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Mexico touts decreasing murder rate - but high-profile hit muddles message

A brazen hit on a federal lawmaker underscores that in some parts of the country, organized crime still does what it wants in public, in daylight, and with no fear of retribution.

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    Men carry the coffins containing the remains of Mexican Congressman Gabriel Gomez Michel in the town of El Grullo in western Mexico, Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.
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Consider it a case of dismal coincidence.

As President Enrique Peña Nieto touted to bankers in New York City earlier this week that criminal violence had fallen sharply in Mexico, armed commandos in the city of Guadalajara carried out a brazen daylight abduction.

Their target: a federal legislator.

Moving in three vehicles Monday about 5:30 p.m., the commandos cornered the blue Chevrolet Suburban of Deputy Gabriel Gomez Michel on a ring road near the airport. The next morning, the vehicle turned up in the neighboring state of Zacatecas with two charred bodies inside. On Wednesday, authorities said DNA tests confirmed that Mr. Gomez and his aide, Heriberto Nunez Ramos, were the two victims.

The brazen hit on a federal lawmaker underscored that in some corners of Mexico, organized crime still does what it wants on major thoroughfares in daylight with no fear of retribution – even if the overall homicide rate trends downward.

“It’s very worrisome,” says Jorge Chabat, a public security analyst. “We’re talking about very powerful criminals who have no fear of the power of the state.”

Closed-circuit security cameras captured the daylight abduction, and Jalisco state Attorney General Luis Carlos Najera said Wednesday that the group that snatched Gomez “is very well structured, very well organized.”

It is unknown which crime group wanted to kill Gomez, a pediatrician elected to the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies in 2012 on the ticket of the Ecological Green Party of Mexico, a faction aligned with the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Gomez, a former semi-professional soccer player, was from the town of El Grullo in southwest Jalisco state near the coast. The head of a crime group known as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, is believed to use the town as his headquarters.

“It’s a stronghold. It’s not like Guadalajara where you have a lot of groups operating,” says Tristan Reed, an analyst on Mexico for Stratfor, a global intelligence and advisory firm based in Austin, Texas.

Mr. Reed says he believes a rival of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel may have carried out the abduction and killing. The commandos drove Gomez three hours to Apulco, a town in Zacatecas state known for methamphetamine production under a faction of the Gulf Cartel.

Whatever the motive, the abduction was “an open challenge to the authority of the Mexican government,” Mr. Chabat says.

The abduction coincided with a speech President Peña Nieto offered to The Economic Club of New York, a forum of top business and financial executives, in which he affirmed that “the homicide and crime rate in our country is clearly trending downward.”

Murders have fallen 29 percent since 2012, he said, and Mexican states bordering the United States have seen an average 40 percent fall in violent crimes.

“These results allow us to see that we are on the correct path . . . the path to diminishing levels of violence,” Peña Nieto said.

Reed says the killing of the legislator marked a setback to Peña Nieto’s efforts to promote an improved security panorama.

“Peña Nieto’s security strategy is as much about improving security as it is about improving the perception of security, and so this is very much a hit,” Reed said.

Gunmen killed another ruling party federal deputy, Moises Villanueva de la Luz, in Guerrero state in 2011. Crime gang henchmen also are blamed in the 2010 killing of the ruling party candidate for governor of the border state of Tamaulipas, Rodolfo Torre Cantu.

The public security panorama has shifted following the February capture of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, tagged by the Obama administration as the world’s most wanted crime boss.

Mexican news outlets reported in late August that leaders of four organized crime groups met in the border city of Piedras Negras, in Coahuila state, in June to discuss forming an alliance after years of bloody inter-cartel warfare. Among those allegedly attending the underworld meeting was Mr. Oseguera, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel boss known by the nickname “El Mencho.”

Also attending were Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, head of the Juarez Cartel; Omar Trevino Morales, a leader of Los Zetas; and a representative of the Beltran Leyva organization, Fausto Isidro Meza, known as “El Chapo Isidro.”

Chabat says any pact reached among the crime bosses would not endure.

“That these groups would reach a pact is not unusual. They’ve done it in the past. But they don’t last long. Eventually, one group gets stronger than the others and it tries to impose its will,” Chabat says. “Eventually, they will return to violence.”

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