Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, May 31, 2021

El Mayo's Sister Dies of Stroke

"HEARST" for Borderland Beat

Águeda Zambada García, the sister of Sinaloa Cartel leader El Mayo, has died of a stroke. 

At noon on May 30 2021, Águeda Zambada García reportedly died from complications of a stroke in a private hospital. Águeda was the older sister of Ismael Zambada García alias "El Mayo", who is considered to be one of the most powerful men in the Sinaloa Cartel. She was reportedly the sister closest with El Mayo of all his sisters.

Initial reports indicate that a few days ago Águeda suffered a stroke. She was taken to a private clinic in the port of Mazatlán, Sinaloa and given medical care; however by noon on Sunday Águeda Zambada had died.

Her remains were transported from Mazatlán to the city of Culiacán. They were quickly prepared for funeral proceedings. 

Her funeral service was carried out at a funeral home located in the Montebello neighborhood of Culiacán. There is no word on which of the Zambada family members attended the proceedings. The ceremony was reportedly described as quiet and discreet. 

Reportedly one of the wreaths at Águeda Zambada García's funeral. Ribbon reads "from your brother Ismael Zambada". Multicolor roses can be seenPhoto Credit: Narcoguerra_MX

The funeral wreaths that adorned the ceremony however were not nearly as discreet. It was reported that one extravagant wreath was estimated to cost more than 30,000 pesos, roughly equivalent to $1,507 USD. No reports on the sender of said wreath. Wreaths were also sent from infamous Zambada family members such as Vicente.

Vicente Zambada alias "El Vicentillo" is Ismael’s oldest son and was thought to become the successor to his father’s empire before his arrest. He currently reported to be in the US and he was able to send a wreath for the funeral of his Aunt Águeda. 

Vicente Zambada, eldest son of Ismael Zambada.

Ismael Zamaba’s brother Jesus Zambada alias "El Rey" was also rumored to have sent a funeral wreath. Jesus was just recently “un-sanctioned” by the US on May 12 for reportedly no longer being involved with the criminal side of the business. 

Her remains are reportedly going to be transported to the community of El Álamo, within the town of El Salado. El Salado is a town south of Culiacan within Sinaloa state and about a 42 minute drive away. This is intended to be her final resting place as it was where she and her siblings grew up together. 

Recently, the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Treasury has sought to freeze the bank accounts of Águeda and Ismael's sister Ana María.

Reportedly one of the wreaths at Águeda Zambada García's funeral. Ribbon reads "from your nephew Vicente Zambada". Photo Credit: Narcoguerra_MX

Sources: La Pared Noticias, Debate

Photo Credits: narcoguerra_mx on Instagram

Updated 6/1/2021: More photos added to story. Thank you to commenter who pointed me in the direction of them. Please see photo credits. 

El Chapo's Brother-in-Law Is Granted an Amparo by Federal Judge

"HEARST" for Borderland Beat

There are no confirmed photos of Inés Omar
so pictured is El Chapo, Emma Coronel and Inés Coronel Barrera.
For years, courts have repeatedly denied Inés Omar Coronel Aispuro, the brother-in-law of El Chapo, the right to an early prison release due to a lack of “good conduct” based on a record of disciplinary issues. However a judge just granted an amparo to him which may allow him to be released from prison. 

Inés Omar Coronel Aispuro is the brother of Emma Coronel, who is the current wife of Sinaloa Cartel's former leader Joaquín Guzmán alias El Chapo. 

For some background, Inés Omar Coronel Aispuro and his father Inés Coronel Barrera were captured in Agua Prieta, Sonora on April 30 2013. At the time of their arrest they were found to be in possession of a rifle-type firearm. They were also found to be transporting 20 rectangular packages with marijuana inside of their vehicle. For further reading on their arrest, please see this Borderland Beat article

Inés Omar Coronel Aispuro, henceforth called Omar Coronel to prevent confusion with his father, was brought up on charges of carrying firearms for the exclusive use of the Armed Forces and drug charges at the level of commercial purposes. Despite being arrested in 2013, Omar Coronel was not officially sentenced for those two charges until January 24, 2019. 

In 2019, he was sentenced to serve 9 years in prison, with time served, which means the time he has already served since his 2013 detention counted towards those 9 years. This gave him an expected release date in the year 2022. He is currently imprisoned in Federal Center for Social Readaptation (CERESO) Number 13 in the state of Oaxaca. 

It is relatively common for inmates to request a release prior to the release date given during sentencing. However, inmates requesting an early release will commonly be dismissed if their prison record does not demonstrate good conduct. The most common way in which a judge is believed to determine “good conduct” is by seeing a lack of disciplinary actions on an inmate’s prison record. 

In this regard, Omar Coronel has not fared well. In February 2020, he requested an early release and he was denied. Court documents from his request revealed that his prison record showed multiple disciplinary actions. These disciplinary actions were primarily for offenses related to the possession of sharp instruments and “willful misconduct that affects the operation or provision of supplies of the prison”. 

In December 2020, Omar appealed the court’s denial however the court upheld the previous decision and denied his early release again. 

Then in February 2021, Omar requested a new hearing for early release and he was yet again denied. In response to this, Omar Coronel filed an injunction. 

Just recently Judge José Alfonso Montalvo Martínez, head of the First Unitary Court in Criminal Matters, chose to grant Omar Coronel an amparo based on his injunction. 

An amparo is a very powerful provision with unique precedents within Mexican law. It aims to protect the individual citizen and their basic rights while also protecting the Mexican constitution itself by ensuring that the constitution’s core principles are not violated by the actions of the state. In the most practical sense though, an amparo provides for a constitutional review by a Federal Court at any stage of a case, even in early investigation as to whether a citizen’s rights are being violated by the state. 

With this amparo, Judge Montalvo Martínez has ordered the Third Unitary Court to annul its resolution on the case and analyze the legality of the ruling regarding the requirement of good conduct. 

Judge Montalvo Martínez writes “It is important to establish that disciplinary corrections should not be the determining factor to qualify the category of 'good behavior' for the purposes of granting or not the pre-release benefits, but that this aspect should be analyzed in an integral way with the others elements of which data on their reintegration are noted.”

Of note, Emma and Omar’s father Inés Coronel Barrera along with Omar himself have already gone through a long legal battle over an amparo based on claims of torture at the hands of federal agents. This legal battle was a major contributing factor to the delay between Omar’s 2013 arrest and 2019 sentencing. Omar and Emma have a brother named Edgar who is also imprisoned, on charges of weapon and drug possession.  For a brief overview of the Inés Omar Coronel Aispuro's family, see below.

Sources: Milenio, Vanguardia, Político, TV Azteca, La Silla Rota

Note: An earlier version of this story claimed Inés Coronel Barrera and Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel were related based on some news sources. However allegations that they are related may be false, information was removed 6/1/2021.

Durango, DGO: Crystal Meth Is Widely Available for Children

 “Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

Video translation is as follows:

Female Reporter: Crystal meth is the drug most consumed by addicted children. Because it is the easiest to find. As a result of this it’s a very serious problem due to those who start to consume from the age of eight. Many learn it at home, said the director of the Municipal DIF (Comprehensive Development of Families) Organization, Sandra Eugenia Corral Quiroga.

Sandra Eugenia: Unfortunately, crystal meth is the most widely used drug among children. It also causes tremendous organic damage. But this drug is widely available to be found here.

Well, it’s a very serious problem. Yes, most of the children that you find in treatment have a very big dysfunctional family problem. Sometimes a high percentage, let's say 30 or 40 percent come from families that already have an addiction dilemma. 

This is a learned procedure or behavior. Well, this has a lot to do with strengthening children's self-esteem. And the environment where they develop this is basic also.

Female Reporter: Does this school benefit them?

Sandra Eugenia: I think it’s urgent for them to go back to school, to socialize with children their age, to find a healthy environment. Hopefully this trial that we have lived through this year and a half will serve us all to remake the environments and return to something healthier.

We have had several people who have come to inquire. With this interview you are going to help us a lot as a means of spreading the word that we already have an area for girls where we can treat them.

Because it’s also a treatment shared by professionals. That is the most important thing. Its not an experimental treatment. This program has been in Durango for 14 years and it has been very successful. So, this will be very important that you help us to spread the word.

Female Reporter: Is there a price that has to be paid for this treatment?

Sandra Eugenia: No. It is totally free, all costs are absorbed by the municipality, it’s also absorbed by the DIF program… 


“Chaparro” Gunned Down in Restaurant in Tenosique, Tabasco Over Plaza Dispute

"HEARST" for Borderland Beat

An alleged cartel member and his bodyguard were gunned down in the middle of a restaurant after receiving threats from a rival cartel just shortly before. The alleged cause is an ongoing plaza dispute in Tenosique, Tabasco near the Mexico-Guatemala border.

At approximately 8:30 - 9:00 pm on May 29 2021, armed men entered the restaurant El Señorial, located in the city of Tenosique. They were later described as “hooded armed commandos” and were wearing tactical gear. The hooded men spotted a man known by the alias of “El Guatemala” or “Chaparro Guatemala” (“the short guy from Guatemala”).  He was accompanied by a bodyguard. The two men were sitting at a table, having dinner. 

The hooded men opened fire on both men, killing them both. Over a dozen gunshot wounds were later found on each of their bodies. Three other people who were present in the restaurant at the time of the shooting were injured. They were taken to a regional hospital within Tenosique. Law enforcement authorities cordoned off the area from the public. Investigators and forensic experts were called to the scene to process the evidence. 

Alleged text of a threat Chaparro received.

Social media users claim shortly  before his death, Chaparro received this threat, which read: 

Second call, Chaparro Guatemala. 

El Diablo has already arrived in Tenosique, now I want to see you respond to the beatings. 

People of Tenosique. This is the culprit behind all of the deaths that have been happening lately in Tenosique. If the police are owned by Chaparro Guatemala, then we will do justice by our own hands.  

Chaparro Guatemala, you are hours away from finally disappearing and Tenosique will return to tranquility.

How this threat was delivered is a bit unclear. El Señorial, the location of the shooting, is described as a restaurant and bar online. Whether the bar at El Señorial is a location for cartel associated drug sales is not reported and unknown.

Local media reports “Chaparro Guatemala” was targeted for a hit due to an ongoing dispute over control of drug trafficking and  human smuggling from the Mexico Guatemala border within the Tenosique area. He was also possibly known by the alias “El Guatemala”.

According to Tabasco Hoy, the criminal group Chaparro de Guatemala belonged to is currently in control of the Tenosique plaza. They allegedly have an understanding with municipal police in Tenosique and locals believe the municipal police actively cooperate with them. 

In the last few months, a rival group, which is led by a man known by the alias “El Diablo”, has been encroaching into the Tenosique plaza, trying to overtake it from Chaparro de Guatemala’s group. 

The larger cartel affiliations of these groups and overall control of the city of Tenosique is not discussed in the local press. Sinaloa Cartel, Cartel Jalisco New Generation, Los Zetas offshoots and the Gulf cartel were all thought to be present within the state of Tabasco based on Borderland Beat archives.

Warning: Graphic photos below.

Please Note: El Heraldo reported the shooting occured “Saturday night”. XEVT reported the shooting occurred at 9:00 pm. However Valor por Tamaulipas and Tabasco Hoy reported the shooting occurred at 8:30 in the morning. Photographs of the restaurant exterior appear to be taken at night.

El Heraldo de Tabasco, Tabasco Hoy, Valor por Tamaulipas, XEVT Radio

Photo Credit: @fernand17704066

Public Resources-Private Gains, a Rational Explanation for Mexico's Political Violence

"Redlogarythm" for Borderland Beat

Abel Murrieta, candidate for the mayorship of Cajeme, murdered three weeks ago. Source: Unomásuno

Next June elections seem to be the most violent ones since 2006. The media are reflecting almost on a weekly basis a constant drip of killings, kidnappings, threats and aggressions whose victims are mayors, municipal councillors, candidates and public officials. Consultora Etellekt, a Mexican-based security consultancy firm confirmed on May 5th a total of 443 victims of political violence of whom 79 constituted murders. Since then we have heard news of several other political killings.

Although Mexico has always been a country or political violence has been relatively frequent in times of elections, the recent incresae in acts of violence against politically-linked people guides is to the following question: what are the reasons behind the killings of politically-exposed individuals in Mexico?

If we have to conduct an analysis about Mexico´s political violence we should start by saying that it has a local/municipal root. Laying aside political violent feuds (which aren´t scarce) nowadays in Mexico most of political violence is linked to issues connected to organized crime conflicts arranged inside municipalities. The reason behind this is that Mexican criminal groups tend to focus on towns, trying to control their municipal areas as a way of exerting a degree of control that allows them to build a criminal governance frame through which the flow of money, goods and information is safe for the group.

Although the final objective is always the construction of political protection and impunity frams, the way of acting of such criminal groups is double: on the first place to co-opt local authorities as a way of controlling the municipal bodies through which they´ll monopolise the functions of surveillance, violence and security (municipal police bodies, mainly) On the second place, to absorb as much resources as possible, specially through the infiltration of town halls within which they control the allocation of public funds through the issuing of licenses, public contracts, subsidies or financial fraud.

This last phenomenon -the control and allocation of public funds- is in my opinion one of the most important factors behind the lengthy list of Mexican public officials being killed during the last decade. Although it could have been born during the appearance of Mexico´s first cases of criminal governance (the Gulf cartel of the times of Osiel Cárdenas or the creation of the Familia Michoacana in the early 2000s) the control over public funds had been more a way of exercising control rather than an ultimate criminal objective. Nowadays we can say that for Mexican criminal groups it is a business goal, not a mere acting strategy.

How is this control over public resources achieved by criminal groups? The exact methods vary but they tend to orbit around the co-optation of certain positions inside town halls which are in charge of administering funds. As any administrative entity, Mexican municipalities are allowed to receive, collect and allocate funds in several ways. This sort of "financial independency" has been favoured by the process of relative power de-concentration that Mexico has been experiencing since the demise of the once monolithic PRI power monopoly beginnind in the early 1990s.

It was in the context of the democratization of Mexican politics that the need for sub-State financial independence was labelled as one of Mexico´s political goals. The control over public resources had traditionally been one of the mechanisms through which the PRI had mantained control over much of Mexico´s social and economic spectrums. It were the Governors the ones receving funds from the Federal administration and distributing them according to political affiliation. So when the PRI regime started trembling at the end of the XXth century the dominion it had over Mexico´s finances started also to disappear.

The financial independency of Mexican municipalities had always been one of the goals of the Republican ideals brought by the Revolution, behind which lied the popular resentment to a distant and foreign Federal Government that didn´t understand conjuncture of local politics. As a matter of fact, it was recognized in Mexico´s 1917 Constitution whose article 115 states -in its second paragraph- that "Municipalities are invested with legal personality and will manage their own patrimony according to the law" The legal text goes even further recognizing the municipalities the right to manage the services of drinking water, sewage, public lighting, waste management, markets, parks and the ones that their socio-economic situation allows them to manage.

This municipal autonomy, which can be found in even every developed country, hadn´t been an objective for criminal groups because the Mexican manifestations of organized crime were traditionally focused on the production, transportation and smuggling of drugs and other goods.

The current interest un public resources by Mexican organized crime must be understood in the context of the evolution of criminal organizations sincec the beginning of the 2006 "war on drug trafficking" Since then, what initially were small number of relatively well structured groups devoted mainly to import, produce and smuggle drugs to the US, have evolved into a myriad of smaller cells with shorter periods of existence and a great tendency to suffer from internal splits that have sorted out to criminal activities much easier to perform that transnational drug trafficking. This kind of criminal evolution, which Borderland Beat has been investigating as one of the explanations for Mexico´s security crisis, labelling it as "mafiatization" or "Sicilianization" is one of the main reasons why Mexican criminal groups have started focusing on what they can obtain inside Mexico rather than outside, creating complex drug importing channels and operating costly and risky smuggling routes towards the US. 

Thus, in a relatively short period of time, there has been a restructuration of the Mexican underworld, with a few big-medium organizations monopolizing the biggest drug trafficking operations and a much greater number of smaller groups which have to rely on local activities such as oil theft, kidnappings, prostitution, cargo theft or retail drug distribution to make profit since their context disqualifies them to run bigger trafficking activities.

It is here were the sacking of municipal funds must be incardinated. Nevertheless, contrary to other profitable activities such as drug distribution or prostitution -which require only of a product, a client and an intermediary who sells one to the other- public funds are kept inside administrative structures; in a bank account, in a fideicomiso, inside the coffers of town halls, etc. Thus, it is not so easy to get access to them. There must be a link, a contact, through which a criminal group gets its hand into the money and resources controlled by municipal authorities. Here is where the politician comes into scene.

Who is this politician? It depends because the Mexican political spectrum is comprised by a big, interrelated and obscure bureaucracy which holds certain positions not because of its administrative background nor because its management cappabilities but because its political contacts. Thus, we can find mayors who grant licenses, regidores who pass laws benefiting a certain business area, councillors managing the awarding of a contract and even former mayors or political delegates controlling the reception and allocation of subsidis received from Federal institutions. These are the people organized crime most control in order to get acces to such resources.

And it´s here where political violence appears into scene. In the context of Mexican organized crime  violence is a consequence, not a cause. It´s a mean of achieving a goal, not a goal in itself. If a group is interested in selling stolen oil to a town hall for providing its fleet of municipal police cars with fuel it will have to talk both with the chief of police and with the person in charge of authorizing the purchases of the Municipality. If another group controlling the construction sector is interested in getting a contract subsidised with Federal funds for restoring the town´s main square, it´ll have to contact the Public Works councillor, etc. And since the language of organized crime is generally the use of violence, the group will sort to threats, intimidation and finally homicide to meet its demands.

The rest is a matter of context.

The Mexican Municipality: the Sum of All Violences

It´s not possible to analyze the characteristics of every Mexican municipality since each town is a world in itself. Furthermore, the Mexican 1917 Constitution grants municipalities with a certain degree of autonomy for organizing their own administrative structures, so their internal organization charts can be very varied. Nevertheless, every municipality tends to organize itself internally following certain patterns that allow us to perceive and display some sort of consistent internal structure.

Administratively speaking there are three kinds of Municipalities in Mexico: Semiurban, Urban and Metropolitan Municipalities. Semiurban Municipalities are those population centers between 10,000 to 30,000 inhabitants. Urban Municipalities oscillate between 30,000 and 150,000 inhabitants and Metropolitan Municipalities are over 150,000 inhabitants. There are also Rural and Marginated Municipalities, but since they are almost self-sufficient communities without a proper administrative structure we´ll exclude them from our analysis.

Depending on the number of inhabitants each town hall can create more or less administrative bodies. Thus, Municipalities with less than 200,000 inhabitants the optimum number of administrative organizations is 13 while those over 200,000 can have as much as 20 administrative bodies, although this is a mere recommendation and municipalities can create -and they do so- more than these. Since it is the State Congress the one creating the law that is going to define the structure of all the Municipalities of the State -it´s called Ley Orgánica Municipal or Municipal Organic Law- at the end of the day depending on the State the internal characteristics of the Municipality will vary.

Semiurban Municipalities tend to be the incarnation of a rural town where most of its population is devoted to agriculture, farming, small businesses and the service sector. Due to their small size they tend to have a pretty simple administrative structure.  With a Municipal Presidency headed by the mayor on the pinacle, they also have a Private Secretary (a public relationship office in charge of information and social communication duties) and a Municipal Comptrollership which monitors public spending and the performance of Municipal public officials. In the bottom of the administrative pyramid we can find five different Secretariats absorbing most of the dutires of the local authorities: a Town Hall Secretariat, the Public Security and Civil Protection Secretariat, the Public Services and Environment Secretariat, the Urban Development and Public Works Secretariat and the Treasury Secretariat, each of them with specific competencies.

Semiurban Municipalities do also have a de-centralized body in charge of managing the protection of vulnerable social groups, care services, Sport, health or job duties as well as the implementation of State and Federal Social Development Programms. This body is known as the Municipal Sytem of Domestic Comprehensive Development (known is Spanish as DIF)

Semi-urban municipal administrative structure. Source: Estructura Administrativa Básica Municipal. Source:

In the case of the Urban Municipalities, the present a much developed administrative structure, with several specialized bodies. Instead of having under the Municipal Presidency a Private Secretary and the Comptrollership they have two extra bodies: a Social Communication unit and an Information, Planning, Programming and Evaluation Unit (known as UIPPEs)
At the bottom of the pyramid Urban Municipalities present not five but seven separate bodies. Besides the Town Hall, Public Security, Public Services/Environment, Urban Development/Public Works and Treasury Secretariats they do also have an Ecomic Development Secretariat and a Social Development Secretariat. The first one is in charge of promoting local business activities such as the organization of public markets (tianguis), the promotion of tourism, commerce, industry or employment. The second one absorbs much of the duties of a Semi Urban DIF (education, culture, sport housing or Social Development Programms)
In the case of the de-centralized bodies Urban Municipalities have not one but two: the Municipal DIF (in charge of much less duties) and a Water Agency in charge of managing drinking water, sewage and sanitation)

Finally, Metropolitan Municipalities have an adminstrative structure relatively similar to the one of Urban Municipalities, but much more developed according to the bigger size of the town. Thus, they present 5 new Secretariats: Government, Civil Protection, Judicial Services, Public/Traffic Security and Administration. In the case of de-centralized bodies they do preserve the Municipal DIF and the Water Agency, but they have also a Metropolitan Planning and Development body in charge of urban planning and metropolitan environment.

We must take into account that these structures are only the tip of the "administrative iceberg". Each Secretariat is divided into several Sub-Secretariats, and each Sub-Secretariat has several Directorates under its supervision.

How does violence fit into this scheme of administrative agencies and bodies? Through several ways. In some cases through the granting of licenses or contracts. Organized crime can resort to violence in order to prevent the granting of such contracts/licenses to certain individuals or on the contrary they can react violently against the people in charge of such duties in order to force them to grant the license or the contract to a certain individual. Violence can also be a way of shaping a certain body specially important for organized crime. It´s the case of the Public Security Secretariats (at the Semi-Urban, Urban and Metropolitan levels) These Secretariats are comprised by a wide range of municipal police agencies which are in charge of managing security issues inside the municipality. The control of the municipal police agencies and by extension of the Public Security Secretariats is almost mandatory for any criminal group aiming at controlling the Municipality. The control over such police agencies can be done either through infiltration (the group forces a mayor or other public officer to employ some of its members that will use the vehicles, uniforms and weapons of the municipal police to commit acts of violence) or through forcing police officers to act under their orders (the classic motto of silver or lead. Obey, stay silent and do what we tell you to do or you´re the next one) 

We can also cite as a reason for violence in this context the access to certain administrative positions which are seen as an investment or a reward by people linked to criminal groups. The elimination tactics practiced against complete bodies of town halls such as the lighting or water bodies of certain town halls of Guanajuato, for example, offer an excellent insight into how organized crime or people linked to organized crime can resort to violence against certain public officials as a way of controlling the agencies/bodies under their control or as a mean of obtaining a good position inside the town hall.

Another reason for violence against people in charge of these bodies can be the access to Municipal, State or Federal funds through the resources of the town hall, a type of criminal activity which is becoming increasingly popular and that we´ll then analyze.

Finally, although this cannot be understood as a closed list of reasons explaining political violence in Mexico we could also cite the use of political killings as an strategy for depriving town halls of specific public officials that are fundamental inside the local Government or that are vital for the political project of a certain mayor or political party.

The case that illustrates the best how a Municipality can be affected by political killings linked to multiple and different reasons is what has happened -and still is happening- in the town of Apaseo el Alto, in South Eastern Gunajuato. With an approximated population of 30,000 inhabitants, what has been happening in Apaseo el Alto since 2018 cannot be define but as political cleansing. In less than 3 years the town hall has been decimated by criminal groups that have killed at least 12 public officials and a candidate for the mayorship.

It all started on May 11th, 2018 when José Remedios Aguirre, the MORENA candidate for the mayorship of Apaseo el Alto was gunned down right after a political rally. His wife María del Carmen Ortiz Terrazas succeeded him in the candidacy and was elected mayor on July.
Three months later, on October 10th, the political killing spree started in Apaseo el Alto when the Director of the Transport and Transit Directorate Santos Alonso Cerritos Hernández was killed in a restaurant. A man linked to the slained candidate José Remedios Aguirre, Cerritos had sworn in a few hours before. Four months later, on February 27th 2019, the head of the Auditing area dependent on the Municipal Treasury Secretariat, Joaquín Guerrero, was murdered with two other individuals inside a bar.
On September 24th Francisco García Ramírez, one of mayor Ortiz´s closest councillors (regidor) was killed.

On December 10th 2020 one of the heads of the Potable Water and Sewage Municipal Committee (CMAPA) was machine-gunned inside his car.
Finally on December 22nd 2020, the head of the Municipal DIF, Daniel Medina Mora and his aid Ulises Martínez disappeared when they were on a trip to hand over pantries to some of the area most humble families of the San Antonio Calichar community. Their bodies were found three months later. Another public official called Axel Giuseppe Andrei Guzmán was also killed, but Borderland Beat hasn´t been able to stablish the date of the murder.

In the case of the security agencies (Municipal and Transit Police) the killing reaches dramatic notes. On October 29th 2019 José Terrazas Jiménez, a Transit police agent, was killed. Then, on January 22nd 2020, Francisco Martín Vargas -municipal police agent and bodyguard of the head of the Transit Directorate, Sandra Susana García Herrera- was murdered. The Municipal police suffered another heavy blow when its commander in chief Lázaro Hurtado Luna was killed inside his own house on November 11th 2020. After that, on April 20th 2021, another Municipal police agent, Francisco Pérez was murdered on the Santa Elena Norte Colony while patrolling the streets. There has been also a murder of a municipal police agent called Andrés Italiano Cruz, but on an unknown date.

Which were the reasons behind such a carnage? We cannot stablish any certainties since none of the murders has been solved. The town of Apaseo el Alto had traditionally been under control of the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, led by a plaza boss called Antonio Zúñiga García AKA El Tonino. Once a member of El Marro´s crew, El Tonino changed sides at some point between 2017 and 2020 and joined the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) Both criminal groups have battled over the city and its institutions ever since then and it has been in the context of such conflict that Apaseo el Alto´s political carnage must be understood?

Who has been responsible for such deaths? Nobody knows, because contrary to what most of the time happens in Guanajuato -where criminal groups sign their killings with narcomantas or cartulinas- none of the political murders were claimed by neither of both groups.

Nevertheless, the analysis of who were the people being killed in Apaseo el Alto reveals some sort of frontal attack against certain areas of mayor Ortiz´s administration. In fact we can appreciate at least six administrative bodies under attack: the Transport and Transit Directorate, the Municipal Treasury through the elimination of the head of the Auditing area, the local legislative power through the killing of Ortiz´s closest councillor, the Public Security Secretary through the murder of the Municipal police commander and at least four agents, the CMAPA through the killing of one of its heads and finally the DIF, whose chief was murdered, and which provided the mayor with a great electoral base through the distribution of pantries and other social activities.
Apaseo el Alto´s administrative structure. Highlighted in yellow, the bodies attacked through the killing of their heads/directors

In the context of Mexico´s Sicilianization of organized crime, these murder must be interpreted through the logic that has found clear explanations for other similar political murders such as those happening in Italy during the second half of the XXth century.

The Case of Guanajuato: Federal Funds and the Construction Sector

One of the symbols of the linkage between public resources and political violence can be found in what has been happening in Guanajuato with contruction contracts. In this State, one of the most violent entities, a thriving market has been created within which two main criminal organizations -the CJNG and the CSRL- have started controlling the alocation of public contracts and the reception of Federal subsidies through local Governments.

In Mexico, like in most countries, Municipalities do not have enough financial capacity to collect enough taxes to maintain a certain degree of financial autonomy. This is mostly due to the fact that national legislation reserves the capacity of collecting taxes to the Central Government, leaving the Municipalities certain taxes -such as the Real State Purchasing Tax, the Property Tax or the Public Spectacles Tax- that are quite reduced both in quantities and rates. Thus, it´s the Central Government the one that facilitates funds to the Municipalities in the form of subsidies that are paid either to the States -which will then distribute it to local Government- or to the Municipalities directly. In Mexico such subsidies are called Federal Transfers and are divided into Aportaciones, which hare concentrated in the so-called Branch 33 (Ramo 33) of the Deferation´s Expenditure Budget, and Participaciones, concentrated in Branch 28. Together they account for nearly 3/4 of the Municipal budget. Thus, in 2016, Federal Transfers represented 71.2% of the budget of all Mexican municipalities, with 34.7% for Participaciones and 36.5% for Aportaciones.

Branch 33, the deposit of the Aportaciones, consists of eight different Funds, six of which are State-run and two Municipal.

State-run Funds
  • Educative Payroll and Operating Expenses Contributing Fund (FONE) through which States receive money to pay the salaries of educational workers (mostly teachers)
  • Technological and Adult Educational Contributing Fund (FAETA)
  • Health Services Contributing Fund (FASSA) Through which State authorities receive money for covering health services
  • Public Security of the States and the Federal District Contributing Fund (FASP) It is paid for by the Ministry of Interior directly to the State Governments for the funding of security issues
  • Multiple Contributing Fund (FAM) For the building of educational infrastructure
  • Federal Entities Strenghtening Contributing Fund (FAFEF)
Municipal Funds
  • Social Infrastructure Contributing Fund (FAIS) Through which Municipalities receive money from the Social Wellbeing Federal Secretariat for building infrastructure that will mitigate social inequality
  • Municipal Strnghtening Contributing Fund (FORTAMUN)

Of all these Funds it is the FAIS the one that is being used extensively in Guanajuato by organized crime. As we have mentioned the FAIS Fund is used by the Municipalities to build infrastructure with money perceive directly from the Federal authorities. According to evidence both the CJNG and the CSRL are engaged in the building of infrastructure as well as in the co-opting of municipal authorities for obtaining public construction contracts through which to perceive such funds.

The mechanism is simple. The criminal organization either manages its own construction firms or is contacted by private entrepreneurs interested in taking advantage of the group´s political margin of manoeuvre to be benefited with a public contract for the building of infrastructure comprised within the goals of the FAIS Fund.

The group pressures public officials, probably members of the Urban Development and Public Works Secretary which are the ones in charge of issuing the FAIS contracts, who grant the group or the group´s client the desired contract that will be paid with the taxpayer´s money. In the first case the group´s construction firms will directly build public infrastructure while in the second case the group´s client -the entrepreneur- will pay a certain percentage as a commission.

In the case of the Participaciones of Branch 28, they are similar to the Aportaciones. It basically is money received by the Municipalities from the Federal Government through the intermediation of State authorities. The main difference between the Participaciones and the Aportaciones is that the former can be spent freely according to the municipalities desires while the latter must be spent on the purposes indicated by the Federal Government. Undoubtedly, Participaciones are much more attractive for criminal groups and corrupted politicians since their management isn´t subjected to Federal auditing.

There are real evidences of such scheme going on in Guanajuato at least since 2019, although the system must have been operating since several years before. On March 2019, in the context of the Golpe de Timón federal operative against the CSRL, an audio was leaked to the press. It was a phone conversation between Hugo Estefanía Monroy, former PRD mayor of the town of Cortázar, and local CSRL plaza boss Noel Lara Belman AKA El Puma. The conversation is highly illustrative and it reflects the depth of the linkages between certain municipal political elites and organized crime. After discussing about recent event provoked by the intervention of federal forces into the State both individuals start deliberating about how to perceive municipal funds

Hugo Estefanía Monroy, former PRD mayor of Cortázar (Guanajuato)

Hugo Estefanía (hereinafter HE): Let´s see how can we meet to talk about the business you had...There´s a shit-ton of things to do cabrón. Look, the other day I talked with Juan Lara before he he entered office, about eight days before entering office, for counseling him and telling him how the things were. There´s a ton of money that can be recovered from construction and there are the Oxxos were some money most be managed. I´m sure that they aren´t even charging them. There´s a ton of business that can be done for you controlling them man... I told them that I covered them but after that they didn´t even answer me. They didn´t even answer the phone and I told myself "Ah, what then"?

El Puma (hereinafter P): You tell me what to do, man...

HE: I´ll tell you how to manage it, because there´s a ton of resources that must come from above, clean, without trouble...of Fund 1, of Fund 2, I´ll tell you when are they going to come, how much has is coming, how to do it...There´s a Fund for the huachicol coming right now man...There´s a Fund coming now for buying weapons that is a "businesote" [big business] man, but I tell you this since we are colleagues, so you see it and you manage everything...

P: You just tell me and I´ll manage two or three things. Anyway I´m the one saying how things are there and I need financing more than anything else

HE: Ajá

P: To have money. I´m already gathering money, because as I said you I don´t know how much is handled annually here in the construction business

HE: That´s right

P: Then I don´t know how much do I get yearly from that business, without doing anything

HE: That´s right. Besides that, I would explain to you how to recover some money from Fund 1. What is Fund 1? They are federal participations man...  From Fund 2 it´s coming a...

P: We need to talk...

HE: A ton of money is coming, without any trouble...

P: Take into account that I need to know everything about that because I put these people I have... (...) That´s my plan. As you know everyone -including me- would be hurt if we lost the money, because we all are saying "I want a house, I want some swimming pools, I want a little business" and then at the time of the fight nobody wants to contribute. So to grab around 20 or 30 millions in Cortázar, Juventino, Celaya, Villagrán...

HE: I want to talk you about a fucking great plan that I have man, at the State man, for running with the party... Now I´m in Acámbaro and I already toured all around the State. I´m travelling around the State watching which are the towns where we can win and where we can´t...Having presence in all the State, man...(...) They´re begging me for running with MORENA but I won´t. I already have a position here at the PRD that I already cleaned it, it´s mine. I know where can we place candidates that will win, where not... That´s why I wanted to talk to you and say "Look, here we can put a candidate, here not..." To make this grow for 2021 and seek for the State Governorhip by 2024 man...

P: Fucking great. You have the same vision as me... I know they´re hitting me badly now, but where God punishes me to live... Look, I´ve a plan...

HE: Great, but I can tell you how you can be clean so you leave this things for a moment

P: That´s what I want

HE: I also want you to quit from that so you can dedicate yourself to clean things

P: Right now in Villagrán, from, the public construction area I´ve already won 30 millions. Politics is the safest business that exists

HE: Fucking great, fucking great... You just tell me...

P: So that´s the situation. Then, if you tell me that you know that in Acámbaro you have construction projects you give me the projects and I already am in negotiations with two or three construction firms...

HE: Ajá

P: And  anyway I´m posing as a bank. I have my account for this fucking money 

The conversation takes the path of a friendly chatting and then returns to a very important point; the appointment of accomplices to political positions inside the town hall

HE: You must introduce a person in the Treasury man, all the things are in the Treasury. But he must have experience. The one I had man, he was the best. I don´t know if he is working, but if he isn´t let´s see if we wants to come over here so you can introduce him and he´ll tell you about everything

P: But take into account that I left Treasury for Lalo...

HE: But you can introduce him without a salary man, without a salary, so he leaves everything for you... Because the business is in the Treasury

After some irrelevant chatting Cortazar´s former mayor and El Puma return to discussing a very important issue; the funding of municipal elections with money coming from drug trafficking

HE: You must have a "b" plan man

P: Of course

HE: Remember that plans do not endure, they aren´t eternal. Because if you did something you know have to turn the page, because you already have a path, you already have money. You have everything. You should invest it wisely

P: Of course. And now as I was telling you I want those 30 million. I know that if we bet on the winning horse with those 30 million we´re securing things

HE: I´ll tell you what to do

P: Because with 30 million... With 5 you win again in Villagrán, and with 3 in Juventino... You know how to do it...

HE: That´s right. But we also lack appointing the Deputies

P: Perfect. Because you are now in a position to say to the ones from above "I already have the breaking point. If I run with this guy and with my people I´ll win for you (...) You already have the power. And I can tell you that San José Iturbide is with me, San Luís de la Paz is with me

HE: Then it´s very important that we meet

P: Of course. Genaro [Martín Zúñiga Soto] from San Jose Iturbide is my friend. He even moved canisters [huachicol] for me...

HE: Is he the President?

P: Of course. He´s the Municipal President. And he´s also running for MORENA. When you want we talk and you´ll see how I have this thing politically controlled. Besides that, with the crew... If this time we invest in more crico [methamphetamine] around 10 or 20 kilos...even 50....and we hit them hard...

HE: Precisely know is coming the most interesting thing with the political parties, the internal affiliations. There´s where you must grab...

P: Let´s meet. Count on the money I´m getting from Villagrán

HE: Yes. Right know it´s pure strategy

P: It´s pure strategy but why? Because the money that you tell me you need I´m there...

This conversation is probably the best example of the merger between Mexico´s political spectrum and criminal groups. Elections are seen as platforms for accessing to town halls from where public resources are managed under the perverse logic of corrupted public officials that ensure impunity and grant contracts to organized criminals, their cronies and clients in exchange of more money for running their personal political campaigns.

The degree of understanding between Hugo Estefanía and El Puma is truely sinister since they aren´t discussing about fixing the elections of a little town. According to the audio they had control over Municipalities between 30,000 and 90,000 inhabitants. Furthermore, they speak about controlling the State apparatus of the PRD party by blackmailing State delegates with the degree of control they have over certain areas, posing as channels for a certain electoral triumph. This suggests that the degree of knowledge about the dirty dealings of political leaders exceed the municipal level reaching at least the State level. This also reveals the degree of power that former political individuals retain in certain parts of Mexico. When this conversation happened Hugo Estefanía wasn´t an elected representative, but he controlled the mayorships of several towns and was powerful enough to negotiate with criminal bosses such as El Puma.

Another interesting point of their conversation is the importance they attach to the Treasury  Secretariat where "all the things are" In fact they discuss the appointment of Hugo Estefania´s former Treasury head, who would work for El Puma directly granting him any contract we could profit from. Finally, the audio reveals that ate least in Guanajuato -an area where the drugs being distributed are imported from Michoacán and Sinaloa, not locally produced- the proceeds of drug trafficking are used for electoral fraud. In fact, the selling of 10, 20 or 50 kilos of methamphetamine for allocating the profits for vote buying reveals that elections can be easily arranged.

How does political violence fit into the scheme? The answer is easy: when the coalition between organized crime and political power faces an obstacle. Imagine that the head of the Treasury Secretariathad rejected the appointment of Hugo Estafania´s crony. What would have El Puma done if beacuse of that reticence he hadn´t win a construction contract? Of course the Treasury head would have suffered the consequences.

In some cases this kind of system short-circuits and burns the head behind its logic. This can happen if there´s a bigger corrupted system that fears a potential competitor or if an enemy of the allied criminal group seeks to damage its rival by destroying its political links, thus destroying the group´s political protection dealings. It´s very probable that this was what happened to Hugo Estefanía, El Puma´s political contact, who was gunned down inside one of his businesses on November 2019.

Another real evidence of such dealings comes from two videos posted on social media on May 2020. They show a man on his forties lying face up and surrounded by members of the CSRL one of whom conducts the classical interrogatory. The man had been shot in the stomach, so he answers while suffering horrible pain. According to what the videos reveal he was one of the real estate developers of El Puma

Sicario: What do you do?

Man: I´m a real estate developer

Sicario: What relathionship do you have with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel?

Man: I tell them what do I do

Sicario: Do you support them?

Man: I do support them

Sicario: Who do you deal with from those fags?

Man: With Moy and el Dape

Sicario: And what with el Dape? What does he do?

Man: El Dape works for the town hall. And I handle 16% of the construction work to el Dape

Sicario: Who else do you know working for those fags?

Man: Rodrigo

Sicario: Where is Rodrigo from?

Man: Fresno

Sicario: What does he do?

Man: To real estate development, as me

Sicario: Why did this happen to you man?

Man: For supporting CJNG

Sicario: Where do you work man?

Man: For the Municipality of Jerécuaro

Sicario: How much was the people from Jerécuaro asking you for?

Man: 16%

Sicario: The people from Jerécuaro? 

Man: Yes

Sicario: How much is 16%?

Man: 16% of each construction work amount. The contract that I´m doing now is of 20 million

Sicario: And of those 20 million how much were you going to give them?

Man: Around...

Sicario: 1,600,000?

Man: Yes [in fact it was 3,200,000]

Sicario: And who do you give the money to?

Man: To el Dape 

Sicario: Where is he from?

Man: Jerécuaro

Sicario: Is he from Jerécuaro? For what cartel does the guy work?

Man: For the people of Jerécuaro

Sicario: What cartel? You know what cartel is it...

Man: For the Jalisco Cartel

Sicario: Did you ever know El Moy?

Man: No

Sicario: So you communicated with el Dape?

Man: Yes. I have to hand over the money by tomorrow

Sicario: Right tomorrow?

Man: Yes

Sicario: And where is El Puma man? Your "compadre"...

Man: He´s dead [this is false since El Puma was arrested two months later, on June, in San Luís Potosí]

Sicario: Okey. So you delivered the money to the people of Jerécuaro?

Man: Yes

Sicario: And how did you get aligned with those fags?

Man: I know the mayor. I gave him the papers for having that type of construction works...the public requirements for contractors...The contract was for Rodrigo but they took it away from him and gave it to me...

Sicario: Where is Rodrigo from?

Man: From Fresno

Sicario: What did he do?

Man: He´s another public contractor

Sicario: Another contractor like you?

Man: Yes

Sicario: So you´re the one giving them money from the construction works

Man: From those that I get. Before fisnighing this one I got one of electricity and after that they gave me the municipal market

Sicario: And why did you ran away?

Man: I was frightened

Borderland Beat has identified the man being interrogated as Aldo Daniel Oviedo Arzate . In fact the group he had dealings with wasn´t a CJNG cell but an organization comprised by former members of the CSRL -among them El Puma and El Moy- who changed sides between 2019 and 2020 and became allies of the CJNG.

Aldo Daniel Oviedo Arzate being interrogated by the CSRL. He would be killed that very day

Although at the time of the videos going viral nobody identified the victim, Borderland Beat has been able to discover the identity of the man being interrogated. He was Aldo Daniel Oviedo Arzate, a businessman from Apaseo el Alto who -among others- was the owner of Ocreto SA de CV. Interestingly enough, the company is based in Apaseo el Alto, and its adress is, of course, a garage that has nothing to do with a business. In other words, it´s a front company.

According to Mexico´s public contracts records (COMPRANET) Ocreto SA de CV was awarded a total of four contracts (three in Apaseo el Alto and one in Jerécuaro) between 2016 and 2017 for a total of 1,522,187.156 MXP, although the files of the firm are incomplete since they don´t include contracts that have been awarded later.

For example, the contract that the man talks about in the second interrogation video, the one of the Municipal market, was awarded on February 27th 2020. In fact, the website of Jerécuaro´s townhall offer a perfect investigation field since Borderland Beat has found more contracts awarded to Ocreto SA de CV. We have confirmed that the company was awarded with public construction contracts in 2019 and 2020. During 2019 Ocreto SA de CV was awarded with 4 contracts for a total of 4,496,313.37 MXP while in 2020 the company was awarded with. The object of the contracts were the installation of pavement,water and electricity insfrastructure. On 2019 Ocreto SA de CV received the 20 million contract for the building of Jerécuaro´s municipal market (this was the contract that Aldo Daniel was speaking about in the video under interrogation). If we have to believe what the man says the CJNG Jerécuaro-based cell would have received a total of 3,919,410.14 MXP in concept of commissions.

Contract to Ocreto SA de CV for the building of Jerécuaro´s Municipal marke

Interestingly enough, after the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Daniel Oviedo Arzate, Ocreto SA de CV has received two more contracst. On July 3rd (two months after the death of Aldo Daniel) one of his brothers was awarded with a contract of 700,009.5 for the installation of pipes and on March 24th 2021 Ocreto SA de CV received a 643,263.48 MXP contract for the installation of pavement at the 20 de Noviembre Street.

It seems that in Jerécuaro -and by extension in all México- organized crime is more interested than ever in the managing of public resources.