Category Archives: Mexico

Assessment on US Travel Warning for Five Mexican States

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Key judgements:

  • The legalization of marijuana in various states of the United States will lead the cartels to move their production to harder drugs such as methamphetamine, heroin or fentanyl, which will cause an increase in the demand for opium. In the short to medium term, it is highly likely the increase in violence in Guerrero, where opium production is concentrated.
  • The beheading of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas Vieja Escuela in Tamaulipas augurs a probable division of both organizations into smaller bands, which would increase the violence in that state, although it would give greater power to the newly created Northeast Cartel to control the territory.
  • The beheading of the big cartels has led to a decentralization of criminal activity, causing an uncontrolled increase in violence.
  • The emergence and rapid growth of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación is one of the keys to understanding the sudden increase in violence in recent years, due to its open conflict with the Sinaloa Cartel.


The United States Department of State issued its travel recommendations for the entire globe on January 10, 2018. Although most of the states of Mexico have been part of the list, it is the first time in history that five of its territories have the highest degree of danger by the US State Department, 4 of 4, putting those regions at the same level of danger as countries at war like Afghanistan, Syria or Yemen. The recommendation of the US Government is to avoid visiting the five affected states, Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas.


The rise of these five states to the highest level of danger in the US travel recommendation system is due to a large increase in violence in these territories caused by confrontations between small criminal gangs and the territorial disputes between the existing large drug cartels and the remnants of extinct cartels. Since former President Felipe Calderón launched the “War on Drugs” in December 2006, which has lasted for two six-year periods, there have been more than 234,000 deaths, and led to the demise of most of the existing cartels at the beginning from the war. However, the elimination of the cartel’s leadership has not led to its dissolution, but to its decentralization, giving rise to hundreds of small criminal gangs with conflicting interests, which has triggered the levels of violence in Mexico.


To better understand the reasons that have led the United States to apply the highest degree of danger to five Mexican states, it is convenient to analyze each of the states separately.


Despite being the least populated state in Mexico, Colima has one of the most important ports in the Pacific zone of Mexico, Puerto Manzanillo, where two million containers pass through each year. This port is a strategic point for drug trafficking because it is a point of entry for cocaine and ephedrine from Colombia and China. Violence in Colima skyrocketed when the Sinaloa Cartel arrived to fight its former allies, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG by its initials in Spanish) that controls the state, and dispute control of Puerto Manzanillo. This dispute is the reason for the increase in violence in Colima and the reason why this small state has the highest homicide rate in the entire country, with 70.6 murders per 100 000 inhabitants.


The state of Guerrero was once a tourist paradise, where the greatest stars of Hollywood summered and where the Kennedys celebrated their honeymoon, but the violence in the state raised when security forces killed the leader of the Beltrán and Levya cartel, which held control of the state, which led to its disintegration in more than a score of criminal gangs that today dispute the territory, some of them are Guerreros Unidos, Los Tequileros, Los Rojos or Los Ardillos. Guerrero is an opium production area, raw material to produce heroin, and its proximity to smuggling routes to the US border makes Guerrero a target for gangs and cartels.


Michoacán is a key state to understand the war against drugs in Mexico. The birth state of former President Felipe Calderón, with the beginning of the war against drugs, nearly 7,000 soldiers were sent to Michoacán to fight the dominant cartel in the region, La Familia Michoacana. Michoacán is the largest producer of methamphetamine for its subsequent export to the United States, and has the most important port on the Mexican Pacific coast, the port of Lázaro Cárdenas. Since members of La Familia Michoacana split up to form the cartel of Los Caballeros Templarios, impunity in the state has been widespread. The ineffectiveness of the Government in fighting the cartels led to the creation of the first self-defense militias in La Ruana, Tepalcatepec and Buenavista. These militias have been a problem for the Mexican government, due to the continuous clashes between them, the inability of the authorities to control them, and their refusal to disarm voluntarily. After the beheading of La Familia Michoacana and Los Caballeros Templarios, in Michoacán there are remnants of both cartels, the self-defense militias confronting each other, and the newly created La Nueva Familia Michoacana cartel, at war with the CJNG for the control of Michoacán and the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.


The original state of the famous Sinaloa Cartel, it is not the main producer of any drug, although it has extensive plantations of marijuana and opium. But what they specialized in the Sinaloa Cartel is in the organization of their smuggling routes, especially across the border with the United States. Since the extradition on January 19, 2018 of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo Guzmán”, an internal struggle within the cartel arose between the chief of security of El Chapo, Dámaso López Núñez, alias “El Licenciado” and the two sons of El Chapo. This internal dispute increased the rates of violence in the state of Sinaloa, and even after the arrest of Núñez, the sons of El Chapo still face obstacles to fully control the cartel.


The state closest to the United States, since it shares a border with Texas, is home to the oldest cartel in Mexico, the Gulf Cartel, whose founder, Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, trafficked with alcohol during the years of the Prohibition, later creating the cartel in the 1980s. In 1999, former military officer Arturo Guzmán Decena began working for the cartel’s leader, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, and began recruiting former special forces soldiers to create the Zetas, the armed wing of the cartel that would take care of the protection of leaders and territories, as well as executions and kidnappings. Eventually, and after an increase in its weight within the organization, the Zetas splintered from the Gulf Cartel in 2010 and began a bloody war against the same for control of the territory that lasts until today. Over the years, both the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have suffered several internal fractures and there are diverse factions on both sides, which continue the war between them, mainly in the state of Tamaulipas, and to a lesser extent in Nuevo León and Coahuila. The irruption of the Northeastern Cartel has been key in the increase of violence in Tamaulipas, as it is an additional actor to those already existing. The Mexican security forces managed to shoot down the leaders of two of the most important factions in the area, Pancho Carreón from the Zetas Vieja Escuela, and Juan Manuel Loza, known as Comandante Toro, leader of the Gulf Clan.


In Colima, the incursion of the Sinaloa Cartel to dispute control of the Port of Manzanillo to the CJNG threatens to keep Colima as the deadliest state in Mexico, as the importance of this port for the entry of narcotics is of vital interest to the cartels. The growing hostilities between the two cartels will attract smaller gangs, which will suppose an increase in crime in the territory of Colima.

The increase in the demand for opium by the cartels to compensate their losses due to the legalization of marijuana in certain states of the United States, will make Guerrero the battle center of the cartels to control the production of opium, abundant in the state, thus it is likely an increase in hostilities in the state, and the incursion of more criminal gangs is highly probable.

To the already existing confrontations in the state of Michoacán, it is necessary to add the appearance of a new cartel, self-named La Nueva Familia Michoacana, which has declared war on the CJNG for the control of the territory, which will increase the rate of violence in the state.

Violence in Sinaloa is due to the internal struggles the Sinaloa Cartel experienced after the capture and extradition to the United States of El Chapo Guzmán. It is likely that once Guzman’s sons regain control of the cartel, the violence will diminish after a period of transition.

The irruption of the Northeast Cartel in the state of Tamaulipas was the reason for the drastic increase in violence in that region, but the beheading of the Zejas Vieja Escuela and the Gulf Cartel could diminish the activity of both in favor of the Northeast Cartel or, on the contrary, cause the disintegration of these factions in smaller ones that increase the conflict in the state.

None of the two major wars against drugs undertaken by the governments of Ronald Reagan in the United States more than 45 years ago, and by Felipe Calderón in 2006, have been able to stop the growing violence in Mexico. The war against drugs launched by Felipe Calderón had as its core mission to eliminate the cartels leaders, who had a hierarchy based on family ties, and promotions and rewards based on loyalty; something that led the authorities to think that, beheading the cartels, they would disappear. This did not happen, but led to the decentralization of criminal activity, leading to the creation of a multitude of small criminal gangs that adapted to the war the government maintained against them; now organized crime is not based on old blood ties, but is divided into different cells that collaborate with each other, but act independently and without showing loyalty to larger organizations, so the effect of losing a cell by police action does not affect the criminal network, and the amount of information that cell could bring to the police is less.

The irruption of the CJNG in the Mexican scenario has led to a drastic increase in violence, due to the open war with the only other major cartel standing, the Sinaloa Cartel, for the control of all regions of Mexico, which has led the war to places that have never witnessed the violence of the rest of the country like Cancun.

The proof that all these factors have triggered the violence in Mexico is that 2017 was the year with the highest number of murders registered, 23,101 in the absence of December data. Another scabrous fact is the number of journalists murdered in Mexico that in 2017 amounts to 81 deaths, less than the 120 in 2016, but which place the country as the most dangerous in the world to practice the journalistic profession.

Daily demonstrations by the teacher’s union in Mexico underline widespread disillusionment with the government, amid rising levels of violence

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June and July have seen daily demonstrations by the National Education Teacher´s Union (CNTE- Spanish abbreviation) across a number of states in Mexico, in particular the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca, as well as in the capital, Mexico City.

The CNTE continue to vociferously oppose the government´s education reform and has been actively protesting since 2012. However, this summer events have seen increased tensions between state authorities and the protesters, following the June detention of two key union leaders, which was labelled by CNTE supporters as an act of “political disappearance”.

In late June the protests became particularly violent during a road blockade in Nochixtlán, on the main highway out of Oaxaca by a PEMEX refinery. The blockade turned violent as factions of the federal police and gendarmerie encircled the protesters and allegedly pushed them back into the town. Seven people were killed during the clashes and tens of citizens were injured. In a normally peaceful rural town, the clashes have left a significant mark on the local population and many questions still to be answered. Why did the police push the protesters back into the town, where they knew any clashes were likely to also involve bystanders, including children. A normally peaceful rural town, the events in Nochixtlán have left a significant mark on the local population and more wider across the country as the authorities have been slow to give clarity surrounding the events of the night. While at first the police claimed they were not armed, pictures circling on social media quickly contradicted this. The question thus remains, who fired the first shot? 

An independent Ombudsman report is investigating why federal police entered into the town blocking off certain areas, rather than removing the protest from the highway. As the town remains in a state of shock following the violent incidents, protesters both in Oaxaca and across the country increasingly blame the police for heavy-handed measures further polarising the protesters and factions of the state.

On 20 July in the southern state of Chiapas, another CNTE heartland, factions of the police removed a CNTE road protest on the highway between San Cristobal (state capital) and Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Events became violent as the police set the camp on fire and clashed with protesters. Such events are becoming increasingly common as the CNTE have set up road-blocks across numerous state highways. This is significantly affecting businesses, most small and multinational, who are unable to move their cargo across swathes of the country and are reportedly losing vast amounts of money.

The capital, Mexico City, is brought to a standstill most days as the major thoroughfare Reforma Avenue is closed off for CNTE protests, these usually take place during peak afternoon traffic times. While this significantly affects those travelling into and out of the city, the protests continue to be peaceful with the police allowing protesters to march along Reforma avenue, with a heavy police presence. Yet, as the summer holidays enter into their second month the protests are noticeably increasing in volume and size and the government remains silent with no cohesive plan to negotiate with the CNTE. 

While the protests are organised by the CNTE, they have moved from just focusing on the education reform and are a wider manifestation of widespread disillusion with the government. Protesters chant against entrenched political corruption, human rights abuses and the on-going humanitarian crisis concerning those who have ¨disappeared¨ with no one held accountable. At the same time, violent crime statistics are rising throughout the country to levels seen under former-president Felipe Calderon´s administration during the peak of the ¨war on drugs¨.

As Mexico enters into the third stage of the government´s six-year tenure in office,the protests are likely to grow louder and stronger as citizens put pressure on the political elite to give way to a new form of politics. Independent candidates are increasingly popular, as the electorate move away from the traditional bastions of the right – the National Action Party (PAN), the left – the Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) and the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The rise of political academic Denise Dresser will be an interesting element to watch in future politics, as well as the left-wing MORENA party, who actively support the CNTE and are strongly opposed to the country’s energy reform, enacted by the government in 2013.


Gang breakdown coincides with kidnapping rise in Mexican states

Posted on in Mexico title_rule

A sudden spike in kidnapping in Guerrero and Baja California has coincided with the ongoing deterioration of the organised crime structures that dominate the two west Mexico states. According to statistics published by the NGO Observatorio Virtual, the kidnapping rate in Baja California and Guerrero ticked upward in the first three months of 2016.

This article was written by Patrick Corcoran for Insight Crime and is republished with permission. Please see the original here

In Guerrero, the registered figure of 2.34 kidnappings per 100,000 residents is only a slight bump from the 2.27 registered last year, but it bucks a long-term trend, as Guerrero registered substantial declines in 2014 and 2015. The figure is the third-highest of any Mexican state this year, and nearly three times the national average of 0.80 per 100,000 residents.

The kidnappings reported by Observatorio Virtual are concentrated in a relatively small number of Guerrero’s municipalities, largely along the coast and in several small inland towns. Over the past 12 months, General Canuto A. Neri and Pedro Ascencio Alquisiras, both inland towns with populations under 7,000, saw kidnapping rates of 16.03 and 14.17 per 100,000 residents, respectively. Cualac, a comparably sized town near the state’s border with Oaxaca, registered a rate of 13.99. The figure for Chilpancingo, the state’s capital, was 7.49.

While the prevalence of the crime in these hotspots was more than enough to make Guerrero one of the nation’s most dangerous states for abductions, 48 of the state’s 81 municipalities reported no kidnappings at all.

In Baja California, Observatorio Virtual’s data indicates circumstances that are largely better than in Guerrero. The border state’s kidnapping rate for 2016 is 0.68 per 100,000 residents, just below the national average and 10th among the 32 Mexican states. This would seem to indicate a situation that is under control. However, the recent trend is more alarming. Baja California’s kidnapping rate has more than doubled in 2016, driven by a rash of abductions in Tijuana, the state’s largest city. The kidnapping rate in Tijuana over the first three months of 2016 has more than doubled compared to 2015.

Kidnapping statistics are notoriously difficult to track, as many victims, believing that a ransom payment without the involvement of the police is the safest way to secure freedom, have a powerful disincentive to reporting it. As a result, any official kidnapping statistics vastly understates the real figure. But assuming these statistics reflect a genuine trend, and they probably do, then there are a few different factors likely driving them, with one in particular standing out.

One key factor specific to both states is the years-long decline of the dominant criminal groups in each: the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) in Guerrero and the Tijuana Cartel in Baja California. Both have suffered years of setbacks with captures and killings decimating the leadership that built the organisations.

The Arellano Félix family, which built the Tijuana Cartel out of an offshoot of the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1990s, has virtually ceased to operate. Founders Ramón and Benjamín Arellano Félix were killed and arrested, respectively, in 2002. After inheriting the operation, their brothers Javier and Eduardo were arrested in 2006 and 2008. Other relatives and subordinates have also taken up the reins, but none — including Enedina Arellano Félix, the sister of the founders and reputed leader today — have managed to restore the group to its prior influence.

The result has been a period of substantial reorganisation in Baja California. Reports have been somewhat contradictory, with some sources describing attempts by Arellano Félix veterans to recapture their influence, while more recently a government official indicated that the Jalisco Cartel was moving into the area. Whatever the case — and these two possibilities are not mutually exclusive — no single group has control of Baja California.

Similarly, the BLO, once a dominant force along Mexico‘s southern Pacific coast, has declined precipitously. The erstwhile boss of the family, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, was killed in 2009 in a shootout with security officials in Cuernavaca, a tourist haven betweenMexico City and Guerrero. His brother Alfredo was captured shortly before then in an arrest that sparked the group’s split from the Sinaloa Cartel, while Carlos was arrested shortly after. The last holdout, Héctor Beltrán Leyva, was arrested in 2014.

The disintegration of the BLO has spawned a tangled network of splinter groups, such as Guerreros Unidos, Independent Cartel of Acapulco, Los Ardillos, Los Rojos, and many others. Without a hegemonic actor organising these groups and divvying up responsibilities and profits, they have naturally come into conflict with each other, as well as other new actors tempted by the power vacuum.

The absence of a single controlling entity at the top of the local food chain has long contributed to the rise of small-time crime, from bank robbery and car theft to extortion and kidnapping.

There are different explanations for this phenomenon, which has manifested itself around the country. One is that the single hegemonic group is able to outlaw certain behaviors among local criminals, acting as a sort of underworld police. But when the hegemon loses its control, and the real police aren’t able to step in to adequately punish kidnapping or other such crimes, then criminal actors are free to pursue actions that were previously beyond the pale.

Another related explanation is that the big groups tend to have the readiest access to drug producers, whether South American cocaine or Mexican heroin, and the means to move major shipments. In effect, this means access to high profit margins. When a larger organization disintegrates, the revenues that come with trafficking substantial amounts of drugs dry up as well. As a result, the smaller cells that operate within the newly weakened group must find ways to replace their lost income, with extortion and kidnapping in particular emerging to take the place of drug shipments.

It remains to be seen if the recent uptick in Guerrero and Baja California is a blip or the beginning of a new trend, but the collapse of the BLO and the Tijuana Cartel has certainly created the conditions for kidnapping to continue to rise in these troubled states.

 This article was written by Patrick Corcoran for Insight Crime and is republished with permission. Please see the original here
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Detention of teacher union leaders sparked clashes between protesters and authorities in southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, tensions likely to remain high in coming weeks

Posted on in Mexico, Uncategorized title_rule

Clashes are likely to continue and intensify in coming weeks as CNTE protests take place across the country, particularly in the union’s stronghold states such as Oaxaca. As a key tourist hotspot those travelling to Oaxaca are likely to experience disruption to travel as protests block main entrances into and out of the city. 

The CNTE was founded in 1979 as a dissident union to the mainstream SNTE and has since been particularly strong in poor southern rural states such as Oaxaca, Chiapas and Guerrero. They are strongly opposed to the government’s 2014 education reform. Despite constant pressure in the last two years the CNTE has refused to stand down to government demands to enact the education reform and are particularly concerned about losing their right to keep a seat at the table with government in determining how teachers are hired. They have constantly asked that the union be included as a partner on education, which the government has rejected.

Over the weekend federal forces detained the secretary general of the National Education Teacher’s Union (CNTE), Rubén Nuñez Ginez, in the state of México, as well as Francisco Villalobos, the leader of the Oaxacan Section 22 of the CNTE. Supporters of the CNTE are calling the detention a “kidnapping” by the state on political grounds. The Attorney General’s Office (PGR) claim that the two union leaders are being held for alleged money laundering, aggravated robbery and illicit enrichment.

The detentions underline the highly politicised nature of the government’s relation with the CNTE, who have maintained pressure on the government to negotiate the terms of the 2014 education reform, which they outright reject. While teacher protests are a regular occurrence in the capital Mexico City, particularly during school holidays, and in other major cities in the south, protesters have upped the ante since the arrests this weekend, constructing road blocks and preventing the federal authorities from entering Oaxaca state by the official highway. 


The CNTE is particularly strong in the poor southern state of Oaxaca, where the union believes rural teachers will be most affected by mass-lay offs and an education reform, which they argue does not respect local teaching practices in rural communities.

The government’s aggressive tactic to detain key leaders saw CNTE members and their families respond with vociferous opposition on Sunday, constructing more than 23 road blocks around Oaxaca city, and disrupting traffic from entering or leaving the city. Entrance and exit to Oaxaca airport and that of the beach town Puerto Escondido have been severely hampered by the roadblocks.  The authorities have responded in a heavy handed manner attempting to clear the protesters, firing tear gas and further inciting tensions between both sides. On Sunday night and Monday night clashes took place between the authorities and protesters throughout Oaxaca city. 

The Oaxaca faction Section 22 of the CNTE has maintained a strong protest movement against the government’s education reform in recent years and at key times – often in the school holidays – the teachers erect makeshift camps in major squares or outside government buildings in protest against the government’s refusal to negotiate on the terms of the reform. Throughout May authorities did not respond to the growing protests and road blocks in the city, likely because they did not want to threaten stability for the major PRI party ahead of the June 5 state election. However, with the PRI winning the state again, the authorities are now more likely to respond in a heavy-handed manner.

As such, tensions are expected to remain extremely strained in the coming weeks with regular clashes unless the government offers an avenue for dialogue or releases the detainees.

The education reform has been a highly contentious element of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s reform agenda. During the June state elections the governing PRI party suffered a series of defeats and the two-year old left-wing group MORENA, led by the charismatic Andrés Manuel Lopéz Obrador (AMLO) – formerly head of the PRD – made significant strides, notably in Oaxaca. AMLO has come out in support of the protesting teachers, which is likely to intensify the political debate around the education debate. However, with government unlikely to open new routes for dialogue with the CNTE, more disruption and potential violence is likely in the weeks ahead. 

Surge of violence in the Pacific state of Colima likely to be fuelled by a battle between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG over access to the strategic port of Manzanillo, underlining security threats at ports in Mexico

Posted on in Mexico title_rule

According to this month’s government statistics, the small Pacific state of Colima in the west of Mexico is experiencing rocketing homicide rates, with a staggering 942% increase in April 2016 comparative to April 2015, displacing Guerrero as the homicide hotspot this month. As Mexican security expert Alejandro Hope noted in El Daily Post, this is particularly worrisome given Colima’s regional position. If the situation continues to deteriorate it could result in significant spill over violence, triggering a conflict in Michoacán akin to that which gained global attention in 2013/2014.

The statistics outline that April wasn’t a one-off violent month in Colima, the homicide rate has been inclining steadily since 2015. So far, there has been little official comment or significant press coverage on the deteriorating situation and analysts are trying to piece together what might be driving the violence in the once relatively calm state.

Firstly, it’s important to think about Colima’s geographical location. Nestled in between the embattled state of Michoacán and Jalisco (home to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel) hugging the Pacific coast, it is home to one of Mexico’s largest ports, Manzanillo, a key gateway and exit point for legal and illicit trade. This is likely the hotspot that is fuelling the violence, as groups battle to gain control over strategic corridors of the Pacific.

Sinaloa Cartel vs Jalisco New Generation Cartel

While the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, notorious two-time fugitive “El Chapo”, fights his extradition to the US from his prison in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, the Sinaloa Cartel continues to operate throughout the country.

In 2015 they declared on social media their arrival in Colima and ambition to “cleanse” the region from criminals carrying out kidnaps and extortion. Since then, MS Risk believes that the Sinaloa Cartel has been involved in a battle with the more local CJNG, which most likely is over the port where shipments of ingredients to manufacture synthetic drugs are brought in, as well as numerous other illegal goods.

Port security

While the situation in Colima points to an increasingly worryingly situation at the Manzanillo port, it also outlines the issue of port security at large. In 2014 the Navy had to fight to take control of the busy port of Lazaro Cardenas, which was being defacto run by the Michoacán-based Knight’s Templar Cartel. After the group gained control of numerous mines in the vicinity they began to trade iron ore with China through the port, threatening any businesses or workers that refused to cooperate. The case underlined how organised crime groups fuse illegal and legal trades, severely hampering the economy and ensuring that such groups have access to supplies and weaponry that far supersede those of state authorities.

Kidnap and extortion

While the government security statistics around homicide rates do not show the full picture of what is happening on the ground, its monthly kidnap and extortion statistics are virtually meaningless. Few report cases of extortion or kidnap for fear of reprisal as well as a lack of faith in the state’s ability to react, noting that Mexico has a rate of near 90% impunity for violent crimes and homicides. However, trends and MS Risk’s sources suggest that where homicide rates increase significantly, extortion and kidnaps are likely to follow suit. In particular, when two organised crime groups are involved in a battle to gain territory, they use violent threats to gain key “plazas” and extort local businesses to fund their operations.

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