With 26 dead bodies dumped on the streets of Guadalajara, mass killings in Mexico seem to be growing more common and spreading across the country, as each massacre raises the stakes for other criminal groups.
The bodies were discovered on November 24, in three trucks abandoned around a traffic intersection in downtown Guadalajara. Various media outlets reported that the victims had been beaten, strangled, and shot in the head.
Notes left with the bodies suggested that the Zetas were behind the murders, though Jalisco Attorney General Tomas Coronado Olmos said that authorities had not yet ascertained who was responsible. Federal investigators have also picked up the case, and are searching in Jalisco as well as surrounding states for the authors of the murders. While authorities have not announced whether the victims were part of a criminal group, five of the 14 bodies identified thus far had criminal histories.
While the scale of the violence was certain to grab attention, this incident reflects a couple of trends that are worth noting. One is that Guadalajara, a city of more than 4 million people a few hours inland from the Pacific coast, remains contested. It was long considered the territory of Sinaloa Cartel capo Ignacio Coronel, but his death in July 2010 encouraged Sinaloa’s enemies to enter the region, and Guadalajara has grown far more violent since.
Today, there are a host of new players and competing alliances contributing to the sense of anarchy in Guadalajara. The Sinaloa Cartel remains a potent force in the region, while a gang of erstwhile Coronel lieutenants began opeating under the moniker Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG). These two groups were ostensibly allied, yet a string of bodies left along a highway in the nearby state of Guanajuato in June had notes, signed by the CJNG, that taunted·the Sinaloa Cartel.
The Zetas, whose play for the city actually predated Coronel’s death, have grown more aggressive in Guadalajara in recent months. While they were initially struggling against another local group known as La Resistencia, the two have reportedly been working together for the last several months. None of the forces seeking control of the city have succeeded in overwhelming their adversaries, however, which is why Guadalajara continues to struggle against a rising tide of violence.
The Guadalajara killings offer the latest illustration of an alarming trend in Mexico's underworld: attention-grabbing massacres. This latest incident comes just weeks after dozens of bodies were dumped around Boca del Rio, Veracruz, a populous state along Mexico’s Gulf coast. The Boca del Rio killings, in turn, followed the August arson attack on a Monterrey casino, which left 52 civilians dead. In June, more than 20 people were killed in a Monterrey nightclub when gunmen entered and opened fire.
Prior to the attacks in Monterrey, massacres already appeared to be on the rise. Three different attacks on nightclub in the northern city of Torreon killed scores of civilians in 2010. Attacks on migrants and bus passengers in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas earlier this year and in August 2010 led to the discovery of hundreds of bodies around the small city of San Fernando.
While mass killings were certainly not unheard of in the past, such attacks seem to be growing more frequent, and spreading across the country. They are not confined to a single group: the Zetas are thought to be responsible for the casino attack as well as the San Fernando killings, the Gulf Cartel for the previous Monterrey attack, the CJNG for the Boca del Rio killings, while a local group linked to the Sinaloa Cartel has been blamed for the Torreon shootings.
As analyst Alejandro Hope has observed, this demonstrates the inability of the Mexican government to respond decisively enough to disincentivize future massacres: if the gangs responsible for mass killings are able to stay on their feet after such incidents, this encourages other criminal groups to follow suit and raise the stakes. In the above examples, many of the Zetas associated with the Monterrey and San Fernando killings have been arrested, but the gang as a whole and its foremost leaders remain intact. Furthermore, the swift arrests in the casino attack were relatively unusual; in most cases the reports of arrests tend to trail off as the popular outrage fades.