Mexico Intelligence News Summary
It has become apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted public safety across many areas of Mexico. Some measures point to improved conditions, primarily because of business closures. Recent data released by the Secretaría de Gobernación (SEGOB) suggest declines in several measures of criminality. That said, the overall levels of violence and the propensity with which criminals prey on other residents are still quite high.
The media reported 39 attacks directed against governmental authorities during June. Perhaps, the most noteworthy incident occurred when sicarios of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) attacked an armored vehicle transporting the chief of police of Mexico City. The chief was injured, and two bodyguards and an innocent bystander were killed in the brazen attack. The total number of attacks occurring during June matches May but is lower than the average for 2019 and early 2020.
At least 49 police officers or military personnel were killed in attacks this month. This is the highest number since February 2013. The media reported two attacks on army patrols this month. Assailants attacked seven state police patrols. Additionally, two municipal police patrols were attacked in Guanajuato. There were also several attacks directed at fixed government targets. Attacks against governmental authorities occurred across 13 states, which is lower than the monthly average for 2019 and early 2020. These incidents occurred in Chihuahua, Colima, Edomex, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz).
Authorities reported the capture of four regional leaders of the major criminal organizations. This figure is on par with most of 2019 and 2020. In one instance, Noé Israel Lara Belman “El Puma”, a key leader of the Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima and at one time considered to be the right-hand man of José Antonio Yépez Ortiz “El Marro”, was captured in San Luis Potosí, San Luis Potosí. Gregorio N. “Wester”, a regional leader of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), was apprehended in Olmeaca, Veracruz. Jesus Adalberto Gonzalez Avitia “Chuy Lavadas”, a regional leader of the Gulf Cartel, was captured in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas. Abraham Emilio Mendiola Sánchez “El Raveli”, a regional leader of Los Rojos, was captured in Cuernavaca, Morelos.
Thirty-three street battles were reported by the media during June. While still too many, this is the lowest number since February and significantly less than the monthly average for 2019 (see Figure 2). These incidents occurred in 12 states.
Assailants burned numerous vehicles and businesses in response to the arrest of 26 members of the Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima in Guanajuato. These particular incidents occurred in Celaya, Salvatierra, San Luis de la Paz, Juventino Rosas, and San José Iturbide.
We continue to be troubled by the extremely high levels of violence across many areas of the county. Felony homicides, which spiked in March, declined somewhat during April and May (Figure 3). However, the figures are substantially higher than just a few years ago. Some of this violence is not related directly to organized crime and maybe more political in nature.
According to data published by SEGOB, the total number of reported extortions has declined since August 2019. Despite this, there were at least twelve fatal attacks associated with extortion operations during June. At least 30 people were killed in these attacks, mostly in Guanajuato.
The media reported the disruption of five major kidnap operations during June. This figure is the highest since November 2019. These operations were located in Puebla, and Veracruz (4 operations). In addition to these operations, there were numerous reports of police rescues of kidnap victims.
As is the case with reported extortions, the total number of reported robberies has also declined, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, armed robbery is rampant across Mexico. Furthermore, customers continue to be robbed in the vicinity of banks. Several such incidents were reported in Veracruz.
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There was a decline in several measures of criminality this month. For example, attacks on governmental authorities declined considerably when compared to the previous nine months. The number of battles also diminished. Furthermore, attacks on civilians in public venues and mass deposits of bodies dropped as well. It is still not certain if these declines are the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but evidence suggests this is the case.
There were 38 attacks directed against governmental authorities during May. This is the lowest number since September 2017. Three of these involved the assassination of government officials. This is the lowest number since November 2018. There were several non-fatal attacks on officials. In one case, an attack was directed at a convoy transporting a state official in Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
Attacks against governmental authorities occurred across 14 states. This is the lowest number of states impacted since August 2019. These incidents occurred in Baja California, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Oaxaca, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas.
Four regional leaders of the major criminal organizations were captured by authorities during May. This number is on par with most months of 2019 and 2020.
There were 36 street battles between sicarios of rival organizations, and between Mexican authorities and cartel gunmen reported during May. This figure is lower than the previous two months and lower than the average of the previous 16 months. These incidents occurred across Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.
While overland travel in most areas of the country should be considered hazardous, there are several locations where assaults, robberies, and kidnappings occur with greater frequency. For example, there were numerous reports of robberies occurring on Highway 150D near San José Cuyachapa, Puebla. This vital route connects Puebla to Veracruz. There are also reports of travelers disappearing while on rural highways near Poza Rica and elsewhere in Veracruz.
The media reported just nine attacks on civilians in public venues during May. This is the lowest number of incidents since early 2012. Thirty-two people were killed in such incidents this month. This figure is similar to April but is about 40% less than the average for 2019. These incidents occurred across seven states; Guanajuato, Guerrero, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz (3 incidents).
At least 79 women and girls were killed by assailants this month. These murders occurred across 17 states (Baja California, Coahuila, Edomex, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Veracruz, and Zacatecas).
There were at least eight fatal extortion-related attacks reported by the media during May; resulting in 14 fatalities. These figures are on par with most months of 2019. These incidents occurred across Guanajuato, Michoacán, Morelos (2 incidents), Oaxaca, San Luis Potosí, and Veracruz (2 incidents). The victims included owners or employees of small shops.
During the last 11 months, the Comisión Nacional Antisecuestros (CONASE) reported that they had dismantled 182 different kidnapping gangs in Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. Some of the gangs were operated by police officers. At least 1500 suspects were detained, and almost 800 victims were rescued in these operations.
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Despite the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, criminals have not taken a break from their illicit activities. In particular, the homicide rate continues to rise. The total number of crimes has also continued a climb, a pattern that began in January (prior to COVID-19). In contrast, reported robberies and extortion have both declined slightly since February, and it remains unclear if it is the result of the pandemic.
There were 45 attacks directed against governmental authorities were reported during April. This figure is a significant drop from March but is similar to the average of the previous nine months. There were five assassination attacks resulting in six fatalities. There were also several non-fatal attacks on elected officials and union leaders. At least 23 police officers or military personnel were killed in attacks this month. Six army or marine patrols were attacked across Guanajuato, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas (4 incidents). Two federal police or Guardia Nacional patrols were attacked in Tamaulipas. In one incident, a member of the Guardia Nacional was killed during an ambush while on patrol in Terrones Benitez, Tamaulipas. Five state police patrols were attacked in Baja California, Michoacán, Nuevo Léon, and Tamaulipas (2 incidents). Four state police officers were injured during an ambush in Ario de Rosales, Michoacán. Three municipal police patrols were attacked in Guanajuato and Tamaulipas. There were 18 additional attacks on authorities across 13 states.
Attacks against governmental authorities occurred across 16 states (Baja California, Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz). The majority of these incidents occurred in Tamaulipas.
Authorities reported the capture of three regional leaders of major criminal organizations during April. This number is slightly higher than in the previous few months. Authorities reported the seizure of medium-sized weapons caches at seven sites across Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Sonora, and Tamaulipas (2 locations). Eleven rifles, 17 fragmentation grenades, and 3100 rounds of ammunition were seized in El Naranjo, Michoacán. Twenty-two rifles, 2600 rounds of ammunition, and three pieces of body armor were seized in Sonoyta, Sonora. Twelve firearms, including a belt-felt machine gun, were seized in La Carbonera, Tamaulipas. The army seized a homemade armored truck (typically called “monstruos”) in El Aguaje, Michoacán. Also, a radio communication network used by a cartel was dismantled by state and federal authorities in San Lucas, Michoacán.
The media reported 38 battles during April. This number is lower than March, but still on par with most months of 2019. These incidents occurred across 11 states (Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Quintana Roo, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz). The number of states impacted is the lowest since August 2019. Some of these battles were large and involved numerous sicarios (cartel gunmen).
The Secretaría de Gobernación (SEGOB) has already reported that there were 2585 felony homicides during March. This is the highest of any month since record-keeping began in 1997. There was also a high number of attacks on governmental authorities and major street battles this month as well. Despite impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, the security situation in Mexico continues to spiral out of control.
There were at least 59 attacks directed against governmental authorities reported during March. This figure is the highest since July 2018. There were five assassinations of public officials or political party activists reported this month. There were also several incidents in which assailants either attempted to assassinate political leaders, or they fired on their residences or vehicles.
At least 41 soldiers, marines, or police officers were killed in attacks this month. Among the victims was the municipal chief of police who was ambushed and killed in San Juan Evangelista, Veracruz. He had replaced the previous chief who was killed last year. The deputy chief of police was murdered in Ensenada, Baja California. A deputy municipal police commander and his bodyguard were gunned down in Celaya, Guanajuato. Four army patrols were attacked this month. These incidents occurred in Sinaloa (2 incidents), Sonora, and Veracruz. Interestingly, there were no attacks against military patrols in Tamaulipas this month. Seven federal police patrols were attacked in Guerrero, Nuevo Léon, Puebla, Queretaro, San Luis Potosí, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz. Five state police patrols were attacked in Guanajuato, Michoacán, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz. In a departure from previous months, nine municipal police patrols were reported attacked this month. These incidents occurred in Edomex, Guerrero, Morelos, Nuevo Léon, Sinaloa, Veracruz, and Zacatecas.
There were also several attacks on fixed targets. In one case, a vehicle-borne IED was detonated next to a Guardia Nacional base in Celaya, Guanajuato. There were also 19 additional fatal attacks on authorities across nine states. Attacks against authorities occurred across 20 states. This is the highest number of states since May 2018. The states impacted this month were Baja California, Chihuahua, Edomex, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacán, Morelos, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas.
Mexican federal authorities reported the arrest of five regional leaders or key operatives of the major criminal organizations during March. This number is slightly larger than the average for 2019.
Authorities reported the seizure of weapons and munitions caches at three separate locations across Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz. Also, a Barrett 50-caliber sniper rifle was seized following a battle in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. Two belt-fed machine guns were seized following a battle in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Interestingly, a rare Armas Trejo Model 3 Pistol was seized following a shooting incident in Veracruz. This pistol, produced in Puebla during the 1950s-1970s, is the smallest fully-automatic pistol ever made, capable of emptying the entire magazine in less than half a second. An impressive weapon in the hands of a low-level criminal.
There were 50 street battles reported during March. This figure is the largest since March 2019. These incidents occurred in 17 states (Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacán, Morelos, Nuevo León, Puebla, Querétaro, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosí, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz). The number of states impacted was the highest since January 2019. Seven sicarios (cartel gunmen) were killed during a battle with authorities in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco.
Overland travel in many rural areas of Mexico should be considered hazardous. There continue to be reports of armed highway robberies in Tamaulipas and Veracruz.
As previously mentioned, official homicide data indicates that March was the highest on record. Among the victims this month were the 38 people who were killed in attacks on civilians in public venues such as restaurants, bars, small businesses, shopping areas, and a bus terminal. The number of fatalities represents a slight decline from previous months. There were 18 such attacks this month across Chihuahua, Colima, Edomex, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Mexico City, Puebla, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.
The mass deposits of 183 victims’ bodies were found at 69 different sites across 19 states (Chihuahua, Colima, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Mexico City, Michoacán, Morelos, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Zacatecas).
There were eight cases of fatal attacks related to extortion operations during March, resulting in nine fatalities. This figure is on par with the previous six months. These incidents occurred in Guerrero, Jalisco (2 incidents), Mexico City, Puebla (2 incidents), Quintana Roo, and Veracruz.
During March, authorities reported the disruption of two kidnapping operations. This figure represents a decline from previous months. These operations were located in Puebla and Veracruz. In addition to these operations, there were numerous reports of police rescues of kidnap victims.
There were multiple robberies of numerous large stores (e.g., Bodega Aurrerá, Coppel, Elektra, Soriana, etc.) in Edomex, Nuevo Léon, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz.
Security Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Date of Report: May 12, 2020
The general consensus is that COVID-19 arrived in Mexico by late February, although the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología (CONACYT) reported two cases of patients with COVID-19 symptoms in Nayarit and Tabasco in mid-January. Therefore, the assumed period of any potential impact on public safety in Mexico is late February. There is contradictory evidence concerning the impact of COVID-19 on criminal activities in Mexico. Some figures, such as the total number of robberies, indicate a decline since the onset of the pandemic. The number of reported extortions also declined in March, but the change may reflect a more significant scale cyclical pattern in this crime. Other measures, such as the total number of crimes and homicides, have increased throughout the period impacted by COVID-19. It is important to note that these upwards trends had begun prior to COVID-19. Researchers have suggested that recent increases in violence are the result of partial closures of the U.S.-Mexico border and subsequent limitations on drug trafficking, possibly leading these organizations to expand revenue generation in other areas. The problem facing traffickers is exacerbated by the fact that the Wuhan area of China was a major source of chemical precursors used to manufacture synthetic drugs.
The major criminal organizations such as the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), La Familia Michoacana, the Gulf Cartel, and the Sinaloa Cartel have also been fairly active in providing care packages of essential food and household items to residents within the territories they control. These "narco benefactor" activities have also occurred in contested territories likely in an attempt to gain support from the local population. Also, supposedly in an effort to stem the spread of COVID-19, several cartels have imposed curfews within their territories.
What Does Government Crime Data Show?
This section assesses trends in selected crime data provided by the Secretaría de Gobernación (SEGOB). Data for April is not yet available. The total number of reported crimes nation-wide increased through the first three quarters of 2019, with a slight decline during the last quarter. Since December, that figure has crept back upward. The figure for December was 154,734 reported crimes, rising to 165,720 in January, to 167,558 in February, and 168,826 in March. It is apparent that the upward trend in total reported crimes began prior to the impacts of COVID-19 in Mexico.
With regard to the total number of robberies, this figure had generally declined slightly from a peak in January 2019. With regard to the trend in 2020, the figure has further declined from 61,178 in January to 57,502 in February and to 55,748 in March. Therefore, there is no clear correlation between COVID-19 and the trend of these two measures. In other words, the total number of reported crimes was already on the rise by January 2020. Indeed, the most significant jump was between December 2019 and January rather than between January and March. Likewise, the downward trend of reported robberies began in January 2019, and accelerated in November and December, further dropping in February and March. That said, there exists the possibility that lower robbery rates are a function of fewer people in public settings and businesses being closed, thereby reducing opportunities for these particular crimes.
With regard to the number of reported extortions, these have increased since 2017, and more significantly between December 2018 and February 2019. Then the number remained relatively steady until the last quarter of 2019 when it began to decline. Then the number increased from December until February. The figure for March is slightly lower than the previous two months. It is important to note that the variability in the number of reported extortions from month to month is considerably larger than any change occurring since COVID-19 arrived in Mexico.
Additional perspective is obtained by looking at data about total homicides and felony homicides. These figures showed a slight decline from June 2019 until February 2020. Both measures grew during March to the highest levels on record. It is difficult to determine if the increases in homicide rates are the direct result of social and economic changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. While correlation does not mean causation, the figures suggest a link.
We expect the overall levels of violence to remain elevated over the next few months as the major criminal groups attempt to extend their influence over rival territories. It is important to note that these groups depend heavily on street drug sales within Mexico. Each major criminal organization also controls territory in order to facilitate other criminal operations such as extortion, kidnapping, cargo theft, and armed robbery. In a sense, the number of square kilometers a particular organization controls relates directly to how many residents and businesses from which they can extract revenue. Therefore, not only do they need to violently "protect" these revenue-producing territories, they are motivated to expand into those controlled by "weaker" organizations.
There is also a concern that as millions of Mexicans lose their incomes due to the pandemic, many of them will be driven into criminal activity for the bare necessity of survival. Furthermore, due to financial difficulties in their home life, some teenagers may be more likely to serve as sicarios (gunmen) in these criminal organizations, leading to long-term impacts on public safety across Mexico.
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