Residents of Jesús María barrio in Culiacán, capital of Mexico's Sinaloa state, marched on the governor's palace Jan. 9 demanding action on the whereabouts of 140 community members they say have been missing since violence engulfed the city after the arrest of a top cartel kingpin four days earlier. The youngest of the missing residents is said to be 12 years old. Protesters also denounced abuses by the military troops that have been patrolling Culiacán since the outburst, including illegal detentions and home searches. (Aztec Reports, La Verdad, Juárez)
Gunfire and explosions were reported from the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo in the early hours of March 14, following the arrest of a local gang leader by federal police and army troops. Juan Gerardo Treviño, also known as "N" or "El Huevo" (The Egg), is said be leader of the Tropas del Infierno (Troops of Hell), paramilitary arm of the Cartel del Noreste (Northeast Cartel), an offshoot of the notorious Zetas. Facing charges both sides of the border, he was nonetheless turned over to US authorities, apparently because he is a US citizen. He was handed over at a border bridge in Tijuana, far to the west of Nuevo Laredo, presumably to avoid attempts to free him. In the outburst of violence that greeted his arrest in Nuevo Laredo, the city's US consulate was hit with gunfire. Gang members also closed off streets with burning vehicles, attacked army outposts, and lobbed grenades at buildings. (Laredo Morning Times, Border Report, AP, La Jornada)
As many as 17 people were killed in a massacre in Mexico's west-central state of Michoacán on Feb. 27, with video of the grisly incident going viral on social media. The victims were lined up along the outer wall of a house and shot dead execution-style after armed men forced them out of a wake they were attending in the pueblo of San José de Gracia, in Marcos Castellanos municipality. The perpetrators, who have not been identified, removed the bodies in trucks and took them to an unknown location. It appears to be the worst massacre in Mexico under the presidency of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who came to office in 2018 pledging to de-escalate violence in the country.
A year-end report by Mexico's government registered a figure of 95,000 missing persons nationwide, with an estimated 52,000 unidentified bodies buried in mass graves. The report by the Comisión Nacional de Búsqueda de Personas (National Missing Persons Search Commission) found that the great majority of the disappearances have taken place since 2007, when Mexico began a military crackdown on the drug cartels. Alejandro Encinas, the assistant interior secretary for human rights, said that there are 9,400 unidentified bodies in cold-storage rooms in the country, and pledged to form a National Center for Human Identification tasked with forensic work on these remains. He admitted to a "forensic crisis that has lead to a situation where we don't have the ability to guarantee the identification of people and return [of remains] to their families."
Mexico's President Lopez Obrador met with Trump at the White House this month to inaugurate the new trade treaty that replaces NAFTA. Embarrassingly, the meeting was punctuated by horrific new outbursts of narco-violence in Mexico. And the country's promised cannabis legalization—mandated by the high court and looked to as a de-escalation of the dystopian drug war—is stalled by a paralyzed Congress.
There is a discomforting sense that Mexico is perpetually on the eve of cannabis legalization, as the country's Congress wins a six-month extension from the Supreme Court to pass a law freeing the herb. But foreign capital is already eyeing Mexico's emergent legal cannabis sector—even amid a terrifying escalation in the bloody cartel wars.
Despite his boast to have "ended" the drug war and pledge to explore cannabis legalization, Mexico's new populist president is seeking to create a special anti-drug "National Guard" drawing from the military and police forces. This plan is moving rapidly ahead—and the military is still being sent against campesino cannabis growers and small traffickers.
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, infamous kingpin of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, was unanimously found guilty on all 10 counts against him by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 12. He was convicted of overseeing an international criminal conspiracy to import tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States over a 20-year period, and laundering the billions of dollars in proceeds.