico’s 8th National Forum on Security and Justice (“8° Foro Nacional de Seguridad y Justicia”) held June 7-8.

Whether the New Criminal Justice System does indeed bear some of the responsibility, as Martí alleges, it is clear nonetheless that the López Obrador Administration faces systemic challenges when addressing Mexico’s notorious levels of crime and violence. Homicide rates, clandestine graves, disappearances, and impunity are but a few.

Sources:

Calderón, Laura et al. “Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2018.” Justice in Mexico. April 2019.

Dávila, Patricia. “Corrupción en Nuevo Sistema de Justicia produce esta terrible impunidad’: Martí.” Proceso. June 2, 2019.

Román, Esteban. “En 10 estados guardan silencio sobre homicidios.” El Universal. June 13, 2019.

Krumholtz, Michael. “Researchers confirm 1,600 secret graves in Mexico since 2006.” Associated Press. June 20, 2019. 

“México enfrenta abismo de desinformación para encontrar a sus desparecidos.” Agencia EFE. June 20, 2019.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. “Víctimas de Delitos de Fuero Común 2019.” Centro Nacional de Información. June 20, 2019.

Angel, Arturo. “Con 17,500 asesinatos, el primer semestre de AMLO es el más violento de los últimos sexenios.” Animal Politico. June 21, 2019.

“Today in Latin America.” Latin America News Dispatch. June 21, 2019.

Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de Derechos Humanos. “Violencia y terror: hallazgos sobre fosas clandestinas en México 2006-2017.” Universidad Iberoamericana. June 2019.