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.
Residents of Ciudad Guzmán, in Mexico's west-central state of Jalisco, took to the streets June 5 to demand the withdrawal of military troops from the municipality—and the reappearance alive of two local youths. Mexican naval troops were ordered to the town, also known as Zapotlan el Grande, to fight the New Generation cartel, but were accused by locals of "disappearing" the two young residents—one just 17 years old. In both cases, witnesses claim the young men were detained by the Navy and were never seen again. Navy troops fired shots in the air after the rally turned violent, with protesters throwing rocks and bottles—possibly due to infiltration by provocateurs. At least three were reported wounded.
Brazilian federal police on Dec. 28 announced the arrest of José González Valencia, one of the top leaders of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG)—the criminal machine that in recent years has risen to challenge the Sinaloa Cartel for control of Mexico's narco trade. Valencia, known as "Chepa" or "El Camarón" (The Shrimp), was arrested at Aquiraz, a resort near the coastal city of Fortaleza, where he was spending the Christmas holidays with his family. Authorities said Valencia had been living in Bolivia for two years after fleeing Mexico, and had entered Brazil as a tourist on a Bolivian passport.