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

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Gathering Storm: Could Hidalgo Become Mexico´s Next Major Killing Field?

 Redlogarythm for Borderland Beat

Source: Quadratín

The recent months haven´t been too calm in the central State of Hidalgo. In the last three months at least four tunnels used for stealing oil and gas from PEMEX´s pipelines have been discovered all along with an incredible network of infrastructure devoted to the extraction, transportation and distribution of ill-gotten combustibles by very well organized criminal groups.

As Borderland Beat revealed in a recent article [read it here] Hidalgo has been purported as a calmed oasis in the middle of the Mexican criminal maremagnum. Despite a tradition of deep penetration by organized crime and a long history of serious criminal organizations -among them the original Los Zetas- working in the State, Hidalgo doesn´t present traces of serious organized criminal presence. At least this was the State´s Public Security Secretary -the recently elected Salvador Cruz Neri- said when in September 2022 he assured journalists that despite some violence created by small groups and bands there was "no organized criminal presence identified as of yet".

Salvador Cruz Neri, Hidalgo´s current Public Security Secretary. Once a heavy hitter in the now defunct Policía Federal at a time when he was accused of sexual assault, Cruz Neri has been a staunch supporter of the idea that there is no organized crime in the State.

The still young MORENA executive led by Governor Julio Menchaca Salazar -who swore charge on September 5th 2022- has tried to take advantage of Hidalgo´s acceptable public security rates which place the State as the fifth most secure federal entity in 2022 according to the Institute for Economics and Peace´s Mexico´s Peace Index for the year 2022 only after Yucatán, Tlaxcala, Chiapas and Campeche. Last year closed with "only" 330 homicides and although the rate increased by 14.98% in comparison with 2021 -a year in which 287 homicides were reported- it must be acknowledged that the numbers are lower than those of 2019, when violence reached its peaked with 479 homicides. Nevertheless several organizations and think tanks focused on public security -among them Insight Crime- have reflected their concern regarding an upsurge of violence in the State.

This and other facts have led Menchaca´s Federal Government to reiterate the old mantra of the State being free of serious organized criminal presence. In a recent statement Hidalgo´s Public Security Secretary Salvador Cruz Neri repeated that despite some "isolated cells" the State authorities had no knowledge of "organized crime". 

To be frank one must say that Cruz Neri´s statement are nothing new. His predecessor in the Public Security Secretary, the PRI-oriented Mauricio Delmar Saavedra also repeated the same argument during his tenure. In May 2022, after a series of executions that left a dozen people dead and the appearance of several banner signed by the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación and the Familia Michoacana, Mr. Saavedra assured that "there weren´t cartels" operating in Hidalgo blaming "impostors" for the banners. According to the Secretary smaller bands were trying to capitalize the prestige of bigger organizations by signing their actions with the brand of the former. Mr. Saavedra´s argument had been a constant during his tenure since the very beginning, in 2016, when he gave an extensive interview highlighting the fact that there was no presence of "mediatic organized crime in Hidalgo"

Mauricio Delmar Saavedra, Hidalgo´s Public Security Secretary during Omar Fayad´s tenure as State Governor (2016-2022) According to his arguments banners signed by CJNG and the Familia Michoacana were the consequence of small disorganized gangs -labeled as "impostors"- capitalizing the brand of bigger and more serious criminal organizations

Mr. Saavedra should have measured his words. Contrary to his statements history reflects just the opposite. Hidalgo has presented in the past a considerable degree of serious criminal presence, beginning with Los Zetas, which by the early 2010s had developed a formidable network all across the State that manifested in considerable gruesome violence.

On September 19th 2007 Marcos Manuel Souberville González, back then Hidalgo´s Public Security Secretary -the same position held by Mr. Saavedra and currently by Salvador Cruz Neri- was gunned down by orders of Los Zetas. Souberville had previously been director of the State Ministerial Police between 2003 and 2005 and was appointed as head of the Public Security Directorate by the back then Governor of Hidalgo, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, who would be Enrique Peña Nieto´s "Secretario de Gobernación" -Ministry of the Interior- and linked to Los Zetas in 2010.

Marcos Manuel Souberville González, former head of Hidalgo´s Ministerial police was murdered by Los Zetas in 2007 when he was acting as the States Public Security Secretary. It would be later revealed that much of the men under his command were controlled and employed by "La Compañía"

Los Zetas also built a solid network of corrupt police officers and public servants. In September 2009 nearly 130 policemen were detained in two raids and accused of working for "La Compañía" -the name for the alliance between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas- and in January 2012 Ahuitzol Hideroa Juárez, who had substituted Souberville as head of the Ministerial Police was detained accused of receiving 80,000 MXP per month from Los Zetas. With him fell most of Hidalgo´s Ministerial Police leaders.

The series of armed attacks, ambushes and killings in Hidalgo is countless. In January 2011, Los Zetas even detonated one of the first car bombs used by organized criminality in Mexico killing a police officer. 

Ahutzol Hideroa Juárez, former head of Hidalgo´s Ministerial Police. He would be captured and convicted in 2012 for his role in supporting Los Zetas´ criminal activities in the State.

At the same time reality seems to contradict Hidalgo´s current and former Public Security Secretaries since even the State public prosecutor´s office -the Procuraduría General de Justicia- seems to corroborate a fact well known for anyone who has no political interests at stake. 

Santiago Nieto has been Hidalgo´s State Prosecutor even before Governor Julio Menchaca took office in September 2022 since his predecessor asked him to accept the office earlier. With a solid academic background Santiago Nieto made himself a name at the FEPADE  combating electoral fraud and white collar criminality, including notable cases such as the Mexican link of the Odebrecht case- In May 2018 he was appointed by AMLO as head of the Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera -UIF or Financial Intelligence Unit- the fist used by the SEHCP -the Mexican Treasury Department- to crack the finances of organized crime. 

Santiago Nieto Castillo, former head of Mexico´s UIF and one of AMLO´s most capable public officers. After a brilliant career at cracking organized crime financial operations a scandal would mean his ousting from the Federal Government

It must be acknowledged that Santiago Nieto did a terrific job -although the bar wasn´t too high either considering that their predecessor during Peña Nieto´s administration used the UIF as a weapon with which to extort businessmen in order not to prosecute them for fraud-. During his tenure Mexico´s UIF conducted significant actions against the financial operations of some of the country´s most important criminal organization -including the CJNG- setting an example of what can be achieved when Mexico´s law enforcement are directed by professionals with experience and motivated not by political greed but by a strictly civil duty.

Nevertheless Santiago Nieto´s downfall came in November 2021 when he organized his wedding in Guatemala and a high-level officer from MORENA´s Mexico City administration was caught in a plane owned by the Mexican Government carrying undeclared money. The subsequent scandal led Santiago Nieto to renounce to the UIF thus depriving AMLO´s Administration from one of its best members.

On September 2022 Omar Fayad Meneses, the back then PRI Governor of Hidalgo, appointed Santiago Nieto as State Prosecutor and since then the former head of the UIF has led the office.

In the context of Julio Menchaca´s designation as Hidalgo´s Governor and after just days from Salvador Cruz Neri´s words denying the presence of serious criminal groups operating in the State, Santiago Nieto gave an interview in which he confirmed that "three criminal groups have been detected by State authorities [...] two of national scope and one from Palmillas, Querétaro".

Although Santiago Nieto didn´t explain which criminal organizations were the ones operating in the State it is obvious that regarding the Palmillas one he was talking about Los Hades, a criminal organization with links both to CJNG and Los Alemanes which is currently involved immersed in a feud as we explained when analyzing Hidalgo´s criminal panorama in our last article "The Silent State, an Analysis of Hidalgo´s Huachicol Market".

Santiago Nieto´s predecessor at Hidalgo´s Prosecutor office, Alejandro Habib Nicolás. Despite affirming the absence of organized crime devoted to drug trafficking in the State Habib recognized organized criminal structures managing oil theft operations and supervised the creation of the UEHN, a special unit inside his office aimed at cracking drug retailing and homicides

Santiago Nieto was not the first Prosecutor to admit this fact. His predecessor, Alejandro Habib Nicolás, admitted in an interview in October 2021 when he was designated that although there were not groups devoted to drug trafficking there was organized crime "devoted to the extraction and transport of oil" which had other crimes such as "kidnapping and extortion" connected. Interestingly enough, despite denying the existence of drug trafficking groups in the State in July 2022 Alejandro Habib announced the creation of the Unidad Especializada para atender el Homicidio Doloso y el Narcomenudeo -UEHN- a special unit of the State Prosecutor Office centered on investigating homicides and drug retailing, two activities conducted by particularly serious forms of organized crime.

Raúl Arroyo González, a mediocre bureaucrat, acted as Hidalgo´s Public Prosecutor until 2021. Despite denying vehemently the existence of organized criminal presence it was during his tenure that Hidalgo´s murder rate would skyrocket reaching its pike in 2017 with nearly 500 homicides, the biggest numbers in all the State´s history

These tacit confirmations of organized criminal presence in Hidalgo, made by public Prosecutors while in office, broke with the tradition of denying such a fact. Just a year earlier, in October 2020, Raúl Arroyo González -Habib´s predecessor- had said that "soundly and without hiding the truth, because I have never done such a thing, I tell you there is no organized crime in the State of Hidalgo. I repeat to you this, there is no organized crime in this State of Hidalgo". 

Huachitunnels, narcomantas and drug retailing, ominous auguries:

In the intricate and obscure world of organized crime it is very difficult to prevent any phenomenon. It is almost impossible to state with anticipation what is going to happen, and even more, what has happened and the reasons leading to what has occurred. This is caused by the logic through which organized crime acts: a strict clandestine activity in which information is restricted to those involved and -sometimes- the forces that fight criminality officially or unofficially.

Thus, the analyst trying to understand what is happening in a certain region has to interpret reality either through data that is publicly known -something that can lead to misinformation since much of the information leaked to the public is either biased or false- or either through the interpretation of happenings, attributing them a significance, a meaning, that must be derived from the state of things.

In Hidalgo, the official version goes, there is no organized crime. Nevertheless -and without focusing on the statements of high profile public officers that suggest the contrary- the simple analysis of the State´s criminal panorama suggests otherwise.

 One of the classic ways of analyzing Mexican organized criminality is through the banners or "narcomantas" that criminal groups display in public places. These instruments have become -altogether with messages and videos in social media- the normal channel through which organized criminal groups interactuate with public society. It is in these banners that they reveal who their rivals are, what kind of deals they do have, public authorities colluded with or against them, etc.

Obviously, a great deal of the data posted in these banners is either false or partial and they are used as a way of spreading misinformation while at the same time it is true that small criminal groups use them as a way of "faking" their authorship by attributing them to big and more organized criminal groups.

In the case of Hidalgo, the State presents a considerable number of incidents in which narco banners signed by big groups have been left in the scene.

Borderland Beat has identified more than a dozen incidents in which multiple narco banners signed by several powerful criminal organizations have been left -in many cases with human bodies- in the State of Hidalgo.

In this sense there have been at least three narco banners left by Los Zetas Vieja Escuela, a criminal organization working in the Huasteca region which apparently have been managing operations in the State capital, Pahuca. The authorship of such banners -which were produced almost on a monthly basis between January and March 2019- has never been discussed and interestingly enough one of the banners displayed very specific accusations against Pachuca´s State Penitentiary director who was blamed of directing drug trafficking operations from inside the gaol.

Narcomanta left in Pachuca and Mineral de la Reforma by Los Zetas Vieja Escuela, January 18th 2019

Narcomanta left in Pachuca by Los Zetas Vieja Escuela, February 12th 2019

Narcomanta left in Pachuca by Los Zetas Vieja Escuela, March 26th 2019

In the case of the much more regional Cártel de Palmillas -also known as Los Hades-, one of the serious criminal organizations recognised by Santiago Nieto as being present in Hidalgo, on October 8th 2020 they hanged several banners in the municipalities of Jacala and Zimapán.

October 8th 2020. The Cártel de Palmillas displays several narcobanners

The most interesting case probably is the one of the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) The relationship between this criminal organization -one of Mexico´s two biggest criminal conglomerates- and the State of Hidalgo is confusing. Although there are rumors of CJNG making incursions into Hidalgo there al are specific incidents linked to people announcing themselves as members of the group.

In December 2022 a video was uploaded to the internet in which a group of individuals carrying automatic rifles presented themselves as members of CJNG´s Grupo Pantera announcing a "cleansing " in regions of Querétaro and the Valle del Mezquital of Hidalgo.

The alleged Hidalgo franchise of CJNG´s Grupo Pantera. The quality of the video and the gear showed by the individuals contrasts with the firepower and previews displays by Guanajuato-based original Grupo Pantera, which has been fighting the local Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel since several years ago

On May 14th 2023, at approximately 20:50 pm, a soccer match was taking place in Atotonilco de Tula´s public football field. At least 50 people -men, women and children- were attending the event when a commando of several men armed with assault rifles appeared on the scene, ordered the children to step aside, and without even allowing the kids to obey the order opened fire killing six people aged 3, 11, 14, 28, 30 and 70. The reasons behind the attack are still unknown and despite the capture of 4 individuals that were initially linked to the massacre by Salvador Cruz Neri -the Public Security Secretary didn´t forget the tradition of denying that the Tula massacre was performed by organized crime- last week Santiago Nieto denied that they were linked to the massacre and announced that they were going to be accused only of drug retailing -a State crime, not Federal-.

Real threat or simple actors? These were the individuals which uploaded a video to the internet presenting themselves as member of the CJNG and demanding justice for Tula´s massacre

On May 15th, just 24 hours after the Tula events a new video of several men brandishing assault rifles was aired. In it the spokesman presented himself as part of the CJNG and reclaimed rapid action by State authorities threatening to take justice in their own hands if the culprits weren´t found. Again, the bad quality of the video and the appearance of the men -all of whom wore civilian clothes instead of tactical gear- makes it very possible that it is just local criminals using CJNG´s prestige to threaten authorities. Nevertheless, the kind of weapons they brandish -AK and AR15-type assault rifles- contradicts the State discourse: in June 2021 Hidalgo´s Public Security Secretary Mauricio Delmar Saavedra, when speaking about a video posted by criminal group Pueblos Unidos, laughed at them and assured that the grenades and assault rifles being shown probably were fake.

Continuing with the CJNG, there have been numerous banners left in Hidalgo supposedly signed by the criminal organization. Interestingly enough much of these banners have appeared -all along with corpses- in the town of Ixmiquilpan, one of the biggest cities of Valle del Mezquital (Hidalgo´s eastern region) 

Something happened in Ixmiquilpan during 2019, coinciding with Hidalgo´s homicidal spree. The town has been linked to local gangs operating extortion rackets and fuel theft operations, although the State authorities acknowledged in 2020 that Ixmiquilpan was part of the territory of the Cártel de Palmillas/Los Hades, a group certain factions of which have been linked to CJNG.

In June 2019 something happened in Ixmiquilpan -a town of no more than 100,000 inhabitants- that led to an incredible increase of homicides beginning in June when 6 people were gunned down. The year would end with 24 deceased -although the Semáforo Delictivo indicates 22 incidents only-. The next year would close with 4 homicides but in 2021 violence would upsurge again with 8 murders according to the Semáforo Delictivo. 2022 would close with 11 corpses according to Semáforo Delictivo, but other sources indicate that the real number of homicides climbed up to 14. 

Much of this violence was met with a gruesome display of corpses and banners, much of them signed by CJNG.

Banner allegedly signed by CJNG and left in Ixmiquilpan on January 19th 2019, just hours after the Tlahuelilpan tragedy

July 8th 2019, Ixmiquilpan. The mutilated remains of a male are left along with a cardboard signed by CJNG

July 18th 2019, Ixmiquilpan. Three more bodies, wrapped in plastic, are left with a "narco-cartulina" signed by CJNG

October 11th 2019, Ixmiquilpan. A new corpse appears with a cardboard signed by CJNG threatening those who don´t side with them and announcing the continuing of the "cleansing"

In October 2019 things heated up in Ixmiquilpan when three different banners signed by CJNG were left in less than 72 hours. First, on the 26th, a big banner was hanged from a bridge.

The banner left in a bridge on October 26th

The next day, on October 27th, a banner was left next to the town hall. It was directed against the Chárrez brothers, one of whom -Pascual- was back then the mayor and was linked to Los Hades/Cártel de Palmillas in 2020.

The banner left next to Ixmiquilpan´s town hall directed against the Chárrez brothers

The "banner spree" would end the next day, on the 28th, when another message signed by CJNG was left with a body stuffed in a black plastic bag. The text again was directed towards the Chárrez brothers.

Body and cardboard banner left in Ixmiquilpan on October 28th. Signed by the CJNG, it would end a series of mysterious "public relations" campaign 

Were all these banners and corpses left by CJNG? It is highly unlikely. In the world of Mexican organized crime it is a very common tactic to use the name and prestige of other more powerful groups to threaten rivals or conduct false flags actions to blame an organization of something it hasn´t done and heat up the plaza. In this sense, Hidalgo´s authorities aren´t wrong when supposing that local criminal groups use this tactics.

The use of banners doesn´t limit itself to CJNG or Los Zetas Vieja Escuela. It is a fact that the Familia Michoacana has some sort of presence in Hidalgo too. Since it shares a border with the State of Mexico -one of the FM´s fiefdoms- it is obvious that the group linked to the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers has in Hidalgo -with its prosperous drug retailing market- a perfect place in which to obtain rents. As a matter of fact there was a particular event that took place in the town of Ixmiquilpan in September 2021 in which alleged members of La Familia Michoacana were involved. 

Located in the 161 km. in the México-Laredo Federal Highway, an industrial area in the outskirts of Ixmiquilpan, the Jet Set Men´s Club announced itself as a "table dance" or striptease club. In Mexico -as well as in any other country- such businesses are used as well as brothels and almost invariably the women working in them -in many cases mere girls- are used by prostitutes. The sordidness of such a sector as well as their popularity have made of prostitution an integral part of the "giros negros" sector which in Mexico has become under the control of organized crime.

A photo uploaded at Jet Men´s Facebook account showing one of the workers, a girl probably under 18 years old.

On the night of September 25th a commando of at least 6 individuals -three men and three women- arrived at the Jet Set in three cars -a Volkswagen Jetta, a black Suburban and a Kia Sorento- brandishing one assault rifle and several pistols. There are other versions indicating at least 4 and even 10 different vehicles. In the parking lot they shot and killed a driver and then entered into the club where they gunned down two employees identified as Marco and Jonathan. Before leaving they kidnapped two women working in the club.

Exterior of Jet Set Men´s Club, Ixmiquilpan, September 25th 2021. A group of six people assaulted the strip club/brothel killing three people and kidnapping two women

Prostitutes and strippers bear an incredible degree of risk when working in Mexico. The degree of violence against women is appalling and in the case of the girls forced to work in such sectors of activity the statistics are even worse. The Jet Set Club had previously experienced similar experiences, like the one happening on August 16th 2016 when several armed men kidnapped another woman working in the place of whom nothing has been heard about ever since.

The next day, on the 26th at 23:25 pm, a car appeared abandoned in the Morelos Avenue, in Ixmiquilpan´s Avante Colony. In the trunk of the vehicle -which happened to be the Volkswagen Jetta used by the killers- police found the bodies of the two kidnapped women, their hands and feet tied with duct tape and blindfolded. They had been killed with a bullet to the head.

The futility of violence and the never ending spree of similar events shouldn´t make us forget that it is real people and not numbers the ones being murdered. The two women kidnapped from a place run by organized crime, by members of an organized crime group and killed in a State where authorities assure there is no organized crime had names. They were called Lucero Guadalupe and Cinthya. 

Ixmiquilpan, September 26th 2021. The bodies of Lucero Guadalupe and Cinthya are found in the trunk of a Volkswagen Jetta

28 year old Lucero Guadalupe was from the State of Guerrero and was known by the name of "Amor" -Love- while 22 year old Cnthya was from Oaxaca and was known as "Cielo"- Sky-. Both were single and had kids.

Next to the bodies, another banner was left by the killers. It was signed by the Familia Michoacana.

The banner left with the corpses of Lucero Guadalupe and Cinthya: "The party organized in the Jet Set was just a taste, now the real shit is coming faggots. Here I leave you your whores Chino and Tasquillo (Cabeza de Vaca) Now we are going after you, you motherfuckers, the town has an owner and here you all work for me or work for me [sic] We are going after you Chino, Tasquillo, 99, Sol, Chino, Mayoreo and your servants Poper, Yair, Choco, Maclein, Memo, so you don´t play fool. La mera verga, Familia Michoacana"

The supposed killers would be captured two weeks later, on October 11th, when the orange Chrysler pickup they were driving crashed. The official version of events says that since they were carrying weapons local inhabitants retained them and carried them to the hospital where despite an attempt of rescue performed by another cadre of armed men they were captured by State Police. Interestingly enough the individuals identified themselves as members of the "Familia Michoacana".

In a very interesting turn of events, in the midst of the judicial process against those linked to the Jet Set massacre -which is taking place right now, in May 2023- it was revealed that one of the weapons linked to the massacre and found on October 11th in the hands of the alleged Familia Michoacana members was an M-16 A4 with serial number 20009871 property of the US Government -and indicator that it had been manufactured for its use by US Armed Forces- had been linked to at least 22 murders in the area. The impact provoked by this finding made even AMLO announce that the assault rifle would be investigated in order to find further details. 

Despite all this evidence, a recent and very well researched article published by Eme Equis revealed that authorities have told the families of the victims that no "cartel" was involved in the events.

In the most recent event, a video appeared on the internet on May 18th showing a dozen heavily armed men carrying high caliber weapons and tactical gear, as Borderland Beat already reported. They announced themselves as members of the Comandante Santa unit of la Familia Michoacana and promised to carry out a cleansing operation in the area of Pachuca.

After having analyzed all this evidence the reader should ask himself/herself the reasons behind authorities denying the presence of organized crime in the State. 

The Tunnels:

The fact that Hidalgo is a State deeply involved in huachicol (oil theft) is nothing new and Borderland Beat covered the history of this illicit market in its last article about the State´s criminal dynamics.

Nevertheless and contrary to other regions -we must remember that oil theft is a thriving activity in States such as Sinaloa, Jalisco, Tamaulipas or Guanajuato- Hidalgo has been characterized by the use of underground infrastructure to steal combustibles in a very professional way.

One of the problems Borderland Beat has encountered when investigating the murky world of oil theft in Hidalgo is the absence of a single and unified database from which the numbers regarding huachicol can be obtained. The reality is that relevant information regarding the world of Hidalgo´s oil theft market is scarce and at best fragmentary, Thus the analyst trying to compose a map of the market´s current situation must handle a multiplicity of sources -most of them outdated- with which to estimate the present state of things.

One of the most important documents in this sense is the April 2022 National Public Security Strategy Report, a document made by the Federal Government analyzing the achievements in this area, which uses data between 2019 and 2021. According to this document in 2021 alone 4,489 illicit intakes were reported in Hidalgo, making the State the mecca of huachicol only followed by Puebla (1,849), the State of Mexico (1,732), and Guanajuato (505).

In the case of tunnels, the report mentions a total of 63 underground facilities for the stealing of combustible being seized in 2021 alone, 38% of which (a total of 24) where found in Hidalgo alone. This very same documents mentions a total of 159 properties linked to oil theft activities being seized by authorities 32% of which (52) where located in Hidalgo.

The classical structure of a huachitunnel. From a basement or directly from a house a gallery is excavated and connected to the pipeline, normally with a depth of four meters. A hose is connected in order to extract gas while another is connected to insufflate compressed air in order to trick PEMEX´s pressure detectors

The number of tunnels seized in 2021 alone is paradigmatic and possibly biased given the fact that during the two previous years (2019 and 2020) only 22 underground facilities had been seized each year according to the 2020 National Public Security Strategy.

The truth is that the real number of huachitunnels is probably far higher and such networks even when seized by public authorities go unreported, specially in the State of Hidalgo.

An  open search investigation conducted by Borderland Beat has revealed more than a dozen events regarding underground huachicol infrastructure happening in Hidalgo -although the real number of events is much higher- some of which can be traced as back as to 2017. That very same year and the following, at at least three tunnels were found in the area of Pachuca alone. The first one in Saucillo in February 2017, an event in which two people died burned alive inside a 50 meters long tunnel. The second one in Mineral de la Reforma on June 9th -an event in which a fire killed one person- and finally in September a new tunnel was found in Santiago Tlapacoya.  

Mineral de la Reforma. June 9th 2017. A man was killed when a house being used as gas warehouse -including a tunnel- 

In 2022 at least two more people died. The first individual, aged 24, died at 4 meters deep while excavating a tunnel to prick the Tuxpan-Tula pipeline in August in Cuautepec de Hinojosa. Then, in September two men excavating a tunnel in Texcatepec were trapped underground when it collapsed. One died and the other individual was injured.

Cuautepec de Hinojosa, August 2022. A 24 year old man died buried alive in this tunnel. When authorities arrived at the place they found a group of locals trying desperately to rescue the trapped man using a bulldozer

The current year, 2023, has been especially prolific regarding the seizure of tunnels. The infrastructure seized in 2023 presents very interesting characteristics given the fact that most of them are located in isolated plots of land, are equipped with incredibly developed fittings -light and air extracting ventilators-, multiple tanker trucks are always found nearby, it is people from outside Hidalgo the ones detained and multiple drugs are seized in these sites indicating the fact that huachicol organizations have started dealing in drugs.

On January 4th 2023 a tunnel was found in Mineral de la Reforma. The infrastructure was 4 meters deep and 25 meters long and apparently was being built.

January 4th 2023. The first tunnel of the year is seized in Mineral de la Reforma, an urban area in the outskirts of Pachica deeply penetrated by huachicol

On March 16th 2023 a tunnel was found in Tlaxcoapan. This has been by far the most developed infrastructure being discovered in Hidalgo so far. With a depth of 3 meters and a length of 165 meters it was fully equipped with light and ventilation and was located in an isolated plot of land disguised as a park for trailers only 4.000 meters away from the Tula refinery, Mexico´s biggest refinery. There authorities found 80,000 liters of stolen fuel, 3 trucks, multiple tanks, a pistol, marihuana, crystal meth, fentanyl pills -an ominous reminder about how huachicol organizations have mutated into drug trafficking groups- and 11 people all of whom were from outer Hidalgo.

March 16th 2023, Tlaxcoapan. A 165 long tunnel is discovered 4 kms. from Mexico´s biggest refinery. Through it at least 420,000 liters of gas were stolen per day

The people managing Tlaxcoapan´s tunnel worked 24/7 in two shifts stealing an average of 420,000 liters per day.

In March two tunnels were found in Cuautepec de Hinojosa in the midst of a massive operation involving nearly 400 officers. The first one on the 4th -in which a series of sinister satanic shrines were found- and the second on the 7th.

The tunnel and altars discovered in the tunnel seized on May 4th

This event is remarkable not only for the importance of the cargo of stolen fuel recovered -38,000 liters- but for the fact that the operation was conducted in 8 simultaneous raids conducted by the SEDENA, the National Guard, the State Police and Hidalgo´s Public Prosecutor Office. 10 individuals were captured, 12 vehicles and -again- drugs: 2 kilos of marihuana and 200 doses of crystal meth.

The tunnel seized on May 7th

On May 25th a 4 meters deep and 27 meters long tunnel was seized in Atitalaquia.

May 25th, the tunnel discovered in Atitalaquia

Transitioning from Mere Criminal Groups to Organized Crime:

According to the Palermo Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, passed in 2000 by the United Nations, organized crime can be defined as "a structured group of three or more persons, existing for a period of time and acting in concert with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offenses established in accordance with this Convention, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit".

Following this description it is impossible to deny the fact that in Hidalgo there is already a serious presence of criminal organizations that from small bands of individuals devoted to the depredation of the State´s main resource -combustibles- have evolved into criminal associations operating from outside Hidalgo devoted to multiple illicit activities.

In this sense, Mexico´s 2023 Peace Index -a fundamental document anyone interested in the evolution of the country´s criminal landscape should consult- labels Hidalgo as one of the five Mexican States with the worst index of public security deterioration -all along with Campeche, Nuevo León, Colima and the State of Mexico- its global classification having decreased in a 5.8% during the last year, which has had an economic impact of -9.8% [this is, a personal cost of MXP 28,731 per citizen or MXP 90.7 billions]

This very same document states that in Hidalgo there are three categories of offenses that have increase: homicides [with and increase rate of 14%], violent crimes [extortion for example increased by 112% while sexual violence rised by 29.6%] and "crimes committed by organized crime" [which have increased by a 34.2%]. The report also mentions that being as it is Mexico´s biggest oil theft zone the demand for stolen cheap oil has made foreign criminal organizations such as CJNG, remnants of Los Zetas or the Familia Michoacana to set foot into Hidalgo.

Certainly, one of the indicators confirming these dark auguries is the level of sophistication that oil theft operations have reached in Hidalgo. What is commonly labeled by public authorities as a bunch of disorganized groups composed by local population that steals combustible using demijohns and plastic bottles have turned out to be complex criminal organizations composed by people from outside Hidalgo that while using formidable underground structure mobilize themselves in fleets of hundreds of trailers that travel to other States to sell millions of stolen liters of gas. 

Trailers and tankers seized on March 16th 2023 in Tlaxcoapan, Hidalgo. It is through the use of these vehicles -which are provided with fake documents to disguise the illicit origin of the cargo- that the combustible is transported outside Hidalgo. It is not that local population buys stolen gas clandestinely, but a formidable system that begins in Hidalgo´s and ends in formal distributors outside the State.

Furthermore, it has become obvious that these criminal organizations have started having access to assault rifles and military-type weapons -a clear indicator that Mexican gunrunning networks have penetrated into the State- and that these groups combine oil theft activities with drug trafficking operations, as the seizure of drugs and tunnels have revealed. 

Marihuana found in March 2023 in the Tlaxcoapan tunnel seized by State authorities

As a matter of fact, most of the time it is when conducting searches in response to investigations regarding drug distribution centers that authorities find tunnels or stolen oil being placed in the same areas where drugs are distributed. The events are countless.

Tepeji del Río,  June 7th 2023. 320,000 liters of stolen gas are recovered by State authorities. In the spot officers found 11 containers designed to export huachicol outside the State

On June 7th 2023, for example, when conducting a search due to an investigation regarding drug retailing activities in Tepeji del Río authorities found  not only crystal meth and 666 doses marihuana but the astonishing amount of 380,000 of stolen gas, vehicles, motorcycles, 2 truck-tanks and 11 containers which were designed to fit into trailers to travel long distances, a reminder about how the oil being stolen in Hidalgo is sold outside the State.

The amount of stolen oil shouldn´t amaze the reader. Nearly two months prior, on April 22th, 200,000 liters were recovered in Pachuca de Soto all along with two more containers, crystal meth and marihuana.

The answer by Hidalgo´s State authorities has not the degree of development shown by organized criminal groups. Despite the undoubtedly successful anti-huachicol campaign conducted by AMLO´s executive since the beginning of 2019, which has been followed by a deep decline of oil theft activity, Hidalgo´s Government still lacks a unified campaign against this criminal market.

Despite an initial support to the Federal anti-huachicol campaign in 2019 by the back then PRI Governor Omar Fayad the truth is that there is not any functional and prolonged institutional campaign applied at a State level aimed at ending this criminal market. 

In April 2022 Omar Fayad announced the development of a "strategy against huachicol" in which multiple institutions -SEDENA, National Guard, State Police, Municipal police bodies, Road Protection Services, PEMEX´s security apparatuses, and Hidalgo´s Public Prosecutor Office. The strategy turned out to be nothing more than a mere regional task force of which nothing more has been known ever since.

April 2022, the "Regional Task Force" is created in Hidalgo. 900 SEDENA soldiers would conduct oil theft preventing operations with the National Guards and State and Municipal authorities. A mere drop in the ocean of Hidalgo´s current problems, this movement had obviously no repercussions in the current of affairs.

One of the clearest voices in this issue, in constant search for the development of a real regional strategy against oil theft has been Hidalgo´s public prosecutor himself, Santiago Nieto. Since his time at the head of the UIF Mr. Nieto has always understood the importance of financial investigation regarding the laundering of funds linked to oil theft as well as the need for not only a national strategy but regional prolonged strategies to tackle the operations of these criminal organizations. 

As a member of the Coordinación Interregional para la Construcción de la Paz Hidalgo and its neighbors have the opportunity of developing a useful plan to tackle huachicol. Yet, despite the effort of specific civil servants no step has been taken in this direction.

Still, despite his efforts and public claims for a regional anti-huachicol strategy and several public futile announcements made by Menchaca´s Government no movement has been done in this direction by the Government to which Mr. Nieto belongs. Since 2022 Hidalgo is part of the Coordinación Interregional para la Construcción de la Paz, a regional forum of State authorities in order to promote collaboration in public security matters. Although this would have been the ideal.

In this sense, frictions between State authorities don´t favor the development of such a strategy. In February 2023 a public meeting between the public prosecutors of Hidalgo, Guanajuato and Querétaro aimed at discussing anti-huachicol efforts was sabotaged by Querétaro´s Public Prosecutor who refused to meet Mr. Nieto.

Zacatecas and Guanajuato, Could that be the Destiny of Hidalgo?

Hidalgo is following the steps of other Mexican States that have already succumbed to violence. These places present similar connotations: initially peaceful and quiet they started to be penetrated by organized crime silent but easily. Trapped in the middle of violent and fiercely contested States. With their regional Governments attending to other issues and the Federal executive without focusing on a logic and preemptive public security strategy.

The cases of Guanajuato and Zacatecas are paradigmatic.

In the case of Guanajuato the State posed not only as a vital logistical knot in the route connecting Michoacán, Jalisco, Zacatecas, San Luís Potosí and Querétaro but as an immensely profitable hub in which oil theft could be used to produce revenue. The fact that small huachicol cells -once connected to Los Zetas, like in the case of Hidalgo- already existed in the State didn´t pose any obstacle to the CJNG when deciding to enter into business in 2017.  And on that year hell broke luce in Guanajuato, with oil theft activities rapidly declining and the conflict evolving into a low intensity war between the foreign CJNG and the local old huachicol cells now organized into the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel which very soon turned into drug retailing -specially with crystal meth- as a way of surviving as a criminal entity.

In the case of Zacatecas, a State that had presented relatively low and stable levels of homicidal violence, the incursion of the CJNG in April 2020 in order to fight against a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel over the logistical routes heading north provoked one of the worst public security crisis of the last decade transforming the once quiet State into Mexico´s major killing field.

The current state of affairs in Hidalgo -a rampant criminal economy based on intensive oil theft operations, the increasing presence of assault and military grade weapons, the evolution of criminal groups from family-based cells into multidisciplinary far developed organizations, the proliferation of a popular drug retailing market, the already existing presence of foreign powerful criminal syndicates and the absence of a common and logical public security policy- should make us think about similar cases of the past in which the absence of measures being adopted at the right time has transformed once relatively peaceful States into the slaughterhouses of the new decade.


  1. AMLO and Biden should free El Señor Chapo so he can resolve the drug war .

    1. 7:48 you mean snitch on everyone?

    2. They should free el z40 too

    3. And molest little children no thanks he can stay property of the United States

  2. Chapo goes Free... Shyt will Actually Simmer Down... Mencho has ZERO control of Anything in Mexico

    1. You are an idiot Mexico got worse when chapo was free

  3. Of course there's no organized crime in Hidalgo. ELMO will agree 100%.

    1. 1208, If there is crime in California do you blame Biden? Do you blame Newsome? Do you blame local government like the mayor, the chief of police or the district attorney? I'm pretty sure Mexico is no different.

    2. 9:26 how much is Hablador paying you to spread influencer fake info?

    3. 10:34 oh my dear and the world is flat

  4. 3rd world so lost yet so near to civization.

  5. This was an awesome read and great article of information!

    1. Ah, finally I decent comment in the midst of moral misery and a dubious series of readers confusing ignorance and stupidity with good taste. Thank you sir, your greetings are welcomed

    2. Brilliant article.
      A lot of work went into this.
      Thanks, R.

  6. If there are videos of people pretending to be CJNG, wouldn't the real CJNG react with their own video?
    Or could they be ok with it because any publicity is "good" publicity? Even when it looks more amateur.
    Just some thoughts...


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