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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

4 Officers Killed and 7 Injured in Madera, Chihuahua Ambush

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat


NOTE: It is being alleged that La Línea is behind the attack, but no confirmations or claims of responsibility yet.

The ambush by alleged hitmen left four police officers killed and seven more who were injured in the town of La Concha, municipality of Madera, Chihuahua, according to the state's Public Security Secretariat (SSPE). The officers of the Division of Rural Operations carried out patrolling and surveillance when they were attacked and as soon succeeded in repelling the assault, as alleged members of organized crime fled.

Armed subjects were reportedly stationed at high points along the road.

Preliminary reports highlighted that the assassinated officers were Sergio LE; Efrain RR; Noel Omar RL; and Luis Raúl PG. After the ambush, an operation was deployed to find those responsible, but no further details have been reported. The governor, Javier Corral, has not commented on the crime committed against state agents.

The actions add up to the third attack against state police in the same municipality in the last four months. On November 5, 2020, there was an attack against elements of the State Security Commission, and previous attacks on National Guard personnel. This happened while the uniformed men circulated in a group from the Ejido El Largo Maderal to the municipal seat of Madera.



Chihuahua is a border state that represents part of the so-called “Golden Triangle,” a mountainous region where the planting and production of narcotics has been established for decades. Madera is located just over four hours from the state capital and borders the mountainous area of ​​Sonora.

At the beginning of 2020, on January 17, around 150 hitmen from La Línea broke into the communities Las Pomas de Abajo and Las Pomas de Arriba, in the municipality of Madera, where they burned at least 22 houses and 7 vehicles, in addition to kidnapping an undetermined number of people.

In this municipality, located in the Sierra Tarahumara, there is a bloody war between Los Salazar and Los Jaguares against La Línea, which has left rivers of blood due to executions and criminal acts. At the beginning of October 2019, the information circulated that Francisco Arvizu, El Jaguar, had been killed in a confrontation that took place in Las Pomas, in the municipality of Madera, but it was not confirmed by the authorities.

SourceInfobae

Butchered Bodies Dumped Across Six Different Parts of Celaya, Guanajuato

"MX" for Borderland Beat

Note: Several pictures contain graphic content. Viewer discretion is advised.

Both the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (CSRL) left bodies across Celaya, Guanajuato, earlier this morning

This morning in Celaya, Guananuato, authorities discovered several dismembered bodies, in plastic bags, abandoned in six different parts of the city. The remains correspond to a man and a woman.

At 5 in the morning they reported the first finding. On the Celaya - Salvatierra federal highway, near the Rincón de Tamayo detour, the body of the dismembered man was found.

The female victim was found in La Cruz community. At the height of Lázaro Cárdenas avenue, on southern part of Libramiento bridge, more of her remains were found.

Near two roundabouts, authorities discovered more human remains. The last location was on Panamericana Highway, next to a gas station.

Part III: The Secrets of the Sinaloa Cartel’s Drug Import-Export Network, Where "It’s All About Supply and Demand"

"BaptisteGrandGrand" for Borderland Beat

For Part I of this series, please click this hyperlink.

For Part II of this series, please click this hyperlink.

Note: This article was translated from French to English by BaptisteGrandGrande. The original article was published by the French newspaper Le Monde in December 2020.

Our car enters quietly at a dead end in the center of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa and the homebase of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Miguel (the first names have been changed), the cartel member in charge of accompanying me in my travels through their “territory,” has been okayed by his boss to allow me to study the economic mechanisms of the cartel's cocaine and fentanyl business. These two drugs are even more profitable than other products (heroin, marijuana and crystal meth) that the cartel elaborates itself in Mexico.

In the heart of the city, Miguel drives me to an ordinary house. He then parks and lowers the tinted window of his car. For several minutes, he listens to the sounds of the street and observes in the rearview mirror a few cars passing by in the darkness of the night. He does not fear the police, who have been massively corrupted across Culiacan.

The house we were in appeared insignificant from the outside, but it is here, and in dozens of other houses just as ordinary, that a decisive phase of the cocaine business is played out: the conditioning.

The gate opens onto an empty courtyard. We take a metal spiral staircase and then a narrow corridor. A strong smell of chemicals takes us by the throat. Two meters further, a room lit with a white light: there is no furniture, just a fan and packs of mineral water. Aluminium sheets block the windows.

In another room, under a portrait of the Virgin, two men in full white overalls, hoods on their heads and construction masks on their faces, are working around a table with a marble top. On the bed, a heat-sealing machine.

At one end of the table are stacked three brown plastic bricks: one-kilogram bars of cocaine neatly packed. At the other end, there is a microwave oven, a pair of rubber gloves and a walkie-talkie that spits out short messages at regular intervals.

In the center of the table, a plastic bag filled with white powder, a precision balance, three boxes of rolls of cling film and parchment paper. The two “chemists” are leaning over a blue bowl filled with cocaine

FOUR MINUTES IN THE MICROWAVE

One of them stops to welcome me. In passing, he takes advantage of it to sniff a long line of white powder in a second bag, smaller, at once replaced at the edge of the table, within reach. Thus “doped” with pure cocaine, this narco will confide, without any restraint, on what makes all the profitability of such a business.

The cartel does not produce a gram of this drug: it gets it in Colombia. Its only action, on the Mexican territory, is to condition it according to the requirements of its customers, then to dispatch it towards foreign markets. Import-export, in short.

“There is 1 kg of cocaine, 98 or 99% pure,” he says. “We prepare the loaves to send them to New York.” As he speaks, his assistant pours the contents of a can of acetone into the basin, which he mixes with the coke using a metal spoon.

“Customers want it in bulk. If it’s powdered like this, they think it’s not good quality,” he tells me, pointing to the bag of loose powder. To give it a rectangular shape, the creamy mixture is poured into a small wooden box with parchment paper lining the bottom: the coke roll template.

Like a cake pan. The narco closes the box, puts it on the ground. After removing his shoe, he climbs on it, so as to press with all his weight on the lid. Once a viscous juice appears on the floor, he extracts the block of compacted white powder enclosed in the paper, then places it in the microwave oven. Count on four minutes of heating at maximum power.

This “lab” does not limit its activities to the conditioning of the coke. While the block of cocaine spins in the microwave, the man in white grabs a small plastic packet sitting next to an aluminum pot and pulls out a white pellet:

“Fentanyl, thirty times stronger than heroin!”

Like all drugs of this type, this opioid analgesic, invented in the 1950s, can become an ultra-addictive drug if consumed in overdose, so for the past ten years, Mexican narcos have been copying the active principle of fentanyl and delivering tons of these super-powerful pellets to the United States every month.

"Many people died because the formula was really too strong," says the trafficker. "With time, they reduced the doses to arrive at this formula. This one pill is the perfect formula!" 

In North America, fentanyl still kills 30,000 people a year… It doesn’t matter to the cartel: it’s easy to produce and generates exponential margins. 1.50 in the streets of Mexico City, the tablet will be sold for three times that price in the streets of Los Angeles, and even 6.50 euros in New York. 

For the Sinaloa cartel, a sprawling organization made up of about 50 factions (themselves divided into groups) and about 10,000 members, the most profitable product remains, despite everything, cocaine.

And the ringing of the microwave oven suddenly reminds us of this… The two “chemists” then take out the " loaf " and wrap it in plastic film before covering it with brown adhesive tape. This kilo of cocaine, bought in Colombia for $1,000 (820 euros), is now worth $10,000, even though only its form has been modified, and at little cost. And it will be sold for ten times that amount once it is available on the American market.

Basically, the only real “gas pedal” of the price of this drug has been its transfer, in successive stages, from the north of Colombia, its production area, to the East Coast of the United States, where it will be consumed.

All this confirms that the commercial success of this drug business and the explosion of the profits are above all in the "export".  In other words the transport and the sale of the drug. After weeks of approach, I will be able to safely observe these essential phases of the process.

CARGO ON THE HORIZON

“Look, this is where the plane will land. From now on, keep your phone with you and be ready to come.”

A cartel man calls me at the hotel where I am staying to give me instructions. He himself is standing at the side of a road, 10 kilometers away, and shows me, through the camera of his cell phone, the agricultural runway on which an avioneta, one of the many small planes that the organization charters for its logistics, will soon land.

A little more waiting and the Cessna will come to load a cargo of cocaine. The next stage of the smuggling business. For security reasons, I have to stay under cover, near the hotel, until the signal of my interlocutor. He’s been out scouting for a few hours with some other guys.

The narcos always do this before a clandestine landing: check the state of the runway, position lookouts at the crossroads to detect any movement of the army… Especially here, in the area of Obregon, a city of 400,000 inhabitants located in the neighboring state of Sonora.

Two hours later, the authorization is given. I jump inside a pick-up truck, the flight should be short. The driver calls a mysterious contact, with whom he will communicate during all the journey by leaving his cell phone in speaker mode. At each crossroads, he reports our position and receives in return new coordinates, immediately integrated in the GPS of his phone.

We drive like this for fifteen minutes, guided from point to point, crossing some cars, agricultural vehicles and school buses. After each intersection, a different 4x4 starts behind us, then passes us after a few kilometers.

“Everything is fine,” the driver tells me. "They are checking that we are not followed".

A message comes: the plane should land in five minutes. A last a white pick-up passes us and accelerates suddenly to guide us, this time at full speed, on a narrow road.

On arrival, I recognize the place, it is the one I was shown on video on the phone. There is a small runway that extends to a hangar. It is a facility like dozens of others in the region; farmers use them for aerial spraying. A hooded man stands in the bushes. At his feet are two black duffel bags.

“80 kg of cocaine,” he tells me. “The plane comes from Mexicali and goes back there.” Mexicali, 700,000 inhabitants, the last Mexican stop before accessing the United States, the cartel’s primary market. “Here,” continues the narco, “we make about ten deliveries a week. It varies according to the weather, and if the authorities let us work.”

Scrutinizing unceasingly the road then the horizon, he tells me how much this job of loader of cargoes of cocaine is perilous, but remunerative. A delivery like this one brings him 30,000 pesos (1,200 euros), which is ten times the average monthly salary in the region.

AIR COCAINE

Thirty seconds later, the white and red plane lands in the distance, in a cloud of dust. The hooded man grabs the handles of the bags and straightens up, ready to fly, as the plane comes to a stop 50 meters away from us, engine running.

With his helmet over his ears, the pilot immediately makes a sharp 180-degree turn to get back on the runway’s axis. He maintains full power on the aircraft, blocked by its brakes. A passenger is on board; we can’t see his face, he has a black hood. Only then does the man I was talking to run towards the plane, bags in hand.

At the same time, the passenger opens the rear door of the cabin and signals him to accelerate, despite the propeller’s blast. In a deafening noise, the passenger seizes the two bags, loads them on board then gives a fast embrace to the narco remained on the ground and rushes in the aircraft.

As soon as the door was closed, the pilot released the brakes and the Cessna took off in a few seconds, flying over the hangar. The sequence lasted less than three minutes. The carrier earned his 30,000 pesos. “Run! The army is coming!”

I barely have time to get back on the road and into our pickup when the driver starts up to drive out of the area. This happens with every delivery: as the pilots make landings that are not in their flight plans, the radars pick up their unexpected trajectories. As soon as they are warned, the military launch their patrols.

However, there must be enough units available in the area. As for the pilot, if his plane has not been identified on the ground, he will claim, in case of control, to have had to land on a makeshift runway for a technical check. Neither blind nor fooled, the authorities are simply overwhelmed by the frequency of these clandestine shipments in the Mexicali area.

It is thus in this direction that the avioneta has set its course. Along with Tijuana, further west, this border city is one of the main logistical hubs from which narcos bring tons of drugs to the United States every month.

All means to smuggle drugs are good: by truck or by car, in the stream of thousands of vehicles that cross the border every day; or through the dozens of tunnels that the cartel has dug under the separation walls between Mexico and the US.

INVENTORY MANAGEMENT

A man opens the door, looks around and then beckons us in. Very thin, nervous, he has dark glasses, a scarf on his face, an automatic with a belt.

We enter an airconditioned living room, furnished with two sofas and a coffee table on which are piled up dozens of Tupperware covered with gray tape. “20 kg of crystal,” says our host. “Crystal,” the star methamphetamine among Americans.

On each lid is written the word “duck” in black felt-tip pen, in reference to the swan of the Swarovski crystal jewelry brand, whose name is used by the narcos as a code word for this drug. Continuing the inventory, he says:

“Here are 5,000 pills of M30 and half a kilo of another type of fentanyl. It’s going to the United States in three or four days. In all, there are about 2 million pesos worth.”

Every week, this man stores between 300 and 500 kg of drugs in this house. Like all the members of the cartel, he started as a sicario in the security division of his group. He then moved to the logistics branch, where he was a transporter, a very exposed job since it involved taking goods across the border. After a few years, he is now responsible for the stocks, in charge of the drugs that his fellow transporters come to pick up, on the orders of the upper level of the group.

The second phase of the export is the sale. Hundreds of kilometers away, an executive of an important cartel faction agreed to receive me in an industrial zone located between Obregon and Culiacan to talk about this final stage of the traffic.

“Look! This is Zephyr,” says the man who welcomes me behind a shed, pointing to a young tiger in its cage. In the world of the narcos, the fact of having such a wild animal is a sign of power. At 35 years old, Eduardo is a leading “businessman,” in charge of sales to Europe. His clients? Wholesalers in Spain, France and the Netherlands, who then sell the goods to other distributors.

“We move 200 to 300 kilograms of crystal a month. Cocaine is about 1 ton a month.” While throwing meat to the tiger, he continues in a calm voice: “On average, my middlemen and I make $800 to $1,000 per kilo of coke. It’s a good business: there’s no investment, you just need contacts.”

Such a position can therefore be very profitable. But there are risks involved. While top management can sometimes accept a temporary drop in sales performance, they cannot tolerate non-payment.

But it is important to know that the merchandise is only paid upon delivery to the customers, whether they are American or European: until they are received by his wholesalers, Eduardo is responsible for the tons of drugs he exports, as well as the hundreds of millions of dollars they represent.

At the time of our meeting, he was very concerned about a delivery case. “Yes, it was one of our shipments. The drugs fell into the sea,” he concedes when I ask him if he has heard about the bundles of cocaine washed up, in November 2019, on European shores, particularly in France. “It’s a big problem,” he admits, "we lost a lot of money".

By masking the number, he makes me listen on his iPhone the messages exchanged on this subject with one of his European customers. In Spanish, the latter tells him that apparently the goods were thrown overboard from a ship caught by customs. "It’s part of the business," says Eduardo, "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose."

Despite these heavy losses, he was not worried because he strongly develops the business of his group in Europe. He makes me listen to another message, received on WhatsApp, in which the latter asks him if he can supply him with crystal, assuring that this methamphetamine “will be a hit” in several countries.

The European buyer, visibly enthusiastic, adds that, to launch the product in question, his distributors will offer it for free in order to hook consumers.

BUSINESSMEN WITHOUT BORDERS

From one continent to another, the narcos are businessmen without limits, ready to ensure the “marketing” of the drug as they would do for a legal product.

“As long as there is money to be made, I will continue,” says Eduardo. “People have already tried to kill me. I don’t know if I’ll ever stop. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.” A few weeks later, he agreed to see me again to go into more detail about how the cocaine export works.

The principle is very simple. To begin with, you have to buy the drug in Colombia, from local traffickers as well as from units of the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN), the last Colombian guerrilla group, which controls several production areas in the north of the country. There, Eduardo negotiates a kilo of 99% pure coke at 1,000 dollars. And he will sell it to his European customers at a price ranging from 55,000 to 60,000 euros.

They themselves will cut the drug to 40% with products of negligible cost and sell it for 65 euros per gram. What will bring the value of the kilo to 91,000 euros. That is, in the end, a theoretical margin of almost 10,000%. These dizzying profits are, of course, reduced by significant fixed costs.

“The problem is not the purchase price,” says Eduardo. “What costs is the transportation. To bring 1 kg of cocaine from Mexico to Europe, it is necessary to count 15,000 euros on average.”

In fact, the cartel does not sell a product, but a service: the risk-taking that it assumes to make it cross the borders. According to him, there is only one solution to limit the risks: to corrupt as much as possible the people likely to control the cargo.

That’s why, according to Eduardo, the cartel “buys” port agents in Mexico and Europe, as well as dozens of police and customs officers.

“Without this, it would be impossible to bring drugs into Europe.”

If the costs of transport and corruption were deducted, the margin of the cocaine traffic between Mexico and Europe is nearly 9,000%.

Like all the factions in the organization, the one that Eduardo works for has only one objective: to launder its hundreds of millions of dollars of earnings into the legal economy.

If, of course, his customers pay him in cash, Eduardo explains to me that it would be too risky for the organization to repatriate such volumes of cash to Mexico.

The narcos therefore work to transform the cash into money placed in bank accounts by more or less sophisticated techniques, which go from the basic transfer in unscrupulous agencies to the fraudulent injection of millions of euros in the treasury of complicit legal companies.

The funds are then repatriated to Mexico by transferring them to a web of accounts belonging to the narcos, which in turn invest them in hundreds of other legal companies, thus rotting entire sections of the national economy:

“The money is used to buy real estate, companies, buildings, land, shopping malls, hotels, businesses, things like that, huge.”

Eduardo is convinced that the commercial future of the cartel is in Europe.

Faced with police pressure and competition from other traffickers in the United States, the organization is investing in this market. Selling its drugs thousands of kilometers away from Sinaloa is certainly more complex than supplying the American neighbor, especially since other narcos, Colombian and Peruvian, already operate in Europe. There is demand there for cocaine, crystal meth, or fentanyl.

"Everything is a question of supply and demand", concludes Eduardo. If someone on the Moon asks me for drugs, I buy a rocket to go there.”

Italian Mafia Fugitive Is Caught After His YouTube Cooking Show Tips off Police

"Anonymous" for Borderland Beat

Note: Special thanks to a Borderland Beat reader for sharing this interesting story with us in the comment section.

Suspected mafia fugitive was living on a Caribbean island. Then police saw his YouTube cooking videos.

Stanley Tucci's not the only one with a popular Italian cooking show, it would seem. A mafia fugitive has been arrested in the Dominican Republic after inadvertently tipping off police with his culinary hobby.

After seven years on the run, Marc Feren Claude Biart was tracked down through a YouTube cooking channel he started with his wife, Italian police said in a statement. 

he alleged gangster's "love for Italian cuisine” — and tattoo ink — made his arrest possible, police said. Though he carefully hid his face during the videos, Biart failed to disguise a distinctive giveaway: his body tattoos.

Police said they believe Biart is a member of the notorious ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate — one of the most feared and powerful in Europe — from the Calabria region at the toe of southern Italy's boot-shaped peninsula. He had been wanted for allegedly trafficking cocaine from the Netherlands since 2014, police said.

Biart, 53, had been living in the Dominican Republic for the past five years and police said he had been keeping a low profile during his stay in the Caribbean — besides the cooking videos posted to the internet.

He was known to locals as simply “Marc” and kept his distance from the Italian community in the popular tourist destination. Lt. Col. Massimiliano Galasso, a Reggio-Calabria police official, told NBC News that authorities had never stopped searching for Biart and had recently turned to open source intelligence.

Alerted by his wife's YouTube activity and armed with the knowledge that the fugitive had previously worked at a restaurant in Italy, Galasso said, police discovered the cooking videos and realized they had their man. The search culminated in his arrest last week in the Dominican town of Boca Chica.

Investigators say they recognized Biart's tattoos in videos posted on YouTube.

He was then extradited to Italy and landed in Milan on Monday. The channel was started earlier this year but is now no longer active, Galasso said, as Biart remains in custody.

Biart’s arrest marks a breakthrough for the international effort led by Interpol and multiple European police forces to bring down organized crime.

Known as “Interpol Cooperation Against ‘Ndrangheta,’ the initiative launched last year is tasked with disrupting the mafia gang’s global network, which Interpol says is present “on every world continent.” Another ‘Ndrangheta mafia member was arrested in Portugal on Monday, police said.

Francesco Pelle, who had been on the run for 14 years, was found at a clinic in Lisbon where he was receiving Covid-19 treatment. Pelle is accused of ordering the murder of the boss of a rival clan who survived the attack but whose wife died in the ambush.

The mafia group is currently facing one of Italy's biggest mob trials in the last three decades. During a pre-trial hearing for the landmark case it took more than three hours to read the names of the 350 defendants.

Expected to last at least a year, the case has brought charges on account of kidnappings, murders and international drug trafficking. Italian authorities said that arrests like those of Biart and Pelle prove the mafia's activities not only threaten Italy but should concern the whole world.

Source: NBC News (Yahoo)

US Investigations Into Cartels Paralyzed by Standoff With Mexico

"Parro" for Borderland Beat

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's former Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos takes the oath before Judge Carol Bagley Amon during a hearing to consider a U.S. government request to drop drug charges, in a courtroom sketch in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, U.S. November 18, 2020. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. efforts to battle powerful drug cartels from inside Mexico have ground to a halt since January as strained relations between the two countries have frozen attempts to corral drug kingpins, according to current and former senior officials in both nations.

Until recently, U.S. and Mexican authorities routinely, if cautiously, shared intelligence on major cases. But in December, Mexico enacted a law requiring U.S. authorities to report their law-enforcement contacts in the country to the Mexican government, which American investigators widely view as corrupt.

The new policy has led investigators on both sides of the border to pause their cooperation, fearful that the new disclosure rules could compromise cases - or worse, get informants or Mexican officials helping the Americans killed.

On-the-ground operations, including raids on Mexican drug labs, have largely ceased and U.S. authorities are now struggling to track movements of U.S.-bound cocaine from Venezuela and Colombia through Central America and into Mexico, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Some U.S. drug agents working in Mexico reported that they had been tailed by local police, raising alarms about their safety. And dozens of U.S. law enforcement agents can’t get visas to work in Mexico.

“Most of our most important cases are at a standstill,” a senior U.S. law enforcement official told Reuters. “If we have to report our sources to their foreign ministry, it jeopardizes our sources and methods. The system is set up intentionally now so that Mexican law enforcement can’t help us.”

A senior Mexican military official said his country has engaged in virtually no anti-drug efforts with the United States since the new law was passed.

“Without U.S. support - in technology and intelligence - it will be more difficult to contain crime,” the official said.

Spokespersons from Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Security, the foreign ministry and the Mexican Navy, which play leading roles in the county’s international drug interdiction efforts, did not respond to queries for this article. But a Mexican official familiar with the matter described the rift as more administrative and temporary than substantive.

“It’s not that cooperation is now paralyzed,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official predicted that things will return to normal when it becomes clear which Mexican officials will have access to sensitive information.

Mexico adopted the new law shortly after the United States arrested former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos on charges that he helped the cartels smuggle thousands of kilos of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

The arrest was part of what some U.S. officials described as a new willingness by American investigators to target ties between drug cartels and top echelons of Mexico’s government. But in Mexico, it triggered an unexpected backlash.

U.S. officials have long viewed their partnership with Mexican authorities as an essential, albeit strained, part of their effort to target cartels that export illegal drugs to the United States. In turn, Mexican authorities relied on the United States to help stem the estimated 200,000 guns annually smuggled south.

Now, as President Joe Biden’s administration grapples with a surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, and as monthly U.S. drug overdose deaths have reached an all-time high, cooperation has stalled, officials said. For example, U.S. officials said, Mexico no longer provides Mexican military units to conduct raids when U.S. agents identify cartel labs.

“The big winners are the cartels,” said Timothy Shea, who stepped down in January as the head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “It’s just what the cartels wanted so they can expand their reach and smuggle more deadly drugs into the United States.”

He said “human intelligence is drying up,” making it harder to intercept drug shipments.

Ricardo Marquez, a senior national security official in Mexico under the previous government, said the new rules significantly restrict intelligence sharing because they leave sources vulnerable to potentially damaging leaks that could alert high-priority criminals about raids in advance.

“You don’t know who you can trust,” said Mark Morgan, who led U.S. Customs and Border Protection until January. “You don’t know who’s corrupt. And that’s a challenge.”

If U.S. investigators are forced to reveal sources to the Mexican government, he said, “there’s a strong likelihood that those sources will wind up dead.”

Two current senior U.S. officials said the DEA is not the only agency affected, nor is the problem limited to drug cases. They said Mexico’s new law has disrupted transnational cases handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Officials at those agencies declined to answer questions about the situation.

In a statement, U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman said that “active and effective law enforcement cooperation continues between the United States and Mexico. We achieve success when we work together and respect our nations’ sovereignty and institutions.”

A Homeland Security Investigations official said that while cooperation with Mexican federal agents on drugs, arms smuggling and human trafficking “remains robust,” state and local officials in Mexico are hesitant to resume working with U.S. agents, citing uncertainty about the new law.

Under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico has publicly dialed back the importance of security cooperation with Washington as it tries to de-escalate years of gang-fueled violence by avoiding direct confrontation with cartels. A leftist who makes constant references to history, Lopez Obrador seeks to preserve Mexican sovereignty from external interference, and has pressed Washington to provide economic support rather than security assistance.

Under the new law, Mexican law enforcement agents fear retaliation from both their politically appointed supervisors and the cartels, said Brookings Institution senior fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown.

“Even people that have been trusted and vetted and are committed and motivated don’t feel that they can really engage with U.S. officials in any meaningful way right now,” she said. “Too dangerous.”

HIGH PROFILE PROSECUTION

The slowdown began last year after U.S. agents arrested Cienfuegos, Mexico’s defense minister from 2012 to 2018, on drug charges. U.S. officials weighed the risks of a diplomatic blowup before a grand jury indicted him in 2019 and decided to go ahead. They kept the charges secret until October 2020, when Cienfuegos was arrested after flying to Los Angeles for vacation.

In court filings, U.S. prosecutors said Cienfeugos used his official position to aid the H-2 cartel, known for its “countless acts of horrific violence, including torture and murder.”

U.S. officials cited intercepted Blackberry messages and said Cienfuegos took bribes from the H-2 cartel in return for protection and for encouraging raids against rival cartels. U.S. drug agents say the cartel referred to Cienfuegos as “El Padrino,” or The Godfather.

Cienfuegos denied the charges, and his high-profile arrest triggered a diplomatic row. Within a month, American authorities agreed to drop the case for “foreign policy reasons,” prosecutors said in a court filing, and to return Cienfuegos for investigation in his native country.

Mexican anger over the case initially stemmed from what authorities felt was a breach of trust by law enforcement partners, for investigating Cienfuegos for years without informing anybody in Mexico. Mexico’s foreign minister and president only found out about the case after his arrest.

Mexican authorities quickly cleared the retired general, and then made public evidence against him provided in confidence by U.S. investigators, further eroding trust between the two sides. Mexican authorities said they released the evidence to show a suspicious public the flimsiness of evidence, based on intercepted communications Mexican investigators said never convincingly identified Cienfuegos.

Mexico’s reaction to the DEA’s handling of the case also reflects long-simmering discomfort with what some politicians paint as U.S. law enforcement excesses that violate the country’s sovereignty without tangible results in stemming violence or the flow of drugs, guns and money between the two countries. Cienfuegos’ lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

His release was a tacit acknowledgment by Washington that the U.S. relationship with Mexico was more important than Cienfuego was, and a bet that returning him to Mexico would end the diplomatic breach. It was not enough.

Source: Reuters

US Authorities Seize Over US$15 Million in Meth in Four Days in South Texas Border Crossings

"Parro" and "MX" for Borderland Beat

Picture of the first drug seizure in Laredo, Texas, last week. This corridor is under the control of the Northeast Cartel (CDN), a splinter group of Los Zetas.

In a span of three days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers seized over US$15 million in methamphetamine from two border crossings along the Tamaulipas and Texas border.

First seizure

The enforcement action occurred on Thursday, March 25th, when CBP officers assigned to the cargo facility encountered a tractor manifesting an industrial magnet arriving from Mexico.

The 2014 Ford F350 truck and shipment were referred for a canine and non-intrusive imaging system inspection, resulting in the discovery of 104 packages containing 367.24 pounds of alleged methamphetamine within the shipment. The narcotics have an estimated street value of $7,344,845.

“The level of methamphetamine abuse in the U.S. continues to rise,” said Acting Port Director Eugene Crawford, Laredo Port of Entry.

“Seizures like this one underscore the vital role that CBP officers play in advancing our overall national border security mission and protecting the public from illegal narcotics.”

CBP officers seized the narcotics. The case was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) special agents for further investigation.

In seperate incident in Laredo that same day, CBP officers seized US$91,116 in cash at the Juarez-Lincoln Bridge, when officers assigned to outbound operations selected a 2017 Chevrolet Equinox traveling to Mexico for inspection.

A 30-year-old male United States citizen driver and 19-year-old female passenger were referred for a secondary examination. Upon physical inspection of the drivers’ clothing, packages containing large sums of cash were found.

Picture of the second drug seizure near McAllen. This corridor is under the control of the Metros faction of the Gulf Cartel (CDG).

Second seizure

On March 28, 2021, a tractor/trailer hauling a commercial shipment of fresh broccoli arrived from Mexico a the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge cargo facility and a CBP officer referred the conveyance to the non-intrusive imaging (NII) system as part of a secondary examination.

Officers conducting a thorough secondary inspection were able to detect packages of alleged methamphetamine. CBP officers removed and seized 264 packages weighing 421 pounds (191 kg) of the drug and seized the tractor/trailer as well.

“This interception of dangerous drugs truly exemplifies the teamwork of our officers working at our cargo facility,” said Port Director Carlos Rodriguez, Hidalgo/Pharr/Anzalduas Port of Entry.

“With the use of high-tech equipment such as our x-ray systems, our officers are able to detect anomalies within shipments and target those areas of interest, which can produce positive results such as this significant interdiction.”

The case remains under investigation by the HSI.

Sources: CBP (1); (2); (3)

Cárteles Unidos Leader 'El Fruto' Arrested in Guatemala on US Extradition Request

"MX" for Borderland Beat

El Fruto was arrested in Zona 10, an affluent suburb of Guatemala City. 

On Tuesday afternoon, authorities in Guatemala arrested Mexican national Adalberto Fructuoso Comparan Rodríguez (alias 'El Fruto'), former mayor of Aguililla, Michoacan, and suspected leader of Cárteles Unidos ('United Cartels'). The arrest was made on a formal US extradition request for his alleged involvement in international drug trafficking.

The Guatemalan Public Ministry (MP) detailed in a press release that El Fruto was arrested in a residential area of ​​Guatemala City along with Alfonso Rustrián, another Mexican national wanted in the US for drug charges.

According to US authorities, the two Mexicans are accused of drug trafficking, specifically conspiracy to smuggle and with intent to distribute 500 grams of methamphetamine into the US. They are wanted by the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

Both of them were detected in Guatemala by US officials following an investigation that showed that El Fruto held several meetings in Colombia with other high-ranking cartel members.

The two Mexicans will appear in the following hours before a Guatemalan judge who will decide in a matter of days or weeks if their extradition to Florida becomes effective.

During the first three months of 2020, 16 people with an extradition order from the US government have been arrested in Guatemala. Most of them are wanted for drug trafficking.

At the same time that the arrests were being carried out in Guatemala, in Miami, Florida, four members gang members linked to El Fruto were arrested at a drug lab.

Background

El Fruto, 57, was mayor of Aguililla, Michoacan, from 2008 to 2010, under the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

He is currently the suspected leader of Carteles Unidos, a criminal group made up of different cartels under a loose alliance. They are rival to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

Prior to El Fruto's involvement with Carteles Unidos, he was a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar Cartel. One of the cited sources say he was a close associate of Servando Gomez Martinez (alias 'La Tuta'), former Knights Templar Cartel boss.

He is suspected of coordinating methamphetamine and heroin shipments from Michoacan, Mexico, to the US cities like Houston, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2015, he survived an assassination attempt in Mexico, but one his bodyguard Jose Luis Garcia Mendoza was killed. Two years prior, he had served as police officer in the Fuerza Rural (Rural Force) unit in Aguililla. This rural police force was a state-sanctioned unit that was born from the autodefensa (self-defense) groups that were active in Michoacan.

Sources: DW; El Periodico; Colima Noticias; Tribunal Electoral - Michoacan; MP de Guatemala; NoventaGrados; A Tiempo

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Cieneguillas, Zacatecas: Almost 400 Detainees Are Transferred From The Cieneguillas Prison

 "Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

This is how the authorities entered the jail to take the detainees to prisons in other states

Armed with riot control equipment, in addition to fire extinguishers, rubber bullets, tear gas pumps, and the support of fire tankers, two thousand members of the National Guard, Mexican Army, State Preventive Police, Road Police and Ministerial Police, took control of the Regional Center for Social Rehabilitation of Cieneguillas, on Monday night, at the northwest exit of the city of Zacatecas.

The objective of the operation, which began on Monday night —and lasted for more than twelve hours— was to execute an instruction from the federal government, to remove 400 prisoners from the siege —presumably belonging to different organized crime groups—, and transfer them to five federal prisons located in Chiapas, Michoacán, Durango, Coahuila and Oaxaca.

The operation began around 8:00 p.m. on Monday, with the deployment of heavily armed Mexican army personnel around the Cieneguillas prison, and the occupation of checkpoints and barracks around the prison. Then members of the National Guard arrived, in dozens of trucks and light vehicles, to reinforce the siege.

Also, in a hundred patrols, state police arrived at the site at around 9:30 p.m., when the "panic button" of the prison was activated, and the alert was automatically disseminated on all the "Matra" radio stations of the local corporations, as the prisoners rioted, and threatened to escape.

Euphemistically identified by the authorities as "persons deprived of liberty," the prisoners seriously hindered the military and police from the transfer action, by rioting and confronting the uniformed personnel with sticks and stones, and causing fires with mats and blankets, until Tuesday morning, when they were controlled, with a toll of four seriously injured prisoners, who were taken in ambulances to a hospital to be treated.

The operation was led by the former director general of Operational Intelligence of the National Guard, Arturo López Bazán, current head of the Secretariat of Public Security of Zacatecas, who has seven months in that position.

Thus, after being coercively subjected in the courtyards, different cells and cannons, a total of 398 inmates were transferred in a staggered manner, in 12 buses, to the international airport of Zacatecas, protected by hundreds of military and police. From there, in a Mexican Air Force aircraft, they were transferred to different federal prisons.

Governor Tello asked for help

In January 2020, Governor Alejandro Tello Cristerna made a vehement call to the federal government to "take the prisoners," imprisoned for crimes of the federal jurisdiction, detained in Cieneguillas, where until yesterday, Monday, there was a prison population of 1,150 inmates.

The Zacatecan president affirmed that this prison had become a "time bomb," due to the constant fights, riots and escapes of prisoners, which have been registered on the site on a regular basis, for more than a decade, since that infamous escape of 53 members of the Zetas, through the main door of the prison, on Saturday, May 16, 2009.

Among other serious events, on the afternoon of December 31, 2019, a fight occurred in Cieneguillas between prisoners who allegedly belonged to antagonistic organized crime groups, several of whom inexplicably used firearms, ended with a toll of 18 dead and 20 seriously injured. Six months later, on May 6, 2020, in broad daylight and through a tunnel, 12 highly dangerous prisoners escaped from the place.

The governor - who in six months concludes his constitutional term as president - even publicly referred to the "possibility" that the federal government will finance the construction of a new prison in the capital of Zacatecas, because of the obsoleteness of the current one. The option of "reconfiguring", the problematic criminal, was also handled to convert it from a medium-security prison, to high security.

In this regard, on Tuesday, lawyer Ricardo Ramírez - who served as head of the management of Cieneguillas, between 2008 and 2010 - said in an interview with this newspaper, that this option is not viable: "you should not put good money, into something bad. Cieneguillas was already surpassed for many years, in many aspects."

"Its infrastructure is obsolete, it no longer has the necessary levels of security. I would propose leaving that prison only for accused prisoners, such as pretrial detention. And apart, build a new prison complex, with international standards, of high security."

Last Saturday, February 27, in view of working for Zacatecas, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recalled the abandonment in which the past federal government left the country's prisons, as well as the general corruption in prisons, and announced that he would respond to the request of the governor of Zacatecas.

"We are going to help, so that they stop being saturated and crowded in prisons. We are going to transfer prisoners from Zacatecas to federal prisons ... and there are no risks of confrontation, of riots," López Obrador said.

Source: La Jornada

Veracruz: Victim's Remains Delivered to Family in Plastic Garbage Bags

"Yaqui" for Borderland Beat

The victim's mother at a prosecutor's office in Veracruz with the bags containing the remains of her son.

Eladio's family searched and found his remains on their own. Natalia Aguirre would like to take him to a cemetery and begin her grief, but the bureaucratic procedures denied her that opportunity.

Meanwhile, the recalcitrant heat and a nauseating smell emanating from the black bags permeates the woman's face mask and the walls of the Las Choapas law enforcement sub-unit .

An official in Veracruz has been fired over the incident:

A senior law enforcement official in Veracruz has been fired after the recently-located remains of a 30-year-old man were delivered to his family in black plastic bags on Saturday.

The Veracruz Attorney General’s Office (FGE) announced Monday that Alberto Torres Rivera, head of its sub-unit in the municipality of Las Choapas, had been dismissed for delivering the remains of Eladio Aguirre Chable, who disappeared in April 2020, to his family in the bags, which weren’t even sealed.

German Weapons in Mexico: German Weapon Export Controls Declared in Bank

 "Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

The imitation of a gun at the vigil before the beginning of the trial. Photo: Ohne Rüstung Leben

Federal High Court Rules on Illegal Arms Exports from Heckler and Koch to Mexico:

In the process for illegal arms exports from Heckler and Koch (H&K) to Mexico, the Federal High Court of Germany (BGH), in Karlsruhe, today rejected the review of the judgment issued by the previous court, requested by the prosecution and the defendants.

Heckler and Koch will have to pay more than three million euros for their illegal businesses in Mexico. In application of the law for the control of weapons of war, end-user declarations are not part of arms export licenses. The wide scope of this judgment has explosive potential for the entire German arms industry.

"Today's ruling puts an end to the German arms export control system that has been applied," comments on the decision of the court Jürgen Grässlin, spokesperson for "Aktion Aufschrei – Stoppt den Waffenhandel!, (Cry to action - stop the arms trade!) and president of the RüstungsInformationsBüro (RIB e.V.), (Office of Information on Weapons). Jurgen Grässlin demands that this process have consequences, "to continue as before with arms export controls is unsustainable.

Legislators must draft without delay a law that regulates arms exports, prohibits current export practices and, finally, takes into account the interests of firearms victims." The judgment shows support for this thesis: "According to Presiding Judge Dr. Schäfer, the current legal framework should be changed if necessary, this would be the task of the legislators.

In response to a 2010 lawsuit by Jürgen Grässlin and Tubingia lawyer Holger Rothbauer, the Stuttgart High Regional Court examined between 2018 and 2019 a case for illegal exports of H&K weapons. The court considered it proven that the authorizations for the exports of more than 4,200 assault rifles to Mexico were obtained intransparently and knowing that the end-user declarations were falsified, (EVE for its acronym in German). 

These declarations are a central instrument for the control of arms exports from Germany and Europe and document them to the German authorities that authorize them, where the weapons will be used.

In the case of illegal exports of G36 assault rifles from Heckler and Koch, several Mexican federal states had been declared by the German federal government as unauthorized destinations for EVE declarations, given the critical situation in which they were. However, there came the rifles. The Stuttgart District Court, unlike the usual jurisprudence to date, did not consider end-user declarations an integral part of the export authorization.

It was based on the Foreign Trade Law that the defendants could be convicted of manipulating the export authorization, since Mexico was cited as the destination of the weapons.

"This sentence is a political earthquake. Until now, the government has been arguing that end-user declarations are part of export authorizations and guarantee that weapons exported from Germany do not reach unwanted recipients," says lawyer Holger Rothbauer, who adds: "Today's resolution confirms the Stuttgart Court's interpretation that end-user declarations are not an integral part of export authorizations. Thus, a central element of the German arms export control system has been reduced to absurdity. 

In this way, what we knew for years is ratified, that end-user declarations have no more value than the paper on which they are printed and that they are used as vine leaves to hide dark businesses." 

"The sentence shows an open gap in the legislation on arms exports," adds Stephan Möhrle of RüstungsInformationsBüro: "both the Federal High Court (BGH) and the High Regional Court in Stuttgart argued that the legislator, in the Law for the Control of Firearms, has not considered the manipulation of authorizations a crime, contrary to what is provided for in the Foreign Trade Law. 

A manipulated authorization is still valid. This irregularity must be resolved as soon as possible by legislators and to achieve this it is necessary to draft a law on firearms exports."

The victims of German arms export practices are the people affected by them, in the countries receiving exports. "The export bans of assault rifles for some particularly conflictive Mexican states were unsustainable from the beginning, if a human rights perspective is applied. 

Rather, it seems that a commitment was reached to make these exports possible. In that year Mexico was already marked by violence, human rights violations, corruption and impunity.

It is shameful that the victims of these irresponsible export practices have not been taken into account at any time during the process," criticizes Carola Hausotter of the German Coordination for Human Rights in Mexico: "Lawmakers must establish that arms export controls also protect victims of violence by these weapons in export-receiving countries. These people have the right to be a party to this type of process," adds Christian Schliemann of the human rights organization ECCHR.

Contact details:

German Coordination for Human Rights in Mexico – Tobias Lambert, +49-157-71730893,presse@mexiko- koordination.de

ECCHR – Maria Bause, presse@ecchr.eu, +49-30 69819797

Aktion Aufschrei – Stoppt den Waffenhandel!, RIB e.V. – Jürgen Grässlin, +49-170-6113759, jg@rib- ev.de

Aktion Aufschrei – Stoppt den Waffenhandel und Ohne Rüstung Leben – Charlotte Kehne, +49-711- 62039372, orl-kehne@gaia.de

Attorney Holger Rothbauer, DEHR-Rechtsanwälte, +49-7071-1504949 / +49-173-6577693,anwalt@dehr.eu

RüstungsInformationsBüro e.V. – Stephan Möhrle, LL.M. moehrle@rib-ev.de

The German Coordination for Human Rights in Mexico is a network composed of:

Pastoral work for Latin America Adveniat, Amnesty International Germany, A.C., Carea A.C., Franciscan Center for Development and Mission, Companer@s of Southern Mexico A.C., Initiative for Mexico of Cologne and Bonn, Initiative Mexiko (INI-MEX), Mexico via Berlin A.C., Episcopal Work MISEREOR, Ecumenical Office for Peace and Justice A.C., Pacta Servanda A.C., Bread for the World, pax christi / One World Solidarity Commission, Missionary Procurate of the German Jesuits, Promovio and Zapapres A.C.

Source: Mexiko-Koordination

Environmental Activist Jaime Jiménez Ruiz Killed in Oaxaca

"La Ranas" for Borderland Beat

Jaime Jimenez Ruiz, an environmental activist from Santiago Jamiltepec, Oaxaca, was assassinated. This region has become a benchmark for peaceful resistance against projects in Río Verde, a river in Oaxaca.

Environmental activist Jaime Jiménez Ruiz was shot to death in Santiago Jamiltepec, a municipality in the coastal region of Oaxaca.

The violent incident occurred on the afternoon of Sunday, March 28, on the road that connects the town of Paso de la Reina with Santiago Jamiltepec.

The environmentalist's death was condemned by the Services for an Alternative Education (EDUCA), a non-governmental organization that promotes democracy and development in Oaxacan communities, and works for justice, equity and social participation.

Jiménez Ruiz was a former municipal agent of Paso de la Reina and an environmental defender of megaprojects in Rio Verde, a river in Oaxaca. He was also a member of the committee of the local cattle association and an active militant of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) political party.

Last January, Rio Verde activist Fidel Heras Cruz was murdered in Santiago Jamiltepec. He was opposed gravel, rock and sand extraction from the river bed, a lucrative but damaging industry in the area.

Magdalena de Kino, Sonora: 3 Sicarios Killed by Security Forces in Cartel Checkpoint

"MX" for Borderland Beat

No military casualties were reported

The cartel war in the municipality of Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, turned deadlier over the weekend after several shootouts and arsons were reported. There have been shootouts occurring frequently in this area since 2 March 2021.

In one incident this weekend, cartel members and security forces clashed in Ejido La Cebolla. The shootout started after military personnel discovered a cartel checkpoint. The checkpoint was being used to inspect civilians coming in and out of Magdalena de Kino.

Upon noticing the presence of the officers, the cartel gunmen opened fire, but the military soldiers responded and killed three assailants. Five soldiers were wounded but were reported in stable condition.

Users on social media reported that cartel members burned several houses and ranches in the area. 


Due to the way in which the events occurred, there are no photographs or close-up videos of the actual shootout. Above is a video a social media user shared of police officers heading to the crime scene.

Turf war

The wave of narco-terror in this part of Sonora began on March 2, in the Imuris and Magdalena highway, where an armed confrontation between cartel figures and the armed forces was reported. The clash caused the closure of the federal highway.

Through social media, Magdalena residents reported that they were "locked up" because the entrance and exit roads to this municipality were blocked during the shootouts.

Mexican federal investigators indicate that the Sinaloa Cartel is the main criminal group in Magdalena de Kino, Sonora, plaza. This turf is a strategic location for drug trafficking given its proximity to the US state of Arizona.

As reported by Borderland Beat, much of the violence in Sonora is driven by conflicts between several factions of the Sinaloa Cartel and local drug groups.

Los Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa Cartel operates there with the support of Los Salazar faction. They are said to be competing with La Plaza and/or the Caborca Cartel, reportedly headed by Rafael Caro Quintero.

Local reports have mentioned that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) may be working with Caro Quintero to fight the Sinaloa Cartel.

Other groups have been reported in the area, including a gang known as Los Jabalies and/or Los Jabalis, formed by the Villagrana family, and Los Memos, headed by Adelmo Niebla González and/or Guillermo Nieblas Nava ('El G3').

Sources: Infobae (1); (2); InfoNogalesTribuna; El Sol de Hermosillo; VxT; Noticia de la RedGrillonautas; Borderland Beat archives

Catholic Priest Was Tortured and Killed in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato

"MX" for Borderland Beat

Gumersindo Cortés González was reported missing the day before he was found dead

Catholic priest Gumersindo Cortes Gonzalez, who served for the Diocesis of Celaya, was killed by unknown assailants over the weekend. His body was found in Cerrito de Guadalupe, a rural community in Dolores Hidalgo, Guanajuato.

Investigators say Cortes was brutally tortured by his captors and killed with a firearm to the head and thorax. His vehicle was found close to where his corpse was abandoned. 

Cortes, 64, was a Catholic priest since 9 March 1983. He served for many years in the multiple Catholic communities in Celaya and San Miguel de Allende.

Local media reports say that this incident is the first one of its kind in the Diocesis of Celaya. They did confirm that some of their priests have reported being extorted by drug cartels, but this was the first registered murder.

Cortes was the second Catholic priest murdered in Mexico since Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) took office. In August 2019, priest Jose Martin Guzman Vega was stabbed to death outside a church in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. A week before his death, Guzman Vega had criticized Tamaulipas governor Francisco Javier Cabeza de Vaca for the growing insecurity in his community.

Why are priests attacked?

Clergymen in Mexico are not immune to the drug violence nor to attacks from drug cartels. Priests have been victims of extortion from organized crime groups. If a priest refuses to pay the demanding cartel, the threats can become severe and include burning of church precints, kidnappings, and even murder.

Priests' outspokenness against organized crime activity can also incur reprisals, especially in areas where these crimes are high. Others have received death threats and attacks because they have protected migrants (common preys of organized crime) from abuse.

As reported by Borderland Beat, priests are sometimes viewed as "social stabilizers" in communities. This is can be used against them by organize crime groups, who understand that killing a priest can cause social destabilization, thus sowing fear to be able to act at will. 

Sources: El Heraldo de Mexico; Sieste 24; Noroeste; Borderland Beat archives

Fury in Mexico After Video Captures Woman’s Death in Police Custody

"MX" for Borderland Beat

The State Attorney General’s Office (FGE) has launched an investigation into the death of a woman on Saturday afternoon in the municipality of Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

The death of a woman pinned to the ground by police in the Caribbean beach resort of Tulum has sparked a national outcry after video on social media showed the officers standing around her body before loading her onto a patrol truck.

A spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office of the state of Quintana Roo said four police officers at the scene - three men and a woman - were under investigation for their probable involvement in the Saturday evening incident. They said fingerprints and forensic evidence were being examined in the case.

A video published by news site Noticaribe showed the woman squirming and crying out as she lay face down on a road with a policewoman kneeling on her back with male officers standing by. The video then cuts to show the woman’s prone, handcuffed body lying on the road. Officers are later seen moving the limp, shoeless body into the back of a truck.

“There will be no impunity for those who participated in the death of the victim, and all the force of the law will be brought to bear to bring those responsible to trial,” the office said in a statement.

The footage has shocked a nation that is currently rocked by demonstrations about its record of violence against women: official government figures suggest at least 939 women were murdered in 2020.

Video of the incident, as presented by Grupo Reforma

The National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence Against Women (CONAVIM) condemned the Tulum incident on Twitter and said it was in communication with authorities to ensure that “those responsible were punished, justice is done, and nobody commits crime with impunity”.

The incident was described as “police abuse” on Twitter by Mexico’s deputy interior minister responsible for human rights, Alejandro Encinas.

Mexicans have already noted the similarity to the case of George Floyd, the black American man whose death in May, as a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck, sparked racial justice protests in the United States and around the world.

The trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer filmed kneeling on Floyd’s neck, began on Monday.

Victim
Her name was Victoria Esperanza Salazar, 36-year-old woman from Sonsonate, El Salvador, who was living in Mexico under a humanitarian and/or refugee visa. She worked as a cleaner in Tulum's hotel area.

Her mother said that Victoria left El Salvador for a number of reasons, including gang violence, the lack of employment opportunities, and low salaries. She is survived by her two children, ages 15 and 16.

#JusticiaParaVictoria (Justice for Victoria) is a trending topic in Mexico.

An autopsy concluded that Victoria died from a broken neck. The examination found “a fracture of part of the upper spinal column produced by the rupture of the first and second vertebra which caused the loss of the victim,” Quintana Roo State Prosecutor Oscar Montes de Oca said in a video.

The injuries were “compatible and coincide with submission manoeuvres applied to the victim during her detention” and demonstrate a “disproportionate” use of force. He said his office was preparing femicide charges against the four police officers.

The Governor of Quintana Roo confirmed that the officers involved in the killing had been removed from their posts and are pending an investigation.

Reactions
By Monday, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele had both voiced their condemnation of the incident.

Lopez Obrador said the woman had been “brutally treated” and the case caused Mexico “shame, pain, and embarrassment,” before vowing that justice would be served. Bukele tweeted that “criminals in the police of Tulum” had committed the murder and that he wanted to see “the full weight of the law” brought against them.

The case offers a rare example of Latin American leaders quickly breaking rank with police forces to condemn their actions before an investigation is completed.