Category Archives: Mexico

Mexico election scandals spotlight importance of local corruption

Posted on in Latin America, Mexico title_rule

The expulsion of three mayoral candidates in Tamaulipas state by Mexico’s ruling party amid allegations they are working with organized crime begs the question of why transnational traffickers would take an interest in local government. There are a number of good reasons drug lords covet control over city hall.

Written by Mimi Yagoub, this article appeared originally in Insight Crime and has been republished with permission. See original version here.

Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI) President Manlio Beltrones announced the suspensions via Twitter on May 7, saying the candidates had been “threatened or bought off by organized crime.” The only evidence Beltrones offered was that the candidates had switched sides. He said they had been forced to support the rival National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional – PAN).

“The PRI will cancel the registrations of three mayoral candidates in Tamaulipas, threatened or bought off by organized crime,” Beltrones published on his Twitter feed, adding that the candidates had been forced to support the rival National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional – PAN). The announcement comes only weeks before Mexico‘s local government elections, which are scheduled for June 5.

One of the candidates announced all threes’ support for PAN’s Tamaulipas gubernatorial candidate, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca, during a campaign rally late in April, Milenio reported. All three are being investigated by the Special Prosecutor for Electoral Crimes (Fiscalía Especializada para la atención de Delitos Electorales – FEPADE),according to Excelsior.

Cabeza de Vaca is facing his own accusations of organized crime links and of using these allies to pressure rival politicians — allegations that his party has denied. Despite those allegations and the fact that Tamaulipas has been a PRI stronghold, the PAN candidate is reportedly favored to win the governor’s seat in June.

The PRI candidate for governor of Tamaulipas has also been a controversial choice. Baltazar Hinojosa Ochoa has been accused of receiving money from the Gulf Cartel while running for mayor of Matamoros in 2002, in exchange for allowing the cartel to pick his chief of police.

Tamaulipas is not the only state where campaigns have been tainted by corruption allegations. Carlos Joaquín González, a candidate for governor in the southern border state Quintana Roo, was recently accused of ties to organized criminal groups.

Whether the current turmoil in Tamaulipas is a political smear campaign or real criminal ties, the involvement of organized crime in local-level politics is a very real concern. There are many examples in Latin America that illustrate the trend, and a number of reasons organized crime goes to the effort to corrupt the lower rungs on the political ladder.

One of the most important attractions of corrupting local government is that it affords criminal groups a measure of territorial control.

Dominating areas without the collusion of local authorities can require high levels of violence or sticking to ungoverned spaces where state forces are irrelevant. This is especially true for trafficking organizations, which can more easily carve out drug corridors if local authorities are on board.

Establishing corridors where government officials and authorities turn a blind eye to criminal movements is particularly important in border states such as Quintana Roo and Tamaulipas, where easier access to foreign soil and markets facilitates drug and human trafficking.

The El Salvador-based Texis Cartel has for years relied on high-level corruption rather than violence to ensure the safe passage of illegal drugs through Central America. Its influence over police chiefs, congressmen and other officials has made the cartel — and its alleged leader, Jose Adan Salazar Umaña, alias “Chepe Diablo” — famously immune to prosecution.

Corrupting the mayor of an area essentially means exerting control over local police. There are countless examples of municipal security forces working for criminal gangs by providing intelligence, protection, or muscle.

One notorious example is that of police officers in the Mexican municipality of Igualá who were found complicit in the disappearance of 43 students in 2014. They were accused of handing the victims over to the drug trafficking gang Guerreros Unidos, a group allegedly led by the mayor of Igualá and his wife.

In another Mexico case, local police agents were arrested in January 2016 and charged with kidnapping five youths and handing them over to a criminal organization in Veracruz state.

In Peru, recently arrested drug boss Gerson Gálvez Calle, alias “Caracol,” reportedly had at least 21 police agents on his payroll. These carried out operations against Gálvez’s rivals and planted evidence to frame them.

As Alejandro Hope points out in his own analysis of local corruption, even the poorest municipalities handle tens of thousands of dollars in government funds each year.

Diverting this money into criminal coffers through extortion or control over the municipal budget can be a comfortable source of income for local crime groups. In Colombia this is all too common, and guerrilla organizations are known to charge a percentage on state contracts in some regions.

In April 2016, a former governor of Arauca was sentenced to nine years in prison for allegedly granting a guerrilla group state contracts.

Political validation can be invaluable in maximizing criminal groups’ power. Representative examples can be found in Colombia and El Salvador. The now-defunct Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia – AUC) had a phenomenal amount of support from local and state politicians of all ranks, largely due to their mutual opposition to guerrilla groups.

This paramilitary umbrella organization had so much political influence that often local politicians would approach the AUC for support, rather than vice versa. Reports emerged of the AUC making pacts with thousands of politicians, and over 100 members of Congress have been investigated in what is popularly known as the “Parapolitics” scandal. The AUC‘s power eventually helped them negotiate an advantageous peace deal with the national government.

Corrupting local politicians can bring even bigger payoffs as they move up the ladder. Some mayors go on to be governors and congressmen, corrupting a small-time politician today could mean controlling high-ranking government positions tomorrow.

This may be one of the reasons Latin America is seeing criminal groups have their own members run for local office. Numerous crooked mayors across the region have recently been arrested for being leaders of criminal organizations.

Once a criminal organization has corrupted a local government, it is easier for it to expand its territory. This so-called “oil drop effect” sees groups consolidate control and subsequently “bleed out,” spreading their power and influence to the surrounding area.

Written by Mimi Yagoub, this article appeared originally in Insight Crime and has been republished with permission. See original version here.


Deadly Clashes in Mexican Prison

Posted on in Mexico title_rule

Just before midnight on February 10th riots broke out between two groups of inmates at Topo Chico prison, on the outskirts of Mexico’s industrial powerhouse Monterrey, in the state of Nuevo León. The violent clashes left 49 dead, and 12 injured. On February 11th family members of inmates protested outside the prison, denouncing the lack of official communication on the welfare of those inside the prison, and the authorities’ slow and uncoordinated response to the deadliest prison riots in recent years.

The clashes were reportedly started by inmates identified as rival factions of Los Zetas. Los Zetas has been engaged in a bloody turf war with the Gulf Cartel since 2010, as well as internecine conflicts within its own factions since the capture of Miguel Angel Treviño Morales (Z-40) in July 2013. The group, that was born out of ex-special forces who deserted the Mexican army and joined the Gulf Cartel in the 1990s, has contributed significantly to high levels of violent crime across the North-East of Mexico since 2010, when it split from the Gulf Cartel.

While the Governor of Nuevo Leon – Jaime Rodriguez “El Bronco” the maverick independent candidate who won the governorship in June 2015 – was quick to confirm that no inmates had escaped during the clashes, he is now facing challenging questions on the state’s failing prison and the authorities’ inability to maintain control against violent groups operating within state facilities.

A report by the National Human Rights Commission in 2014 found Topo Chico to be severely overcrowded, housing more than 4,600 inmates in an area with a maximum capacity of 3,635. Over-crowding and a severe lack of trained prison guards have seen conditions deteriorate in prisons across Nuevo León in recent years, with inmates imposing their own self-rule through violence. Such conditions have facilitated the rise of organised crime groups to continue their turf wars inside state prisons, with the authorities woefully ill-equipped to maintain control.

Mexico’s troubled penitentiary systems have come under the global spotlight in the last year following the sensational escape of the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, “El Chapo”, from a high-security prison by way of a complex set of underground tunnels in July 2015. These latest riots are another embarrassment to the government as the world media focuses on Mexico ahead of Pope Francis’ five-day visit to the country (Feb 12-17). The Pope has raised uncomfortable issues for many authorities in Mexico as he plans to address the need to fight against systemic violence and corruption that plagues large swathes of the country.

The Pope’s visit includes stops in some of the areas that have been most affected by organised crime related violence, including the once embattled border city of Ciudad Juárez. Authorities in Chihuahua state are hoping to outline the marked improvements in the city’s security environment since its damning label of “world’s most dangerous city” in 2010. The Pope will visit the Cesero 3 prison in Juárez – once a hotbed of inter-cartel violence – and now a supposed “symbol” of a reformed and improved prison. However, the deadly riots at Topo Chico in the neighbouring state, are likely to put a dampener on attempts to showcase improvements in the state prison services amid the ongoing fight against organised crime groups.

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Mexican Authorities Reecapture Drug Lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman

Posted on in Mexico title_rule

The drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has been recaptured 6 months after his escape from a Mexican maximum security prison. On January 8, Mexican marines and federal police forces detained El Chapo during a raid in the city of Los Mochis, in the north-western state of Sinaloa. 6 gang members were arrested and another 5 were killed in the raid. A Mexican police spokesman said the US Drug Enforcement Administration and US Marshals helped in El Chapo’s arrest. El Chapo’s right-hand man was also captured in the raid. The Navy also reported that Orso Ivan Gastelum Cyz, a suspected gang leader, managed to escape. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said Guzman’s arrest was a “victory for the rule of law”.

According to Mexican authorities, an interview that actor Sean Penn conducted with Joaquin Guzman last year helped the government to catch El Chapo. Mexican marines and police officials became aware of the meetings between Sean Penn and Joaquin Guzman in October 2015 and monitored Penn’s movement, helping lead them to the area where Guzman was hiding. Guzman managed to escape, but the operation in the northern state of Durango was a major breakthrough in the hunt.

On July 11, Guzman escaped from Altiplano maximum-security prison through a tunnel. According to the national security commissioner, his escape route was more than 1.5 kilometres long and had ventilation and stairs. More than 12 prison guards and federal police officials were arrested on charges of helping Guzman escape.

Guzman’s July escape was his second; in 2001, El Chapo escaped from another prison in Jalisco state by hiding in a laundry basket after bribing prison officials. He had been serving a sentence of more than 20 years after being arrested in Guatemala in 1993.

Concerned that Joaquin Guzman could escape for a third time, Mexican authorities have increased the security measures at his prison. The floor of his cell has been reinforced and a guard has been placed on his door 24/7. The new adopted measures also include reducing the number of inmates, increasing the number of cameras and moving Guzman randomly to different cells of the prison.

On January 10 2016, the Mexican government formally started the extradition process to the United States of Joaquin Guzman. According to the Mexican attorney general’s office, Interpol served 2 extradition warrants in an attempt to have Guzman face US justice. El Chapo faces charges ranging from money laundering to drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder. He faces criminal proceedings in 7 US courts.

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Authorities Seize Over Two Metric Tons of Cocaine

Posted on in Mexico title_rule

Authorities in Colombia and Mexico have seized over two metric tons of cocaine disguised as printer toner. At Bogota’s El Dorado airport, police officers discovered the first batch of cocaine when a drug-sniffing Labrador detected traces of the narcotic concealed inside a shipment of forty eight boxes bound for an as yet unnamed company in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. After chemical analysis confirmed that the substance was in fact cocaine, Colombian police then notified their Mexican counterparts of the discovery, which led to the seizure of a second batch which had arrived at Mexico City Airport on a flight from Bogota some hours earlier.

“None of the operations resulted in arrests, but Colombian police and their Mexican counterparts have indications of the two caches’ owners: apparently the cargo would be received by member of the Sinaloa cartel and was sent by a drug trafficking networking rooted in Colombia’s Atlantic coast,” said the director of Colombian police, General Rodolfo Palomino in an official statement.

Referred to as “coca negra” or “black cocaine”, the practice of mixing cocaine base and/or cocaine hydrochloride with other substances in order to disguise its appearance and to make it undetectable to drug sniffing dogs has been used by Colombian drug smugglers since at least 1998. Once the substance has reached its destination, the drug is then extracted by passing it through a chemical solvent such as acetone.

According to the latest Colombia Coca Survey, which is produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in association with the Colombian Government, the cultivation and production of cocaine has increased exponentially over the previous year. In 2014, the net coca cultivation area alone had risen from 48,000 hectares to 69,000 hectares, an increase of 44 percent. This substantially increased production capacity and allowed Colombia to produce a staggering 442 metric tons of cocaine over the same period.

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Violence on the Rise in Mexico

Posted on in Mexico title_rule

A spate of violence has swept through the neighbouring Mexican states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas over the weekend (25 – 26 July), leaving at least twenty two people dead. Beginning on Saturday afternoon, law enforcement officers from Tamaulipas’ state police encountered a group of armed men while on patrol in the territory between Rio Bravo and Valle Hermoso. According to Mexican authorities, the armed men fired on the police officers in order to avoid being taken into custody. The police officers returned fire, killing nine men who have as yet to be identified. After the gunfight ended, nine long guns, a quantity of ammunition and two vehicles were recovered from the scene.

South of Tamaulipas, in the state of Veracruz, thirteen deaths were reported within a 36 hour period. The killings began on Saturday night, with an official from the Institute of Security and Social Services for State Workers (ISSSTE) gunned in his own home down by two men. The official’s wife, who was present at the time of the attack, is also reported to have sustained serious injuries. Later that night, on a highway in Veracruz’s Yanga municipality, the bodies of three suspected human traffickers were found in the boot of a taxi parked by the roadside. Eyewitnesses have reported that a group of unknown assailants opened fire on the three men, having first allowed the driver to go free.

On Sunday, six bodies, all male and all showing signs of torture, were found in Xalapa, Veraruz’s capital. Another corpse was found on a road in Tlacolulan, a municipality 17 kilometres to the north of Xalapa. While rival criminal syndicates, Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, are known to operate in Tamaulipas and Veracruz, it has not yet been established whether either of these groups played any part in the killings.

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