May 192016
 

An unclassified DEA Intelligence Report from a year ago has just resurfaced on my desk. Entitled United States: Areas of Influence of Major Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations, it includes two particularly interesting maps.

The report states that “Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) pose the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them. These Mexican poly-drug organizations traffic heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States, using established transportation routes and distribution networks. They control drug trafficking across the Southwest Border and are moving to expand their share, particularly in the heroin and methamphetamine markets.”

As of May 2015, the DEA identified the following cartels that operate cells within the USA: the Sinaloa Cartel, Gulf Cartel, Juarez Cartel, Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios or LCT), Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO), Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion or CJNG), Los Zetas, and Las Moicas.

The maps reflect “data from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT) program to depict the areas of influence in the United States for major Mexican cartels.”

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

Figure 1 (click map to enlarge) shows the distribution of DEA Field Offices. The pie chart for each office shows “the percentage of cases attributed to specific Mexican cartels in an individual DEA office area of responsibility”.

“Since 2014, the Arellano-Felix Organization, LCT, and the Michoacán Family (La Familia Michoacán LFM) cartels have been severely disrupted, which subsequently led to the development of splinter groups, such as, “La Empresa Nueva” (New Business) and “Cartel Independiente de Michoacan” (Independent Cartel of Michoacan) representing the remnants of these organizations.”

Figure 2 (below) shows the dominant transnational criminal organization (TCO) in each domestic DEA Field Division, relative to other active TCOs in the same geographic territory. The map includes population density shading which “is intended to depict potential high density drug markets that TCOs will look to exploit through the street-level drug distribution activities of urban organized crime groups/street gangs.”

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

“The Sinaloa Cartel maintains the most significant presence in the United States. They are the dominant TCO along the West Coast, through the Midwest, and into the Northeast. While CJNG’s presence appears limited to the West Coast, it is a cartel of significant concern, as it is quickly becoming one of the most powerful organizations in Mexico, and DEA projects its presence to grow in the United States over the next year. In contrast, Mexican cartels such as the Gulf, Juarez, and Los Zetas hold more significant influence closer to the Southwest Border, but as shown on the map, their operational capacity decreases with distance from the border.”

Other, smaller, “splinter groups from the disrupted LCT organization continue to traffic drugs from the Michoacán, Mexico area into the United States. The BLO, former transportation experts for the Sinaloa Cartel, is most active along the East Coast and is also responsible for the majority of heroin in the DEA Denver area of responsibility. Las Moicas is a Michoacán-based organization with former LFM links, but remains a regional supplier in California and operate on a smaller scale relative to other major Mexican TCOs.”

Related posts:

 

Mar 282016
 

In 2014 there were 285 tortillerias in Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero, when the troubles with the drug cartels really started. Now only 185 remain open as a result of drug gangs attacking the tortilla shops and workers, kidnapping owners and forcing others out of business out of fear of the violence.

Chilpancingo, with a population of over 280,000, is situated in the mountains 105 km north-east of Acapulco. As elsewhere, the tortilla shops are concentrated in the poorer barrios where local criminal gangs also tend to be located. Tortillas are sold from small shops with a view to the street, or are delivered door-to-door by young men on motor cycles.

The drug cartels in Chilpancingo, such as Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos, realized that by controlling the business owners and the employees of tortillerias, they would have a wide-spread and well-placed network of drug distribution points, lookouts and street dealers, operating under the guise of these many small legitimate businesses.

tortilleria

The take-over began in 2014 with the kidnapping of shop owners and workers, often involving a week’s captivity in a secure house, and demands for ransom ranging from 30,000 pesos (US$2100), up to 2 million pesos (US$140,000 for owners of multiple tortillerias.) After release, the victims were forced to co-operate with the cartel’s drug distribution and look-out system, under threat of business closure. The leader of the Chilpancingo tortilla sellers, Abdon Abel Hernandez has been threatened numerous times, kidnapped once, and his family had to borrow a million pesos to secure his release. He says about 35% of the local tortilla industry has shut down since 2014 out of fear.

The regional president of Corpamex (Mexican Confederation of Business Owners) Adrian Alarcon says he also lives with the fear of death for trying to defend his threatened union membership. “Today the tortilla industry is kidnapped by them (criminal groups) just like what happened with public transport when they forced taxi drivers and bus drivers to become the hands and eyes of the narco. The industry is completely infiltrated. The money that comes from the tortillas is used to buy weapons. We are financing them”.

January 2016 march by owners of tortillerias asking for state government help

January 2016 march by owners of tortillerias asking for state government help

He also stated that 36 businessmen were kidnapped and tortured in the central region of Guerrero in the first two months of 2016, with most of the victims being associated with the tortilla industry. “It wasn’t a coincidence”, he said, “that a national survey named Chilpancingo as the country’s worst city to live in. Crime has put an end to everything: investments, jobs, and the desire to make a family here. But if you think the situation here is in a critical state, you should go to Acapulco. Here, the tortilleros are kidnapped, but there they are being killed.” According to Arcadio Castro, leader of the Tortilla Association of Guerrero, 20 tortilla workers lost their lives in 2015 in clashes with organized crime.

The previous chief of police of Acapulco was dismissed after he failed to pass control examinations, known as trust tests, designed to identify those with possible links to organized crime. His replacement expects some 700 of his current force of 1901 municipal police will also fail their next control exams. Given his current budget, he has no hope of renovating his police force with younger, healthier, law-abiding officers. The assault on the tortilla industry is generally not felt in the tourist areas of the city.

In 2010 UNESCO included the traditional Mexican cuisine of Michoacán in its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in large part based on the multiple uses and cultural centrality of corn in Mexican traditional cooking. This decision was very publicly celebrated by the tortilla industry. Unhappily, today, the tortillerias of Guerrero are struggling to survive the extortion rackets of the local drug cartels.

Main source:

Oscar Balderas. Drug Cartels Are Taking Over the Tortilla Business in Mexico. VICE News, , 16 March 2016; article re-published in Business Insider.

Related posts:

Mar 032016
 

To make it easy to search for specific topics on Geo-Mexico, we add an occasional index page as a starting point for the best links relating to particular key topics. Note that the entire site can easily be searched via our search function, categories (right hand navigation bar on every page) and tags (left-hand navigation bar).

The geography of Mexico’s drug trade: an index page

The Basics

Economics:

Drug War Violence and Crime

Drug Money

Other

Index pages on other topics:

Ground-breaking mapping of Mexico’s drug war

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Ground-breaking mapping of Mexico’s drug war
Jul 022015
 

During the 2006-2012 federal administration, it was possible to map the incidence of crime across the country, with data readily available at both the state and the municipal level. The current administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto has diverted press attention away from the drugs-related violence, arguing that press coverage only serves to give more publicity to the bad guys. Unfortunately, that decision means that it has now become next to impossible to get regularly updated data for, or be able to map, the patterns of criminal activity.

This is one of the inevitable caveats that limits the future application of the ground-breaking methods (using data from 2007 to 2011), developed by Jesús Espinal, a quantitative analyst at the National Institute of Genomic Medicine in Mexico City,and Hernán Larralde, statistical physicist at the National University (UNAM). Their work is described in “Mapping Mexico’s deadly drug war“, in Science magazine.

Mapping by Jesús Espinal Enríquez in Science magazine. Click to enlarge.

Mapping by Jesús Espinal Enríquez in Science magazine. Click to enlarge.

Essentially, they took official data for the location and date of all drug-related homicides in Mexico. They built a complex month-by-month network looking for temporal correlations in the homicide numbers between different cities. “If cities shared a death rate higher than 70 casualties per 100,000 inhabitants in a year and were less than 200 kilometers apart, Larralde and Espinal linked them together on their map to tease out broader geographical patterns.”

The results (summarized by the maps) are interesting. They show the rapid spatial spread of violence during the administration of Felipe Calderón as his government waged its war on drug cartels. The map for 2011 suggests that violence may have been finally becoming less widespread and becoming more focused on a relatively limited number of places.

Two major points are worth emphasizing. First (and as we have repeatedly pointed out in previous posts on this subject), the incidence of violent crime, including homicides, is certainly not similar across the entire country. Some states have much higher homicide rates than others; some municipalities have much higher rates than others. Some parts of the country, including several important tourist areas, have witnessed little or no drug-related violence.

Second, there is no evidence that the spread of violence between 2007 and 2011 occurred by continuous “contagious” diffusion (i.e. that it gradually spread from a single central point or a limited number of central points). The work of these authors supports the contention that the drugs-related activity in Mexico could, and did, increase simultaneously in cities far apart. This is only suggesting a coincidence in timing, and is certainly not proof of any causal connection. A small number of cities, such as Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco, Culiacán, Monterrey, Tampico and
Tijuana, appear as nodes in the network.

This approach may offer some help to policy makers as they consider alternative approaches to combating drugs-related violence, but, as the article makes clear, it does not necessarily mean that the best policy is to attack the cartels in the central hub cities. Aiming at the heart of a major cartel might reduce violence for a time, but could also lead to the formation of numerous smaller splinter groups with different ideals and methods. For example, after the leadership of the Gulf Cartel was dismantled in 2010, the cartel’s former enforcing arm, the Zetas took over, introducing a wave of more extreme violence.

Related posts:

May 182015
 

We have frequently commented on the importance of migration channels linking specific towns in Mexico to particular places in the USA.

quinonesIn his latest book, Dreamland: The True Tale of Americas Opiate Epidemic, journalist Sam Quinones, one of our favorite writers about Mexico, describes the fascinating details of how one particular migration channel – from the small, nondescript town of Xalisco in the western state of Nayarit, to the city of Denver – has fueled an innovative delivery network for black tar heroin, a network that now spreads its tentacles across much of the USA.

Quinones relates the work of narcotics officer Dennis Chavez, who joined the narcotics unit of the Denver Police Department, and was determined to understand the reasons behind the escalation of black tar heroin dealing. Chavez listened carefully to his informants and a key breakthrough came when one particular informant told Chavez that while “the dealers, the couriers with backpacks of heroin, the drivers with balloons of heroin”, all looked very random and scattered, they were not. They were all connected. “They’re all from a town called Xalisco.”

Indeed they were, and the system they had set up was enterprising, innovative, and designed to avoid undue attention.

Read an excerpt:

This excerpt from Dreamland: The True Tale of Americas Opiate Epidemic, published on Daily Beast, explains how “in the 1990s, innovative drug traffickers from Mexico figured out that white kids cared most about service and convenience.”

Sam Quinones’ latest book is a gripping account of many previously murky aspects of the U.S. drug scene. It should interest anyone who wants to understand the human stories behind drug trafficking, international migration and globalization. A must-read!

Related posts:

The abduction and presumed murder of 43 students in the state of Guerrero

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The abduction and presumed murder of 43 students in the state of Guerrero
Nov 182014
 

The disappearance several weeks ago, and presumed murder, of 43 students from a teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero has shocked the nation and sent shock-waves around the world. The isolated mountainous parts of the state of Guerrero have long been home to some of the worst violence and most severe poverty in Mexico. The students went missing in the town of Iguala on 26 September 2014.

We appreciate that many of our readers will already be well informed about recent events, but hope that the following summary, with its links to English-language sources, will be useful.

Mexico’s attorney general has announced that a drug cartel, operating in tandem with the mayor of Iguala and the mayor’s wife, had kidnapped and killed the students, before burning their bodies beyond recognition and dumping the remains in plastic bags in a river. According to some versions, local police were not only aware of the events, but complicit in them.

mexico-kidnapping-horizontal-gallerySoon after the disappearance of the students, several mass graves were located on the outskirts of Iguala, but none of the remains has yet been positively identified as belonging to any of the missing students. However, the remains did include the body of a Roman Catholic priest from Uganda, missing since May 2014. John Ssenyondo, who had been serving in the region since 2010, was allegedly abducted by armed men for refusing to baptize the daughter of a suspected narco.

Earlier this month, security experts searching the landfill site near the town of Cocula (where gang members allegedly killed and burned the students) found rubbish bags with human remains. The charred remains have been sent to a specialized laboratory in Innsbruck, Austria, for testing, but results will not be known for several weeks.

A judge in Guerrero has since charged the city’s former mayor, Jose Luis Abarca, with being the mastermind behind the students’ disappearance, and of responsibility for the murder of six people killed in clashes between the trainees, police and masked gunmen on the night of 26 September 2014. The government has detained more than 70 people in connection with the disappearance of the students. Maria de los Angeles Piñeda, the wife of the local mayor is alleged to be the head of the area’s major drug cartel. Abarca and his wife have both been arrested. The small town of Iguala, site of the murders, installed a new mayor, Luis Mazon, after the incumbent was arrested for ordering the massacre, but he resigned in disgust after only a few hours in office, to be replaced by Silviano Mendiola.

Bloody demonstrations are taking place across the country, threatening tourism and denting the carefully-crafted public relations image of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

In Chilpancingo, the state capital of Guerrero, 600 protestors set fire to cars, a congressional office and the city hall.

The tourist resort of Acapulco has also been the scene of demonstrations. For a short time protestors prevented flights from taking off from the city’s airport, and have also blocked highways. The hotel occupancy rates plummeted to 20% for a time, before beginning to rise again in recent days.

In Mexico City, protestors set fire to one of the wooden doors of the Presidential Palace on the zocalo, Mexico City’s main square. The president has an office in the building but was leading a trade mission to China at the time.

Speaking to Fox News Latino recently, a student leader from the Ayotzinapa school said that, “It’s a national movement that’s launching. People are really upset in Mexico. It’s a movement for all citizens that is sparking protests across the country. That’s what happening now. We’re sending caravans to Chihuahua, Zacatecas, all the states from north to south. It’s family members [of the victims] and student-teachers.” The students also accept fire-bombings as a valid form of political expression.

Reactions in the USA have been mixed. For example, see:

The finances of Mexico’s Knights Templar drugs cartel

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The finances of Mexico’s Knights Templar drugs cartel
Feb 272014
 

A series of press reports over the past six months has shed interesting light on the variety of ways in which the Knights Templar cartel raises funding and manages its finances. The Knights Templar stronghold is the city of Apatzingan in Michoacán, but the cartel now operates in several states, including Guerrero.

Raising money:

1. Citrus and avocado production and exports

In January 2013, Alberto Galindo, spokesman for the Plan de Ayala National Movement, one of the largest organizations of Mexican farmers, claimed in a press interview that Mexico’s avocado farmers “have data that prove that 225 million pesos [17 million dollars] is the amount extorted by the drug cartels in Michoacán” each year. Citrus growers are also subject to regular extortion by the Knights Templar. We reported on avocado “protection money” back in 2012, and on the plight of citrus farmers in 2011.

2. Iron ore mining and exports

The Knights Templar levy “passage fees” on every ton of iron ore leaving mines in Michoacán for the port of Lázaro Cárdenas. In addition, they are alleged to have confiscated shipments of iron ore and then exported it themselves. They are also alleged to have funded illegal mining operations where iron ore is mined without the requisite environmental permits.

In response, the Mexican government has tightened the regulations for iron ore exports, which now require exporters to demonstrate that all ore being shipped has been mined legally. The main market for Michoacán iron ore is China. It is no coincidence that ore exports to China have quadrupled in the past 5 years. The federal government also ordered the military to take over the administration of the port of Lázaro Cárdenas to put an end to corrupt practices and sever this major source of funding for the Knights Templar.

The discussion related to cartel financing via iron ore exports has implicated several transnational firms who are said to have paid the Knights Templar to allow iron ore shipments from their mines to the port. Michoacán supplies about 25% of all the iron ore mined in Mexico, and about 1 million ha (almost 20% of the state) have been given in concession to transnational mining firms such as Mittal Steel, Ternium (Italy-Argenina), Minera del Norte (a subsidiary of AHMSA) and Pacific Coast Minerals.

Claims, such as those reported here and here, that Minera del Norte paid the Knights Templar $2 dollars/ton to move 10,000 tons of iron ore a week from its four mines in the Tepacaltepec region, have been categorically denied recently by the company’s Communications and Public Relations Director, Francisco Orduña Mangiola. In an e-mail to Geo-Mexico, Orduña writes that his company “has never paid any amount of money to criminals”. He points out that, “On the contrary, it was precisely our Company that denounced the illegal operations of criminal groups in iron ore deposits owned by our company and other companies in the area, from which those groups extracted iron ore that was subsequently exported illegally to China. It was reported to federal, state and military authorities… and this action ultimately resulted in the confiscation of large amounts of illegal minerals in the ports of Lázaro Cardenas and Manzanillo. It is important to say that our company does not export iron ore, and that the lump iron ore extracted in mines located in the Pacific Coast is sent by railway directly to Monclova, Coahuila, and used as a raw material in our steel facilities.”

3. Port traffic and operations

A levy of up to 10% on goods passing through the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.

4. Miscellaneous money laundering activities

Purchase and sale of property, vehicles, cattle, textiles (imported from China and sold in Guanajuato after being relabelled with major brand names), truck tires, etc.

5. Extortion payments

Extortion payments received from truck drivers, gas stations, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, pharmacies, car lots, and even direct from municipalities (in exchange for “permitting” municipal works related to drainage, street lighting, paving). The rise of self defense groups was partially due to citizens’ outrage at the various extortion payments demanded by the Knights Templar.

6. Shipments and sales of drugs (as far away as California and Texas), many of them supplied via the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.

Summary of Knights Templar income from illegal activities [dollars a month]

  • drugs, weapons, kidnapping, pirated items, vehicle thefts, etc: $2.8 million
  • extortion rackets, $1 million
  • extortion of municipalities, $1.1 million
  • investments in real estate, vehicles, textiles, electronic items, etc., $1.3 million

The port of Lázaro Cárdenas was key to the Knights Templar financial plans, and effectively served as the cartel’s “gigantic central bank”, capable of supplying an endless stream of funds to the cartel. It remains to be seen how effectively the government decision to put the military in charge of administering the port will destroy the ability of the Knights Templar to raise funds to support their illegal activities.

Where does all this money go?

Part of it goes on bribing officials. According to an investigation published in Milenio, a national daily, the Knights Templar cartel is believed to spend $2 million a month in bribing officials in the state of Michoacán, and a further $400,000 a month in other states. The Milenio articles were based on an official intelligence report that their journalists were given access to for a few hours.

Sample payments made to officials range from up to $26,000 a month to a federal police commander in an important city to $19,000 a month to officials in the prosecutor’s office and $18,000 a month to a state police commander. Officials in smaller cities and local administrations are paid less.

Recipients of drug cartel money also include journalists, with some print journalists receiving $3,000 a month and payments of about $2000 a month to a TV executive.

Related posts (chronological order):

Mexico’s drug cartels and their areas of operation, a 2014 update

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico’s drug cartels and their areas of operation, a 2014 update
Feb 172014
 

As noted in previous updates on Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas (and methods) of operation, it is becoming ever harder to keep up-to-date with the geography of drug cartel territories. The current federal administration has deliberately limited the amount of hard data relating to drug violence published on government sites or in Mexico’s mainstream press. While this may help to reduce public unease at the levels of drug-related crime, it also means that it has become much harder to analyse the situation and determine overall patterns and trends.

The 2013 UN Global Report on Drugs estimates that Mexico is Latin America`s largest drugs producer, making 30 times more heroin than Colombia. The report also cites statistics showing that more methamphetamine are confiscated in Mexico than in the rest of the world combined.

Previous updates:

The main players  (February 2014) are:

  1. Los Zetas, operating in more than half of Mexico’s 32 states (more territory than their main rivals the Sinaloa Federation), and prone to extreme violence. They have branched out into human trafficking and extortion to support their drug smuggling operations. They control much of eastern Mexico. Even the capture of their top leader in 2013 does not appear to have significantly weakened their internal cohesion.
  2. Sinaloa Federation, which remains in control of most of western Mexico, and increasingly specializes in the production of methamphetamine. The cartel is led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, whose estimated personal net worth exceeds $1 billion dollars according to Forbes magazine. Guzmán escaped from a high secrutiy jail in 2003 but was recaptured in Mazatlán in February 2014.
  3. Gulf Cartel, still important along Mexico’s Gulf coast, but weakened due to infighting, captures of leaders, and conflicts with Los Zetas.
  4. Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios), started in 2010 by former members of The Michoacán Family (La Familia Michoacana), and which now controls much of the drug-related activity in Michoacán and Guerrero. They are in near-constant conflict with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (based in the neighboring state of Jalisco) which has resulted in continued violence along the Jalisco-Michoacán border.

Smaller, regional players:

  1. Tijuana Cartel, operating in the city of Tijuana on the Baja California/California border.
  2. Juárez Cartel, now largely limited to Cd. Juárez and the border with Texas. Mexican federal police say this group now calls itself the New Juárez Cartel (Nuevo Cartel de Juárez).
  3. Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación), based in the state of Jalisco and thought to operate as enforcers for the Sinaloa Federation
  4. Cartel del Pacífico Sur; weak, and competing with Zetas, mainly in the central Mexico state of Guerrero
  5. Independent Cartel of Acapulco, small and apparently declining in importance

Splinter groups (see below):

  1. Sangre Z
  2. Golfo Nueva Generación
  3. La Corona
Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico

Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico, 2012. Copyright Stratfor. Click map for enlarged version

Recent changes (2013-2014)

Early in 2013, Mexico’s National Security Cabinet revealed the emergence of several new drug trafficking organizations. The new groups–Sangre Z, Golfo Nueva Generación, and La Corona– are splinter groups from Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, and the Sinaloa Federation respectively. The new groups formed in response to the arrest of key operatives in the large cartels. These new groups are reported to be well equipped and well-armed, generating revenue through drug trafficking and by levying protection payments on other drug traffickers who pass through their turf on their way to the USA..

In 2013, the situation in the western state of Michoacán became particularly unstable with drug-related violence (shootouts, roadblocks and the torchings of vehicles) perpetrated by the Knights Templar in many parts of the state. The town of Apatzingan in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán is the main bastion of the Knights Templar organization. The increased violence resulted in the well-publicized rise of civilian “vigilante” militia groups (community self-defense groups), prepared to take on cartel members in direct combat in their efforts to reduce the incidence of extortion, kidnappings and other crimes. Self-defense groups sprang up in more than 30 municipalities in Michoacán including at least 15 of the state’s 113 cities. Places with self-defense groups included Buenavista Tomatlan, Coalcoman, Tepalcatepec, Los Reyes, Aquila, Paracho, Cheran, Tancitaro, Paracuaro and Nueva Italia.

For a good summary account of the struggle between the Knights Templar and the vigilantes, see Mexican Vigilantes Beat Back Ruthless Knights Templar Cartel by journalist Ioan Grillo. We will take a closer look at the Knights Templar in a future post.

In recent months, in the wake of drug gang attacks on gas stations and electricity facilities in Michoacán, the federal government has stepped up its attempts to resolve the security problems in the state. In some places, it has replaced city officials and local police forces en masse. In the important Pacific Coast port of Lázaro Cárdenas (a main port of entry for the chemicals used for methamphetamine production, and a main export port for minerals, one of the more lucrative sources of income for the Knights Templar), the federal government sent in the military to administer the port.

In their efforts to curb the rise of civilian militia groups, the federal and state governments have announced a scheme which allows militia members to register to join new, state-controlled Rural Protection Forces (RPF). As of early February 2014, about 500 “self-defense” members had already registered to join the RPF.

The federal government has also announced the creation of a 3.5-billion-dollar purse to support 250 specific actions in Michoacán designed to reactivate the state’s economy, reinforce security and aid its social assistance programs.

Related posts (chronological order):

The geography of Mexico’s drug trade: new cartels involved in turf wars

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The geography of Mexico’s drug trade: new cartels involved in turf wars
Feb 202013
 

As we suggested a year ago – Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas of operation, a 2012 update  – it is increasingly difficult to track the areas of operation of the major drug trafficking groups in Mexico. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control recently added a new narcotrafficking group in Mexico, the Meza Flores family, to its list of Foreign Narcotics Kingpins. (This designation prohibits people in the USA from engaging in transactions with the named individuals or their organization, and freezes any assets the individuals or organization may have under U.S. jurisdiction).

According to the Treasury Department’s statement, the Meza Flores family began operations in about 2000 and is responsible for the distribution of considerable quantities of methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine and marijuana in the USA. It is headed by Fausto Isidro Meza Flores (aka “Chapito Isidro”) and is based in the town of Guasave, in the state of Sinaloa. (Meza Flores was previously in the Juárez cartel before becoming a high ranking member of the now defunct Beltran Leyva cartel).

The Meza Flores group is a direct rival of the long-established and very powerful Sinaloa cartel. The Sinaloa cartel is headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, who has been on the run since escaping from the maximum security jail in Almoloya de Juárez, near Toluca, in 2001. According to Forbes Magazine, Guzman Loera is currently Mexico’s 10th richest individual, with assets of around one billion dollars.

Mexico’s “War on Drugs” in recent years has led to a fragmentation of the major cartels. Some experts claim that as many as 80 distinct groups are now involved in drug production and trafficking. Many of these groups are small and highly localized, but this fragmentation has increased the incidence of turf wars between rival groups. These turf wars have caused extreme levels of violence in some parts of the country. Once one side is firmly in control, the violence drops.

The current federal administration has said that some 70,000 people died in Mexico between 2006 and 2012 as a result of the activities of organized crime. Recent press reports such as Jalisco: La invasión de Los Templarios claim that one on-going boundary war is along the state boundary between Michoacán and Jalisco. This conflict is between the Michoacán-based Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios, LCT) and the Jalisco-based New Generation cartel (CJNG).

The LCT is comprised largely of former members of  La Familia Michoacana (LFM), a group which is now almost defunct. Other members of LFM joined the Zetas, the Sinaloa cartel’s arch enemy. The CJNG started out as enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel.

Violence linked to this particular turf war has occurred in numerous municipalities including Jilotlán de los Dolores, Pihuamo, Mazamitla, San José de Gracia, La Barca, Atotonilco, Ayotlán, Tizapán el Alto, Tuxcueca, Jocotepec and Chapala (all in Jalisco), as well as Briseñas, Yurécuaro, Sahuayo, Marcos Castellanos, La Piedad, Zamora, Cotija de La Paz, Tepalcatepec, Los Reyes, Peribán and Apatzingán (all in Michaocán).

This is not the only turf war currently underway in Mexico. For example, further north, another recent hot spot has erupted along the Durango-Coahuila border, especially in the La Laguna area centered on the city of Torreón.

Related posts:

Using Google to map areas influenced by drug cartel activity

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Using Google to map areas influenced by drug cartel activity
Nov 282012
 

The area of influence of each individual drug cartel in Mexico is far from fixed. As cartels fight each other (and government forces) to control their markets, the cartels’ areas of influence expand and contract. This inevitably means that conventional maps of drug cartel “territories” are only a snapshot, each valid only for a limited time. Territories change so rapidly that it is seemingly impossible to keep up.

Two Harvard graduate students have now shown how Google can be used to derive maps of cartel influence. In How and where do criminals operate? Using Google to track Mexican drug trafficking organizations, Viridiana Ríos and Michele Coscia use an algorithm called MOGO (Making Order Using Google As an Oracle) and show how Google data can be processed into maps and graphs.

The method is a much faster, and lower-cost alternative to the sophisticated intelligence and research techniques employed by private security consultants and research institutes.The new approach suggests that different drug groups operate in quite different ways.

Coscia & Ríos, Figure 8: Changing pattern of Juárez cartel

Coscia & Ríos, Figure 8: Changing pattern of Juárez cartel

The spatial patterns related to the activity of each cartel show distinctive peculiarities. For instance, the longer-established cartels, including the Juárez cartel (see graphic) and Sinaloa cartel, “have a tendency towards being not competitive, being most of the time the first to operate in a particular territory. They operate in a large number of municipalities but also have a high turn over.”

Coscia & Ríos, Figure 9: Changing pattern of Zetas

Coscia & Ríos, Figure 9: Changing pattern of Zetas

On the other hand, newer groups such as the Zetas  (see maps) are “Expansionary competitive”, being both highly competitive and very willing to explore new territories.”In other words, they not only try to invade others’ territories but also are the first to colonize new markets and to operate in areas where drug tracking organizations had never been present before.” By mid-2012, the Zetas operated in 324 municipalities. They were adding “an average of 38.87 new municipalities every year”. However, they also “abandon an average of 22 municipalities per year, lasting an average of only 2.86 years in each one of them.”

These findings appear to lend support to the view that, even in the worst-hit areas, the violence related to cartel activities does not last indefinitely. Indeed, the latest homicide figures from Ciudad Juárez and many other northern border areas show a significant improvement from a year or two ago. Hopefully, the new administration will continue to make progress in tackling the violence. According to press reports, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose six year term as President starts 1 December, will focus his public security policies on reducing Mexico’s homicide rate, as well as reducing the rates of kidnapping and extortion.

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Threats to the traditional Tarahumara way of life, part two

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Sep 132012
 

In the first part of this two-part article – Threats to the traditional Tarahumara way of life, part one – we looked at the threats to traditional Tarahumara life posed by alcohol, deforestation and the construction of new or improved roads in the Sierra Tarahumara (Copper Canyon) area.

In this part, we consider the impacts of drug cultivation, mining and tourism.

Drug cultivators and drug cartels

The incursion of drug cultivators seeking land for growing marijuana and opium poppies into the Canyon country has further marginalized the Tarahumara, sometimes labelled “Cimarones” (“Wild Ones”) by the newcomers. Drug cultivators have sometimes registered parcels of land as theirs and then ejected the Indians by force. Obviously, they choose the best available land, and their cultivation methods are designed to produce quick results, rather than sustainability.

Alvarado (1996) divides anti-drug policy into various time periods. First came an emphasis on catching those responsible, then came exhaustive efforts to eradicate the crops. Crop eradication has its own serious environmental downside, since it involves the widespread and indiscriminate use of aerially-applied herbicides, alleged to include Agent Orange, Napalm and Paraquat.

Alvarado’s study is an interesting analysis of the incredible, quickly-acquired wealth (and accompanying violence and corruption) that characterizes some settlements on the fringes of the Sierra Tarahumara. In some towns, for example, there are few visible means of economic support but the inhabitants are able to purchase far more late-model pick-ups than can their counterparts in major cities. Murder rates in these towns are up to seven times the Chihuahua state average. Violence even has a distinct, seasonal pattern, with peaks in May-June (planting time) and October-November (harvest time).

The levels of violence and injustice led Edwin Bustillos (winner of the 1996 Goldman Prize for Ecology) to change the focus of CASMAC, the NGO he directed, from environmental conservation to the protection of Tarahumara lives. In 1994, CASMAC was instrumental in stopping a 90-million-dollar World Bank road-building project that would have opened up still more of the Sierra Tarahumara to timber companies.

Mining

Besides deforestation and its resultant impacts, mining has had several other adverse effects on the Tarahumara and the local landscape. Mining activity has increased in the past decade as metal prices have been high and the federal government has encouraged foreign investment in the sector. Mining leads to a reduction in wildlife and to the contamination of water resources. The most damaging pollutants are heavy metals.

Tourism

Even tourism poses a potential threat. In the past decade, investments totaling 75 million dollars have been made to improve infrastructure (highways, runways, drainage systems, water treatment facilities, electricity) in the Copper Canyon region so that the area has the hotels, restaurants and recreational activities to handle six times the current number of visitors. The plan includes three remodeled train stations and a cable car that is already in operation. Sadly, the Tarahumara were not consulted. The plan essentially deprives them of some communal land with nothing being offered in exchange. Clearly, they are in danger of losing control over even more of their natural resources, especially since improved highways will benefit other groups such as drugs growers.

Anthrologist María Fernanda Paz, a researcher in socio-environmental conflicts at UNAM’s Regional Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, argues that these recent conflicts in the Copper Canyon region have stemmed from the federal government’s support for inflows of foreign capital, helped by modifications to the land ownership provisions enshrined in article 27 of the Constitution, changes made in 1992 during the administration of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. In her view, the developers behind contentious projects first do everything possible to hide the project from public view until it is well advanced. Once people start to object, they then identify the community leaders and do everything possible to get them on their side. Before long, they have succeeded in creating a massive rift in the community, paying some very well indeed for their land, and others next to nothing.

Finally, the good news

The  Tarahumara recently (12 March 2012) won one of the greatest victories to date for indigenous peoples in Mexico. The Tarahumara (rarámuri) community of Huetosachi in the state of Chihuahua has now been recognized by Mexico’s Supreme Court as having long-standing indigenous territorial rights (but not formal ownership) that must be respected by the Copper Canyon Development Fund (Fideicomiso Barrancas del Cobre). This is truly a landmark victory. The Tarahumara have been guaranteed the right to be consulted over all Development Plans, and to select the benefits they will receive in exchange for any loss of ancestral territory. Finally, this juggernaut of a tourist development plan must respect the territories and natural resources of the Tarahumara.

This was truly David against Goliath. Huetosachi is a tiny settlement of only 16 families, about 10 km from where the main tourist complex is being built near the Divisadero railway station. The village has no water, electricity or health services.

The Copper Canyon Development Fund is now obligated to create a Regional Consultative Council allowing the villagers of Huetosachi and other settlements a say in the negotiations to decide what level of development is acceptable, and what the villagers expect in return. This council is expected to include representatives of 27 indigenous communities in the immediate area between Creel and Divisadero.

This landmark court decision could well be the first of many as indigenous groups elsewhere in Mexico fight their own battles against developers of various kinds. There could still be more court cases concerning the Copper Canyon region since it is widely expected that this initial success will lead to a legal challenge against the siting of the cable car. The villagers are also reported to be discussing how best to deal with water contamination allegedly resulting from existing hotels, and the possibility of a golf course being built on the canyon rim.

Sources:

  1. Alvarado, C.M. (1996) La Tarahumara: una tierra herida. Gobierno del Estado de Chihuahua. Somewhat repetitive academic analysis of the violence of the drug-producing zones in the state of Chihuahua, based in part on interviews with convicted felons.
  2. Merrill, W.L. (1988) Raramuri Souls – Knowledge and Social Progress in North Mexico. Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C.
  3. Nauman, T. (1997) “Tala ilegal para la siembra de mariguana y opio en Chihuahua” p. 50 in El Financiero, May 12, 1997. Describes the Arareko project.
  4. Plancarte, F. (1954) El problema indígena tarahumara. INI. Mexico. Spanish language description published by National Indigenous Institute.
  5. Shoumatoff, A. (1995) “The Hero of the Sierra Madre” pp 90 – 99 of Utne Reader (July-August, 1995), reprinted from Outside (March 1995). An account of the determined efforts by Edwin Bustillos to prevent further environmental destruction in the Copper Canyon region.

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Mexican attitudes on the drug war, violence and crime

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Jul 162012
 

Mexican drug cartels and related violence have received enormous attention. For an overview, see Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas of operation, a 2012 update. All Mexicans are aware of the issue and millions have been affected directly. What are their current views and attitudes? A face-to-face survey in April 2012 by the Pew Research Center of 1,200 Mexicans in Mexico sheds light on this issue.

Most Mexicans (80%) support President Calderon’s decision to use the military to fight drug traffickers. On the other hand, less than half (47%) think the campaign against drug traffickers is “making progress”. Fully 30% feel the government is losing ground. While they support use of the military, 74% indicate that human rights violations by the military and the police are a “very big problem”.

Mexicans are not sure which political party is better for dealing with Mexico’s drug problems. Just over a quarter (28%) think President Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) (28%) would do a better job compared to 25% for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and only 13% for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Fully 23% said that none of the three major parties is capable of resolving the issue. A possible reason for this is that only 14% blame mostly Mexico for the problem, compared to 22% who mostly blame the USA and 61% who blame both countries.

In general, Mexicans want the USA to help solve the drug problem. Fully 75% favor the USA training Mexican police and military personnel and 61% also approve of the USA providing money and weapons to the country’s police and military. On the other hand only a third favor deploying USA troops within Mexico, while 59% oppose this.

Mexicans feel that their country is facing some serious problems. Three-quarters of Mexicans think cartel-related violence (75%) and human rights violations by police and military (74%) are “very big problems”. The related issues of crime (73%), corruption (69%) and illegal drugs (68%) were also identified as “very big problems” by most survey respondents. Apparently, Mexicans do not feel very safe. More than half (56%) said they were afraid to walk alone at night within a kilometer of their home, 61% for women and 51% for men. Unfortunately, Mexicans are not very optimistic that the country’s drug violence problems will go away any time soon. On the bright side, 51% of the surveyed Mexicans felt their economy would improve in the next year compared to only 16% who thought it would worsen.

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How much drugs money is laundered in Mexico each year?

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Apr 212012
 

Despite this being an obvious question, there is no simple or generally accepted answer! However, a document published last month by Centro de Estudios Sociales y de Opinión Pública de la Cámara de Diputados (CESOP), entitled Lavado de dinero: indicadores y acciones de gobierno binacionales (“Money Laundering: bi-national indicators and government actions”) does offer some clues and estimates.

For example, according to Mexico’s tax authorities (SHCP), the nation’s financial system “gained” at least 10 billion dollars last year from unrecorded, presumably illicit, activities such as drug trafficking. North of the border, the US State Department believes that money laundering in Mexico accounts for between 8 billion and 25 billion dollars a year, while figures as high as 29 billion dollars have been offered in the US Congress.

Financial models developed by Global Financial Integrity and Columbia University in the City of New York suggest that the total “gains” from all forms of illegal activities in the USA are about 196 billion dollars (1.36% of US GDP), and that about 90% of this amount is laundered each year. The same models, applied to Mexico, suggest total crime-related profits of 38 billion dollars (3.6% of Mexico’s GDP), only 10-14 billion dollars of which is laundered into the formal economy.

If the models are to be believed, in the USA, 46% of the total amount laundered derives from drug trafficking, 32% from people trafficking, 15% from pirated goods and 7% from fraud. In Mexico, 41% of laundered money originates from drugs, 33% from people trafficking, 20% from pirated goods and 6% from fraud.

Despite the considerable variation in numbers, most of the figures and calculations fall within, or close to, the range of values (between 2 and 5% of global GDP) that is estimated by the International Monetary Fund to be laundered each year around the world.

How does money laundering work, and what is being done about it?

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Mar 152012
 

How is drugs money laundered?

Drug funds have allegedly financed hotels, car dealerships, bus companies, airlines, casinos, beauty salons, skyscrapers and restaurants, as well as the lavish lifestyles of individual cartel members who acquire gold jewelry, expensive cars, vehicles, yachts and planes.

Trade-based laundering” is on the rise. Drug cartels are reported to be increasingly using regular cross-border trade to launder their ill-gotten gains. Profits from the sale of drugs in the USA and elsewhere are used to purchase truckloads of goods such as fruit, toys and fabric, which are then sent south to Mexico to be sold for pesos. This cross-border trade effectively changes US dollars into pesos with few questions being asked.

In a variation on the theme, the dollars are used to buy things such as toys or fabric from a third country such as China. The goods are then exported to Mexico and resold. The net effect is the same: dollars become pesos, ready to help pay for the next shipments of drugs. Trade-based laundering is hidden in the massive regular trade-flows between Mexico and the USA which total almost 400 billion dollars a year. Authorities always seem to be one step behind the cartels, partly because, as this LA Times article points out, cartel bosses are “among the world’s most expert transnational entrepreneurs”. Indeed, the sheer scale of the drug money flows threatens to overwhelm Mexico’s police and security forces.

Drug money is being transferred via a variety of means, from cash transfers (formal or informal) and deposits in bank accounts to the purchase of goods and services (including pirated merchandise).

How can money laundering be reduced?

In recent years, Mexican authorities have focused more attention on chasing the money involved in the drugs trade. Government officials claim that more than $50 billion in drugs money is laundered each year, more than the value of Mexico’s oil exports and equivalent to 3% of GDP. Mexico’s laws are barely keeping up with the ingenuity of money launderers, and convictions for money-laundering are rare.

What has Mexico done to try and prevent money laundering? There are now strict limits on the use of US dollars in Mexico, and on cash deposits into bank accounts. The latest tightening of the rules extends the reporting of higher value US dollar transactions to all real estate offices, car dealerships, betting parlors, art galleries and public notaries. Any purchases using cash for items such as vehicles costing over about $14,000, and for real estate over about $70,000 are now automatically reported to federal authorities.

As Mexico tightens its accountancy rules, drug gangs may have to keep more of their funds in the USA or go elsewhere. Mexico is becoming a much less friendly place for the drug cartels’ informal “retirement funds”.

Mexico City has largely escaped drug violence

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Mar 082012
 

Previous posts have analyzed drug war death rates in Mexican states, cities over 500,000, the most violent municipalities and areas of particular interest to expatriates. This post focuses on Mexico City or D.F. (Distrito Federal). We focus on D.F. because the rate of drug war deaths is exceptionally low there, less than one eighth the national average.

In all of 2010 there were 191 drug war deaths in D.F. [note 1] compared to 122 in the first nine months of 2011. [note 2] While this might sound like a large number of deaths, we must remember that there are almost nine million people in D.F.  The 2011 drug war death rate per 100,000/yr in D.F. was 1.8 compared to a national rate 15.3 and a rate of 134 in Acapulco. [note 3] The rate for D.F. declined 15% from the 2010 rate while the rates for all of Mexico and Acapulco increased by 13% and 187% respectively. Today, people seeking better security are moving into D.F. from other cities in the country.

Why are the rates in D.F. so low? In previous decades D.F. was thought to be one of the most violent places in the country, but this is no longer the case. The total murder rate for D.F. is half the national rate [note 4] and less than a third that of Washington, DC. [note 5] A major reason is that D.F. has a more competent, better organized, better paid and less corrupt police force than any of the other cities. The fact that the national government is in D.F. also helps as do more effective youth programs. That D.F. has higher overall income levels is also a factor. Some even speculate that major cartel bosses have family in D.F. and have an unspoken agreement to avoid violence in the capital [note 6].

The drug war death rates are quite low in all parts of the city. The wealthy delegation of Cuajimalpa in western D.F. had zero deaths in 2011 compared to 11 a year earlier. In 2010 it had the city’s highest rate of 5.9, but this was still less than half the national average. Relatively sparsely populated Milpa Alta in the southeast also had zero deaths in 2011. Cuauhtemoc and Venustiano Carranza, two central delegations, had the highest rates in 2011, but they both less than a third the national average.

The 13 suburban municipalities adjacent to D.F. in the State of Mexico experienced 331 drug war deaths in 2011, almost three times the number in D.F. These suburbs with a total population of just over six million had a combined drug war death rate of 7.3, four times as high as D.F. While the death rate in these municipalities increased 42% over the 2010 level, it was still less than half the national average. Based on the data presented above, it is not surprising that people worried about drug violence would rather live in or near D.F. than in most other cities, especially those in northern and western Mexico.

Notes:
  1. “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, The Guardian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/14/mexico-drug-war-murders-map. For data see: http://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?dsrcid=393962.
  2. “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/822078.html.
  3. The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.
  4. “Is Mexico City safe from drug cartel war – or the next target,” CNN, January 17, 2012, .http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/17/world/americas/mexico-city-security/index.html
  5. “Mexico’s violence not as widespread as seems,” USAToday, 3 August 2010. http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2010-08-03-Mexico-drug-violence_N.htm.
  6. Is Mexico City safe from drug cartel war — or the next target,” CNN, January 17, 2012, .http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/17/world/americas/mexico-city-security/index.html.

Drug war death trends in areas of Mexico of interest to foreign tourists and retirees

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Mar 022012
 

Non-Mexicans are far more interested in some parts of Mexico than others. These areas of interest may be well-known tourist destinations, have thousands of expatriate residents or are located on major expatriate travel routes. Mexico’s major cities, which are also of interest to foreigners, were discussed in a previous post. This post focuses on 24 municipalities of less than 500,000 population. (These are listed alphabetically in the table linked to at the end of the post.)

Drug war death rates vary enormously among the 24 communities. Data released by the Office of the President [note 1] indicate that some of these municipalities have extremely high drug war death rates. The number of deaths in Zihuatanejo went from 16 in 2010 [note 2] to a startling 90 in the first nine months of 2011. This results in a rate of 115 deaths per 100,000 population/yr or over seven times the national average of 15.3 [note 3]. This places Zihuatanejo among the 20 most dangerous communities in Mexico (see earlier post) along with the other famous Guerrero beach resort of Acapulco.

Other dangerous municipalities listed in the table are Tepic, Nayarit at 69 (4.5 times the average); Mazatlán at 58 (3.8 times the average) and Nuevo Laredo at 50 (3.3 times the average). Thousands of expatriates live in Mazatlán while thousands drive through Tepic and Nuevo Laredo. The temporal trends in these dangerous cities vary widely. Between 2010 and 2011, the rate for Zihuatanejo went up 650% while Nuevo Laredo’s increased by 67% and Tepic edged up 14%. The rate for Mazatlán was down 20%.

The most worrisome trend is the very rapid drug violence increase in Veracruz State. From 2010 to 2011 the death rate for Xalapa went up 1,066%. In 2010 there were a total of 15 drug war deaths in Xalapa, Boca del Río and Veracruz City combined; but in the first nine months of 2011 this went up to 284. It remains to be seen if this dreadful trend will continue into 2012 and beyond.

Other cities in the table with rates significantly above the national average include Nogales with a rate of 28, down 68% from 2009. The rate for Playas de Rosarito (Baja California) was up 41% to 28, nearly double the average of 15.3. Matamoros’ rate increased 13% to 20 while Cuernavaca’s was down 49% to 19.

The death rates in towns near Lake Chapala varied markedly. The rate for Ixtlahuacán de los Membrillos dropped from 34 in 2010 to 16 in 2010, but was still above the national average and twice the rate of neighboring Chapala. The rate for nearby Jocotepec of 13 was between the other two. Though local media suggest a growing drug violence problem in these three communities, the actual number of deaths dropped from 24 in 2010 to 12 in 2011. The death rate for the three communities dropped from 34% above average in 2010 to 33% below average in 2011.

The great news is that three of communities in the table—Bahia de Banderas, Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende—had zero drug war deaths in the first nine months of 2011, compared to 27 in 2010. Bahia de Banderas, in Nayarit just north of Puerto Vallarta, is of particular interest because it had 19 deaths in 2010. If this precipitous drop is not a statistical anomaly it represents a major anomaly because the number of deaths in the adjoining community of Puerto Vallarta almost doubled from 15 in 2010 to 28 in 2011; furthermore there were 196 deaths in nearby Tepic.

Several tourist areas had drug war death rates less than a sixth the national average. These include Ensenada, La Paz and Los Cabos on the Baja Peninsula as well as Oaxaca City. Not far behind was Playa del Carmen with a rate about one quarter of the average. These data suggest that tourists worried about drug violence and seeking a beach resort vacation might lean toward Baja California Sur or the Maya Riviera instead of Acapulco, Zihuatanejo or Mazatlán.

Notes:

[1] “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/822078.html.

[2] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, Theguradian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/14/mexico-drug-war-murders-map. For data see: http://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?dsrcid=393962.

[3] The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.

Drug war impacts extend to child arrests, border tunnels and stressed zoos

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Feb 252012
 

More children being arrested

One extremely unwelcome development in the war on drugs is that an increasing number of young adolescents (aged 11 to 17) are involved in drug smuggling and related activities, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most of the children are Hispanic, and many hold US citizenship. They are enticed by the lure of “easy” money and know they that, if caught, they can be tried only as juveniles. The Gulf cartel and the Zetas reportedly pay adolescents an average of $500 to smuggle drugs, and $1,000 to guard a kidnap victim for a month. In southern California, the number of arrests of adolescents has risen sharply, with charges ranging from drug trafficking to extortion and kidnapping.

Where are most drug tunnels?

Several major cross-border drug tunnels have been unearthed in the past few months, including one linking warehouses in Tijuana and San Diego which contained 32 tons of marijuana. This tunnel, 600 meters long, was particularly sophisticated and used electric rail cars. More than 70 cross-border tunnels have been found since October 2008.

Significant clusters of tunnels have been found in three main areas:

  • San Diego,
  • California’s Imperial Valley, where the clay soil makes for easy excavation
  • Nogales (Arizona), a city underlain by a network of existing underground drainage canals

Mexico’s zoos struggle to cope with unexpected influx of exotic animals

Press reports such as Captured Drug Kingpin’s Pets Strain Mexican Zoos have highlighted the problems resulting when rare and dangerous animals are confiscated from drugs cartel leaders. Several major cartel figures have amassed extensive private collections of exotic animals, from ostriches and parrots to monkeys, tigers, lions and giraffes. For example, when Jesús “The King” Zambada, a powerful member of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested in mid-2011, authorities had to find new homes for several hundred animals, many of them exotic species. The nation’s zoos are struggling to cope with the influx of so many unexpected new arrivals.

Drug capos do not view animals only as a status symbol. They are also a means to hide drug shipments. Animals have also regularly been used in drugs trafficking. In recent years, grisly finds have included frozen sharks stuffed with cocaine, cocaine-fed snakes, and even liquid cocaine in shipping containers used for tropical fish.

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Which Mexican communities have the highest drug war death rates?

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Feb 232012
 

In a previous post we noted that big Mexican cities with populations of over 500,000 have drug war death rates about 40% higher than the rest of Mexico. However the highest rates of all are in small northern municipalities which have experienced very high levels of drug violence.

Mier, Tamaulipas was the most dangerous municipality in 2011 as it was in 2010. Though the number of drug war deaths in the town of 4,768 (2010) decreased from 93 in 2010 [note 1] to 50 in the first nine months of 2011 [note 2], it still led the country with 1,398 drug war deaths per 100,000/yr [note 3]. This is 91 times the rate for all of Mexico which was 15.3 in 2011 and also over ten times as dangerous as Acapulco, the large city with the highest rate of drug violence. Actually the death rate per population for Mier is probably higher because the mayor estimates that a third of the population may have fled the violence-prone town [note 4]. Mier is only about eight kilometers (five miles) from the Texas border and roughly midway between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. The municipality may be a bit more peaceful now that the Mexican military has occupied the town.

Guerrero, Mier’s immediate neighbor to the northwest with a population of 4,468, ranked second with a death rate of 1,045 or roughly 68 times the average. Both Guerrero and Mier are located between two warring drug cartels, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. Mier’s other neighbor along the Rio Grande, Miguel Alemán, fared somewhat better. Its death rate dropped from 407 in 2010 to 114 in 2011; but its 2011 rate was still over seven times the national average. The data reveal that municipalities along the border between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa are among the most dangerous in all of Mexico. Interestingly, the rate for Reynosa itself was only 11 or about 27% below the average.

In third place is San Fernando, also in Tamaulipas, with a death rate of 680, about 44 times the average. This community of 57,220 suffered 292 deaths in 2011. Over half of these deaths were discovered in mass graves of Central Americans who were trying to immigrate to the US, but were kidnapped and murdered by drug cartels.

Next on the list are three small municipalities in Chihuahua – Guadalupe (rate of 496), Gran Morelos (373) and Cusihuiriachi (369). The 2011 death rates in these towns were 24 to 32 times the national average. While the rate for Guadalupe declined 42% since 2010, the rates for Gran Morelos and Cusihuiriachi were up 50% and 150% respectively. As mentioned in an earlier post, the State of Chihuahua had the highest 2011 drug war death rate among Mexico’s 32 states.

Drug war death totals in small communities can change dramatically from year to year. For example, Saric, Sonora with a population of 2,703 had 30 deaths in 2010 and zero in 2011. General Bravo, Nuevo Leon had 18 deaths in 2010 and zero in 2011 while Yecora, Sonora had 18 deaths in 2010 and only one in 2011. The number in General Treviño, Nuevo León went from 21 down to only two, but it still had the 8th highest rate among Mexico’s municipalities.

On the other hand, drug war deaths in Boca del Rio, Veracruz went from 2 in 2010 to an alarming 94 in 2011. This resulted in a rate increase of 6,167% and a rate six times the average. The rate for Zihuatanejo de Azueta, Guerrero increased by 650%; that of Yurécuaro, Michoacán went up by 452% while that for Cosalá, Sinaloa was up 317%, giving it a rate 13 times the average.

Zihuatanejo de Azueta is different than many of the other communities with very high drug war death rates because it has a rather large population of 104,609 and includes the famous international resort of Ixtapa. The number of drug war deaths in the municipality went from 16 in 2010 to a very disturbing 90 in 2011, giving it a death rate of 115, almost as high as Acapulco’s rate of 134. Certainly, the high drug war death rates in Zihuatanejo and Acapulco have damaged their tourism industries.

Twenty municipalities had drug war death rate in 2011 higher than 100 per 100,000/yr or about seven times the national average (see table). Two of these are the large municipalities of Ciudad Juárez and Acapulco. The 20 communities are spread across six northern and western states: six in Chihuahua, five in Tamaulipas, three in Guerrero, two in Sinaloa and Michoacán, and one each in Sonora and Nuevo León. Before randomly traveling in areas of these states, it would be a good idea to check local media and bulletin boards for indications of recent drug violence.

Notes:

[1] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, The Guardian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/14/mexico-drug-war-murders-map. For data see: http://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?dsrcid=393962.

[2] “Van mas de 47 mil muertos por nacroviolencia: PGR”, El Universal, 12 January 2012, http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/notas/822078.html.

[3] The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.

[4] Christopher Sherman (AP), “Drug War: Despite army takeover, fear grips Mexican town”, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, CA, Dec 7, 2011. http://www.presstelegram.com/breakingnews/ci_19488405

Drug war deaths in Mexico’s biggest cities

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Feb 182012
 

Drug war deaths occur in communities of all sizes, but they are a bit more likely in the biggest cities. However, there are gigantic geographic variations. For example, Acapulco, with a population of about 790,000, had 795 drug war deaths in 2011 (Jan–Sept) [note 1] while there were zero drug war deaths in Mérida, with 828,000 residents. Clearly drug cartel battles are very geographically concentrated.

Compared to the rest of the country, Mexico’s 37 largest municipalities with populations of over 500,000 experience about 40% more drug war deaths per 100,000 population than the rest of the country. These big cities account for about 36.5% of Mexico’s population and 44% of the drug war deaths in both 2010 and 2011.

In 2010, Ciudad Juárez was the drug war hotspot with 2,736 deaths for a rate of 206 per 100,000/yr compared to the national rate of 13.6 [note 2]. This dropped by a surprising 41% in 2011 to a rate of 121 [note 3]; but  Ciudad Juárez still led the nation’s death toll with 1,206 deaths. Acapulco’s 795 deaths gave it the highest rate among big cities of 134, up a frightening 186% over 2010. Other dangerous big cities with high drug war death rates include Torreón with a rate 99 (up 100%), Durango with 89 (up 244%), Chihuahua with 65 (down 20%) and Culiacán with 57 (down 17%).

Tijuana used to be a major center of drug violence, but not anymore. Between December 2006 and December 2009, it experienced 1,195 drug war deaths, behind only Ciudad Juárez with 3,699 and Culiacán with 1,303. Its death rate for that period was over four times the national average. But the number of deaths dropped from 472 in 2010 to 183 in 2011 bringing the rate down to 15.6, just above the national average of 15.3. In nearby Mexicali, the rate was only 4.1 in 2011, about a quarter of the average. The state of Baja California is no longer a key battleground in the Mexican drug war.

Drug violence deteriorated most rapidly in Veracruz City which went from 9 deaths in 2010 to 155 in 2011 resulting in a rate increase of almost 2,200%. This increased the rate to 37, nearly two and a half times the national average. Smaller cities in Veracruz State also experienced rapid increases. For example, Jalapa went up 1,066% and Bocas del Rio was up 6,167%. For the state as a whole, the rate was up over 300%. Clearly, the drug war has reached Veracruz.

Drug war violence has also increased rapidly in Monterrey where the number of deaths increased from 179 in 2010 to 399 in 2011, more than doubling its death rate. Deaths in Monterrey’s two large suburbs of Guadalupe and Apodaca also went from 91 to 220. While the rate in Monterrey was just above the national average in 2010, in 2011 it was up to 47, three times the average. Deaths in nearby Saltillo also went up rapidly, from 15 to 50, pushing its rate up by 344%.

Guadalajara also experienced an upsurge in drug violence. While its death rate went up 61% to 7.3 in 2011, this is still less than half the national average. However, the 2011 data do not include the 26 bodies dumped in the city in November 2011. Death rates were also up nearly 50% in Guadalajara’s two big suburbs of Zapopan and Tlaquepaque.

Surprisingly the Mexico City Federal District has been relatively free of drug violence. Total drug war deaths dropped from 191 to 122 pushing its 2011 rate down to only 1.8 deaths per 100,000/yr. This is only about one eighth the national rate. A future post will provide a more detailed analysis of drug violence in Mexico City.

In addition to Mérida, Tuxtla Gutierrez in Chiapas also had zero deaths in 2011. Other big cities with very low drug war death rates include Puebla (0.6), Querétaro (0.8), León (1.9), Toluca (2.1) and Villahermosa (2.5). Apparently drug cartels and their enemies have not been very active in these cities.

Notes:

[1] All the references for 2011 are for January through September based on the data released by Mexican Government

[2] “Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”, The Guardian, posted by Johanna Tuckman, Jan 14, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/14/mexico-drug-war-murders-map. For data see: http://www.google.com/fusiontables/DataSource?dsrcid=393962.

[3] The rates for 2011 were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year.

Mexico’s crime statistics: fishing for the facts

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Feb 152012
 

Diego Valle-Jones’s blog, “Food and Fishing“, is actually more about Mexican crime rates than food and fishing! The blog, described by the author as “mainly about data analysis, programming and statistics, with the occasional interspersed post about food” has numerous posts analyzing the drug war in Mexico. These posts focus partly on geographic patterns of where most activity has occurred but mainly on the quality of the data available and its many deficiencies.

Valle-Jones’ analysis of drug war data is especially enlightening for anyone not familiar with the vagueries of crime-related data in Mexico. Most of his posts are illustrated by well-conceived and well-executed graphics, worthy of close examination in their own right. Posts in the past twelve months on “Food and Fishing” have included:

All are worth reading. It is unfortunate that, unlike Valle-Jones, so many mainstream  journalists have simply repeated facts and figures without any real understanding of where they came from, or what their strengths and weaknesses might be. Food and fishing?  Fishing among the statistics should give them food for thought…

Recent geographic trends in Mexico’s drug violence

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Feb 112012
 

Drug related violent deaths during the first nine months of 2011 increased by about 13% compared to 2010.  Data released by the Office of the President  in January 2012 indicate that from January through September 2011 Mexico had a total of 12,903 drug war deaths. This is a rate of about 15.3 per 100,000 people per year [2011 rates were adjusted because data are available for only the first nine months of the year] compared to 13.6 in 2010 and 7.55 in 2009 [“Mexican drugs war murders data mapped”]. While the rate of increase declined significantly in the past two years, still drug violence is increasing rapidly.

The geographic pattern of drug violence is still mainly concentrated in northern border states and some western states. Chihuahua was still the most violent state with 2,289 deaths in 2011 (Jan-Sept) for a rate of 90 deaths per 100,000 per year.  Other states with high rates were Guerrero (61), Durango (58), Sinaloa (53), Tamaulipas (45), Nayarit (42), Nuevo León (33), and Coahuila (28). Note that four of these states are along the border and four are in western Mexico.

At the other end, Yucatán had only one death for a rate of 0.07. Other states with low rates were Tlaxcala, 0.8; Puebla, 1.22; Querétaro, 1.24; Campeche, 1.62; Chiapas, 1.73; Hidalgo, 1.75; and the Federal District (Mexico City), 1.83. It is very interesting that the drug war death rate in the capital city was one of the lowest in the country and less than one eighth the national. A future post will investigate drug war death rates in Mexico City.

Among border states, drug war death rates decreased significantly for the western states. Baja California was down 38%; Sonora down 36%, and Chihuahua down 31%. Before 2010, Baja California and Sonora had death rates over twice the national average largely because of high death totals in Tijuana and Nogales. However for 2011 the rates for Baja California and Sonora were 31% and 22% below the national average. The worst drug violence in these two northwestern states might be a thing of the past.

The eastern border states all suffered increases. Coahuila was up 99% and Nuevo Leon was up 143%. Both now have death rates over twice the national average. Tamaulipas’ already high rate of 37 in 2010 increased 22% to 45, almost three times the average. Clearly the battleground of drug cartel clashes along the border has shifting to the east.

Violence is up in some western states where it already was quite high. The rate in Guerrero increased 80% to 60 deaths per 100,000 people, four times the national average. Nayarit suffered an increase of 21% to a rate 42, almost three times the average. Smaller, but still significant, increases were registered in Colima, up 24%, and Michoacán, up 40% putting these two states above the average. On the other hand, the some of the violent non-border states experienced declines. The rate in Sinaloa declined 19%; but with a 2011 rate of 53 it is still three and half times the average. Morelos was down 18% putting it just above the average.

Drug violence increased very rapidly in some non-border states that were relatively peaceful through 2010. The drug war death rate in Zacatecas increased 361% while that in Veracruz was up 302%. While these increases are alarming, these two states still had rates below the national average in 2011. Jalisco suffered an increase of 40%, but its 2011 death rate of 11 was still less than three-fourths of the average. The State of México was up 24%, but its rate was still less than a third the average.

In conclusion, drug violence in Mexico continued to increase in 2011. The violence appears to be mostly concentrated in a wide geographic arc formed by the border states and those in western Mexico. Within this region some areas are suffering rapid increases while drug violence is declining in other places.  It is not clear how this pattern will change in the years ahead. To get a clearer picture of the current pattern, in future posts we will investigate trends in drug violence among Mexico’s 2,458 municipalities.

Feb 082012
 

It is becoming harder and harder to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of drug cartel territories. As the government crack-down leads to more and more high-profile arrests, some cartels are struggling to reorganize and lose ground (literally) as rival groups step in to take control. This has resulted in drug-related violence in the past year spreading to new areas, accounting for the serious incidents reported in cities such as Guadalajara and Acapulco and in several parts of the state of Veracruz, even as violence diminishes in some areas where it was previously common. (The patterns of drug-related violence are analyzed in depth in several other posts tagged “drugs” on this site).

Who are the main players?  (February 2012)

According to security analysts Stratfor in their report entitled Polarization and Sustained Violence in Mexico’s Cartel War, polarization is under way among Mexico’s cartels. Smaller groups have been subsumed into either the Sinaloa Federation, which controls much of western Mexico, or Los Zetas, which controls much of eastern Mexico.

The major cartels are:

  1. Los Zetas, now operating in 17 states, control more territory than the Sinaloa Federation, and are more prone to extreme violence. They control much of eastern Mexico.
  2. Sinaloa Federation, formerly the largest cartel, currently in control of most of western Mexico. They have virtually encircled the Juárez Cartel in Cd. Juárez. Their production of methamphetamine has been disrupted by numerous significant seizures of precursor chemicals in west coast ports, including Los Mochis and Mazatlán (Sinaloa), Manzanillo (Colima), Puerto Vallarta (Jalisco) and Lázaro Cárdenas (Michoacán). As a result, the Sinaloa Federation appears to have moved some of its methamphetamine production to Guatemala.
  3. Juárez Cartel, now largely limited to Cd. Juárez
  4. Tijuana Cartel, now dismantled and effectively a subsidiary of the Sinaloa Federation
  5. Cartel del Pacífico Sur; weak, and competing with Zetas in central Mexico states of Guerrero and Michoacán
  6. Gulf Cartel, which still has important presence along Gulf coast, but weakened due to infighting and conflicts with Los Zetas.
  7. Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios) comprises remnants of La Familia Michoacana (LFM), which is now almost defunct. Other former LFM members joined the Zetas.
  8. Independent Cartel of Acapulco is small and apparently weakened.

Alongside these cartels, three “enforcer” groups of organized assassins have arisen: the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel), La Resistencia (Los Caballeros Templarios) and La Mano con Ojos (Beltrán Leyva).

Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico

Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico. Copyright Stratfor. Click map for enlarged version

Turf wars

Drug violence is largely concentrated in areas of conflict between competing cartels. The major trouble spots are Tamaulipas (Gulf Cartel and Zetas); the states of Durango, Coahuila, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí (Sinaloa Cartel and Zetas); Chihuahua (Juarez Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel); Morelos, Guerrero, Michoacán and State of México (Cartel del Pacífico Sur, aided by Zetas, against Los Caballeros Templarios).

One possible strategy (for the government) would be to stamp out all smaller groups until a single major group controled almost all the trade in drugs. At this point, so the argument goes, incidental violence against third parties would drop dramatically. Such a simplistic approach, however, fails to tackle the economic, political and social roots of narco-trafficking.

Meanwhile, there are some signs that Los Caballeros Templarios, the breakaway faction of LFM, based in the western state of Michoacán, wants to transform itself into a social movement. This is presumably why it has distributed booklets in the region claiming it is fighting a war against poverty, tyranny and injustice.

Jan 122012
 

The Mexican Attorney General’s Office has released data for narco-related homicides for the first nine months of 2011. The data show that 12,903 narco-related deaths occurred in that period. The 2011 figure is 11% higher than the number of narco-related deaths reported for the same nine months in 2010. Even in the absence of data for the last quarter of 2011, we can safely assume that the total number of drug-related deaths in Mexico since the start of the “drug war” in December 2006 now exceeds 50,000.

As we have stressed in previous posts about drug-related violence in Mexico, the data for January-September 2011 show that violence is heavily concentrated in certain parts of the country, with other regions (such as Baja California Sur, Oaxaca and the Yucatán Peninsula including Quintana Roo) remaining untouched.

Narco-violence, January-September 2011

Narco-violence, January-September 2011 (El Universal)

As this graphic (original here) from Mexico daily El Universal shows, eight states (out of 32) accounted for 70% of all the homicides in the first nine months of 2011: Chihuahua, Guerrero, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, Durango, Jalisco, State of México, Coahuila.

The ten municipalities with the highest number of homicides were Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco, Torreón, Monterrey, Culiacán, San Fernando, Durango, Mazatlán, Tijuana and Veracruz.
[* see comment below]

In all cases, it should be remembered that the data are for the total number of homicides and are not homicide rates (i.e. data adjusted for population size).

How might the USA adjust to “narco-refugees” from Mexico?

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Jan 072012
 

The impacts of Mexico’s “War on Drugs” in recent years have been apparent in many parts of the country, particularly in the Mexico-USA border region. Apart from the obvious and well-documented increased levels of violence in several northern border states, we have looked briefly in a previous post at how some businesses closed their factories or offices in northern Mexico and relocated to the relative safety of Mexico City and central Mexico. Individuals living in the areas where drug-related violence has increased have also had tough choices to make, and many families have chosen to move, either to other areas of Mexico or to the USA or Canada.

Canada recorded a sharp spike in the number of Mexicans entering the country and claiming asylum on the grounds that their lives were in danger if they returned to Mexico. The number rose from 2,550 in 2005 to 9,309 in 2009, with about 10% being accepted as legitimate claims. Canada’s response to the sudden increase in applicants was to impose strict visa restrictions which made it far harder for Mexicans to enter Canada legally. The changes led to an 80% drop in the number of Mexicans applying for asylum in 2010.

Several US border cities have also experienced an influx of Mexican migrants. In Mexico’s “Narco-Refugees”: The Looming Challenge for U.S. National Security, Dr. Paul Kan, Associate Professor of National Security Studies and the holder of the Henry L. Stimson Chair of Military Studies at the U.S. Army War College, looks at how Mexican “narco-refugees” (who leave Mexico “unwillingly”) could influence US policymakers and force them to reconsider national security priorities.

Dr. Kan considers three alternative scenarios, which, he argues, “would force the narco-refugee issue onto the [US] national policy-making agenda”:

  • 1. the “new normal”, in which drug-related violence in the USA and Mexico becomes “a fact of life in relations between the two countries”, as drug gang and cartel activities spread into the USA along the corridors used to transport drugs.
  • 2. an “accidental narco” syndrome developing in Mexico, in which the Mexican government, in order to demonstrate its commitment towards lowering cartel violence,  may collude with one or more smaller cartels to help gain intelligence about the larger, more violent cartels prior to clamping down on them. Such a policy could lead to a sharp increase in the number of narco-refugees, as the core areas of stronger cartels see increasing violence as the cartels fight for survival.
  • 3. the emergence of a “Zeta state.” In this third scenario, a kind of “parallel state” emerges, in which private security firms play a much larger part as wealthy Mexicans seek to protect themselves, relying on their own resources, rather than on the government’s law and order or security forces.

As Dr. Kan emphasizes, these three scenarios are not mutually exclusive, and could coexist in different areas of the country simultaneously. Equally, some parts of the country might escape the effects of all three of the scenarios he analyzes.

Kan repeats anecdotal and other evidence which suggests that “narco-refugees” are becoming an important trend, with serious consequences for Mexico’s economy. For example, “One young Mexican executive at cement giant Cemex SAB, which has headquarters in Monterrey, said he can count at least 20 different families from his circle of friends who have left—nearly all of them for nearby Texas.” Reduced US investment in Mexico is not a good sign. According to the US Chamber of Commerce in Mexico, 25% of its members are “reconsidering their investments in Mexico as a result of worries over security”, with 16% having suffered extortion and 13% having experienced kidnappings. According to J.P. Morgan’s chief economist for Mexico, “the country likely lost approximately $4 billion in investment in 2010 when companies reconsidered such plans because of drug violence.”

At a more local level, in Ciudad Juárez, “more than 2,500 small grocery stores have closed due to extortion or because customers have left the city; the Mexican social security administration believes that 75,000 residents there have lost their jobs since 2007.”

Clearly, the impacts of Mexico’s “war on drugs” are far-reaching. Let’s hope that the situation improves in 2012, despite it being a year of federal elections in both Mexico and the USA.

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

The diffusion of violence in Mexico since the early 1980s

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Nov 122011
 

Today, we take a quick look at Mexico, the Un-Failed State: A Geography Lesson, published on the InSight Crime website. InSight Crime’s stated objective is “to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

diffusion of violence in Mexico

Credit: InSightcrime.org

Gary Moore, the author of Mexico, the Un-Failed State: A Geography Lesson, considers some of the claims made recently about Mexico being a “failed state”, where parts of the country are effectively no longer under government control. As the title of article suggests, Moore does not find evidence to support these claims.

His position is set out early in the article when he writes that, “The statements are all serious assessments of an elusive reality. The violence in today’s Mexico forms a twilight zone. It is not an all-consuming apocalypse, but it is also not the relative peace of Mexico a generation ago.”

The article is illustrated by three maps, “snapshots” of the situation in the early 1980s, in 2006-2008 and in 2011. While these appear to show that there has been a significant expansion of violence across Mexico in recent years, some caution is needed since the evidence used for each map is entirely different.

Moore’s article is a useful overview of how and why violence has diffused across much of Mexico since President Felipe Calderón declared a “war on drugs” in December 2006. It is, though, only an overview. There are significant local differences even within those states (such as Tamaulipas and Chihuahua) which are considered to be among the worst for drug violence in the country.

Few analysts would disagree with the article’s concluding statements that:

“In the 1970s it was natural to assume that these throwback “bandido” areas were shrinking and would soon disappear, as the march of development brought education, opportunity and civilization.”

“The harsh news from the drug war is that the reverse has occurred. The landscape of no-go zones has swelled across Mexico, as at no time since the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.”

The Mexican Revolution threw Mexico into convulsions for more than a decade, and the war on drugs looks set to last at least as long.

Related posts:

 

Mexico City: attracting businesses from northern Mexico and revitalizing downtown core

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Sep 262011
 

Some businesses leaving northern Mexico and moving to Mexico City

According to Laura Velázquez, the Economic Development Secretary for the Federal District, the city has attracted 1650 firms from the north of Mexico in the first six months of 2011. The Federal District does offer some financial incentives for newly established companies, but the main reason is believed to be that the firms see Mexico City as having a higher level of public safety than some of the cities in states such as Nuevo León, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Sinaloa in northern Mexico,

A diverse range of businesses is involved; most are relocating in the northern and eastern sectors of Mexico City. The migration has boosted the number of available jobs in Mexico City and also led to an increase in foreign investment.

The continued face-lift of Mexico City’s historic downtown core

We introduced the on-going renovation project to beautify Mexico City’s Historic Center in The revitalization of Mexico City’s historic downtown core. The Trust Fund set up to rejuvenate Mexico City’s Historic Center repaired and cleaned more than 1000 facades between 2007 and 2010, with a total street frontage of 11.24 km. The work is part of the renovation of Mexico City’s Historic Center which now looks better than ever! Work continues on many other buildings that still require attention.

Cycle taxis becoming a popular means of transport in city center

Cycle taxis or pedicabs (bicitaxis) have become a much more common sight in downtown Mexico City. Less than three years after their introduction, they are now carrying about 180,000 passengers a year, according to an official of Mexico City’s Historic Center Trust Fund. The vehicles were introduced as part of the Trust Fund’s efforts to revitalize the historic downtown core of Mexico City. They help to reduce the city’s CO2 emissions. There are currently 132 licensed cycle taxis operating in the downtown area. They combine pedal power with small electric motors. Their “drivers” double as informal tour guides. Each cycle taxi is about 3 m (10 ft) long.

Other posts related to Mexico City

Are homicide rates in Mexico increasing? Perhaps, but…

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Aug 252011
 

This question is far more complicated to answer than might initially appear. To start with there are two primary sources of homicide data in Mexico which provide very different results and vary significantly from state to state and year to year.  The National System of Public Security (SNSP) compiles homicide statistics from police reports and investigations.  The National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) obtains homicide data from death certificates reported through the Ministry of Health. For 2010, SNSP reported 35,053 homicides in Mexico, while INEGI – Reporta el INEGI más de 24 mil muertes en 2010 – reported 24,374 homicides.

For a very interesting comparison (in Spanish) of trends over time for these two data sources, including a detailed look at the trends in some individual states, see:

For two earlier posts using SNSP data, see:

What factors may explain why the data is so different?

The terminology associated with homicides is very complex. This is equally true in English and Spanish. Even the basic subcategories do not necessarily match closely from the legal system in one country to that in another. Legal definitions and classifications depend in part on subjective decisions by officials concerning such things as the perpetrator’s motive, intent and state of mind.

In general terms, homicide (homicidio) means the deliberate killing of one person by another. A homicide may be either an:

  • intentional homicide or murder (homicidio doloso) or an
  • involuntary homicide, negligent homicide or case of manslaughter (homicidio culposo)

In some jurisdictions, intentional homicides are further divided into such categories as “first degree murder” and “second degree murder”.

The data associated with homicides are at least as complicated as the legal definitions. Statistics originating from police records will never exactly match those coming from death certificates or public records. For instance, some individuals may have been recorded originally as dying from accidents, natural causes or suicide on their death certificates, but then shown later to have been intentionally killed (murdered) and therefore counted in police records as murder victims. There are numerous possible scenarios in which the police data will differ from the data recorded on death certificates.

Differences in terminology, definitions and application may explain some of the differences in the two data sets, but is very unlikely to explain 100% of such significant differences, so care is needed before drawing any conclusions about Mexico’s homicide rate.

What do the figures for homicides suggest?

In 2000, INEGI, Mexico’s National Statistics Agency, recorded 10,743 homicides in Mexico. This number dropped gradually to 8,897 in 2007 before jumping up to 14,006 in 2008, 19,803 in 2009 and leaping  23% in 2010 to 24,374. Current information suggests the number of homicides will be at least as high in 2011.

The SNSP data have become significantly higher than INEGI data in recent years. They also show an increase in the number of homicides in 2010 (compared to 2009), but of only 11%.  Both data sets indicate a rapid increase. This is especially troublesome given that murder rates had declined rather steadily up until the “drugs war” started in earnest in 2007.

If we average the INEGI and SNSP numbers, it suggests that the overall 2010 homicide rate was about 27 per 100,000 population.

How does Mexico’s murder (intentional homicide) rate compare to that in other countries?

Wikipedia’s list of intentional homicide (murder) rates claims that Mexico’s murder rate in 2010 was 15 per 100,000. SNSP data for Mexico show 2010 figures of 18 per 100,000. Either of these figures is very high compared to Canada (1.6 per 100,000), Peru (3.2) or the USA (5). On the other hand, Mexico’s homicide rate is rather low compared to Honduras (78), El Salvador (65), Venezuela (48), South Africa (34) and Brazil (25). In 2007, Mexico’s murder rate was about 8.4 per 100,000, very close to the world average.

How many of Mexico’s murders are drug-war related?

Data released last January by the Mexican government indicated that drug-war deaths increased in 2010 by 5,659 from 9,614 to 15,273. These data suggest that 63% of Mexico’s intentional homicides in 2010 were related to drug violence compared to only 49% in 2009, 28% 2007 and roughly 10% in 2006. In fact, non-drug-war-related intentional homicides in Mexico appear to have declined 11% from 10,189 in 2009 to 9,101 in 2010, less than the total number of homicides in any year from 2000 through 2006.

This brings us back to our original question, “Are homicide rates in Mexico increasing?” Yes, they are increasing, but only as a result of the much publicized “war on drugs”. It is likely that if there was no drugs war, then Mexico’s homicide rate would be continuing to decline, consistent with its long-term trend.

Related posts, relying on data issued by the Office of the President of Mexico:

Jul 182011
 

With so much media attention focused on drug violence in Mexico, many potential tourists and tour operators are canceling planned trips to Mexico. Are such decisions rational? The analysis below indicates that travel to Mexico is considerably safer than risking vehicle traffic in the USA.

The US State Department has issued numerous travel advisories concerning visits to Mexico. As we discussed in a previous post —Which parts of Mexico are currently subject to US travel advisories?— the advisories focus on specific areas of Mexico. Unfortunately, many potential tourists overlook the geographic specificity and get the impression that all parts of Mexico are dangerous. Previous posts clearly indicate that levels of drug war violence vary enormously from place to place in Mexico.

This post investigates the chances of being a fatal victim of drug violence in various places in Mexico and compares these with the chances of being a fatal victim of a traffic accident in the USA. The US Department of Commerce estimates that about 19 million US citizens visit Mexico each year. According to MSNBC, in 2010 at least 106 Americans were killed in Mexico as a result of drug violence. Dividing the 19 million visits by the 106 deaths suggests that the chance of a visitor being killed on a trip to Mexico in 2010 was about 1 in 179,000. These are good odds, much better than the annual chance of being killed in a US traffic accident which is about 9,000 to 1. In other words, the chances of dying in a US traffic accident are roughly 20 times greater than being killed as a consequence of drug violence while visiting  Mexico. (As an aside, the annual chances of being killed in a Mexican traffic accident are about 1 in 4,800.)

 Chance of a visitor being killed in drug violence in MexicoRelative danger of death in a road accident in the USA
MEXICO (whole country)1 in 179,00020 times greater
Ciudad Juárez1 in 11,4001.3 times greater
State of Chihuahua1 in 18,5002.1 times greater
Culiacán1 in 25,0002.8 times greater
Mazatlán1 in 47,0005.2 times greater
Tijuana1 in 52,0005.7 times greater
Monterrey1 in 210,00023 times greater
Puerto Vallarta1 in 288,00032 times greater
Chapala1 in 299,00033 times greater
Cancún1 in 360,00040 times greater
State of Jalisco1 in 378,00042 times greater
Oaxaca City1 in 427,00048 times greater
Guadalajara1 in 569,00063 times greater
Mexico City1 in 750,00083 times greater
State of Yucatán1 in 4,151,000460 times greater
Puebla City1 in 6,572,000730 times greater

Some areas of Mexico experience much more drug violence than others. For example drug violence deaths in Ciudad Juárez are 16 times greater than the Mexico national average. Consequently, the chance of an American visitor getting killed in drug violence in Ciudad Juárez is about 11,400 to one, still safer than risking traffic in the USA. The table shows the risks for a range of Mexican locations and compares them to the risks of US traffic. In the city of Puebla the risk is one in 6.6 million compared to one in 750,000 for Mexico City, one in 570,000 for Guadalajara, one in 360,000 for Cancún, about one in 300,000 for Chapala and Puerto Vallarta, and about one in 50,000 for Tijuana and Mazatlán.

These results indicate that the chance of a visitor being killed by drug violence in Mexico is extremely unlikely, far less likely than the risk of being killed in a US traffic accident. For example, a visit to Chapala is 33 times safer than risking US traffic for a year, while Mexico City is 83 times safer. Though this analysis focuses on the travel of US tourists to Mexico, the results are equally relevant for visitors from other countries.

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

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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!

Drug gangs diversify their business activities

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Drug gangs diversify their business activities
Jun 282011
 

Wise investors know that diversification is a sound way to protect their resources, and Mexico’s drug cartels have apparently been well educated in this regard. Recent news reports have highlighted two new ways in which Mexico’s drug cartels preserve and grow their wealth: the marketing of pirated merchandise, and the theft and sale of natural gas concentrates.

Marketing of pirated merchandise

According to an article originally published in the Dallas News, Mexico’s drug gangs now make almost as much money from pirated merchandise as from their trade in illicit drugs. By some estimates, the proliferation of pirated brand name goods has resulted in more than 450,000 manufacturing job losses and has caused the demise of many textile, clothing and shoe-making firms. Officials say that pirated videos account for as many as 9 out of every 10 movies sold across the country.

Pirated videos

"Almost original" DVDs for sale in Mexico

Theft of natural gas concentrates

Mexico’s giant Burgos natural gas field, which straddles the northern states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Coahuila, lies in a zone which has become a center for violence in Mexico’s drug wars. Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil giant, claims that up to 40% of the gas concentrate produced has been stolen since 2006, as drug gangs have systematically targeted, kidnapped and intimidated oil workers. In some cases, cartels have even constructed their own pipelines to siphon off the gas, before filling their own tankers and driving them across the border using forged documentation.

Pemex has filed suit in Texas against eleven US firms (including Plains All American Pipeline LP, SemCrude, and Western Refining), alleging that they purchased up to 300 million dollars of fuel illegally acquired by drug gangs from Mexican pipelines and then shipped across the border. According to Pemex lawyers, the US firms may have been complicit in the forging of documents required for the gas concentrate shipments to cross the border, and profited (knowingly or unwittingly) from the trafficking of stolen fuel.

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 in several chapters. A text box on page 148 looks at trends in the drug trafficking business and efforts to control it. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!