MEXICO CITY — A mass grave discovered in the Mexican state of Veracruz contained more than 250 human skulls, most likely the victims of criminal drug cartels, the state’s attorney general said on Tuesday.
“For many years, the drug cartels disappeared people and the authorities were complacent,” Jorge Winckler, the state attorney general, said in a television interview with the Televisa network.
Veracruz, on Mexico’s Gulf coast, has been the epicenter of battles among the country’s drug gangs. The remains found at the site indicated that the victims might have been killed years ago, Mr. Winckler said.
Describing the crime-ridden state as a “giant grave,” Mr. Winckler said the state authorities would match D.N.A. samples at the scene to a database from the relatives of the missing.
Mr. Winckler did not say when or by whom the pits were discovered, but the first graves in the area were found in August with the help of members of Colectivo Solecito, a group of women whose children are missing.
The federal police and state prosecutors later discovered 125 clandestine graves over eight months across a large area known as Colinas de Santa Fe, said Lucía Diaz, a spokeswoman for the collective.
On Mother’s Day last year, some of the collective’s members were approached at a street protest by cartel members who handed them a map indicating the locations of the graves, Mrs. Diaz said.
With the new information, the collective raised money by holding bake sales and raffles to finance the searches, including paying for excavators.
Among the remains recovered in the last six months and already identified were the bodies of a former state prosecutor and his secretary, who were kidnapped by police officers working for a drug gang in 2013.
“What we have found is abominable and it reveals the state of corruption, violence and impunity that reigns not only in Veracruz, but in all of Mexico,” Ms. Diaz said.
“A reality that speaks of the collusion of authorities with organized crime in Veracruz, for it is impossible to see what we found without the participation of authorities,” she said.
After eluding prosecution in the United States for decades and escaping from prison twice in Mexico, the crime lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, appeared on Friday in federal court in Brooklyn and pleaded not guilty to charges that he had overseen a multibillion-dollar drug empire.
Prosecutors said the operation had moved at least 200 tons of cocaine into the United States, had earned $14 billion in profits and had been protected by an army of assassins who killed thousands of people.
Mr. Guzmán’s arraignment, in Federal District Court, was both a news media spectacle and a pro forma counterpoint to his sudden extradition from Mexico on Thursday afternoon, when a police jet flew him from the border to MacArthur Airport in Islip, on Long Island. The brief court proceeding took place under tight security, with police vehicles, heavily armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs patrolling the grounds outside the courthouse.
Dressed for his arraignment in a blue V-neck T-shirt, blue pajama pants and blue sneakers, Mr. Guzmán, 59, stood with his court-appointed lawyers in front of Magistrate Judge James Orenstein in a fourth-floor courtroom packed with prosecutors, federal agents and reporters.
At the briefing, Robert L. Capers, the United States attorney in Brooklyn, called the extradition of Mr. Guzmán, whose nickname means Shorty, a milestone in the pursuit of a trafficker who achieved mythic status in his homeland as a Robin Hood-like outlaw and a serial prison escapee.
Saying that Mr. Guzmán now faced life in prison on a charge of running a continuing criminal enterprise, Mr. Capers sought to play down Mr. Guzmán’s role as a folk hero and promised that he would not escape his American jailers.
“Who is Chapo Guzmán?” Mr. Capers said, flanked by a phalanx of law-enforcement officials from local, state and federal agencies. “In short, he is a man who has known no other life than one of crime, violence, death and destruction.”
Even at a courthouse that has seen the prosecution of Mafia dons like John J. Gotti, the onetime Gambino family boss, and corrupt public officials like Meade Esposito, the former Brooklyn Democratic leader, the arrival of Mr. Guzmán sent a charge through the building, where scores of international reporters were on hand.
In an extraordinary confluence of events, Mr. Guzmán was taken from Mexico by plane on the eve of the inauguration of Donald J. Trump and was arraigned in Brooklyn only hours after Mr. Trump was sworn in. After the hearing, he was returned to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, a high-security federal jail that has housed some of New York’s highest-risk federal defendants, including many facing terrorism charges.
As the day began, prosecutors in Brooklyn issued a memo laying out their arguments for keeping Mr. Guzmán in custody. They noted his vast wealth and asserted his propensity for violence and his penchant for escaping Mexican prisons — most notably, the maximum-security Altiplano prison, where he lived in isolation under 24-hour surveillance. Nonetheless, he managed to flee after his associates dug a tunnel directly into his shower.
Speaking at the news conference, Angel M. Melendez, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in New York, said he had been at the airport Thursday night when Mr. Guzmán arrived. Mr. Melendez said he looked into Mr. Guzmán’s eyes and saw “surprise, shock and even a bit of fear” now that he was facing “American justice.”
Mr. Guzmán’s escapes in Mexico came while he was serving a long sentence on drug-related offenses.
Although officials at the gathering refused to discuss details about security measures, Mr. Melendez said, “I can assure you no tunnel will be built to his bathroom.”
Mr. Guzmán is facing charges in six federal districts, and Mr. Capers said the decision had been made to prosecute him in Brooklyn, with the assistance of federal prosecutors in Miami, because the two offices working together could bring “the most forceful punch” to the case against the leader of the Sinaloa cartel. Mr. Capers added that cases in Texas, in California, in Illinois and elsewhere would, for the moment, remain open. The investigation into Mr. Guzmán’s crimes was conducted by a host of agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In its memo filed Friday, Mr. Capers’s office said it would seek a criminal forfeiture of $14 billion against Mr. Guzmán and announced that it planned to call dozens of witnesses to testify about the staggering scope of Mr. Guzmán’s criminal enterprise: its multi-ton shipments of drugs in trucks, planes, yachts, fishing vessels, container ships and submersibles, as well as its numerous killings of witnesses, law enforcement agents, public officials and rival cartel members.
The memo also said the government had a vast array of physical evidence, including seized drug stashes and electronic surveillance recordings.
The 26-page memorandum of law — supplemented with photographs of seized drugs and the planes, boats and submersibles used to smuggle them — reads like a history of the modern narcotics business. Prosecutors contend that Mr. Guzmán transformed the drug trade with unchecked brutality, remarkable efficiency and brazen corruption.
The document tracks his progression from the 1980s, as a smuggler who transported Colombian cocaine to the United States and returned the profits to traffickers there so efficiently that he earned the nickname El Rápido, through the ’90s, when he began consolidating his control in Mexico.
As Colombian traffickers faced increased enforcement of extradition laws, and thus greater threat of prosecution in the United States, they ceded elements of the distribution networks in the United States to Mexican cartels, according to the memo. As Mr. Guzmán’s operations grew, prosecutors say, they became increasingly sophisticated.
Mr. Guzmán also established a complex communications network to allow him to speak covertly with his growing empire without detection by law enforcement, according to the memo. This included “the use of encrypted networks, multiple insulating layers of go-betweens and ever-changing methods of communicating with his workers.”
Mr. Guzmán also established distribution networks in New York, New Jersey, Georgia, Illinois, Texas and California and created “massive money-laundering efforts that delivered billions of dollars in illegal profits generated from the cocaine sales in the United States to the Mexican traffickers and their Colombian partners,” the memo said.
“These changes,” it added, “enabled Guzmán to exponentially increase his profits to staggering levels.”
The Mexican Cartels’ Christmas Slaughter
Extraordinary violence has become perfectly ordinary in Mexico, and it takes no break for the holidays.
“Merry Christmas,” the note added.
’Tis the season to be jolly, but for many in Mexico, fear still outweighs joy this week, as violence proves to be a sinister gift that just won’t stop giving.
For a country now celebrating its 10th year embroiled in a brutal militarized drug war, the best present this season, greatest regalo de Navidad, would be a few days of rest from unending violence and horror.
But as millions of children in Mexico hope and wait for piles of colorfully wrapped presents to be delivered this weekend, some of the grown-ups have delivered less joyous packages:
Six nude male corpses wrapped in garbage bags were discovered on Sunday in Jalisco, on their way to be publicly abandoned by 10 men traveling in two pickup trucks. Among the near-dozen men who were arrested, authorities found an investigator with the state attorney general’s office, a former state official tasked with assisting in missing women’s cases, and the local leader of an organized crime cell, in addition to seven other criminals, and the half-dozen dead men.
Hours later, in Sinaloa, three men were found murdered execution-style outside a children’s day care center, in the sort of killing that has become mundane in Mexico. The following day, two more were found executed in a taxicab—an example of the sort of killing that barely makes the news in Mexico these days.
Just in the cartel-rattled border state of Chihuahua, at least 16 people were murdered in similar violent fashion in less than 24 hours between Sunday and Monday—some bodies showing signs of torture and mutilation.
In Guerrero, a state known for its heroin production and as the site of the disappearance and probable mass-execution of 43 teaching students, authorities confirmed on Tuesday that seven alleged poppy growers were killed in gun battles over the weekend, but the bodies were retrieved by family members before the authorities arrived.
In the coastal state of Oaxaca, an elderly woman was hacked to death on Tuesday with a machete inside her home in Xoxocotlán—another in a string of murdered women across the state, and country at large.
A 40-minute drive down the road takes you to Ocotlán de Morelos, where Mayor José Villanueva was assassinated on Sunday while eating outside with his brother, who has been hospitalized for gunshot wounds.
He is just one more Mexican politician taken out by cartel violence. But it isn’t just the bad guys putting influential people out of commission.
Just two weeks after assuming his position as city councilman in the border city of Tijuana, local politician Luis Torres Santillán was arrested at the San Diego crossing on 10 counts of money laundering a week ago Friday. At his arraignment Wednesday, he pleaded not guilty.
Although U.S. authorities accuse the politician of participating in a scheme to send dirty money north across the border, before wiring the funds back into Mexico, his lawyer told the San Diego Union Tribune that there is nothing illicit about the money, which he claims his client, who also manages a grain import business, sent to “distributors of rice, lentils and beans.”
The state’s complaint against Torres Santillán remains sealed, and he will remain jailed over Christmas with a $5 million bail set until a January reduction hearing. Things could be worse for him. As anyone who has ever played Monopoly can attest, sometimes it is safer in jail than it is to try to pass GO.
But not always.
A shootout early Thursday morning during a prison transfer in Tamaulipas was caught on video. Gunmen with the Zetas cartel attempted to regain custody of one of their men as authorities moved 12 inmates to a federal prison. One of the prisoners, Victor “El Karate” Becerra García, is thought to control the Ciudad Victoria jail, ordering hits from within the confines of the facility.
The escape attempt was unsuccessful, and no deaths have been reported so far. But for those still playing the game this week, Christmas-time has brought no mercy.
On Wednesday, the same day as the handless “extortionists” turned up with season’s greetings in Mexico State, a corpse was discovered wrapped in a blood-soaked blanket there. With it was a narcomanta allegedly signed by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Proving more reliable than postal workers, criminal groups in Mexico keep delivering through the holidays, come rain or shine—Christmas be damned.
But while crime does not let up, this season does bring festive overtones to its typical displays of cartel violence, and criminals—who are known to play the part of do-gooders on occasion—show a penchant for spreading holiday cheer in unlikely places.
In 2012, then just six years into the drug war, messages directed to then-President Felipe Calderon, the intellectual father of Mexico’s cartel crackdown, repeatedly wished him a “Merry Christmas,” and said the president could “count on” these “well-meaning” criminals in their fight toward a common goal.
Today, this seasonal trend has not ended. A dead man was found with his body parts strewn around him in Boca del Rio, Veracruz, on Wednesday. The young man, whose ears and other extremities were removed, was sitting on a colorful blanket, under a sign that read: “This happened to me for robbing banks and stealing cars […] Merry Christmas.”
He is one of at least three young men found under similar circumstances this week in Veracruz. In the case of another such murder, a disembodied hand belonging to a partially skinned man held down a sign calling for a safer “rat free” Veracruz, and featured a drawing of a broom, indicating that his death had been a form of housekeeping. These victims’ signs also displayed holiday greetings.
A star-shaped piñata full of candy was discovered in Acapulco a week ago Friday, along with a sign: “This is what will happen to all of those who switch to the Progreso gang.”
“Merry Christmas, prosperous New Year,” the sign added, with a nudge to look inside the piñata. Buried in the candy, a bloody heart.
One could wish for a prosperous New Year. One might pray for it in this violence-rattled country, now winding down its most violent year since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office, following Calderón in 2012.
Hopes run thin, however, as—following the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States—2017 promises economic uncertainty in Mexico, stagnant growth, and a weaker peso, which does nothing to help curb the poverty that encourages organized crime and furthers violence.
Already the hope of “prosperity” is out the window, before the year has even begun. As for the “new year,” pundits have already begun predicting that violence in 2017 may surpass this year’s gruesome tally—which is more than 20,000 dead, so far, and counting.
Mexico 2014 Crime and Safety Report: Monterrey
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. Consulate General in Monterrey’s consular district is comprised of five Mexican states. Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Durango, Zacatecas, and most of the southern area of Coahuila. Information about the entire state of Coahuila is included in this report.
Throughout the district, statistics show a decrease in some crime categories from 2012 to 2013. For example, homicides in Nuevo Leon decreased from 1,459 to 719; in Coahuila from 727 to 616; and in Zacatecas from 342 to 279. Government officials acknowledge while some categories decreased others, such as home robberies, increased. For example, according to statistics from the Procuraduria General de Justicia in Nuevo Leon, there was a rise in home robberies from 4,033 to 4,779. Officials believe citizens feel more secure in their communities and are leaving their homes unattended more frequently.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Road Safety and Road Conditions
If traveling by road, travelers should exercise caution at all times and avoid traveling at night whenever possible. It is recommended to travel with at least half a tank of gasoline, spare tire, and a charged mobile phone. If possible, satellite phones should be available, as there are many areas where mobile phones have limited or no service. In addition, travelers should not hitchhike or offer rides to strangers.
Travelers will often encounter highway checkpoints manned by the military. Travelers should be cautious but follow directions. The highway heading north to Reynosa sees a consistent level of violence that includes carjackings and/or kidnappings; while the highway heading north to Nuevo Laredo has seen markedly fewer incidents. Travelers should pay close attention to local news reports and Consulate Security Messages to reduce their chances of encountering these situations. While generally safer, toll roads are not free from in-transit crimes like carjacking and kidnappings.
If stranded on the highway due to vehicle malfunction, dial 078 for roadside assistance. This service is provided free of charge by the Department of Tourism to all road travelers. More information ed can be found at: http://www.sectur.gob.mx/wb2/sectur/sect_9453_angeles_verdes
Monterrey emerging from shadow of drug violence
The Mexican city, roiled by drug violence since 2010, has made notable strides, but the battle is not yet won.
MONTERREY, Mexico — It is one of those small, hopeful signs that this traumatized city may be awakening from the nightmare of Mexico’s drug wars: Armando Alanis once again feels safe enough to stop off for a late- night nosh at Tacos Los Quiques, a beloved sidewalk food cart.
“We couldn’t have done this two years ago,” Alanis, a 44-year-old poet, said recently as he chowed down on tacosgringas in the dim glow of inner-city streetlights. “It would be wrong not to recognize what we have regained.”
But Alanis, like most residents of Monterrey, knows that he lives in a city that is only half-saved. That night, he would drive over the cobblestone streets of Barrio Antiguo, once the premier night-life zone, pointing out the near-lifeless streets that previously were packed with revelers. He pointed to the bullet holes in the wall of the Cafe Iguana, where four people were slain in May 2011.
Later, he would drive to the Casino Royale, where the ruthless Zetas drug gang set a fire that killed more than 50 people that year. The building remains a burned-out husk, its fence adorned with white crosses commemorating the dead.
These days, the headline-grabbing horrors that exploded three years ago — the running street battles, the dumped or hanging bodies — are less common. The number of homicides has plummeted, on track to be less than half this year what it was in 2011. A new state police force, vetted and well paid, patrols the streets in place of the old corrupt one.
The conversation about just how far Monterrey has, or hasn’t, come recently has been revived by a series of grisly crimes that appear to be linked to business owners’ failure to pay “protection money” to criminals: The butcher shot in the head Sept. 5. The bakery supply salesman slain Sept. 24. The four patrons of a suburban bar killed by gunmen Sept. 26, their deaths apparently a message to the owner to pay up.
“The situation continues to be a delicate one,” said Gilberto Marcos, a Monterrey businessman and the president of a neighborhood coalition. “We’re not ready to proclaim victory.”
The new state police agency, called the Civil Force, has been touted by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto as a model for the country. But lingering challenges in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon state, demonstrate that solving Mexico’s deeply ingrained organized crime problem will require more than just swapping out old cops for new ones.
Moreover, many here believe that the plummeting homicide rate is the result of one group of organized criminals — the Gulf cartel and its allies — defeating its rival, the Zetas, in the bloody struggle for control of the city. Implicit in that theory is skepticism about the government’s ability to affect the drug war at all — a suspicion that officials would have as much luck trying to control the weather.
Though trouble had been brewing for years in Monterrey’s rougher neighborhoods, the peace was fully shattered in February 2010 as the Zetas, the former armed faction of the Gulf cartel, began fighting its former bosses for control of the city’s retail drug trade and lucrative drug shipment routes to the border, less than three hours north.
The city’s homicide rate skyrocketed by 300% from 2010 to 2011, reaching 700 deaths. Residents, and the nation, were shocked: Monterrey had long been one of Mexico’s wealthiest, safest cities and home to important textile, beer and construction industries. Many members of the business-owning elite fled to Texas or Mexico City. The U.S. government ordered the children of its diplomats to leave town. Get-togethers with friends and relatives moved from public to private spaces.
It was a reality that many swaths of Mexico suffered, and continued to suffer. But Monterrey took advantage of its wealth and the strength of its business community, which agreed to higher taxes to fund the Civil Force after many police officers in the old force were found to be collaborating with the cartels or otherwise untrustworthy.
The Mexican Drug War, which is approaching its eighth anniversary in December, has spanned two Mexican presidential administrations and resulted in the arrest or death of several high-ranking drug trafficking figures.
Despite some successes, like the February capture of the infamous Chapo Guzman, the war has resulted in a horrific death toll and the erosion of civil liberties and basic public safety in large parts of the country.
October has brought a wave of drug war news. Some of it has been positive: three major trafficking figures have been arrested since October 1, including the heads of the Gulf and Juarez cartels and the founder of the Beltran Leyva organization.
But in early October, corrupt police officers working with drug traffickers and local politicians abducted and possibly murdered 43 student teachers from a town halfway between Mexico City and the Pacific coast, in Gurerrero State. On October 10, Mexican journalist Leon Krauze described the incident as “the latest rearing of the beast’s head” — the worst in a series of troubling incidents in the state.
“Guerrero,” Krauze wrote in The New Republic, “[is the] current epicenter of Mexico’s nightmare. For a while now, rival gangs have been fighting for control of the state. The result has been the usual parade of horrors: cities besieged (including Acapulco), governments infiltrated, journalists threatened, police corrupted. And death. And vengeance.”
The drug war, originally launched by former President Felipe Calderon, was first undertaken using a kingpin strategy that aimed at severing the head of each of the cartels operating in the country — backed with the mass deployment of the Mexican military to the country’s worst trouble-spots.
Both efforts have had a profound effect upon Mexican society: at least 60,000 people died between 2006 and 2012 as a result of a war that pitted various criminal enterprises against the Mexican army and a constellation of vigilante groups — as well as against each other.
Calderon’s successor, President Pena Nieto, promised that he would reform the drug war when he took office. Instead of focusing on arresting the heads of the cartels, Nieto said he would undertake a general policy of combating crime and fostering rule of law.
Soldiers escort head of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel Hector Beltran Leyva in Mexico City, in this handout picture taken October 1, 2014 and released to Reuters on October 2, 2014 by the Attorney General’s Office.
Despite these promises, Nieto’s policy towards the drug war remains strikingly similar to Calderon’s — even though, as Krauze argues, he’s been far more hesitant than his predecessor to talk about the country’s crisis. Within the past month, three major kingpins from three different cartels have been arrested, including the first ever arrest of a Mexican cartel leader on US soil.
Despite the arrests, the security situation continues to deteriorate throughout the country as various gangs and organized crime organizations splinter and compete, sometimes as a result of the uncertainty that follows the takedown of a cartel kingpin.
Organized crime groups “are every day more fragmented,” Steven S. Dudley, a director of InsightCrime.org, a website that tracks crime in Latin America, told The New York Times on Oct. 21. “In principle, this is what the government wants, but in places like Tamaulipas, this has not resulted in less violence. In fact, this process has contributed to making the state one of the most violent in Mexico.”
The drug war has created an environment in which human rights are violated at an “alarmingly high rate” by criminal elements and the country’s various levels of government, according to the UN Human Rights Council.
SEPTEMBER 22, 2013
Mexico: Criminal – Ten people were shot dead by a group of gunmen in Loma Blanca, a town situated roughly 30km east of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico’s Chihuahua state, on 22 September. Reports indicate that the victims were part of a baseball team that had gathered after a game, when gunmen entered the private venue and opened fire. Although unconfirmed, it is believed that the perpetrators belonged to a criminal group linked to drug cartel activity. Although further details of the case have yet to be revealed, it is more than likely that this marked the latest significant incident of drug cartel-related violence in Mexico.
Ciudad Juarez and neighboring towns have been some of the areas worst affected by this violence since former president, Felipe Calderon, launched a large-scale anti-narcotics security strategy in an effort to combat organized crime in 2006. Although levels of violence in the Ciudad Juarez area have decreased since their height in 2011, this area of Chihuahua state still exhibits high rates of conflict between rival cartels, and between cartels and security forces.
It should be noted that incidents of this nature are not limited to Chihuahua and take place on a regular basis throughout the country. Such violence is, for the most part, confined to those connected in some way to the narcotics trade; these include members of drug cartels themselves, police officers, criminal justice officials or journalists. Foreign nationals are not generally targeted or directly affected by the violence; however, the possibility of inadvertently being caught in the crossfire remains a concern.
Prepared by: jet
Mexicans turn to social media to report on drug war
Mexico City, June 26, 2013
They tweet and blog about street gunfights and murders in Mexican regions plagued by the drug war, keeping people informed about gangland crimes which local newspapers are too afraid to report on. With traditional media often intimidated by drug cartels, social media has given Mexicans a