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: 

Obstacles to International Conventions Protecting Women in Mexico

08/04/20 (written by MMacGregor)- Although Mexico has engaged in various agreements in order to prevent domestic violence and promote women’s rights, the situation for women in the country continues to be extremely dangerous. According to a survey by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía), 7 out of 10 women have experienced violence at some point in their lives. Despite the creation of laws that explicitly define the different forms that domestic violence can take, Mexico has faced challenges with the implementation of these laws at the state and local levels, resulting in insufficient justice for victims and their families. 

At the international level, Mexico is a signatory of agreements whose primary purpose is to promote gender equality and women’s rights. These agreements include the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1979, a document that defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up a national agenda to end this discrimination. According to the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, the Convention defines discrimination against women as “any distinction, exclusion, or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil, or any other field”.

International Frameworks

Additionally, Mexico is a part of the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention Belem do Para of 1994), which explicitly defines violence against women and establishes that women have the right to live free of violence. According to the Organization of American States, the convention “calls for the establishment of mechanisms for protecting and defending women’s rights as essential to combating the phenomenon of violence against women’s physical, sexual, and psychological identity, whether in the private or public sphere, and for asserting those rights within society”. Finally, Mexico is also a part of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), which is the most progressive blueprint for advancing women’s rights and “imagines a world where each and every women and girl can exercise her freedoms and choices and realize all of her rights, such as living free from violence, going to school, participating in decisions, and earning equal pay for equal work”.

National Mechanism and Institutions

Since Mexico is a signatory on these powerful international agreements committed to the advancement, empowerment, and protection of women and their rights, it is essential to analyze the reasons why the country has not been able to implement these commitments on a national level. In order to do so, it is important to understand the federal binding laws in Mexico and key national institutions to address women’s rights, as well as the legal mechanism to prevent femicides from occurring. 

From a legal perspective with regard to violence against women, the federal binding law in Mexico is the General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence, or la Ley General de Aceso de las Mujeres a Una Vida Libre de Violencia. Published on February 1st, 2007, the law “contains the guiding principles for the access of all women to a life free of violence and discrimination, legal equality between women and men, and respect for women’s dignity”. This law was a significant step in Mexican history because, for the first time, it distinguished between the different types of violence inflicted against women: psychological, physical, economic, patrimonial, and sexual. It made it clear that violence does not always produce visible physical injuries. It has established the areas of life women are being violated. Additionally, the law attempts to specify the modality of violence, distinguishing between violence inflicted at home, school, work, or through another institution.

Furthermore, the legal mechanism to prevent femicide is the Gender Violence Against Women Alert (Alerta de Violencia de Genero contra las Mujeres), which consists of a set of emergency government actions to stop violence against women in a particular territory and can be exercised by invididuals or by the community itself. Representatives from various national institutions analyze and research the situation in the territory in order to determine possible human rights violations. This research can take the form of on-site visits, interviews, and information from state authorities. These institutions include the National Institute of Women (Instituto Nacional de Mujeres- INMUJERES), the National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Eradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres- CONAVIM), and the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes of Violence against Women and Trafficking in Persons (Fiscalía Especial para los Delitos de Violencia Contra las Mujeres y Trata de Personas). All three of these organizations work together with academic and local authorities to prevent feminicidal violence against women. 

Challenges to Preventing Violence Against Women

With all of these international and national conventions in place to protect women, it is important to consider the reasons why the number of domestic violence cases and femicides continue to pose a significant problem in Mexico. According to Amnesty International, the problem lies in the implementation of these laws at the state and local level. Although the General Law was a step in the right direction, the law has not focused on removing the real obstacles preventing women from registering complaints or improving persecutions of those who commit violence against women. Specifically, Article 27 in the General Law states that “when they are made aware of acts that may constitute offenses or crimes involving violence against women” protection orders must be issued by authorities. The reality of this is that protection or restraining orders are rarely used or enforced. As a result, women who need urgent help because a restraining order has been violated have no option other than to contact the general police emergency number or bring the complaint to a court. Neither of these guarantee that they will get the immediate help they need. Additionally, social services and prosecutor’s offices often encourage victims to reconcile with those responsible for the violence in their homes rather than pursuing criminal prosecutions. Because many victims do not want to confront their attacker to tell them about the mediation meetings and procedures for fear of retaliation, many of the cases end up unresolved.

In conclusion, there remains an urgent need to bridge the gap between the international and national frameworks regarding the protection of women and their implementation in the country. In order to adequately protect women and prevent violence against them, it is vital that the Mexican government put its numerous policies into action with political commitment, resources, training, and accountability.

Sources:

Alerta De Violencia De Género Contra Las Mujeres. Institutional Nacional De Las Mujeres. 22 Feb 2020. 

Comisión Nacional para Prevenir y Erradicar la Violencia Contra las Mujeres. “Ley General De Acceso De Las Mujeres a Una Vida Libre De Violencia (PDF).” Gobierno De México.

“Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.” OHCHR. 

“Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.” OHCHR.

“Fiscalía Especial Para Los Delitos De Violencia Contra Las Mujeres y Trata De Personas.” Gobierno De México.

Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática (INEGI). “Encuesta Nacional sobre la Dinámica de las Relaciones en los Hogares (ENDIREH 2016).” INEGI. 18 Agosto 2017.

Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence against Women (Convention of Belém Do Pará). Organization of American States, 1994.

“Organization of American States: Democracy for Peace, Security, and Development.” Organization of American States, Follow-up Mechanism to the Belém Do Pará Convention (MESECVI), 1 Aug. 2009.

“Protection for Women: Violence in the Family in Mexico.” Stop Violence Against Women: Amnesty International, Amnesty International.

“Sitio De Comisión Nacional Para Prevenir y Erradicar La Violencia Contra Las Mujeres.” Gobierno De México.

“Sitio De Instituto Nacional De Las Mujeres.” Gobierno De México

“The Beijing Platform for Action: Inspiration Then and Now.” UN Women | The Beijing Platform for Action Turns 20.

COVID-19 and violence in Mexico

05/06/20 (written by lcalderón) – As the world faces the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, members of the government and the academic community in Mexico expected to see a decrease in violent crime after the federal government implemented the “Stay Home” initiative. According to The New York Times, this seems to have been the case for other Latin American countries, where quarantine and travel restrictions have reduced the incidence of crime in places like Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, etc.

However, Mexican media sources such as El Universal claim that violence in Mexico has not decreased and continues to rise. The Associated Pressreported that places like Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Chihuahua –particularly the municipality of Juárez– have experienced higher levels of violence despite the pandemic. Some of this violence has targeted members of the medical profession because of the supposed risk of contagion they bring to their communities. Nurses have been burned with bleach, clinics have been set on fire, and some medical professionals have been verbally assaulted, making healthcare workers afraid of wearing their uniforms outside the hospitals.  

Nurses ask citizens to stay home amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
“I am a nurse, I fight for you and your life #stayhome” [author’s translation]. Picture by BBC News Mundo.

COVID-19 measures in Mexico

Mexico adopted “Sana Distancia” or social distancing on March 16, 2020 in an attempt to flatten the curve of COVID-19 contagions. By March 30, a sanitary emergency was declared, calling on citizens to stay in quarantine, avoid social gatherings, and only leave home when necessary. In addition, officials ordered all activities for non-essential businesses to cease and reduced operations in essential enterprises, hoping to reduce the exposure of essential workers to the virus.

In theory, there are two reasons why having less people in the streets could result in a significant reduction in crime. First, there are fewer victims because there are fewer people in public that could potentially become victims of violence. Second, there are fewer perpetrators of violence because potential assailants are also following stay-at-home orders. Yet on the ground, the statistics tell another story. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador admitted that the quarantine measures had not yielded decreased levels of violence, as was initially projected, but he remains hopeful that such reductions will be observed over time. In an unprecedented move, the president even addressed his daily morning speech on April 20, 2020 to drug traffickers and criminals asking them to reduce the levels of violence amidst the crisis.   

Analyzing crime trends

Although it is still too soon to analyze the real consequences of these public health measures in 2020, violent crime in Mexico has followed a distinctive pattern over the years. Violent crime is regularly registered by General Attorney offices and reported by Mexico’s Secretary General of National Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP). If one compares these national figures from January through March 2020 with the same period in 2019, it is noteworthy that both years had the same number of intentional homicides during that quarter (7,279 cases). Although the total for each month differed, March was the most lethal month in both years. The two main differences between this period in 2019 and that in 2020 are a 2.1% increase in the use of firearms to commit homicide and a 5.3% increase in the number of femicides.

In terms of other violent crime, 2020 showed decreased numbers for cases of kidnapping and robbery (including burglary, commercial robbery and theft), with a 44.4% reduction in reported kidnappings and a 10.7% decrease in robbery. Cases of theft decreased 15.5% from 2019 to 2020, the greatest drop among any type of robbery. The only steady increase shown in the first three months of 2020 was in cases of assault. For the same period in 2019, there were 38,067 cases of assault, while in 2020 that number was 38,267, or a 0.53% increase.

The Secretary General of National Public Security (SESNSP) also reports the total number of victims for a given crime. When analyzing the number of victims for each crime, March 2020 was the deadliest month (3,000 victims) since July 2018, when SESNSP reported 3,074 victims of intentional homicide. However, taking into account the previous comparison looking at January through March 2020 against the same months in 2019, there is less than a 1% increase in the number of victims of homicide in the new year.

Intentional homicides
Trends in intentional homicides in Mexico during the first quarter of years 2018-2020. Graph generated by the author with SENSP data.

The other two crimes that experienced an increase in the number of victims in the first three months of 2020 compared to 2019 were assault with a 1.12% increase and femicide with a 1.24% increase in total victims. At the same time, victims of kidnapping and extortion decreased by 39% and 1.78%, respectively.  

Kidnap and Extortion in Mexico
Trends in kidnap and extortion in Mexico during the first quarter of years 2018-2020. Graph generated by the author with SENSP data.

As Mexico continues to extend the “Stay Home” period, it is important to continue to analyze crime data to determine whether COVID-19 has had a significant impact on levels of violence in Mexico. Specifically, this will help to ascertain whether or not initiatives like social distancing and self-isolation lead to reductions in crime. As such, crime data for April and May will be key to determine if it is accurate to say that COVID-19 measures have had the same impact in Mexico (nationwide) as in other Latin American countries.

Sources:

Miranda, Justino et al. “COVID-19: Healthcare workers experience discrimination and violence in Mexico.” El Universal. April 27, 2020.  https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/english/covid-19-healthcare-workers-experience-discrimination-and-violence-mexico

“Mexico’s gang violence appears to rise during pandemic.” The Associated Press. April 24, 2020. https://apnews.com/a33c15a157abcf26d52de04bd16ab474

“En México hay más gente llorando por la violencia que por el coronavirus: experto.” El Universal. April 23, 2020. https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/en-mexico-hay-mas-gente-llorando-por-la-violencia-que-por-el-coronavirus-experto

“Incidencia delictiva del Fuero Común, nueva metodología.” Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. April 20, 2020. https://www.gob.mx/sesnsp/acciones-y-programas/incidencia-delictiva-del-fuero-comun-nueva-metodologia?state=published

Grupo REFORMA. “La mañanera de AMLO – 20 de abril.” Reforma. April 20, 2020. https://www.reforma.com/libre/acceso/accesofb.htm?urlredirect=/la-mananera-de-amlo-20-de-abril/ar1923705

“Víctimas y unidades robadas, nueva metodología.” Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública. April 20, 2020. https://www.gob.mx/sesnsp/acciones-y-programas/victimas-nueva-metodologia?state=published

Simple, Kirk and Azam Ahmed. “El virus disminuye la criminalidad en América Latina (por ahora).” The New York Times. April 13, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/es/2020/04/13/espanol/america-latina/coronavirus-delincuencia-crimen.html

New Working Paper: Violence within: Understanding the Use of Violent Practices Among Mexican Drug Traffickers

11/20/19-Justice in Mexico, a research-based program at the University of San Diego, released a working paper entitled, “Violence within: Understanding the Use of Violent Practices Among Mexican Drug Traffickers” by Dr. Karina García. This paper provides first-hand data regarding the perpetrators’ perspectives about their engagement in practices of drug trafficking-related violence in Mexico such as murder, kidnapping, and torture. Drawing on the life stories of thirty-three former participants in the Mexican drug trade—often self-described as “narcos”— collected in the North of Mexico between October 2014 and January 2015, this paper shows how violent practices serve different purposes, which indicates the need for different strategies to tackle them.

Figure 3. Participants’ Former Roles in the Cartels
Figure 3. Participants’ Former Roles in the Cartels

According to the author, there are four dimensions of drug trafficking-related violence identified in participants’ narratives: 1) as a business activity, 2) as a means of industry regulation, 3) as a source of excitement, adrenaline, and empowerment, and 4) as a ritual in the cult of the holy death [la santa muerte].  Practices of violence are normalized by participants in the Mexican drug trade as if it were any other business activity.  The logistics of violence in the Mexican drug trade include the casualization of work: workers at the bottom of the hierarchy are conceived as disposable, usually street drug dealers; a clear specialization and division of labour: not all participants in the drug trade—often described as “narcos”—engage in the same type of violence, some focus on torturing people, others on murder, and others transportation and/or disappearance of their bodies.

“Narcos” understand corporal punishments, mutilation and even death, as a way of establishing the ground rules for working within the drug trade. It is taken for granted that, given the illegal nature of the industry, violence is the only way in which drug traffickers can communicate and enforce norms and agreements among themselves, both within their own networks and in relation to their enemies. Murdering and torturing people are practices linked to releasing adrenaline, and even positive emotions such as happiness. Participants suggest that, in the context of poverty, performing acts of violence was the only way they had to feel powerful. Having control over other people’s lives gave them a sense of power that they could not obtain in any other way.

Some participated in violence not only as a necessary business activity, but as a hobby. Former Zetas pointed out that most members are invited to be part of the cult of the holy death [la santa muerte] and some of them are forced to worship her. This cult requires blood, torture and human sacrifices in exchange for protection. Participants explained that they joined this cult in order to have a dignified death rather than living a good life. Drug trafficking-related violence is likely to continue or increase as long as vulnerable groups prone to joining drug cartels remain neglected. In the context of the new administration of López-Obrador, and the creation of the controversial National Guard, this paper’s findings suggest that whereas this new security force may be necessary in some areas of the country, it cannot be the only strategy to minimise drug trafficking-related violence in the long run.

In order to address the first two dimensions of violence, decision makers should consider the legalization of drugs as a way to minimize both violence in Mexico and the quantity of drugs smuggled into the United State. Crucially, legalization should be understood as part of a wider strategy to tackle violence in Mexico. Considering that Mexico is one of the biggest producers of cannabis and opium, it is suggested to fully legalize the production, distribution, and consumption of these drugs in order to reduce the revenue potential of violent, illicit enterprises. The Mexican government should invest more on research and social programs targeted at the poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods in the North of Mexico. Tackling everyday insecurities that children and young men have to cope with is of paramount importance to prevent increased labour pools for drug cartels.

About the Author:

Dr. Karina García is an Assistant Teacher at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Relations (SPAIS) and the department of Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies (HIPLA) at the University of Bristol. Her research interests include drug policy, drug violence, qualitative research methods, toxic masculinities, and gang violence in Latin America.

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.