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Inside Mexico’s Drug Wars

Duarte, meanwhile, resigned from office and has since gone into hiding. However, Veracruz, rich in natural resources and agricultural production but marked by great inequality, has gone from bad to worse in this transitional period. No end is in sight for violent disputes over trafficking routes and other criminal markets between more crime groups than ever. Homicides more than doubled from to In addition, more than ten cells have splintered off from Los Zetas since 2o10, while foreign criminal groups from Colombia and Central America are also present. In April , a new group called Jarochos Unidos appeared.

No thorough investigation on the true sum embezzled under Duarte has been conducted. Hide Footnote Demonstrations, walk-outs and street blockades threatened to paralyse public life in late , and appear set to continue. The political transition in the state represents an imperfect opportunity to sever the links between public authorities and crime.

Mexico has transformed into a multiparty democracy since the s, but robust checks and balances have never been implemented. In states such as Veracruz, authoritarian and corrupt power practices morphed into opportunistic, profit-seeking enterprises. Celebrated as a textbook example of gradual and peaceful transition from authoritarian to democratic rule, Mexico began the new millennium with the election of its first president from an opposition party in 81 years. Hide Footnote Deeply rooted practices and networks of corruption and impunity allow unprincipled officeholders to turn public service into an entrepreneurial activity, and degrade justice to a traded commodity.

Crisis Group interview, Veracruz, December The interviewee said that, according to internal Congress calculations, only 14 per cent of federal tax contributions are spent effectively, with 86 per cent lost to administrative costs and corruption. Corruption accounts for 35 per cent. These remarks point to the frequent misuse of both federal and state public office in Mexico, and to the overall impunity that permits it. Hide Footnote In some high-profile cases, such as the alleged participation of federal armed forces in the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teaching college in , the PGR has been accused of fabricating false evidence.

Other national and supranational bodies have documented the regularity with which PGR officials obstruct justice and commit human rights abuses such as torture, and have highlighted political intervention in PGR work. Hide Footnote A lack of proper training and professional capacity aggravates failures in due process, as does the reluctance of the understaffed institution to take control of federal jurisdiction cases.

Family members of disappeared persons and an ex-FGE case officer reported efforts by the PGR not to take control of cases of disappearances in Veracruz by ignoring the probable involvement of organised crime groups. But the body lacks proper prosecutorial powers and, until now, not a single complaint has resulted in a conviction. Past reforms have shown that new institutional or legal designs do not automatically translate into changes in practice. The failure of decades-long attempts to create law-abiding and effective police forces, whether through improved professional training or by shielding junior officers against abuse from senior staff, is one example.

Its highest body, the Governing Board Junta de Gobierno , is a coordination mechanism that brings together a range of state actors. But violence reached unprecedented levels, peaking in and again in and claiming at least 65, lives from to Others reckon , deaths in the same period. Hide Footnote Organised crime groups splintered, colonised new territory and directly turned on civilian populations for income, not least through extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom.

Hide Footnote Recent studies highlight a correlation between the militarisation of public security and a spike in human rights abuses by police and armed forces. Hide Footnote Under the single-party rule, informal networks allowed for the exchange of financial and political favours and benefits, lending cohesion to a complex patchwork of national and subnational power-holders. When informal systems of command-and-control weakened and fragmented, particularly after , highly competitive and increasingly violent criminal organisations emerged.

They took advantage of growing revenues, above all from drug trafficking, and greater firepower to corral parts of the Mexican state into collaboration, or to transform them into de facto criminal partners, notably via investments in political campaigns. On one hand, the provision of public security, which fell under municipal jurisdiction until , became increasingly concentrated at the federal level.

Hide Footnote Above all in opposition-governed states, this happened without coordination with or approval from local or regional authorities, leaving these vulnerable to criminal influence once federal forces, limited in numbers and capacity, moved on to other hotspots. This militarisation of public security concentrated resources at the federal level, and sidelined investments into and reform of local and regional security forces.

Lacking equipment and training, many local and state authorities regarded confronting organised crime groups as impossible and outside their mandate. Hide Footnote Yet state governors were afforded a privileged position under this security strategy since the federal government depended on their support to generate results. Hide Footnote They could call for more federal resources, volunteer their partnership to the central state, and blame the federal government for any setbacks.


In Tamaulipas, the Mexican army and navy took over public security in The breakdown of old informal control mechanisms exercised by the PRI led to increased handovers of political power and greater diversity in municipal, state and federal offices. But it has in many cases failed to improve governance.

Decentralisation, championed as the way to bring genuine local participation to the federal system, has afforded governors unprecedented access to federal funds. Hide Footnote In alone, five governors from other states were accused of similar profit-making schemes, while from to , 71 cases were recorded. Hide Footnote In some states in which governors could count on compliant legislatures, public debt has grown exponentially. From to , it increased more than fivefold in Tamaulipas, more than fourfold in Chihuahua, and more than twofold in Veracruz, all of which are among the states most affected by criminal violence.

The leaders of these social organisations traded their power to quell or rouse their members for electoral or other political purposes in exchange for influence and financial gain. Hide Footnote In states such as Veracruz, where the PRI enjoyed uninterrupted control for over eight decades, these traditional structures and practices largely remained intact.

The son of the leader of Villages in Veracruz, arrested 27 January , has denounced a political witch hunt led by Governor Yunes. As vertical and centralised structures for conflict mediation broke up in the move to multiparty democracy, the locus of bargaining power shifted to the state level, with each demand for finance or support from a social organisation considered on a case-by-case basis.

This raised the costs of containing discontent or potential unrest, and caused local political authorities to seek out more discretionary resources.

Over the past twelve years, Veracruz has embodied the combination of a flawed democratic transition and the rising power of organised crime. This process reinforced existing authoritarian enclaves, in which public, private and criminal interests seamlessly combined and devoted themselves to looting public resources and preying on civilians.

A generalised climate of fear and the violent suppression of basic rights blocked any form of criticism or dissent. Hide Footnote The fact that these contracts were signed off by an array of high-level public officials points to the extent of collusion and the weakness of oversight mechanisms. A few days later, he was reported to have gone into hiding. Profiting from public contracts via shell c0mpanies is just one of the various forms of fraud involving public institutions and the contracting of private firms by the state government alleged by ORFIS.

Other alleged acts of wrongdoing aimed at milking state resources include the following:. Organised criminal activity is no new phenomenon in Veracruz. The state was known formerly as a transhipment corridor, used largely by groups such as the Gulf Cartel. The shift toward organised criminal activity with far more pernicious effects on local populations has been traced back to the electoral success of Fidel Herrera from the PRI. Herrera has denied all allegations of wrongdoing from his time as governor. He resigned in January after being accused by Veracruz authorities of participation in a scheme which delivered counterfeit chemotherapy treatment to cancer patients in the state.

No arrest warrant has yet been issued against him. Many locals collaborated with Los Zetas for a chunk of wealth and power, enabling it to become the dominant force in a variety of illicit activities such as drug sales, auto theft, kidnapping and extortion of migrants, counterfeiting, oil siphoning, human trafficking, kidnapping, and extortion of businesses.

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Simultaneously, it pushed deep into the licit economy, setting up money laundering structures and forcibly taking over businesses and real estate. The diversification of income, and the violence used to consolidate this empire, is common to a number of Mexican criminal organisations, and was taken up in Veracruz by competing groups or offshoots from Los Zetas when it lost its dominance in the state after Media reports have pointed to the alleged presence of certain individuals in both criminal organisations and local police forces, either simultaneously or in quick succession.

Academic observers and local journalists said the dissolution of the force was intended to concentrate control within the local Secretariat of Public Security SSP , and to employ police for other criminal interests. The reality of criminal power was made apparent to freshly redeployed police officers. The superior then ordered the prosecutor to destroy any related paperwork, he said. According to many accounts, including by a former police officer, the former FGE case officer mentioned in the previous paragraph and local journalists, from onwards the SSP became an authoritarian-criminal enclave that served as a means to curb free speech, as a criminal structure in its own right and as a key mechanism to facilitate and shield organised criminal activity, including by generating judicial impunity.

A former police officer said that, shortly after taking command of operations in the centre of a major Veracruz city, he was handed envelopes by organised crime members on several occasions. His determination to make official reports of these incidents, he said, was met with pressure from superiors, threats against himself and his wife, and violence from organised crime members.

He resigned, and the convoy he was supposed to travel in the next day was ambushed, leading to the death of three of his peers. Out of his police academy cohort of 40, he said, 10 are still alive today to his knowledge. Crisis Group interviews, October There is no reliable data on police fatalities. Local journalists who have tracked specific cases said deaths of former police officers were common. Crisis Group interviews, Veracruz, November, December Rooms to torture police officers in were in various locations, he said.

Through coercion from superiors and organised crime groups, as well as payoffs offered to officers, the resources of the State Police were refitted to serve criminal purposes. Hide Footnote One way was to adopt a passive response to crime. Active participation in criminal operations, including kidnappings-for-ransom and forced disappearances, formed another part of police operations.

Crisis Group interview, Veracruz, November Hide Footnote This group was provided with cloned patrol cars, distributed throughout the state and used to lure victims in. Police also gathered intelligence about federal activities.

Officers were instructed to immediately report sightings of federal forces to the State Police Command Centre even when they were off-duty, according to the former officer. Each time a sighting was reported, a patrol car followed federal forces. Hide Footnote But relations soon soured between the two as Duarte strove for independence. This increased coordination led to the arrest of a number of high-ranking Zetas members. As a result, the group splintered into smaller cells, which not only competed with one another, but also acted even more aggressively against civilians within their tightly circumscribed areas of territorial influence.

Crisis Group interview, Mexico City, 11 November In this context, more criminal groups pushed into Veracruz. Hide Footnote The resulting competition for markets and territories generated a spike in reported homicide rates and forced disappearances from onwards. Hide Footnote The state government either sought to deny the magnitude of the problem, or resorted to explanations based on the perceived competition and fighting between rival criminal groups, as well as the assertion that victims must have had some involvement in illicit activities.

Hide Footnote These official versions of events obscured both the complexity of the violence, in which multiple groups of perpetrators were acting according to various logics, and the evidence that the victims of many murders and disappearances were innocent civilians. All had been hired to be present at parties attended, they had told family members and friends, by high-ranking politicians and members of Los Zetas cartel. This case is symptomatic of various strategic uses of murder in Veracruz. For each item, more than one case has been documented. Official statistics on homicides and disappearances have tended to underestimate the real totals.

Hide Footnote It was made clear that his refusal to do so would lead to his dismissal. Hide Footnote The aforementioned FGE case officer stated that he alone received 1, criminal complaints from to concerning disappearances. Hide Footnote But the true dimension of killing and disappearances in Veracruz is slowly coming to light through the persistence of civil society.

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While most of them have yet to be excavated, an activist estimated that in the 10 per cent of the hectare site explored until now, they expect to find a total of to bodies. The identification process has been slow because most of the corpses were cut into pieces. In one, 17, human fragments were found; in the other, 11, Hide Footnote Gamboa Torales of the Veracruz Truth Commission estimated the total number of disappeared in the state under Herrera and Duarte to be at least 5, The latter figure rivals the official nationwide number of 27, disappearances provided in February Denial of these crimes, and of justice for victims, was part and parcel of the self-protection the Veracruz state and its criminal associates guaranteed themselves between and Together with capacity constraints due to the lack of qualified staff, limited training and poor working conditions, as well as a shortfall in financial resources, a variety of methods were used to produce conditions of almost total impunity.

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According to the case officer cited above, the FGE was criminally infiltrated to a degree comparable to that of the SSP, while similar control mechanisms were applied. Hide Footnote Under Duarte, seventeen journalists working in Veracruz were killed and five disappeared, compared to six and two, respectively, under his predecessor. Hide Footnote Local journalists and representatives of the NGO Article 19 see overt violence as the most visible side of a two-tier system of governmental control over the media, which combined co-option and bribery with coercion and violence.

This number does not include informal pay-offs, which local journalists said were common. Crisis Group interviews, Xalapa, October Crisis Group interview, October Hide Footnote These classified contracts, access to which has been denied to the public, are, in Mexico in general, handed to media firms in exchange for favourable reporting. La otra guerra secreta , op. The online media platform he ran was cyber-attacked, and State Police patrol cars were stationed in front of his home.

Crisis Group interview, Xalapa, 19 October Hide Footnote Espinosa himself had reportedly been subjected to a string of threats from and physical violence by state security officers. He refused pay-offs from municipal authorities, his son said.

Hide Footnote In conjunction with an estimated Recent searches Clear All. Update Location.

Inside Mexico’s Drug Wars | Modern Latin America

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