Mexico: Self-defence forces may be hurting more than helping

Cross-posted with Conflict Jounal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 23 March to 29 March 2014.

Although the Mexican government claims that it has not lost control of the “citizen police” forces known as autodefensas, there are many signs that the groups are undermining the country’s bid to quell persistent violence. Florida-based security assessment firm FTI Consulting, Inc. said Mexico is the fifth most dangerous place to do business in Latin America.

Although the government had been working toward incorporating the autodefensas into its anti-crime efforts, the militias are increasingly becoming a source of violence rather than a solution. For example, this week, despite an agreement with the government not to do so, the autodefensa led by Estanislao “Papa Smurf” Beltran entered the town of Huetamo and barricaded entrances and exits.

Vigilante groups in Guerrero state appear to be fragmenting. Last week fighting broke out between factions of the autodefensa network known as the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (CRAC). One person was seriously injured in the incident, which required the intervention of the Mexican army.

Another issue with the autodefensas is the potential for the groups to carry out or assist with criminal activities. This week, Mexican authorities arrested 11 criminals connected to the Knights Templar cartel, who were posing as members of an autodefensa in Michoacan. One Mexican official was quoted as saying, “The leaders of the self-defense forces themselves acknowledge that they are infiltrated [by the cartels].”

Distrust between official police and civilians goes both ways in Mexico. According to a recent study by the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, nearly 90% of Mexicans have little or no confidence in municipal police and 82% say the same about judges. According to one survey, a majority of Mexicans said the police did nothing when they reported a crime.

The report also highlighted the issue of police soliciting bribes – which happens more often in Mexico than in most other Western Hemisphere countries – and the deleterious effect this can have on civilian trust in law enforcement. As for law enforcement, surveys of police in Ciudad Juárez and Guadalajara showed that a large majority of officers disagree with the notion that “society cooperates with the police in preventing crimes.” Also, 84% said “people are only content with our work if their problem is solved.”

Headlines

The price of limes has skyrocketed by 222%, likely due to extortion by criminal organizations and autodefensas.

Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto thanked the armed forces for their work against organized crime, claiming that some of the most dangerous criminals in the country are “no longer a threat” and that the response to security challenges has been in compliance with human rights.

The governor of the State of Mexico claimed that a recent crime wave was “rare and temporary,” but security experts say the country’s most populous state has struggled with violence for a long time.

Mexican officials said that in one week they found 370 migrant children who had apparently been abandoned by human traffickers. The traffickers were paid between $3,000 and $5,000 to take them to the United States, but likely abandoned the children and took off with the money.

Ten suspected members of the Zetas drug cartel were killed in Veracruz state during a gunfight with soldiers and police. Authorities claimed they recovered weapons, ammunition and clothing with fake police logos.

Tomas Arevalo-Renteria, who was linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, pled guilty to cocaine distribution in Chicago. He faces 10 years to life in prison at sentencing. Lawyers for both sides as well as the judge stressed that Arevalo-Renteria had not agreed to cooperate against his former boss, recently-arrested Sinaloa leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Drug dealer-turned-informant Pedro Flores told federal authorities that Guzman discussed a plot to attack a U.S. or Mexican government or media building in retaliation for the recent arrest of an associate.

A new report from press watchdog organization Article 19 points out that in addition to closures, imprisonments, direct censorship of specific content, and physical attacks on media outlets or journalists, “soft censorship” (selective allocation of government advertising) is one of the most widely applied methods of suppressing press freedom in Mexico.

13 Mexican migrants on their way to a “casa de migrante” were apparently kidnapped by a gang in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.

Police in Michoacan went on strike over unpaid wages and problems with lack of equipment.

Students in the city of Oaxaca demonstrated in favor of  better educational services.

A trafficking group allegedly impregnated women and used the threat of harming their children to force them into prostitution in Mexico and the United States.

Last week, the Meeting of People in Resistance against extractive industries called on the government to “stop protecting private interests and work to respect the rights of the people to live without violence in a safe territory, free of mines and projects of death.” The group also denounced what happened on March 13 in the community of Zacualpan, in the state of Colima, when state forces displaced a group of people for carrying out an demonstration against mining permits.

A recent report from the National Citizens’ Observatory for Security, Justice and Legality said that during January of 2014, 44 intentional homicides were committed every day with the highest proportion occurring in the State of Mexico. The report also stated that in Michoacán, extortion increased 78.1% compared with January 2013.

To Watch

Drug seizures in Mexico are in decline. Interdiction of marijuana fell by 18% over the past twelve months and heroin by 82%. Cocaine seizures have fallen by 66% over the last two years.

Shrimp piracy is on the rise off the coast of Sinaloa, with more than $800,000 worth of shrimp stolen this season.

According to recent polling, Mexican citizens seem optimistic about plans for judicial reform approved by the congress in February and published by president Enrique Peña Nieto in March. The National Penal Procedures Code aims to establish uniformity in the application of criminal law across the country. It also seeks to standardize procedures involving investigations, arrests, charges, hearings, sentencing, alternative dispute resolution, and victim reparations, while ensuring the rights of all interested parties throughout the judicial process.

Security operations are being stepped up as nearly 300,000 Mexicans living the United States are anticipated to arrive in Mexico for the upcoming Easter holiday.

The Attorney General of the state of Michoacan announced an effort to disband 28 criminal organizations.

U.S. officials are investigating whether the Mexican Army shot a U.S. citizen who allegedly fled from an Army checkpoint

Extra

Vice has a piece on the June 25, 2012 shootout at the Mexico City airport, which it describes as “one of the most singularly bizarre, alarming, and, above all, unexplained events of the drug war.”

A new report from the California Attorney General’s office highlights cooperation between Mexican drug traffickers and US street gangs in the distribution of narcotics.

The New York Times highlights some of the problems in cooperation between Mexican and US authorities when it comes to sanctioning property suspected of belonging to criminals.

 

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