Round-up of recent developments in Mexico’s Drug War

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Round-up of recent developments in Mexico’s Drug War
Jul 142011

Drugs smugglers are getting more and more creative in trying to circumvent drug trafficking and money laundering regulations either side of the Mexico-USA border. Flows of drugs northwards are counterbalanced by flows of cash southwards, since drug shipments have to be paid for somehow. What a shame that drug traffickers’ incredible ingenuity is not channeled into more legitimate and socially-responsible activities.

In March, one 33-year-old woman from Monterrey, Mexico, traveling back home from the USA, was apprehended aboard a trans-border bus with two teddy bears, each with their own pillow. How much cash can you stuff into two teddy bears? Well, if you add a couple of pillows into the mix, the answer is at least $277,556, since that is the total amount confiscated from Jeanette Barraza-Galindo. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 8; she faces up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Just how can drug cartel leaders protect themselves and their assets, given the constant disputes between cartels and in-fighting within the cartels? Mexico’s luxury vehicle production has been doing suspiciously well for years; production of specialist armor-plated vehicles has been rising so rapidly that legitimate manufacturers are struggling to keep pace with demand. Drug capos consider armor-plated vehicles a necessity. So it perhaps not surprising that one cartel started its own production line. In June, the Mexican Army seized a factory in Camargo, Tamaulipas, that turned out armored vehicles for the Zetas, one of the most violent of Mexico’s drug gangs. In the process, it confiscated 28 vehicles, including four that were “ready to roll”, as well as numerous weapons.

What happens to the remains of drug lords killed in the war on drug cartels? Some of them end up occupying cemeteries that, for some future generation, will probably be viewed as macabre tourist attractions.

Perhaps the most extreme example is the Jardines de Humaya cemetery in Culiacán, Sinaloa, which has some of the most impressive funereal monuments in all of Mexico, up to and including mausoleums with stained glass, telephone lines and oriental rugs.

Where do all the guns come from? According to Jesús Enrique “El Mamito” Rejón, the answer is the USA. Rejón is a Zeta drugs gang boss, recently captured and interrogated by Mexican federal agents.

In the interview, Rejón says he deserted the Mexican Army in 1999 to join the Zetas. The Zetas have since become a multinational organization,purchasing drugs,  according to Rejón, through accountants who buy them from Guatemala and then transporting them across Mexico and into the USA. He says all the Zetas’ weapons have been purchased in the USA, and then smuggled into Mexico by a variety of routes, including walking across the international bridges connecting the two countries. Rejón claims that the Gulf Cartel gets its weapons more easily than the Zetas, suggesting that their leaders must have made a deal, perhaps with border officials. One of the many individuals apprehended at the border in recent months by police and customs agents was, US authorities allege, supplying an order from the Gulf Cartel which included 200 AK-47 assault rifles.

Protest march against drug violence (Mexico City, May 2011)

Protest march against drug violence (Mexico City, May 2011)

Finally, there is some good news. As has been reported elsewhere —Mexico winning cartel war—Mexico does appear to be making progress against the cartels. Numerous cartel leaders have been arrested or killed. This has led to renewed clashes between cartels as some seek to exploit perceived weaknesses in their rivals. Some splinter groups appear to be leaderless; their rank and file have lost their previous sources of income and so are now engaging in more localized acts of petty crime. Unfortunately, these are investigated by poorly equipped state or municipal police forces, rather than their much better-equipped federal counterparts.

As elections loom, there are renewed calls for an end to the violence, which has cost more than 35,000 lives since 2007. Protest marches have been held in many major cities, including one that generated a massive turn out in Mexico City in May (see photo).

Last month, a “caravan of peace” comprised of more than 14 buses and 30 cars began a journey which will take it through some of Mexico’s most troubled regions, including Ciudad Juárez.

Here’s hoping that things soon begin to improve and that we will not need to compile many more updates to Mexico’s war against the drug cartels.

Previous posts about the geography of drug trafficking and drug cartels in Mexico:

Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discusses drug trafficking, and efforts to control it, in several chapters. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

Wildlife trafficking in Mexico: how many wild parrots are illegally captured each year?

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Wildlife trafficking in Mexico: how many wild parrots are illegally captured each year?
Jun 142011

In this post we return to The thorny issues of plant and animal trafficking and biopiracy in Mexico. We highlight several recent news items related to wildlife trafficking, as well as an important survey of the illegal parrot trade in Mexico.

Mexican police launched dozens of raids on stores and markets in March 2010, looking for illegally-traded plants and animals. They collected more than 4500 live specimens, representing more than 110 different species, ranging from cacti and orchids to tropical fish, parrots, reptiles and puma cubs. The mortality rate while transporting illegally-traded animals is more than 90%, according to wildlife experts.

The following month, Mexican federal police rescued 10 tigers and jaguars held captive in Cancún as a tourist attraction, while in June 2010, police at Mexico City’s international airport arrested a Mexican traveler who arrived from Peru with 18 tiny endangered monkeys strapped around his waist. Anyone convicted in Mexico of the illegal trafficking of animals can be sentenced to up to nine years in prison.

The scale of Mexico’s animal-trafficking problem is staggering. For example, according to the Defenders of Wildlife Mexico Program, “It is estimated that between 65,000 to 78,500 parrots are caught illegally every year.” (“The Illegal Parrot Trade in Mexico: A Comprehensive Assessment“)

The states with the worst records for numbers of parrots taken in the wild are Oaxaca and Chiapas (15,000 parrots a year each), Nayarit (12,500), Campeche (10,000) and Guerrero (5,000). Most of these parrots are thought to stay in Mexico, though up to 9,000 a year taken across the border into the USA.

Thick-billed Parrot in captivity

Thick-billed Parrot in captivity

Most of the trafficking in wildlife is carried out by organized international crime networks. Mexico is a major hub for the international trade in wildlife, both because of its rich biodiversity, and because of its proximity to the USA, one of the world’s largest markets for exotic plants and animals. The global trade in illegal wildlife is thought by Interpol to be worth $20 billion a year.

Related posts:

Chapter 5 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico focuses on ecosystems and biodiversity.  Chapter 30 analyzes environmental issues and trends including the impact of Old World species imported by the Spaniards, current environmental threats, and efforts to protect the environment.  Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!

An in-depth analysis of drug violence in Mexico from the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute

 Books and resources  Comments Off on An in-depth analysis of drug violence in Mexico from the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute
Mar 222011

The Trans-Border Institute (TBI) at the University of San Diego has published a very informative analysis of drug violence in Mexico which goes into far more depth than our short blog posts. The report is part of the TBI’s Justice in Mexico initiative, which is focused on crime, policing and the legal system in Mexico. The Justice in Mexico website provides public access to several books and working papers, databases and specially-drawn maps, produced by the project’s researchers.

Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2010, authored by Viridiana Ríos and David Shirk, takes a close look at both the patterns and trends relating to drug violence. The full text of the 21-page report (as a pdf file) is available here.

The report includes numerous maps showing the pattern by municipality for several successive years; when seen in sequence, the shifting focus of drug violence is clearly apparent. A large number of additional maps showing state-level values can be accessed from the Resources on Drug Violence page. These maps use total values for each state, whereas most of the maps and statistics we have included in previous posts (here, here and here) use rates/100,000 people.

Ríos and Shirk balance the bad news about the increase in drug violence in Mexico with their assessment that Mexico’s war against the drug cartels is beginning to show some signs of (limited) success. They point, for example, to the gaps created in the leadership structures of several cartels, due to the capture or killing of high-profile traffickers such as Teodoro “El Teo” García Simental, Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez and Nazario “El Chayo” Moreno.

The TBI report on drug violence includes a brief discussion of some of the  methodological issues connected to alternative and overlapping definitions, and to the various alternative sources of data. In particular, they consider the relative merits of official government figures and those compiled by Reforma, a national daily. Ríos and Shirk acknowledge that the recent provision of more comprehensive statistics by Mexico’s federal authorities represents a major improvement as regards transparency. Interestingly, the figures released by the government in January 2011 are far higher than those compiled by Reforma.

The TBI investigators are not alone in puzzling over the quality of the data for drug-related violence. A recent Spanish-language article elsewhere, by José Merino, compared the number of drug-war deaths recorded in the government figures to the total number of homicides (drug-related or not) in a database managed by INEGI, the National Statistics Institute, based on death certificates in each municipality. Merino identified 105 municipalities (out of 2,456 nationwide) where the total number of drug-related homicides appeared to be higher than the total number of all homicides. The most extreme case in Moreno’s comparison was the discrepancy of 199 homicides in the case of Culiacán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa. The INEGI database showed 1,104 homicides in total, while the federal government figure, for drug-related homicides only, was 1,303.

Homicide rates are declining in many Mexican states

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Homicide rates are declining in many Mexican states
Sep 252010

Data from the Mexican National Public Security System (SNSP) indicate that Mexico’s homicide rate has declined by 23% from 37 (homicides per 100,000 population) in 1997 to 29 in 2009. It declined in 20 of Mexico’s 32 states.

The states with the homicide rates below 20 and their change since 1997 are shown below. All of the states listed except two experienced impressive declines since 1997. The two exceptions, Yucatán and Nuevo León, had the lowest homicide rates in the country in 1997. The homicide rates in the majority of these states even declined from 2007 to 2009 when the national homicide rate increased by 20%.

StateHomicide rate per 100,000 population, 2009Change, 1997-2009 (%)
Baja California Sur14–59
Nuevo León16+79
Federal District16–25
Querétaro17 –57
San Luis Potosí19–11

Most of these states are not heavily affected by Mexico’s drug war violence. While these states have low homicide rates for Mexico, they are not particularly low from an international perspective.  They are about two times the rate in the USA, but about one quarter of those in Colombia.

Believe it or not, homicide rates in Mexico have actually declined since 1997

 Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Believe it or not, homicide rates in Mexico have actually declined since 1997
Sep 202010

All the recent media attention to drug war violence suggests that homicide rates in Mexico are increasing rapidly. This is undoubtedly true, but only in certain areas. The available data from the Mexican National Public Security System (SNSP) does not uniformly support the contention that homicide rates are on the rise.

SNSP data show that Mexico’s homicide rate has declined by 23% since 1997. It declined for 20 of Mexico’s 32 states.  According to SNSP, the national homicide rate of 37 per 100,000 population declined by 36% to 24 in 2007, before edging up 20% to 29 in 2009, the most recent year for which data available. However, since 2007 the homicide rate has declined in nine states. Clearly, there are enormous differences in homicide rates among Mexico’s states. A future blog will focus on states with low and declining homicide rates.

The increases in some states since 2007 may well be related to drug war violence. The estimated 28,000 drug war deaths reported in the media is significant compared to the 111,000 homicides in Mexico for the four year period 2006–2009.

The states with homicide rates above 40 in 2009 and which have increased since 2006 are shown in the table. Undoubtedly, drug war violence is an important factor in many of these states, particularly Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Michoacán.

StateHomicide rate per 100,000 population, 2009Increase, 2006–2009 (%)
Quintana Roo52124

International comparisons are difficult due to differences in definitions and in data collection methods. For example, the fatal shooting of an intruder, death committed in self-defense, or death caused by  a drunk driver may count as a homicide in some countries and not in others. In rough terms, data appear to show that homicide rates in Mexico are about four times those in the USA, but less than half of the rates in Colombia or South Africa.

Narco-related killings in Mexico, 2006-2010

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Narco-related killings in Mexico, 2006-2010
Jul 162010

The alarming situation in Mexico with regard to drug-related violence has led the Wall Street Journal to prepare an interesting interactive graphic.

The graphic shows narco-related killings from 2006 to 2010. The slider allows you to see the pattern for each year. Hovering over the proportional circles used to represent the deaths in each state brings up the exact number.

While drug-related violence is not new, it is clearly intensifying and now affecting areas of the country where it was traditionally very rare.

Chapter 20 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico includes a brief section about the geography of drug trafficking. It focuses mainly on the spatial changes in supply systems. Buy your copy today, so you have this handy reference guide to all aspects of Mexico’s geography available whenever you need it.