The following is an extract from our quarterly Latin America Report. To receive the report in full, click here.
This reporting period was characterised by an increase in crime within tourist centers and continued escalation of conflict between cartel groups over territory. In the eight months to August the federal government has recorded 21,857 homicides, compared to 28,702 for all of 2017. On 13 September Mexico City Plaza, a well-known tourist area in the capital, was the site of multiple murders after gunmen disguised as mariachi musicians opened fire with rifles and pistols at 2200LT on Friday night in a crowded area. The attack resulted in the death of five domestic nationals and the injury of eight others, including one foreign national. The increasing level of violent crime has been explained as a new trend of “disorganised crime” by gangs seeking to diversify their revenue streams with crimes such as extortion, armed robbery, and fuel theft.
During the reporting period, the US government issued a travel alert based on elevated levels of violent crime related to gang rivalry. On 22 August, the US embassy in Mexico City issued a country-wide security update and travel advisory due to heightened levels of violent crime. American government officials are now restricted from travelling to Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas states due to elevated crime rates. This advisory remains up to date at the time of writing.
According to the most up to date statistics from Mexican NGO Alto al Secuestro (Stop Kidnapping), Veracruz, Estado de México and the Federal District have recorded the majority of kidnap incidents this reporting period. Incidents of targeted kidnap for ransom focussing on local representatives have continued from the previous reporting period, albeit at significantly decreased levels compared to the period leading up to the 1 July elections. On 15 August two gunmen attacked and kidnapped a 32-year-old representative of Veracruz state, Norma Azucena Rodríguez Zamora, along the Mexico -Tuxpan Highway in Hidalgo. Rodríguez was released the following day; however, it is unclear if a ransom was paid. Although the majority of violent kidnap cases involve domestic nationals, similar incidents of violent crime are expanding to previously “secure” areas for tourists and have the potential to affect foreign nationals.
Extortion and corruption remain severe challenges to Mexico’s civil society and security apparatus. According to national statistics there has been a 40% increase in extortion in August compared to January of this year. On 5 October Nexo Latino, a local news source, highlighted the threat of telephone extortion through a report indicating at least 3.8 million extortion calls have been made from January to August 2018, largely because corrupt officials at prisons fail to activate signal blockers. Telephone extortion has been known to affect both foreign and domestic nationals.
As cartels have begun to adopt increasingly militarised tactics in escalating turf wars, incidents of violent clashes and attacks are likely to continue occurring in tourist locations. Local police forces are ill equipped to secure these locations, despite their role in providing Mexico with a significant portion of its GDP (16% in 2017). Pervasive corruption, which continues to contribute to a significant level of impunity, is highly likely to continue in the medium term despite the election of reformist Andrés Manuel López Obrador as president in the previous reporting period.