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 MexicoMay 27, 2016 in Mexico
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.
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.