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  • InSight Crime: Weaponized Drones in Mexico: Game-Changer or Gimmick?

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    By Hiroto Saito.

    Bomb-strapped drones are the latest spectacular tactic employed by Mexico’s crime groups to capture headlines. But the drones – commercially bought and packed with homemade explosives – are limited in their ability to cause damage.

    The latest drone attack occurred May 4, when heavily armed men conducted an early morning road assault in Tepalcatepec, a municipality in southwestern Michoacán state, according to Proceso. The men, who residents said belonged to the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG), used drones laden with C4 explosives and shrapnel in the assault. No injuries were reported. ...

    Defense Secretary Sandoval has stated that the drones are unable to carry enough explosives to be effective weapons. For now, drones are still more useful to criminal groups as tools for surveillance and drug transport.

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  • Smaller Mexico Cities Now Most Violent in the World

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    By Max Radwin.

    For the fourth consecutive year, Mexico has dominated a list of the most violent cities in the world but smaller towns have shot up the rankings, reflecting new hotspots where criminal groups are fighting for control.

    The most violent place in the world in 2020 was Celaya, a city of around half a million people in the central state of Guanajuato, according to the report by a Mexican non-governmental organization, the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal).

    The Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) have been battling around Celaya over control of oil theft, drug trafficking and other criminal economies,

    A few years ago, Celaya wasn’t even on the list. But since 2018, it has shot up more than thirty places, with 699 killings in 2020, or a homicide rate of over 109 per 100,000 habitants.

    The situation is similar in nearby Irapuato, also in Guanajuato, which has gone from newcomer to fifth-most violent city in the world, with 823 homicides last year. ...

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  • The Impressive Tunnelling Skills of Mexico’s Gas Thieves

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    By Dario Zuza.

    After the discovery of several elaborate tunnels used to siphon fuel to two hidden warehouses, it is clear that Mexico’s gas theft rings have found success by going underground.

    Authorities discovered the warehouses, stacked with hundreds of plastic containers to stockpile stolen fuel, following reports in early April of a gas leak in Ecatepec de Morelos, a populous suburb north of Mexico City, La Jornada reported. The storage facilities also housed drilling machinery, metal tanks and hoses, Javier González del Villar, logistics coordinator for Mexico’s state-run oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), told reporters at a press conference.

    At least four more underground tunnels were later uncovered. The tunnels led to illegal taps in nearby fuel pipelines. The recent fuel leak was from a tap left open after one of the tunnels collapsed, forcing the people inside to flee. ...

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  • Are Cartels Connected to Booming Truck Theft in Mexico?

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    Around 75 percent of hijackings occur on ten highways, located predominately in the central states of Guanajuato, Puebla, Querétaro, the State of Mexico and Jalisco.

    By Katya Bleszynska.

    Tens of thousands of trucks on Mexico’s highways are being hijacked for their cargo each year, with criminal gangs becoming more daring, sophisticated and violent in carrying out these assaults.

    Around 36 trucks are hijacked or stolen every day in Mexico, according to the Mexican news outlet Eje Central. And such attacks have become better coordinated and planned in recent years, Borderland Beat reported in late March.

    Highway robberies, commonly committed by gangs of 6 to 8 gunmen, have dedicated surveillance teams monitoring truck movements. Armed assailants will use multiple cars to block the truck’s path, and will either unhook its cargo trailer and reattach it onto another vehicle, transfer the goods into their own truck, or steal the whole vehicle. Drivers are taken hostage to delay police response and are sometimes killed. ...

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  • Latin America Elites Seek Corrupt Access to Vaccines

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    By Shane Sullivan.

    The seizure in Mexico of COVID-19 vaccine smuggled aboard a private plane linked to a Honduran textile magnate marks the first instance of alleged transnational vaccine smuggling in Latin America — in a mysterious case that betrays a pattern of clandestine deals between economic and political elites keen to access the vaccine.

    Customs officials discovered more than 1,000 vials labeled Russian Sputnik V in the bottom of a portable cooler — filled with soda and ice cream bars — on a plane at the Campeche airport destined for the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, according to a March 17 news release by Mexico’s Tax Administration Sevice (Servicio de Administración Tributaria). The flight’s pilots and passengers were detained and presented before the Attorney General of the Republic (Fiscalía General de la República – FGR). ,,,

    Grupo Karim’s said in a statement that the vaccine was not intended to be sold in Honduras but to be given free to its employees and their families, the Associated Press reported.

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  • Latin America Sees Rise in Vaccine-related Crimes

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    By Shane Sullivan.

    As Latin American countries struggle to ramp up COVID-19 vaccination, crimes related to the illegal purchase of vaccines, including the sale of pilfered or fake doses, have surged, along with online scams.

    Mexico’s health agency has already warned citizens about vaccines being sold illegally. An alert issued in February by the Federal Commission for Protection Against Sanitary Risk (La Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios – COFEPRIS) said the agency had received information about the sale of counterfeit vaccines, in particular those purported to have been made by the Chinese companies Sinovac, Sinopham and CanSino.

    Also in February, authorities in Mexico arrested six people for illegally selling and administering vaccines at a clinic in the state of Nuevo León, Proceso reported. It was unclear whether the vaccines — said to be from US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer — were fake, stolen or smuggled, said Manuel de la O Cavazos, the state’s health secretary. Patients were charged 11,100 pesos ($545) for an initial dose, he said, though some reportedly paid as much as 25,000 pesos ($1,228). ...

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  • Top Mexico Tax Official Fired for Permitting Money Laundering.

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    By Ignacio Rodríguez Reyna, Zorayda Gallegos and Silber Meza. *

    Mexico’s tax authority has dismissed Ramón García Gibson, one of its highest-ranking officials, for “evident conflicts of interest” and his participation in a scheme that enabled the Sinaloa and Norte de Valle cartels to use HSBC Mexico’s infrastructure to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in the early 2000s.

    His dismissal occurred on, January 29, four months after Quinto Elemento Lab published an investigation on García Gibson, revealing the omissions made by the former official during his stint at HSBC Mexico, where he presided over the bank’s top anti-money laundering entity.

    The report laid out the findings of investigations conducted by the US Senate and revealed unpublished details of an inquiry undertaken by the National Banking and Securities Commission (Comisión Nacional Bancaria y de Valores – CNBV) about large-scale money laundering taking place at HSBC, which conclude that the bank became a “vehicle for crime, placing, concealing, legitimizing and distributing resources of illicit origin.”

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    * This investigation was carried out by Quinto Elemento Lab and CONNECTAS, with the support of the ICFJ, within the framework of the Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas (IRIA). It has been translated and edited for clarity and reprinted with permission. It does not necessarily reflect the views of InSight Crime. Read the original in Spanish here.

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  • Mexico’s Tourist Corridor: Dream Destination for Drug Traffickers

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    By Katie Jones.

    A recent string of high-profile drug plane interceptions suggests the once tranquil Mexican state of Quintana Roo is being increasingly relied upon as a drug trafficking hub.

    On February 5, local media reports claimed a Cessna-type jet suspected of being used by drug traffickers had been found partially incinerated after it landed in the community of Nuevo Tabasco, close to Quintana Roo’s border with Campeche.

    Military officials were present at the site, as it was suspected drugs transported by the plane might have been hidden in mountains surrounding the illegal landing spot, according to local media outlet, Quadratín Quintana Roo. ...

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  • Oxygen Shortage in Mexico Spurs Profiteering

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    By Katya Bleszynska.

    With oxygen in short supply in Mexico amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a black market is expanding — in another example of medical shortages spurring fraud and profiteering.

    On February 1, Ricardo Sheffield, the head of Mexico’s national consumer protection agency, PROFECO, said that more than 130 online ads and 1,200 Facebook profiles were fraudulently selling oxygen cylinders, Excelsior reported.

    “Ignore the offers you see on social media, because they feed a black market, they are stolen cylinders for industrial purposes, you can’t use them to breathe,” he warned at an earlier press conference. ...

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  • InSight Crime’s 2020 Homicide Round-Up

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    By Parker Asmann and Katie Jones.

    After seeing record homicides each of the last three years, the number of killings documented by authorities in Mexico in 2020 stabilized, although the overall security situation remained tenuous at best.

    The 34,515 murders and at least 969 femicides — the deadliest year since 2015, when authorities started documenting such crimes — recorded last year, according to Security Secretary Ricardo Mejía and data from the Executive Secretariat for Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública — SNSP), totaled 35,484 violent deaths and represented a homicide rate of 27 per 100,000, an overall drop of less than one percent from 2019.

    The central state of Guanajuato was again the country’s most violent, with almost 5,000 people murdered there last year alone, or an average of about 12 per day. The state was also deadly for police officers. The 84 police killings recorded in the state represented 16 percent of the total 524 officers murdered across the country in 2020, a sizable uptick from the 446 officers murdered in 2019, according to data from the watchdog group Causa en Común. ...

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  • Migrants Killed in Mexico Took Treacherous Path

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    By Max Radwin.

    Nineteen people shot and burned in a Mexico border state near Texas is a macabre reminder that migrants being smuggled to the United States are targets of cartel violence.

    The victims — later identified as Guatemalan nationals — were discovered in Tamaulipas, a border state commonly transited by migrants. The state is also home to the Gulf Cartel and Northeast Cartel, a splinter group of the once-powerful Zetas.

    Authorities discovered the gruesome scene after receiving a report on January 22 of a vehicle on fire in the municipality of Camargo. A second burnt vehicle was found with it. Bodies were found in the cabin and piled up in the truck’s bed, Mexico security officials said in a news release. Before being burned, the victims had been shot. ...

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  • Black Market Peso Exchange Evolving in United States

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    By Anastasia Austin.

    US federal prosecutors say a real-estate investment firm accepted millions in drug money, revealing how high-end real-estate ventures are being used to launder dirty cash at scale.

    The case was settled on January 12, when Sefira Capital LLC — a Florida-based investment firm — agreed to forfeit around $30 million to resolve a charge that Sefira and 31 of its subsidiaries accepted millions in drug profits laundered through a scheme known to law enforcement officials as the Black Market Peso Exchange, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) news release. It was one of three investment companies to forfeit around $50 million in similar cases.

    According to the federal complaint against Sefira, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) used undercover accounts and directed informants to transfer drug proceeds through money-laundering brokers. The transfers resulted in millions of dollars being moved to Sefira accounts, prosecutors said. Sefira accepted this money from DEA’s unnamed accounts without any attempt to inquire into the source of their ownership — a direct violation of financial risk regulations. ...

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  • Liquid Gold – False COVID-19 Vaccines Emerge in Latin America / Mexico

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    Fake COVID-19 vaccines emerge amid opportunistic criminal behavior triggered by the pandemic.

    By Shane Sullivan.

    In 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine is liquid gold. As governments begin to roll out inoculation programs, criminal groups are taking advantage of the anxious interim, offering a range of scams from reserved vaccination spots to counterfeit vaccines – practices that may have serious public health implications.

    In early December, INTERPOL issued a global alert warning of criminal activity around the falsification, theft and illegal advertising of COVID-19 and flu vaccines – the latest opportunistic and predatory criminal behavior triggered by the pandemic.

    And while Mexico seems to be the early epicenter for criminal activity surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines, similar practices are emerging in numerous countries, including Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Panama. ...

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  • Mexico Clears Ex-Defense Minister, Accuses US of ‘Fabricating’ Drug Charges

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    Mexico's former defense minister, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda.

    By Parker Asmann.

    Authorities in Mexico said they will not pursue criminal charges against a former defense minister who US prosecutors accused of colluding with organized crime groups to traffic drugs, only for them to drop the case when security ties between the two countries showed signs of fraying.

    Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office announced in a January 14 press release that it had cleared General Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, who served as Mexico’s defense minister under former President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), of all criminal allegations made against him by US prosecutors.

    In the statement, prosecutors said that evidence showed Cienfuegos “never had any encounter with the members of the criminal organization investigated by US authorities, nor did he maintain any communication with them, nor did he carry out acts tending to protect or help said individuals.” ...

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  • Mexico’s Fentanyl Crisis Reached New Heights in 2020

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    By Max Radwin.

    Trafficking of the deadly opioid fentanyl skyrocketed in 2020 throughout Mexico, solidifying the synthetic drug’s status as a top criminal economy and the country’s role as an international trafficking transit point.

    Annual drug statistics for 2020 show fentanyl on the rise across Mexico, with numerous drug cartels fighting for control of the blossoming market.

    The Ministry of Defense reports that 1,301 kilograms were seized throughout the year — an alarming figure, given that the drug is fifty to hundred times more potent than heroin and morphine. ...

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  • Migrants at Risk as Coronavirus Shutters Mexico Shelters

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    By Parker Asmann.

    The coronavirus pandemic has forced migrant shelters in Mexico to close or limit capacity, exacerbating an already precarious situation for migrants vulnerable to the predations of criminal groups.

    More than 40 shelters that provide refuge to migrants traveling through Mexico en route to the United States have recently shuttered or scaled back operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to a Reuters report.

    In March 2020, for example, the Casa del Migrante shelter in Saltillo, the capital of northern Coahuila state, suspended accepting new migrants and asylum seekers. It reopened seven months later in October, but a COVID-19 outbreak forced the facility to close again in late December after its founder, Father Pedro Pantoja, died from the virus. ...

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  • Labor Initiatives in Women’s Prisons Struggle to Reduce Recidivism

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    By Lara Loaiza.

    Labor initiatives inside women’s prisons in Latin America aim to improve employment opportunities for female inmates, so as to reduce the rate of repeat offenses. However, beyond prison walls, they face difficulties in securing job opportunities for former inmates.

    In Mexico, non-governmental organization La Cana provides weaving, embroidery, sewing, macramé and textiles to female inmates and they take responsibility for selling the products online, according to a recent report by Excelsior.

    La Cana has set this model up successfully at four women’s prisons in and around Mexico City, with participants in 2020 reportedly gaining a 30 percent increase in their income, 95 percent using the revenue to help their families and 84 percent to meet basic needs in prison. ...

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  • GameChangers 2020: 3 Ways Criminal Groups Overcame Coronavirus.

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    By Chris Dalby, Alex Papadovassilakis and Juan Diego Posada.

    The response to COVID-19 by criminal groups was not uniform nor necessarily successful. Whether a criminal organization thrived and struggled depended on pre-existing relationships with the state, the diversity of their criminal portfolio or their hierarchical structure and ability to maintain order and discipline within their own ranks.

    At the pandemic’s onset, armed groups from Brazil to Mexico enforced lockdowns, handed out masks and supplies and punished transgressors. It was a startling illustration of just how much authority governments had ceded to criminal organizations, and it seemed as if every criminal group could take advantage of the space opened during the pandemic.

    But it was also a façade. Like any upperworld actor, criminal organizations suffered spits and starts. They lost clients and got hammered by authorities and rivals alike. In the end, whether they won or lost during 2020 seemed to depend on three main variables, which we outline below. ...

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  • GameChangers 2020: How Black Markets Became the New Normal

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    By Chris Dalby.

    In a region where 50 percent of the population already makes its living in the informal market, it was perhaps of little surprise that black markets exploded in 2020 amidst a worldwide contagion.

    Among them was a so-called “water mafia” in Venezuela’s northern state of Falcón, where thieves repeatedly cracked open pipes to steal thousands of liters of water at a time. Government raids and arrests appeared to make little difference. While the theft and resale of water was not new in Venezuela, it escalated dramatically in 2020.

    Other countries also faced rising criminal activities around water. A criminal network in Mexico’s northern state of Chihuahua allegedly seized control of 12.5 percent of water in a state where illegal mining and disputes over the use of the Rio Grande have taken a toll. And Chile, where the pandemic came amid a severe drought, has seen similar accusations. ...

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  • GameChangers2020:How Organized Crime Survived the Pandemic

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    By Steven Dudley and Jeremy McDermott.

    Welcome to InSight Crime’s Criminal GameChangers 2020, where we highlight the most important trends in organized crime in the Americas over the course of the year.

    The criminal underworld, like the rest of the planet, was turned upside down by the arrival of the deadly COVID-19 virus. But it adapted and reacted far quicker than the overworld.

    Coronavirus hit Latin America and the Caribbean harder than most. The region has about nine percent of the world’s population but registered about one-third of the world’s deaths from the virus. Thirty years of economic progress that had reduced poverty were stalled and is now going into reverse, while the region’s economy was expected to contract nearly 10 percent. By year’s end, the ability of governments to enforce restrictions, and their citizens’ ability to live by them, had all but evaporated. ...

    Criminal groups also handed out hand sanitizer in Rio de Janeiro shantytowns and administered government-provided assistance packages in El Salvador. In Mexico, the Gulf Cartel gave aid packages with their own logos emblazoned on them and the leader of the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco – Nueva Generación — CJNG) reportedly built a hospital. Gangs in Honduras set up raffles and used the proceeds to buy food for those most in need. ...

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  • What Do Security Law Reforms Mean for US-Mexico Organized Crime Fight?

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    By Parker Asmann.

    Lawmakers in Mexico have passed a new law that limits the power and restricts the operations of foreign law enforcement agents in the country, raising serious questions as to how this will impact the joint fight against organized crime groups with the United States.

    Mexico’s congress approved reforms to the national security law on December 15, which removes diplomatic immunity for foreign officials, requires them to obtain a permit from the Defense Ministry to carry a firearm and directs them to share any security intelligence obtained in the country with their Mexican counterparts, among other stipulations, according to the legislation.

    The law, which the senate approved December 9, does not single out officials from any particular country, but the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has had a permanent presence in Mexico since the 1970s, is likely to be one of the agencies most impacted. ...

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  • Mexico Lacks Will, Means to Prevent Child Recruitment: Interview

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    By Victoria Dittmar.

    Between 35,000 and 45,000 children are currently trapped and exploited by criminal groups in Mexico, according to Saskia Niño de Rivera, director of Reinserta, a foundation working to help reform the country’s prison system and create opportunities for former inmates.

    Yet much of the country’s coverage of these children has focused on more sensationalist elements, popularizing phrases such as niño sicario (child hitman) or glorifying body counts.

    A new book, Un sicario en cada hijo te dio (A Hitman in Every Child), co-written by Niño de Rivera, recounts the lives of a number of these minors while discussing the almost complete lack of options provided to them in Mexico. InSight Crime sat down with Niño de Rivera to discuss child recruitment dynamics in Mexico, what paths exist to help them reintegrate into society and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. ...

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  • Stolen Flu Vaccines Show Mexico’s Black Market Adapted to Coronavirus Demand

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    By Isaac Norris.

    A flu vaccine in Mexico has become the latest drug to emerge on Latin America’s burgeoning black market medicine trade, highlighting how criminal groups are increasingly providing items believed to be of help against COVID-19.

    On November 15, Mexico’s Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios — COFEPRIS) warned that a flu vaccine called Vaxigrip was being sold illegally online.

    “The Vaxigrip vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur SA de CV is only distributed in the Public Sector, so it cannot be purchased in private pharmacies, private hospitals or via social media networks,” COFEPRIS announced. ...

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  • Backroom Deal Trumps US Drug Charges Against Mexico’s Ex-Defense Minister

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    By Parker Asmann.

    Authorities in Mexico will face one of their biggest anti-corruption tests yet after a bombshell deal was brokered with the United States to drop the federal drug charges that lead to the unprecedented arrest of the country’s former defense secretary.

    Federal Judge Carol Amon granted the request to dismiss the case against Mexico’s former military chief, Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, at a November 18 hearing. This followed a shocking November 17 announcement from US Attorney General William Barr and Mexico Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero that prosecutors were seeking to withdraw the charges.

    “In recognition of the strong law enforcement partnership between Mexico and the United States, and in the interests of demonstrating our united front against all forms of criminality, the US Department of Justice has made the decision to seek dismissal of the US criminal charges against former Secretary Cienfuegos, so that he may be investigated and, if appropriate, charged, under Mexican law,” the two top prosecutors said. ...

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  • Mexico’s Poppy Farmers in Increasingly Dire Straits

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    By Parker Asmann.

    Facing increased economic hardship, poppy-growing communities in southwest Mexico want to join a state program offering alternative projects, but this would only be a first step that cannot tackle all the complex issues campesinos are facing.

    Hundreds of farmers spread across 19 communities in the Sierra poppy-growing region of Guerrero state allege that they were shut out of a government program — known as Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) — by an official because they “had not pacified the region, La Jornada reported.

    Launched by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in early 2019, the government program arrived in Guerrero this year. It pays local community members 5,000 pesos (around $240) per month to plant trees and cultivate legal harvests in an effort to move away from illicit crops. The goal is to improve living conditions for those in the countryside and stop environmental degradation. ...

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  • Worth Its Weight In Gold: New Unit Combats Mine Heists In Mexico

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    By Katie Jones.

    Several months after a sophisticated robbery where gunmen hijacked gold alloy bars being loaded onto a plane in Mexico, the government has stood up a specialized force to secure mining sites long terrorized by organized crime.

    On October 18, more than 100 agents with Mexico’s newly-formed Federal Protection Service (Servicio de Protección Federal — SPF) were deployed to the La Herradura mine in the northern border state Sonora, the government announced in a news release. The open-pit gold mine is one of Mexico’s largest, according to mining firm Fresnillo, a British-owned company with sites across Mexico, including La Herradura.

    The unit’s launch comes about six months after a brazen “express robbery” of the Mulatos Mine, also in Sonora. ...

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  • Latin America’s History of Dirty Cops, Ministers and Generals

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    By Parker Asmann.

    There is one element that has proven vital to the operational success of international drug trafficking organizations the world over, including Latin America: collusion from corrupt government officials to safeguard shipments and avoid interdiction.

    Over the years, a number of high-profile cases have illustrated the extent to which security officials have fallen on the wrong side of the law and involved themselves with organized crime groups.

    The idea of a conventional battle being waged between two autonomous actors — the government on one side and criminal groups on the other — is far from the truth. Officials and criminals interact much more frequently, relying on one another to negotiate the conditions that regulate order and violence to their mutual benefit.

    Below, InSight Crime looks at five cases — by no means an exhaustive list — of alleged official collusion between drug trafficking groups and government officials in Latin America. ...

    Continue reading at InSight Crime: Latin America’s History of Dirty Cops, Ministers and Generals. More #InSightCrime.

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  • What Lies Behind Armed Robbery of Cancer Drugs in Mexico City?

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    By Katie Jones.

    A massive robbery of nearly 38,000 cancer drugs from a warehouse in Mexico City points to a growing sophistication in the country’s lucrative black market for medicine, with those involved reacting to specific shortages and carrying out highly targeted operations.

    On October 17, authorities in Mexico City announced the arrest of two suspects after they were spotted discarding 27 plastic bags in the streets of Azcapotzalco, a municipality located in the capital. Officials later confirmed the bags were filled with some 8,000 boxes of five different pediatric oncology medications, about a fifth of the drugs taken in the robbery 10 days earlier on October 7, according to a news release.

    The anti-cancer drugs, specifically licensed to treat children, were taken from a warehouse in Mexico City’s district of Iztapalapa, according to Mexico’s Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk (Comisión Federal para la Protección contra Riesgos Sanitarios — COFEPRIS). ...

    Continue reading at InSight Crime: What Lies Behind Armed Robbery of Cancer Drugs in Mexico City? More #InSightCrime.

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  • Drug Tunnel Discovery Highlights Battle for Mexico City’s Largest Market.

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    By Kendall Horvath.

    The recent discovery of drug tunnels underneath Mexico City’s largest market reveals how criminal groups continue to compete to control a site that has long been a major hub of illicit activity.

    An October 9 raid on the sprawling Central de Abasto market uncovered several tunnels used to transport drugs between warehouses.

    Authorities also detained 17 people during a search of three properties and seized drugs — including cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines — 36 slot machines, one firearm, cash and several vehicles, according to a news release from Mexico City officials. ...

    Continue reading at InSight Crime: Drug Tunnel Discovery Highlights Battle for Mexico City’s Largest Market. More #InSightCrime.

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  • US Arrest of Former Defense Minister Deals Blow to Mexico Military

    By Parker Asmann.

    The US arrest of Mexico’s former defense minister on drug charges confirms what has long been alleged by traffickers and civilians alike: that the country’s military, which plays an outsized role in the fight against organized crime, has been thoroughly corrupted.

    On October 15, the US Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, informed Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard that former general Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, Mexico’s defense secretary under former President Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), had been arrested at Los Angeles’ international airport.

    The arrest order from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) came after Cienfuegos — dubbed “El Padrino,” or the “Godfather” — was charged with three counts of drug conspiracy and one count of money laundering, according to an indictment filed in August 2019 in the Eastern District of New York. ...

    Continue reading at InSight Crime: US Arrest of Former Defense Minister Deals Blow to Mexico Military. More #InSightCrime.

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  • COVID-19: Gangs, Statemaking, Threats and Opportunities

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    From Mexico to Brazil and almost everywhere in between, gangs have used the pandemic to expand their physical and social control.

    It was March 2020, not long after fear of the coronavirus began spreading across the Americas, when several major criminal groups started employing their own form of a lockdown.

    In Brazil, the Comando Vermelho (Red Command – CV), the vaunted prison gang, began issuing stay-at-home orders via social media.

    “Stay home,” one tweet said. “This thing is getting serious.” ...

    In the interim, there will be criminal governance. At the bare minimum, these criminals will provide handouts. Early during the pandemic in Mexico, splinter groups from the Gulf Cartel illustrated how this will work when they handed out boxes of rice and beans, while the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) provided people with cooking oil, bread, jam and toilet paper. ...

    Continue reading at InSight Crime: COVID-19: Gangs, Statemaking, Threats and Opportunities. More #InSightCrime.

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  • Will Killers Walk Free in Cartel Ambush of Mormon Family in Mexico?

    Parker Asmann: The brazen murder of several children and women from a prominent American Mormon family by cartel gunmen in northern Mexico has yet again highlighted the country’s abysmal security situation, while also raising concerns that the killers will elude justice.

    At least nine US citizens, all family members of anti-crime activist Julián LeBarón, were killed in the November 4 attack in the small town of Bavispe in northwest Sonora state along the US-Mexico border. The dead included three women and six children, two of whom were just infants, according to Animal Político.

    The group of 17 family members was reportedly traveling in three separate vehicles when they came under fire. Gunmen shot some of the passengers at point blank range and sprayed the vehicles with bullets, causing one to burst into flames, according to purported videos of the burnt-out vehicle.

    Continue reading at InSight Crime: Will Killers Walk Free in Cartel Ambush of Mormon Family in Mexico? More #InSightCrime.

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  • Why Are More People Being Killed in Mexico in 2019?

    Written by Patrick Corcoran - August 8, 2019 from InSight Crime.

    With Mexico registering more murders in the first six months of 2019 than any year in recent history, its spiral of violence shows no signs of slowing.

    According to preliminary numbers from the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública – SNSP), 17,608 people were killed in Mexico from January through June 2019, Animal Politico reported. This represents a nearly 5 percent increase when compared to the same six months in 2018.

    Mexico’s most comprehensive registry of murders, conducted by its National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía – INEGI), does not publish its annual tally until well after the close of every year. But INEGI’s figures are typically larger than the SNSP’s, meaning that the figures for early 2019 are likely to rise further.

    SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profile

    According to INEGI, Mexico’s national murder rate clocked in at 29 per 100,000 people in 2018, and, absent a sudden improvement, the figure is poised to hit 30 in 2019. The current number is triple Mexico’s murder rate from 2007, the first year of Felipe Calderón’s tenure, and represents a 75 percent increase from 2015.

    InSight Crime Analysis

    One of the key factors affecting violence in Mexico in recent years is likely the rate of political turnover. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s victory in the 2018 election was the culmination of a years-long collapse of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI), in which the previous ruling party lost control of the presidency, various governorships and statehouses, and hundreds of local governments.

    The party principally responsible for governing Mexico was summarily tossed out in one jurisdiction after another.

    According to pioneering research by Mexican academics Sandra Ley and Guillermo Trejo, political turnover has long correlated with increased rates of violence. The logic behind their findings is clear: Criminal groups establish modes of coexistence with governments –ranging from tacit acceptance to outright cooperation — which tend to promote underworld stability.

    But when governing parties change, these patterns of interaction are upset, which injects of a jolt of uncertainty into the criminal landscape, with increases in violence often the result. Since 2018 was a historic year for political turnover, a subsequent rise in violence as criminal groups seek a new equilibrium with their competitors and with the new political administrations is a logical consequence.

    The rising violence also illustrates López Obrador’s inability to craft an effective strategy to combat insecurity. As noted in InSight Crime, the steps López Obrador has taken on security lack coherence.

    During the campaign, López Obrador promised a policy based on “hugs, not bullets.” Once in office, with the creation of the National Guard through constitutional reform, he, like many of his predecessors, has instead bet on increased militarization. Neither his campaign rhetoric nor his initial reform alone amounts to anything like a genuine strategy, but taken together, they reflect an administration working at cross-purposes with itself.

    But even if López Obrador’s response has been insufficient, the violence is primarily a product not of government policies but of long-ascendant factors intrinsic to the nation’s underworld.

    One of the most striking elements of the current bloodshed is how it is driven by a small cohort of exceedingly violent cities. According to a recent report from a non-profit organization, the Citizen Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, five of the six most murder-wracked cities in the world are in Mexico: Tijuana, Acapulco, Ciudad Victoria, Ciudad Juárez, and Irapuato. Each of these has a murder rate above 80 per 100,000 citizens. Tijuana alone accounts for approximately 1.5 percent of the nation’s population but has thus far contributed to around 7.5 percent of Mexico’s murders in 2019.

    SEE ALSO: The Violent Tailspin of Mexico’s Dominant Cartels

    In some sense, this is typical: individual hotspots have long had a disproportionate impact on Mexico’s national murder rate. But in other ways, the current wave of violence is very different from what came before.

    Historically, when a city has suffered a prolonged uptick in violence, the cause has been two large organizations fighting for control of it. Such was the case in Juárez from 2008 to 2011, where the Sinaloa Cartel squared off with the Juárez Cartel. A similar dynamic was at play in Torreón during much of the same period, where the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel fought for domination. Similar examples abound.

    However, much of the current violence appears to be the product of low-level gangs fighting over retail drug markets. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that in Tijuana, officials attribute the wave of killings to the local players operating in the consumer market for methamphetamine. In Mexico City, a comparatively mild surge in violence has, by virtue of the capital city’s size, nonetheless contributed substantially to Mexico’s overall murder rate. There, too, officials say the vicissitudes of the local drug market are the chief factor.

    The growing role of smaller gangs and the retail drug market dovetails with phenomena affecting the largest groups. As with many capos before him, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s arrest and extradition struck a blow to the power of the Sinaloa Cartel, opening up a vacuum that other gangs have fought to fill.

    In recent years, the gangs that fill the voids left by the demise of a capo tend to be smaller, more erratic organizations than the giants they replaced. This dynamic, often referred to as fragmentation, has largely erased the military-like, hierarchical groups capable of bullying the state, but it has left in their place a chaotic tangle of groups collectively capable of spilling just as much blood.

    InSight Crime Why Are More People Being Killed in Mexico in 2019? More #InSightCrime.

    Reprinted with permission under the Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) license.

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  • Spike in Mexico Lynchings

    "The number of mob lynchings in Mexico nearly tripled last year — a sign citizens gravely distrust police and would rather take justice into their own hands.

    Lynchings of suspected criminals increased 190 percent, from just 60 cases in 2017 to 174 in 2018, according to a joint report published last month from Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos – CNDH) and National Autonomous University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México – UNAM).

    Of the 174 cases, 76 percent occurred in just five states: 48 in Puebla, 40 in Mexico State, 22 in Tabasco, 13 in Mexico City and nine in Hidalgo, according to the report."


    Read more by Parker Asmann at InSight Crime Spike in Mexico Lynchings is Grave Warning Sign. More #InSightCrime.

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