The violence, the massacres, the terror of the confrontations between criminal groups, as well as the irruption of the government in the battle to stop the drug trade has become more complicated in the last decade: Mexico went from being the scene of an internal war to see how drug trafficking took power in the country step by step.
Especially since 2006, with the launch of the so-called "War on Drugs" led by President Felipe Calderón, which sent the army into the streets to fight the dominant cartels directly, Mexicans have seen their rates of violence and insecurity rise steadily year by year.
This year, moreover, there have been several specific moments that have put Andrés Manuel López Obrador through the hardest tests at the beginning of his six-year term (2018-2024) and have provoked unanimous rejection among the opposition.
The drug trafficker shows his full power
Perhaps the defining moment of the Tabasco government so far is the capture and release of Ovidio Guzmán López, one of the sons of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera. In October, federal forces detained El Chapito and hours later he was released.
This occurred after, alerted by the arrest of one of the operators of the Sinaloa Cartel, hitmen from the organization caused panic in Culiacán, where Guzmán López had been detained, in addition to besieging the city to prevent any attempt to move their leader not only out of the state but also out of the country, towards the United States.
The criminals caused terror and shootings for several hours. With the city, the Cartel's stronghold, in flames, the government decided to release Ovid to "avoid the loss of life. With the Chapito Libre, Lopez's critics assured that the government had bowed to drug trafficking, in a more than symbolic event about who ruled the country.
As if that was not enough, the gesture provoked the empowerment of the Pacific Cartel, which was going through a difficult time after Guzmán Loera was caught for the third time (and after two escapes) by the authorities in 2016 and, after a quick and effective trial following his extradition, sentenced to life in U.S. territory.
The federal government was bloodily overrun by criminal groups in the same week that Ovidio Guzmán was released: it was an ambush by the New Generation Jalisco Cartel (CJNG) in a town in the western Mexican state of Michoacán, which resulted in the death of 13 local police officers and the injury of nine others. And it was, according to analysts, the most vicious against authorities of any level in the country.
"It is the mightiest ambush," Alfonso Partida Caballero, a research professor at the University of Guadalajara's Security and Justice Observatory, told Infobae Mexico at the time. "It is the most bloodthirsty. The rest were done in confrontations against other groups, now the government has crossed them," he said.
And the fact is that CJNG has consolidated itself in this decade not only as the most bloodthirsty and violent of the cartels that have predominated in Mexico since the 1980s. In addition, the criminal group led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes "El Mencho", has consolidated itself as one of the most powerful organizations in the continent.
First an ally of the Sinaloa Cartel and then its antagonist, El Mencho led the CJNG to dominate Mexican territory and become one of the most wanted by the governments of Mexico and the United States.
Rise and fall of the big bosses
Oseguera Cervantes, along with Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, the elusive leader behind the shadows of the Sinaloa Cartel, have remained the capos who have not been captured or eliminated, although the former came close to falling in 2015.
On May 1, 2015, the federal government, then headed by Enrique Peña Nieto, launched the so-called Operation Jalisco in that western Mexican state, involving elements from the Ministry of National Defense (Sedena), the Army, the Navy, CISEN (Federal Intelligence and Espionage Center) and the then-active Federal Police.
The main objective was clear: to catch or eliminate El Mencho, and to dismantle his organization, already at that time one of the most important in the country in the transfer of drugs, among other illicit activities.
However, they were not prepared for - the ambush that CJNG had prepared, which included a rocket launcher that ended up shooting down a Navy aircraft and causing six deaths. Throughout that day, after the helicopter was shot down, Jalisco became hell: The criminal group carried out 39 blockades in 25 municipalities of the state, including Guadalajara, the capital.
Others have had worse luck, including Zambada's son, Vicente Zambada, El Vicentillo, who was arrested in 2009 along with five collaborators in a Mexico City neighborhood.
At the end of that year, in December, on the verge of a new decade, the federal government, then headed by Felipe Calderón and as part of its security strategy, dealt one of the strongest blows to one of the most prominent capos: Arturo Beltran Leyva.
The man, along with his three brothers, was an ally of the Sinaloa Cartel, but later became its enemy, denouncing Chapo Guzmán as a traitor, in order to ally himself with Los Zetas. That December 16, Mexican federal forces found the drug trafficker in Cuernavaca, Morelos, near the country's capital.
There, after a long and intense confrontation, "El Jefe de Jefes" was assassinated. A few months later, Sergio Villarreal Barragán, "El Grande", a lieutenant in the organization, was arrested and became a protected witness for the government.
The arrest of another of the gang's lieutenants, Édgar Valdez Villarreal, "La Barbie", a few days before Villarreal Barragán, caused the beginning of the fall of the Beltrán Leyva, who, already without their most prominent leaders, generated the creation of cells that founded new groups or allied themselves with others.
In these 10 years, several of the most prominent capos of the moment have died or been captured, and have been quickly replaced by other leaders. In some cases, the same thing happened: the organizations they led split up and new organizations, sometimes even more violent and cruel, have been created from the remains.
Among them, Miguel Ángel Treviño, "The Z-40", leader of Los Zetas, was captured in 2013; Héctor Beltrán Leyva, in 2014; Omar Treviño, "The Z-42", in 2015; Servando Gómez, "La Tuta", leader of Los Caballeros Templarios, in 2015.
Ignacio Nacho Coronel was killed in 2010; Heriberto Lazcano, "El Lazca", whose body was later stolen by a commando, fell in 2012; and the leader and ideologist of the Knights Templar, Nazario Moreno, "El Chayo", fell in 2014.
The descent to hell
This decade also had some chilling and difficult moments to process. The decade began with the news of the massacre in the community of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, where 72 migrants (58 men and 14 women), mostly Central and South Americans, were executed, according to authorities, by the Zetas, since they refused to pay to be released and did not want to join the criminal group either.
A year later, in the same place, 193 bodies were found in clandestine graves. The area, which was one of the migratory crossings through which people sought to cross to the United States, became one of the most feared in the entire north.
In the community of Allende, Coahuila, another similar massacre occurred. The leaders of the Zetas at the time, the Z-40 and the Z-42, furious that their allies there were betraying the organization to collaborate with the United States, launched an act of revenge in the place, where between 200 and 300 people disappeared.
In 2014, also, the disappearance of 43 students from a teacher training college in Ayotzinapa, in the south of the country, was linked to drug trafficking, since, according to the then Attorney General's Office (PGR, now FGR) a local criminal group had ordered the normalistas to "blow up" a political act that triggered the subsequent events that led to their disappearance.
According to the statement of one of the witnesses, "Los Rojos" wanted to take over Iguala Square, where the Normalistas were headed, which they "confused" with a rival operation. "United Warriors" is the organization allegedly responsible for her disappearance.
The Mexican government concluded after the first investigations that the young people had been killed in incinerators at the Cocula dump in Guerrero. The so-called "historical truth" was rejected nationally and internationally, and so far the Normalistas and their remains have not been located.
For its part, the decade also began and now ends with a tragedy involving the LeBarón family.
The LeBarón family arrived in Mexico in the 1920s and settled in the state of Chihuahua. Although they originally belonged to the Mormon Church, its members separated from it because they did not want to leave polygamy.
In 2009, the family surprised the country when it refused to give in to the demands of a criminal group and did not pay the ransom for 17-year-old Erick LeBarón. Since then, they have confronted these crime groups in the north of the country, where they settled.
When Erick was released, it became known that the captive returned to his family without a single peso being paid. This gesture made them a symbol of the fight against organized crime. So the LeBarón led mobilizations and organized self-defense against the criminals.
In June of that year, 25 alleged members of organized crime who had planned Erick's kidnapping were arrested, but days later, in retaliation, two leaders of this community were kidnapped and killed as a warning message for the role they played in securing the young man's freedom.
This year, both the LeBarons and the Langfords were the protagonists of a new massacre. In November, 17 members of the Mormon families caravanned from their ranch in La Mora, located in the municipality of Bavispe, Sonora, to the community of Galeana, in Chihuahua, when they were massacred on their way. The toll was nine dead, seven injured and one baby unharmed.
López Obrador's strategy, which proposed avoiding direct confrontation with criminal groups, does not seem to lead to a successful conclusion in the short term. 2019 is already one of the most violent years in the country's history since records began three decades ago and could break the records of previous administrations.
The creation of the National Guard has not shown any improvement in its first months of operations either. In recent years, experts have criticized the fact that military authorities were in charge of strategies dedicated to fighting drug trafficking.
"The government should progressively return counter-narcotics actions to civilian authority. After this decade of mourning, of unpunished killings, of corruption in the authorities, it is necessary to think of a comprehensive policy that visualizes drug trafficking beyond a fight between heroes and villains," José Luis Pardo Veiras wrote in 2016 in an article in the New York Times.
"In the midst of these extremes, society has had to adapt to a situation of permanent violence. Decriminalization of consumption will not solve a problem so deeply rooted in the country, but it will help Mexicans distinguish drugs from the 'War on Drugs'. The consumers of the drug traffickers. It's the first step in accepting that another solution is possible," he added.
However, despite the fact that it was the current administration's secretary of the interior, Olga Sánchez Cordero, who proposed the legalization of marijuana, the Mexican Congress has not acted or accelerated the processes in the chambers, as they had promised at the time.
The 5 most violent states in 2019
Guanajuato, Jalisco, Baja California, Estado de México and Chihuahua are the five entities with the highest homicidal violence in the country. These five states alone accounted for 42.01 percent (13,315) of the total number of murders recorded in the 32 states from January to November 2019, a figure that rose to 31,688 victims.
The number of crimes of intentional homicide recorded in the month of November alone grew by 3.88 percent, while victims of intentional homicide also grew by 7.11 percent in November, compared to the same month last year: in November 2018 there were 2,727 victims, while in November 2019 there were 2,466.
The SESNSP report also shows an increase in family violence (18.47 percent), human trafficking (8.57 percent), drug trafficking (8.95 percent) and other crimes (9.24 percent).
The other crime that showed an annual increase is femicide, which rose from 67 in November 2018 to 74 in November 2019, an increase of 10.45 percent.
In 2019, the number of victims of intentional homicide rose to 31,688, which represents an increase of 2.70 percent compared to the same period last year, since from January to November 2018 they accumulated at least 30,852.
The five states with the highest level of violence account for more than 4 percent of the country's murder victims.
Guanajuato is positioned as the most violent state, registering 3,211 victims of intentional homicide, of which 2,685 were committed with firearms. This represents an increase of 07.46 percent, compared to the number of murder victims registered in the same period last year, January to November, which reported 2,988 cases.
Kidnapping in Guanajuato increased by 433 percent in 2019, with at least 32 cases recorded from January to November, compared to only six kidnappings in all of 2018, according to official figures.
In addition, so far in 2019, Guanajuato has also seen a series of murders of elements of different security corporations. On December 19, Jorge Valtierra Herrera, director of Public Security in Acámbaro, Guanajuato, was murdered, bringing the total number of murdered police officers to at least 64, most of them municipal. In the last month, 13 elements were killed and two more were injured during clashes with alleged organized crime groups.
In this state, governed by Diego Sinhue Rodriguez of the National Action Party, he has kept two men at the head of the security corporations for years: Carlos Zamarripa, Attorney General and now Attorney General of Justice, a position he has held for ten years, and Alvar Cabeza de Vaca, who has been the head of the Secretariat of Public Security for seven years.
Jalisco is the second state with the highest number of homicide victims, with a total of 2,465 cases, of which 1,388 were killed with firearms. The number grew by 12.96 percent, compared to the same period last year, when 2,182 intentional homicides were recorded.
Femicides grew by 70.37 percent, since of the 27 committed from January to November 2018, in the same period in 2019, there were 46 femicides in the state.
In other crimes, Jalisco registers a total of 15 kidnappings and at least 711 victims of extortion who have reported the crimes.
In recent days, Hugo Gutiérrez Maldonado, the state's Secretary of Public Security, indicated that - according to local media - in the region of Xalapa, where various violent events have been registered, there is a dispute for the square between the Los Zetas and New Generation Jalisco Cartels (CJNG).
Baja California, under the recent government of Jaime Bonilla of Morena, is the third state with the most murders, with a total of 2,657 victims of intentional homicide, of which 1,955 were with firearms. Unlike Guanajuato and Jalisco, in Baja California, the murders decreased 7.29 percent from the number of attacks in the same period last year, which amounted to 2,866.
Kidnappings were also down, with 13 victims recorded out of 15 cases in 2018, from January to November 2019.
In femicide, Baja California recorded 24 victims, one more than in the same period in 2018. The crime of extortion is the one that reports the greatest increase. In the first 11 months of 2019, 199 cases were recorded, an increase of 54.26 percent compared to the same period last year, when 129 cases were recorded.
State of Mexico
The State of Mexico, under the government of Alfredo del Mazo Maza of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), ranks fourth with a total of 2,603 victims of intentional homicide, of which 1,770 were perpetrated with firearms.
Victims of intentional homicide, femicide, kidnapping and extortion from January to November 2019, had an increase compared to the first eleven months of 2018: murders rose 8.63 percent; kidnapping grew 25.88 percent, from 170 cases in 2018 to 214 in 2019; femicides, 5.82 percent; and extortion skyrocketed 72.87 percent.
Security analysts have agreed that the municipalities of the State of Mexico "have become no man's land" because for years the authorities have colluded with a crime, which now complicates the fight against insecurity.
There are 13 criminal groups operating in the State of Mexico, some of them linked to at least four drug cartels, according to various reports from state and federal authorities.
The largest presence is of the cartel La Familia Michoacana, however, the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel, - which in recent years has had exponential growth and is now considered the most powerful - has extended its presence to 25 states, including Edomex.
Chihuahua, governed by Javier Corral Jurado of the PAN, ranks fifth with a total of 2,379 victims, 16.84 percent more than the number of victims registered from January to November 2018.
Kidnapping and extortion were also on the rise with 81.81 percent and 100 percent respectively. The crime of femicide decreased by 27.90 percent, as 31 of the 43 femicides registered in 2018 were reported in 2019.
The most violent states by the murder rate
The highest murder rates per 100,000 inhabitants are in Colima (88), Baja California (74.2) and Chihuahua (63.2), and the lowest are in Yucatan (1.3), Aguascalientes (6.6) and Campeche (7).
The lack of a clear criminal policy and a well-defined strategy by the federal government to combat organized crime and insecurity has meant that state and municipal governments can also disengage themselves from their responsibility and ignore their role. It is not so clear that it is up to the states and the federation because the complexity of the crimes makes the functions overlap.
In matters of security, all the structures of government have failed. In the case of the Federation, the deficiency has been present since the creation of the security strategy because it does not have a defined policy to attack crime.
In relation to the state governments, the problem is more serious because at least 80 percent of the state police are not reliable. And further down, at the municipal level, many of these territories are lawless towns where the police are armed groups of criminal groups.
The lack of a clear policy does mean that the states can disassociate themselves from responsibility, because - from the legal framework - the states do not have the power to confront organized crime crimes, since it is up to the federation.
So it is very easy for governors to negotiate with organized crime, and the same goes for mayors, to make agreements with some organized crime cell, but when there are problems, they have nothing to do with this because they do not have the power, nor do they have the capacity, to confront crime.
On December 17, the President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, acknowledged that the trend of crime is on the rise throughout the country and that it has not been easy to combat insecurity and violence during his government.
"It has not been easy because there has been an upward trend in crime in general with few elements, instruments to address the problem of insecurity and violence, so we have started from scratch. There were no security elements, you know what was happening with the Federal Police, in the case of the Army, the Navy, they could not act in matters of public security," he said.