Argentina Targets “Chinese Mafia” with Operation “Dragon’s Head”

A joint operation by Argentine and Chinese authorities rounded up dozens of suspects with alleged ties to the “Chinese Mafia,” a move that officials described as an important blow against the criminal organization in Argentina

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

Honduras Authorities Grapple with Social, Economic Impacts of Extortion

Honduran authorities recently mounted a new operation aimed at dismantling extortion rackets, suggesting a growing concern within the government about the crime’s devastating impact on society and the economy…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

Mexico: Arrival of UN Special Rapporteur puts spotlight on torture and impunity

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 20 April to 26 April 2014.

The UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, Juan Méndez, arrived in Mexico to begin an investigation into the country’s penal reforms and other aspects of the country’s law enforcement and justice systems. His visit is expected to last until May 2.

Despite thousands of reports of torture committed by Mexican security forces over the past decade, not a single person has been found guilty of the crime. A report presented to Méndez claimed that “despite [the Attorney General’s office] having found evidence of torture in 128 cases, there were no convictions.” The Attorney General’s office confirmed that from 2002 to 2012 there were only 39 preliminary investigations into torture and that no criminal proceedings or warrants were issued.

Earlier this month, Enrique Hernández, the leader of an autodefensa in Yrécaro, Michoacán was arrested along with 18 others on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Gustavo Garibay, the Mayor of Tanhuato. The State Human Rights Commission in Michoacán said that Hernández had sustained injuries consistent with his claims that he was tortured by the police.

Mexico’s Senate unanimously approved legislation that would allow military personnel accused of crimes against civilians to be tried in civilian rather than military courts. The legislation still has to be approved by the lower house, but it is widely considered a step in the right direction. A study from the Wilson Center released last month concluded that 90% of Mexican citizens feel they cannot trust the police. This lack of trust likely contributed to the rise of vigilante self-defense groups known as autodefensas, which are proving to be a major security challenge for the government.

Michoacán Federal Safety Commissioner Alfredo Castillo said that 44 “pseudoautodefensas” were arrested. Those who were detained were allegedly linked to organized crime groups, but were attempting to pass themselves off as members of the self-defense forces.

Federal police and military intelligence documents obtained by Proceso show that the government believes many autodefensas are infiltrated by criminal groups, something a number of observers have long suspected. Documents the magazine reported on last week indicated that the low-profile leader of a self-defense force in Michoacán, Miguel Ángel Gallegos Godoy (alias “El Migueladas”), is “the real boss” of the Knights Templar organization.

Following an agreement reached by leaders of the self-defense groups and the government last week, Castillo announced that the process of disarming unregistered autodefensas in Michoacán will begin on Monday. For more on the agreement, see our previous post.


97 police in Michoacán were fired this week for failing confidence exams.

Mexico’s public safety agency reported a continuation in an upward trend of serious crimes, including homicides, kidnappings and violent robberies. A new report from the Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security modified homicide statistics from Veracruz state to account for 299 previously-unreported murders. The report also noted that kidnappings in Veracruz increased by 51% over the first quarter of 2013.

According to business groups in Monterrey, extortion in the area rose by 49% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2014.

Mexico has experienced a dramatic increase in domestic heroin consumption, likely due to increased production of the drug in that country. Farmers who previously grew marijuana appear to be replacing cannabis crops with opium poppies, potentially in response to a price drop in the marijuana market.

The Director General of Mexico’s National System for the Comprehensive Development of the Family, Laura Vargas, said that according to a study by the UN, nearly 70,000 children in Mexico have been victims of sex trafficking.

The government closed a saw mill and a steel plant in Michoacán that allegedly belonged to organized criminal groups.

The arrests of the two highest-level members of the Los Rojos gang, Antonio Reina Castillo and Ismael Castillo Marino, earlier this month probably won’t ameliorate the ongoing violence in Guerrero state, where the group is based. Los Rojos are one of several groups that grew out of the Beltran Leyva Organization and have been vying for dominance in an increasingly bloody turf war.

An attack by armed civilians on security forces in Mier, Tamaulipas left one civilian dead. Government troops seized various weapons and tactical gear and arrested two people in connection with the attack.

Federal and regional forces, working off of an anonymous tip, rescued 60 migrants who were captured by organized crime groups in Tamaulipas, near the Texas border. According to the National Commission on Human Rights, some 10,000 migrants have been kidnapped in Mexico over the last six months.

Seven people were killed in separate shootouts between police and armed gunmen in Tamaulipas.

Arturo Gallegos Castrellón, alias “El Farmero,” was handed 10 life sentences by an El Paso court for his role in the murders of three people associated with the US consulate in Juarez in 2010.

According to the Institute of Social Security for the Mexican Armed Forces, the government spent roughly $110,000,000 on life insurance for military personnel between 2008 and 2012, putting a strain on finances.

The Gulf Cartel launched a campaign in the streets of Mexico City to recruit youths to join their group.

To Watch:

Mexico’s National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia said that the newly formed Gendarmerie will not be infiltrated by organized crime groups, claiming that the selection process for cadets was “very careful.”

In the wake of anti-censorship protests, Mexico’s ruling party appears to be stepping back from proposed legislation that would have given authorities the power to “temporarily block, inhibit or annul telecommunications signals at events and places deemed critical for the public safety.”

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressed a desire to expand defense cooperation between the US and Mexico during a visit to the later country. The US  State Department announced the planned sale of 18 Black Hawk transport helicopters to Mexico.

The Council of the European Union is mulling an agreement between the European police agency Europol and Mexican authorities to cooperate on issues of organized crime and violent radical groups. However, the European Parliament recently rejected such a proposal due to concerns about the security of information that would potentially be shared with Mexican law enforcement, which has a reputation for corruption and infiltration by criminal elements.


Two articles this week highlighted the dangers facing migrants traveling on “La Bestia” (“The Beast”), a freight train that many migrants from Mexico and Central America ride illegally in an attempt to reach the United States. Fusion and Vocativ both take a look at some of the migrants’ stories, which often include injury, kidnapping, robbery, rape and even death. Migrants from Central America marched to the presidential residence in Mexico this week and requested a meeting with President Peñã Nieto to demand that the government “ensure the right to free passage across the country without humiliation or violence, on our way to the northern border.”

Mexico: Autodefensas shaping up to be “greatest security-policy test” of Peña Nieto’s government

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 6 April to 12 April 2014

This week, the LA Times called the spread of vigilante groups in Michoacán and other states “the greatest security-policy test of the 16-month-old” government of President Enrique Peña Nieto – a telling statement when one considers the situation in Tamaulipas state discussed below. Since the Mexican government announced a plan to “legalize” the so-called self-defense forces, known as “autodefensas,” their presence has increasingly been a cause for concern.

While many were initially hopeful about the potential for the autodefensas to combat the influence of organized crime, it has become increasingly clear that the presence of loosely-regulated vigilante groups poses challenges of its own for the government. Allegations of cooperation with criminal groups, extortion of farmers and deadly internecine fighting among various factions have besmirched the autodefensas’ reputation as noble defenders of their communities. 

Despite these issues, the groups maintain strong community support, especially in the Tierra Caliente region, which includes parts of Michoacán, Guerrero and the State of Mexico. Nevertheless, Michoacán Federal Safety Commissioner Alfredo Castillo has given the self-defense forces in his state a choice: essentially, they can join the police or disarm.

José Manuel Mireles, the leader of an autodefensa in the Michoacán town of Tepalcatepec and spokesman for the General Council of Self-Defense of Michoacán (CAM), has pushed back against Castillo’s ultimatum. He threatened a blockade of the state if the government does not release detained members of the vigilante groups by May 10, the deadline for disarmament proposed by Castillo.

According to the self-defense groups, the government has detained more than 100 of their members. Protesters in Michoacán have already set up blockades as part of demonstrations against the government’s decision to disarm the autodefensas in their state. The demonstrators called for the ouster of Castillo, claiming that his decision to disarm the groups breaks with the earlier deal to incorporate them into the official security strategy.

Mireles hailed the recent arrest of former Michoacán Secretary of Government Jesús Reyna on allegations Reyna was linked to the Knights Templar cartel and said that the autodefensas would not disarm until the government “finishes cleaning the state of criminals.” He added that his group is not seeking the release of Hipólito Mora, the leader of an autodefensa in La Ruana, who was arrested in connection with the murder of two members of a rival autodefensa led by Luis Antonio Torres Gonzalez. Estanislao “Papa Smurf” Beltrán, the leader of an autodefensa in Buenavista, said that his group is seeking to integrate its members into the official security forces in order to avoid disarmament.  

Mireles claimed that the Gulf and Zetas cartels are plotting to take over Michoacán state, which is currently under the control of the Knights Templar. He reported that two days after Secretary of the Interior Osorio Chong spoke about disarming the self-defense groups, the autodefensa detected the presence of vehicles manned by assassins from the Gulf and Zetas organizations.

Meanwhile, in just the past week, more than 30 people have been killed in Tamaulipas state, signaling the possible fragmentation of the Gulf Cartel following the recent arrests of two of its top commanders. Clashes between criminal gangs on the Texas border killed 20 people on a single day. The violence is likely a continuation of a trend that began in 2010 when the Zetas broke away from the Gulf Cartel and turned against their former partners. Both groups have been splintering recently, leading to bloody succession battles and turf wars.

Similarly, IHS Jane’s traces the spike in violence in Tamaulipas to the recent arrests of Jesús Alejandro Leal Flores (alias “Metro 24” or “El Simple”), one of the main leaders of the Gulf cartelas well as Javier Garza Medrano (alias “El Porrón”), one of the cartel’s founders. The arrests may have created a power vacuum, exacerbating the existing turf war between the Gulf cartel and the Zetas with the addition of a secession battle among factions of the splintering Gulf organization.

Mexican attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam said that Tamaulipas needs a “specific security strategy” to combat the recent spate of violence in the state. However, he did not specify what that strategy would involve beyond sending more federal security forces, which is a relatively common response to increased violence. Mexican newspaper El Diario reports that drug gangs, primarily the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, “control everything” in Tamaulipas state, from hotels, casinos and entertainment companies to beer distribution and gas stations.


José Jesús Reyna Garcia, the Secretary General of the Government of Michoacán, was arrested on suspicions that he has ties to the Servando Gómez Martinez (alias “La Tuta”), one of the founding members of the Knights Templar cartel. In February of last year, autodefensa leaders in Michoacán accused Reyna of ties to the cartel, but at the time those charges were denied. Reyna has been removed from office while the investigation is underway. Michoacán Federal Safety Commissioner Alfredo Castillo hinted that there may be more arrests of public officials in the near future, saying, “It is going to be a total cleaning, fall who may!”

IB Times has a short profile of La Tuta. Despite a $2.3 million bounty on his head, the Knights Templar leader maintains a visible public profile, styling himself as an “altruistic” Robin Hood-type gangster.

Extortion by criminal groups of the avocado business in Michoacán has brought them around $770 million since 2009 according to an estimate by avocado producers in the municipality of Tancitaro. Michoacán is the source for more than half of the global avocado supply. While autodefensas in the region have started to redistribute some farmland that had been stolen by the Knights Templar cartel, there are reports that some of the groups have failed to return confiscated properties and instead have set up their own extortion rackets.

The wife of Enrique Hernández, the leader of an autodefensa in Michoacán implicated in the murder of Tanhuato mayor Gustavo Gariba, has alleged that he was tortured following his arrest. Lornzo Corro, director of legal guidance for the State Human Rights Commission in Michoacán as well as a doctor working for the agency stated that Hernández had sustained injuries consistent with that story.

Mexican army forces killed four people in Tamaulipas who were suspected of carrying out an attack on a hotel last week. The troops seized 17 rifles, 11 grenades, two grenade launchers, three handguns, ammunition, tactical gear and marijuana from the suspects.

Organized crime groups have been stealing airplanes in northeastern Mexico. Luis Gerardo García Martínez , Director of State Airport Services, said he has asked the Army and the Federal Police to supply more security forces.

Colombian police in cooperation with the US DEA arrested Héctor Coronel (alias “Rincón”), the man believed to be the main emissary between recently-arrested Sinaloa cartel capo Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the Colombian rebel group known as the FARC.

A high-ranking member of the Zetas cartel, Ivan Velasquez-Caballero (also known as “El Taliban” or “L50”) pled guilty to money laundering and drug charges in Texas. Velasquez was arrested in Mexico in September 2012 on various charges, including drug and weapons conspiracy, as well as kidnapping, murder, racketeering and money laundering. He was extradited to the US in November 2013.

Jesus Vincente Zambada-Niebla, a high level member of the Sinaloa cartel, pled guilty to drug charges in Chicago. Zambada-Niebla’s father, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, is believed to be the current leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. Some experts had speculated that Isamel may have betrayed his former boss, the recently-arrested Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Zambada-Niebla is reportedly cooperating with US authorities, making it more likely that he – not his father – was the one who “flipped” on the former capo. Still, it is not clear whether Zambada-Niebla gave up information that helped lead to the capture of “El Chapo.”

Mexican freedom of speech organizations released a document entitled “Control of Public Space: Report on the Steps Backwards in Freedom of Expression and Association in the Present Government,” which analyzes 11 legislative initiatives and reforms “aimed at the restriction and the criminalization of social protest.” [From Proceso magazine, translated by Mexico Voices:]

Among the proposed legislations that are under scrutiny, the following laws are emphasized: the General Regulation of Public Demonstrations; the Federal Law of Telecommunications and Broadcasting; the reform initiative of the Law of Industrial Property, the Federal Author’s Rights law, and the Federal Criminal Code.

Additionally, there is the reform to article 29 of the Constitution and its statutory laws; the anti-terrorism law contained in the Federal Criminal Code, and the phone geolocalization laws set out in the National Code of Criminal Procedure.

The NGOs also looked over the initiatives for regulating demonstrations promoted in the state Congresses of San Luis Potosí, Quintana Roo, Jalisco, and the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District (ALDF).

Hundreds marched in Mexico’s capital city, protesting internet censorship legislation currently being debated by the country’s congress. The legislation would allow internet service providers to “block, inhibit or reverse temporarily telecommunications signals in critical events and places for public and national security at the request of the competent authorities.”

Manuel Alejandro Aponte Gomez (alias “El Bravo”) was found dead at a factory in Sinaloa state. El Bravo was reputedly the head of security for the recently-arrested leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. El Bravo was trained at Mexico’s Military College and graduated as a second lieutenant in 1996, but was listed as a deserter in May 2004. 

Protests in the state of Oaxaca demanding government funds for public works, public safety and education programs turned violent when police moved in to control the crowd. Six police and one newspaper photographer were injured and 38 demonstrators were arrested.

A man ran over and seriously injured five teachers in the capital of Michoacán state, who were maintaining a blockade as part of a demonstration for education reform. Police pursued the suspect to his home and subdued him after a shoot-out. 

After denying knowledge of the incident, Mexican officials have now confirmed an “unintended border crossing [into the US] by two members of the Mexican Army” on January 26 of this year, but stressed that it was nothing more than a mistake. Previous reports have hinted that the incursion may have been evidence of cooperation between Mexican security forces and drug trafficking groups.

To Watch

According to a report from the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program, violence against women is on the rise in Mexico and Central America. The report blames “increased militarization, due in large part to the war on drugs”; “widespread corruption and complicity with organized crime”; and “discrimination and misogyny inherent in Latin American culture” for the increase.

Cyber crime is on the rise in Mexico. According to the head of Mexico’s Scientific Police Division, Ciro Humberto Ortiz Estrada, criminals made an estimated $3 billion from “cyber kidnapping” in 2013, up from $2 billion in 2012. “Cyber kidnapping” involves “taking hostage” the computer systems and databases of businesses and demanding payment for users to regain access. A 2011 survey by McAffee estimated that up to 80 percent of Mexican participants had been subject to cyber extortion.

Farmers in Mexico who previously grew marijuana appear to be replacing cannabis crops with opium poppies, potentially in response to a price drop in the marijuana market. According to the DEA, Mexico is now the top supplier of heroin to the US.  

Armed gangs are robbing mango producers in Oaxaca. Farmers say that the situation has grown worse in recent years, especially in the municipalities of Chahuites and Zanatapec. Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s top mango-producing regions.

According to Sonora’s Secretary of Public Safety Ernesto Munro Palacio, former DEA and FBI agents as well as specialists from Colombia and Israel will assist in the training of 500 cadets for the National Mexican Gendarmerie.

During a recent diplomatic visit by French President Francois Hollande, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his Mexican counterpart Jose Antonio Meade signed an agreement of cooperation between the countries to support the Gendarmerie.


Vocativ takes a look at Cartel involvement in human smuggling and the rise in the number of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border into the US, many of whom are fleeced by traffickers and abandoned. Mexican authorities recently found 370 children in the course of just one week who had been abandoned by traffickers.

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.”


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


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.