December 19, 2013
MEXICO CITY – Mexican prosecutors have revealed the names of 69 top drug traffickers arrested or killed in the last year from a group of 122 most wanted capos that was drawn up at the start of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s term a year ago.
The government had previously refused to say who was on the list, but provided some details to The Associated Press after the news organization filed a freedom of information request. The files name 60 drug cartel leaders who were captured since December 2012 and nine others killed by authorities. Prosecutors refused to identify the 53 capos still at large, saying they don’t want to tip off the suspects.
The files show that the hyper-violent Zetas cartel was the most targeted gang, with 23 leaders arrested and four killed in the 12 month period. The best-known name on the list is top Zeta’s leader Miguel Trevino Morales, who was arrested in July.
For an administration that has gone out of its way to downplay its pursuit of specific cartels and their leaders after the previous government was accused of provoking more violence with its head on attack on the drug gangs, the documents provide a rare look at what continues to be a full-bodied assault on organized crime.
There are at least a dozen distinct drug gangs operating in the country, including several groups named in the papers which had been little-known before. These include the so-called Western Cartel, which prosecutors said operates in the northern states of Coahuila and Durango. Those states were traditionally territories dominated by the Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who remains at large, but Sinaloa has suffered splits and turf battles with the Zetas in the area. Sinaloa was the third-most targeted cartel on the list, with seven members arrested and two killed.
The second most-targeted was the Western Cartel, which saw 17 of its alleged members since Pena Nieto took office.
Security expert Jorge Chabat said Thursday it was not unusual for Mexican gangs to split or form new groups.
“Criminal gangs are like businesses, they are always undergoing transformations, and just as there are breakaways from big corporations, there is always somebody who wants to start their own company or become independent,” Chabat said.
The arrest of over half of the high-value targets that prosecutors say they have designated in Pena Nieto’s first year in office may seem like a great deal of progress, but Chabat cautioned that it’s not all the new administration’s doing.
“It’s not surprising,” Chabat said. “Since the final years of the administration of (former President Felipe) Calderon the Mexican government has focused on fighting the Zetas because they are the most violent in regards to society in general.”
Critics have charged that Pena Nieto’s government has tried to downplay drug-related crime by not talking about it. The Attorney General’s Office initially refused to release the list, claiming it was classified and sensitive information. The country’s Federal Institute of Information Access eventually ruled that prosecutors had to release the names as a matter of public interest.
A drop in drug-related homicides that Pena Nieto’s administration has boasted about actually began in the final year of Calderon’s 2006-2012 administration. And the decline has not been accompanied by any decrease in other crimes, like extortion and kidnapping.
The latest figures available, which cover the period from January to October of this year, showed that homicides dropped 16 per cent from the same period of 2012. But kidnappings rose 33.4 per cent and extortions grew 10 per cent in the same period. Prosecutors say it is not clear whether the number of crimes actually increased, or whether citizens were simply more willing to report crimes this year.
And while drug-related violence has dropped in some states, especially along the northern border, it has risen in others, like the southern Pacific coast states of Guerrero and Michoacan.
“We have some regions where the situation has improved, but others where it has gotten worse,” Chabat said.