Rise in beheadings in Mexico – sign of splintering drug gangs?
Brutality and shock tactics are a way for new gangs to assert themselves, and could be rising because of the splintering of larger transnational criminal organizations.
(Page 2 of 2)
This may be partly indicative of how crowded Mexico’s criminal market has become. With the large transnational organizations splintering and new generation groups emerging as the primary drivers of violence, the only way to assert themselves is by becoming more dependent on brutality and shock tactics. The state with the second-highest number of beheadings, Guerrero, is one of the areas most affected by these warring splinter groups, the remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization. The high number of decapitations here looks like a symptom of that conflict.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Latin America's fight against drugs and violence
El Salvador runoff election: Why an FMLN win wouldn't mean bigger shift to the left
Venezuela's 'color revolution?' The complexity of wearing red. (+video)
Reporter's notebook: How has Mexico City changed?
In their own words: US, Venezuela spar in public
Who is leading Venezuela's protests? (+video)
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The increase in beheadings – along with the mass dumping of bodies in public places – is a move away from the traditional practice of burying victims in mass, hidden graves. It also speaks to the need for criminal groups to appear ever more intimidating in these public displays of violence.
The rise in beheadings has also accompanied an overall rise in the number of massacres in Mexico. Crime analyst and National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) professor Eduardo Guerrero told El Universal that during the first three years of Calderon's term in office, Mexico registered an average of 10.3 massacres per month, while the second half of his term registered an average of 23 massacres per month.
There are other arguments for why decapitations have become more frequently seen. Secretary of Public Security Genaro Garcia Luna has said that Mexico's criminal groups copied the execution style from Al Qaeda. Garcia Luna cited an incident attributed to the Zetas in December 2005, when the criminal group displayed the heads of four policemen in resort city Acapulco, as the "beginning" of Mexican groups' adoption of "terrorist" tactics. Similarly to Al Qaeda, Mexico criminal organizations have also recorded and distributed videos of beheadings online.
Security analyst Samuel Gonzalez Ruiz has argued that the tactic was popularized after the Zetas received training from Guatemalan special forces squad the Kaibiles.
Archaeologist Ernesto Vargas told Time magazine that the strategy echoes methods used by the Mayans hundreds of years ago, stating, "The Mayans cut off the heads of prisoners as a symbol of complete domination over their enemies."
Beheadings also played an important role in Aztec mythology, in which the practice was also applied to prisoners of war and was related to fertility rituals.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.