gulf cartel

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.

Headlines:

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.

Extra:

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.”

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Mexico: Questions and doubts surround deal with autodefensas

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

This is a weekly roundup of events from 13 April to 19 April 2014

The Council of Self-Defense Forces of Michoacán (CAM), made up of leaders from 20 autodefensas, has agreed to a deal with the government, but as InSight Crime noted, “[t]he deadline is so far the only clear point” of the agreement. Despite the characterization of the deal in many reports, La Jornada clarified that the actual text does not make any explicit reference to the groups’ “disarmament.” Instead it states only that “[s]elf-defense groups are obligated to register their weapons with the Secretariat of National Defense no later than May 10, 2014, determining their possession and use, according to established legal parameters.”

CAM spokesman José Manuel Mireles had previously strenuously resisted calls for the vigilantes to disarm. Estanislao “Papa Smurf” Beltran, the leader of an autodefensa in Buenavista, also denied that the groups were disarming, saying that instead they would continue the process of integrating with official security forces under the existing legal framework. According to Mireles, “We are not going to surrender the weapons [to the government]. We are going to put them away.” Mireles said that the only weapons that would be given up were “superheavy” ones, such as “land-air missiles, M-60 and M-70 rifles and grenade launchers.” For his part, Michoacán security commissioner Alfredo Castillo said, “On May 10, the legitimate autodefensas will disappear and those who say ‘we are autodefensas and we will continue’ will be arrested as false autodefensas.”

Also in contrast to some reports, the deal does not necessarily guarantee the release of autodefensa members who were detained for carrying weapons. Instead, the text states that “[i]ndividuals belonging to self-defense groups who, in addition to carrying a weapon, are being prosecuted for other serious crimes, will continue their criminal proceedings in accordance with the law.” Security commissioner Castillo pushed back against suggestions made by autodefensa leaders that the deal included a promise to release members of the vigilante groups who are suspected of having committed “serious crimes,” such as Hipólito Mora, the man accused of orchestrating the killing of two members of a rival self-defense group.

The deal also includes provisions for the protection of militia leaders and promises by the government to continue the fight against criminal groups that have terrorized the state. However, the government’s inability to provide adequate security was the original impetus for the formation of the vigilante groups. Many top figures in the area’s main cartel, the Knights Templar, have been arrested or killed recently – some with the help of the autodefensas – but the group remains very powerful.

It is basically impossible to predict how all this will play out. As long as citizens feel they cannot trust the government and official security forces, they will seek other means of defending their communities. Self-defense militias have begun to spring up in urban areas of Guerrero state, where the presence of the Gulf Cartel-linked criminal group “Los Rojos” has been blamed for an increase in assaults and kidnappings. Last week, the mayor of Chilpancingo, the state’s capital, said that 70% of the municipal police in the city had failed certification exams.

Despite the deal, the presence of vigilante groups is all but certain to remain an ongoing challenge for the Mexican government. This week, 17 members of an autodefensa from Yurécaro in Michoacán were charged with “organized crime in the category of terrorism” for the murder of Tanhuato mayor Gustavo Garibay Garcia on March 22. Enrique Hernández, who is not mentioned in the article linked above, was also implicated in Gariba’s murder and has alleged that he was tortured following his arrest.

A report from Mexico’s federal intelligence services obtained by Proceso magazine indicates 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. José Manuel Mireles, the leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Michoacán, has claimed in the past that the autodefensa movement is split between those who “fight against drug trafficking” and “criminal infiltrators.”

While the recently-announced agreement provides a sliver of hope, the preponderance of evidence suggests that dealing with the autodefensas could indeed be “the greatest security policy test” of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration.

Headlines:

Members of an autodefensa took over the town of Tingambato in Michoacán. The vigilantes detained the town’s mayor and eight members of the municipal police who reportedly attacked the group earlier this month. Suspected Knights Templar gunmen later attacked members of the autodefensa that had taken the town.

An autodefensa led by José Manuel Mireles took the town of Nuevo Urecho. Mireles called for the people of the town to join his movement.

The mayor of Apatzingan in Michoacán state, Uriel Chavez Mendoza was arrested on extortion charges. Prosecutors allege he pressured city councillors to hand over $1,500 of their monthly salaries to the Knights Templar cartel, more than one-third of their pay. Chavez Mendoza is the nephew of now-deceased Knights Templar leader Nazario Moreno (alias “El Chayo”) who was killed by Mexican security forces on March 9.

In an interview with Milenio, Jose Martin Gomez Ramirez, Apatzingan’s councilor for industry and business, claimed that when city councilors protested the extortion, they were taken to a remote area where they met with Chavez Mendoza and local Knights Templar boss Rigo Diaz Sato, who were accompanied by armed men and a municipal police patrol. The former mayor allegedly introduced Rigo as “more than my friend, he is my brother.” Rigo told the politicians that they would have to acquiesce to the extortion demands. According to Ramirez, he lived in fear for the next two years, with criminals and municipal officials making threats against his family and anyone “not supporting the movement.”

A former legislator from the state of Michoacán, José Trinidad Martínez Pasalagua, was released from custody for a lack of evidence. Martínez Pasalagua remains under investigation for possible links to the Knights Templar cartel, as does the Secretary General of the Government in Michoacán, Jesús Reyna, who was arrested last week. Both men are suspected of having attended meetings with Servando Gómez Martinez (alias “La Tuta”), one of the founding members of the Knights Templar. 

Police reportedly arrested “La Borrega,” the leader of the Gulf Cartel-linked gang known as “Los Rojos” (“The Reds”), in the municipality of Martir de Cuilapan in Guerrero state. According to the police, Borrega’s group was “one of the principal producers and distributors of drugs” in the municipality and was also responsible for kidnappings and extortion in the area.

Mexico’s finance minister Luis Videgaray announced a plan to develop a “black list” of drug traffickers to block them from the country’s financial system. The list will include individuals designated for sanctions by the US and the UN as well as those designated by Mexico’s own government.

Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam confirmed that the American government has not made a formal request for extradition to the Mexican government for the extradition of recently-arrested Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and that the Mexican government has “no intention of sending him [to the United States].” Guzman is wanted on multiple indictments in the US.

Guatemalan police arrested Rafael Atilano Baños Macdonald, a suspected member of the Sinaloa cartel who had been wanted by authorities since 2013.

Another associate of El Chapo, Edgar Manuel Valencia Ortega, pled guilty to drug trafficking charges in Chicago, further indicating that Vincente “Mayito” Zambada-Niebla may be providing law enforcement authorities with information on Chapo loyalists who could pose a threat to his father, Ismael Zambada-Garcia, the man assumed to have taken Chapo’s position as kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel.

The Colombian rebel groups known as the FARC may be selling coca plantations and cocaine labs to the Mexico-based Sinaloa Cartel in anticipation of a peace deal with the Colombian government.

Mexican authorities captured Arnoldo Villa Sánchez (aka  Erick Rene Calderón Sánchez), the man considered to be the number two leader of the Beltran Leyva cartel. The current boss of the organization, Hector Beltran Leyva is considered to be still at large. The fact of the arrest runs counter to rumors that the Peña Nieto administration “plays favorites” with the Beltran Leyva organization.

The Zetas, an organized crime group engaged in a bloody turf war with its former partner, the Gulf Cartel, issued an online message promising to turn Tamaulipas state into “hell itself” as they fight a “battle to the death” against their rivals. This week, hundreds of residents of Tampico in Tamaulipas marched in protest against the recent wave of violence that has left dozens dead in their state. For more on the Tamaulipas turf war, see our previous post.

Four people were killed in various shootouts following law enforcement operations in eastern Mexico. According to officials, there were “no reports that policemen or civilians were affected.”

Mexico’s Secretary of National Defense said that 410 members of the armed forces have died since the escalation of Mexico’s drug war in December 2006. The Mexican Federal Institute for Access to Information (IFAI) has reissued its request for a complete list of military personnel killed since that time, saying the original request was not limited solely to deaths attributable to the drug war.

Lupe Trevino, the former sherif for Hidalgo County, Texas on the Mexican border, pled guilty to money laundering for covering up campaign contributions paid by Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez, a convicted drug trafficker. In January 2013, Trevino’s department came under scrutiny when members of its drug task force, including Trevino’s son Jonathan, were accused of possessing and distributing illegal drugs.

The Secretary of National Defense’s office claimed that the Mexican Army destroyed nearly 15 tons of marijuana in March alone.

Migrants traveling on a train known as “La Bestia” (“The Beast,” also known as the “Train of Death”) were robbed and killed in Oaxaca. Three of the victims were identified as Mexicans and the fourth was identified as a Honduran. Mexican federal prosecutors recently filed a criminal complain against Mexican rail line Ferrosur, alleging that the company’s employees may be complicit in such attacks.

In a series of operations across Tamaulipas state, security forces rescued 179 undocumented immigrants from Central America who had been kidnapped and arrested five people in connection with the crime.

Kidnapping in Mexico remains a major problem, with the number of kidnappings increasing fourfold since 2007. Because many wealthier Mexicans have the means – and the motivation – to hire private security to protect themselves, middle- and lower-class Mexicans are increasingly being targeted by criminals.

Mexico’s prosecutor general, Jesús Murillo Karam, met with US senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) to discuss cooperation between the two countries to combat illegal human trafficking.

According to Juan Martín Pérez García, director of the Network for the Rights of Children in Mexico (REDIM), tens of thousands children have been victims of various crimes at the hands of members of organized crime groups, including most frequently rape and sex trafficking, but also forced labor in the drug trade.

A new study released by the University of San Diego reports that “the total number of homicides [in Mexico] appears to have declined by 15 percent in 2013…[but] these findings should be viewed with caution” due to questions raised by analysts over “possible withholding or manipulation of data.” President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration recently claimed that the country’s homicide rate had fallen by 16% in 2013, but questions about the government’s figures were also questioned by Mexican journalist Alejandro Hope, who called the statistics “more confusing than illuminating.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mexico falls behind only Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Philippines, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in impunity for attacks against the press. By the groups count, 16 journalists were killed with “absolute impunity” in the past ten years. Mexico ranks 152nd out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Border’s press freedom index and by the group’s count 89 journalists have been killed in that country since 2000, making it one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. For more on the press freedom situation in Mexico, see our previous post.

To Watch:

Police around Mexico staged demonstrations against what they consider the unfair dismissal of officers for failing loyalty tests.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture will visit Mexico next week to investigate and evaluate the implementation of new legislation intended to reform the penal system. He will also look into the used of forced confesssions and “arraigo” detention, by which citizens can be held without charge for weeks.

So-called “narco-deforestation,” the felling of trees to make way for illicit airstrips or overland drug smuggling routes – or simply for the money to be made from illegally-felled timber – is creating an “ecological disaster” in Central America, according to Ohio State University geographer Karen McSweeney.

Mexican authorities seized 10,000 tons of illegally logged timber in Michoacán worth more than $1 million. Security forces also confiscated 13 sawmills, two wood shredders, 11 vehicles, and other machinery and equipment. While the seizure has not been officially attributed to a specific criminal group, the Knights Templar cartel controls much of the illegal activity in that state, including having a major stake in the iron and steel industry, which lost over $1.3 billion to theft and illegal mining in 2013.

Organized crime groups in Mexico, especially the Knights Templar cartel, are deeply involved in the mining industry, either by selling “security” to corporations or illegally conducting their own mining operations. As a previous report from Vice put it, “what the gang now earns from illegal mining and mineral smuggling makes its illegal drug profits look like chump change. ”

Despite a string of legislative successes including reforms in the country’s energy, banking and education sectors, President Enrique Peña Nieto remains unpopular with Mexico’s citizens, with a favorability rating in the low 40 to high 30% range. Many commentators blame slow economic growth combined with tax hikes on middle-class Mexicans for his unpopularity.

Extra:

InSight Crime profiles Rafael Caro Quintero, a man once described by a Mexican newspaper as the “narco of narcos.” Caro Quintero headed the Guadalajara Cartel during the 1980s, which at the time was the only drug trafficking organization in Mexico. He was arrested in 1985, but released last year when his conviction was overturned on a technicality. In June 2013, shortly before his release, the US Treasury Department released information linking Caro Quintero to Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul,” an alleged high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Federation, suggesting that Caro Quintero may still be a major player in the country’s organized crime scene. According to agents who spoke with recently-captured Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the fallen cartel boss recently had a meal with Caro Quintero, who expressed his desire to stay out of the drug trafficking game. Nevertheless, a former DEA official recently told the El Paso Times that ruling out Caro Quintero as the “jefe de jefes” (boss of bosses) was impossible given the influence he had in the past. The US State Department has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Caro Quintero’s capture and the Mexican Attorney General’s Office also issued a new warrant for his arrest.

Truthout reviews the story of Juan Francisco Kuykendall Leal, better known as Kuy, a long-time activist who died in January, more than a year after being shot with a rubber bullet while taking part in a mass demonstration against the inauguration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. 

Criminals in the US, Central America and even Colombia appear to be using homemade guns more often. As Fusion puts it, these weapons are “unserialized, unregistered and totally legal – and they’re being used to kill people.”

A little-known Mexican terrorist group known as Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje (Individuals Tending to Savagery) had gone quiet for about a year, but appears to have resurfaced recently. The group released a manifesto online last month reiterating its longstanding opposition to bio- and nanotechnology, which it believes to be an existential threat to humanity. The group has claimed responsibility for multiple violent attacks against researchers working on such technology in the past.

Vice takes a look at the booming demand for bullet-proof cars and clothes in Mexico.

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.

Headlines

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.

Extra

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.