Mexico closed 2019 as the year with the most homicides in its history in the midst of a change in strategy
MADRID, May 10 (EUROPA PRESS) –
The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, ascended to Los Pinos with the promise of pacifying a country that suffers chronic violence due to the rooting of criminal organizations. Despite this, 2019 closed as the year with the most homicides in its history, with the state of Guerrero as the main ‘hot spot’ due to fierce competition between armed groups.
“Hugs, not bullets.” With this mantra, López Obrador devastated the 2018 presidential elections – his third attempt. It is the pillar of his plan to end organized crime that permeates Mexican geography and involves moving from the use of force to social rehabilitation; clean up the political, judicial and security apparatus of corruption; and ambitious development programs to provide opportunities for new generations.
One of his main promises has been to find out the truth about the 43 Ayotzinapa ‘normalistas’ who disappeared in the early hours of September 27, 2014 when they returned from a protest in the neighboring municipality of Iguala. The official version of the previous government of Enrique Peña Nieto attributed the event to a mistake by local hitmen who confused the youth with rivals. International experts believe they were caught in a local drug trafficking plot.
At the moment, on his way to the “Mexico in peace” that he promised, López Obrador has begun to clean up corruption “from top to bottom, like the stairs”; it has created a large federal security body, the National Guard; and it has enacted the amnesty law, for non-recidivists convicted, among others, of drug trafficking, as long as they have not also committed serious crimes, such as murder or kidnapping.
However, “crime has proven to be more tenacious than the new president expected,” says International Crisis Group in “Everyday War: Guerrero and the Challenges to Peace in Mexico.” Last year, the country broke the homicide record, with 35,588 registered cases, and Guerrero, despite a slight decline, “has become one of the most violent places.”
A MONSTER OF A THOUSAND HEADS
Guerrero has historically been one of the most convulsive regions in Mexico. “The state’s extensive coastline and its rugged but fertile mountains in the interior, as well as its high poverty rates, make it ideal for drug production and trafficking,” says the think tank. Thus, it serves for the cultivation of marijuana and poppy, later transformed into heroin, and for the transit of South American cocaine to the United States.
It is not surprising that the Felipe Calderón Administration (2006-2012) put the state in the crosshairs of its war against ‘narco’, based on the idea of decapitating criminal organizations so that they fell apart and disappeared. Judging by the figures, it was not successful. Between 2007 and 2018 homicides quadrupled, going from 8,867 to 36,685 nationwide, while in Guerrero the jump was from 766 to 2,367.
Crisis Group explains that, although “most of the criminal leaders included in the list of drug lords were effectively arrested or killed”, “organized crime survived and became even more violent” because the absence of bosses caused the large cartels to divide in infinity of smaller groups with enormous rivalries that fought for the control of the territory even in previously peaceful zones.
In Guerrero, one of the main targets was the Sinaloa Cartel, represented by the powerful Beltrán Leyva faction. On December 16, 2009, the Mexican Navy killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva, leader of the homonymous group, in what Calderón celebrated as a great victory. The truth is that it gave rise to a decomposition that, among other cells, has given birth to Los Rojos, Los Ardillos and Los Guerreros Unidos, which would be involved in the Ayotzinapa case.
Crisis Group draws attention to “the great proliferation of criminal organizations” in Guerrero. Before the Calderón offensive, there were twelve armed groups in the state and now there are more than 40, which have generated “a continuous wave of murders, forced disappearances and internal displacement”, so that “criminal violence has turned into armed conflict premises of which civilians are the main victims. “
A woman who grew up in a rural area of Guerrero and now lives in a nearby city says that she and her family had to flee “in a kind of exodus” with the other neighbors. “The place has become hell,” he says of his hometown. “It has become a ghost town,” he adds.
The voracious race between criminals is no longer just for the plantations and the drug routes. They have developed a “criminal portfolio” that encompasses mining, logging, or extortion. “The variety of products marketed within these illicit economies makes them more resistant to shocks in particular markets,” such as the “narco” market, says Crisis Group.
Extortion is one of the star businesses, to the point of becoming a “chronic problem” in Guerrero. Local merchants pay “fees” of up to $ 250 per month. “Here the option is to pay, leave or face the consequences for us and our families,” laments a businessman from the area in front of a restaurant that closed last year after its owner was assassinated.
Coca-Cola Mexico decided in 2018 to stop producing and distributing in Tierra Caliente, one of the most violent areas in Mexico, on the border between Guerrero and Michoacán, “due to extortion and physical attacks against its personnel and facilities.” Since then, indigenous criminals import and sell soft drinks at a price three times higher than the market, says the ‘think tank’.
In the midst of these tensions, Mexicans hardly find a response from the authorities, with impunity of 89% nationwide, which in Guerrero climbs to 96%. More than 80% of the institution’s officials say that their colleagues are involved in “illegal” activities, according to Crisis Group. “The question is not whether the police are corrupt or not, but who works with whom,” illustrates an extortion victim.
“The great lack of confidence in the authorities” has led to the resurgence of the self-defense groups. The phenomenon dates back to 1995, when the communities created their own police, based on the constitutional right of indigenous peoples to self-government, and with the multiplication of criminal groups, the so-called community police also increased.
Crisis Group warns that “it has become increasingly difficult to draw a clear dividing line between legal and illegal self-defense groups.” “Some have begun to look like criminals,” with methods like dismembering the bodies of enemies. “” Unfortunately, we had to be so extreme and aggressive to respond, “justifies one of its members.
All this shows – according to the ‘think tank’ – that “until now López Obrador has fallen short in his promises of immediate and radical results to curb record levels of violence in Mexico.”
He recommends the president prioritize “the protection of vulnerable populations caught in the crossfire,” through local shock plans or disarmament negotiations, before extending the strategy to the entire country.
In any case, he stresses that “a quick solution is not possible”, and warns that “the next few months could be exceptionally challenging”, “especially at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects They threaten to grab official attention and drain public resources “giving criminals space.