kidnapping

Mexico Mass Abduction May Signal War Between Drug Cartels

A group of men were abducted at gunpoint from an upscale restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in what appears to be a high-level attack in the war between two of the country’s most powerful drug cartels…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

Auto Racing Magnate’s Mother-in-Law Kidnapped in Brazil: Reports

The mother-in-law of one of the most powerful figures in the international automobile racing scene has reportedly been kidnapped in Brazil, adding to concerns about athletes’ safety during the upcoming Olympic Games…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

Colombia: Vitriol, violence and threats of strikes as election approaches

Cross-posted with Conflict Journal

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

report from the Washington Office on Latin America entitled “Ending 50 Years of Conflict” expressed confidence in the potential of ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the FARC to realize a final deal by the end of this year. The report also called on the US to increase financial and diplomatic support to ensure that Colombia can meet post-conflict challenges, such as “bringing government into lawless areas; demobilizing and reintegrating combatants; assisting displaced populations’ return; protecting rights defenders; helping to fulfill accords on land, political participation, and victims.” US aid to Colombia has been declining by an average of 10-15% per year for the past few years.

Colombia’s military spending rose by 13% in 2013, one of the largest increases in the region. Military spending throughout all of Latin America increased by 2.2% in 2013, bringing the total regional increase since 2004 to 61%. Colombia spends more than any other country in the region on its military as a percentage of GDP, and is second only to Brazil – the largest country in the region – in total expenditures. The majority of Colombia’s military spending is directed at fighting armed groups like the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), as well as violent organized crime groups.

President Santos reaffirmed his commitment to the peace negotiations with the FARC in an interview with W Radio. He criticized the FARC for ongoing attacks during the negotiations, saying “What objective are you seeking? What military advantage does it give you? None, it only undermines the confidence of the people in the peace process.” The FARC were suspected of bombing another section of the Panamerican highway this week after a similar attack on April 1. Last week, three policemen were killed in an ambush by FARC forces.

Santos also criticized opponents of the peace process as “lords of fear,” perhaps referring to one of his main rivals in the upcoming presidential election, Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who (along with his highest-profile supporter, former President and senator-elect Alvaro Uribe) has been critical of the negotiations.

In an interview with a Colombian news outlet, the leader of the ELN, Nicolás Rodríguez Bautista (alias “Gabino”), said that his group is seeking peace talks with the government. The ELN is not party to the ongoing negotiations between the government and the FARC. Gabino slammed the Santos administration and Colombia’s “oligarchy” saying that they have “no desire” for peace, “they are thirsty for blood and violence” and they “get rich with war…They are selfish, arrogant, warmongering. They despise the humble and only look at them as a work force that enriches [the powerful].”

Two policemen were killed in the northeastern department of Arauca. RCN Radio attributed the attack to the ELN, which is known to be active in the area, but neither that group, nor the FARC have claimed responsibility for the killings. An unidentified group intimidated a work crew making repairs to an oil pipeline in the northeastern region of the country and torched their truck. Last week, repeated ELN attacks on an oil field in that area forced roughly 500 employees to be put on leave.

In the interview, Gabino also expressed outrage over the political dismissals of former Senator Piedad Cordoba and former Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro and admitted that there were minors associated with his group. Colombia’s Ombudsman’s office demanded that the ELN disclose the number of minors in their ranks.

The ELN is Colombia’s second-largest armed group after the FARC, with about 2,000 troops. President Santos has indicated his willingness to begin a peace dialogue with the ELN in the past.

Headlines:

According to a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Colombia has the 10th highest murder rate in the world, even though the country’s homicide rate has dropped by nearly half since 2002.

Colombia is the eighth-worst country in the world for impunity in attacks on the press, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Members of the U’wa indigenous group met with Colombia’s ministers of mines and energy, the interior and the environment after refusing to allow repairs to the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline following attacks from rebel guerrillas that had damaged it.

Four members of the Colombian military were sentenced to decades in prison for killing civilians and presenting them as combat fatalities in order to boost their “body count” in the country’s armed conflict. The ongoing “false positives” scandal has involved hundreds of members of Colombia’s military. In an July 2013 report, the Prosecutor General’s Office said it had found that the armed forces and civilian collaborators had killed 3,896 civilians since 1986.

Two young men were found dismembered in Buenaventura, the port city considered to be one of the most dangerous areas of Colombia. The deaths were the first murders reported since the army took over security operations in the city in late March. For more on the situation in Buenaventura see our previous post.

Seven members of the Urabeños gang were killed in an army operation in the department of Antioquia.

Colombian miners said they will join with farmers in a nationwide strike planned for April 28, less than a month before the country’s presidential elections. For more on the planned strike, see our previous post.

Colombian authorities arrested 15 members of the criminal group known as “La Línea” who were accused of assassinating a businessman last year for failing to make a $50,000 extortion payment.

Colombian police arrested 5 men wanted for extradition to the United States to face charges of cocaine trafficking.

Members of a neo-Nazi group known as Tercero Fuerza (“Third Force”) allegedly vandalized a Bogotá graffiti mural honoring the thousands of victims of violence committed against the Union Patriótica (Patriotic Union or “UP”), the political party co-founded by the FARC in the 1980s. The UP performed better during the 1986 elections than any other leftist party in Colombian history. However, after the election, a brutal campaign of assassination and murder by right-wing paramilitaries brought about the massacre of 4,000-6,000 UP members, including the party’s leader, Jaime Pardo.

To Watch:

Colombia’s success in combating the production of cocaine within its borders is likely pushing drug traffickers to use product sourced from Peru. “We are seeing the same phenomenon as 30 years ago, when coca base arrived from [Peru and Bolivia] and they produced [cocaine] hydrochloride here,” said the chief of the Anti-Narcotics Police General Ricardo Restrepo. Restrepo said that the port of Cartegena is particularly affected because of its status as a major point of departure for containers, especially those destined for European markets.

One of the oldest crime syndicates in Medellín, the Oficina de Envigado, apparently wants to lay down its weapons. According to two of the group’s self-proclaimed leaders, the demobilization “won’t happen overnight” but their desire to dismantle the gang is fueled by the feeling that “those who have been victimized most are [their] own families.”

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. The FARC are estimated to control a majority of the country’s cocaine trade.

Extra:

Acid attacks against women in Colombia are receiving increased attention after a wealthy woman was victimized. According to Colombian officials, more than 900 cases of acid attacks have been recorded in the last 10 years.

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.”

World-renowned Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away this week. President Santos declared three days of national mourning for the “most loved and most admired compatriot of all times.”

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.