The new governor of the state of Veracruz in eastern Mexico is facing cartel wars and spiraling violence after succeeding the fugitive Javier Duarte. And the disruption to the government-organized crime nexus caused by the fall of Duarte is threatening to exacerbate the chaos.
After promising to recover security in Veracruz in his first six months of office, Gov. Miguel Ángel Yunes has instead seen a new wave of violence at the start of his administration. The state saw over 100 murders in January, following 132 in December, Yunes' first month in office, reported Sin Embargo.
According to an intelligence report obtained by Milenio earlier this month, violence in Veracruz is being driven by a combination of turf wars and internal strife in criminal networks and is heavily concentrated in key territories, with over half of all registered murders in 2016 taking place in just 14 out of the state's 212 municipalities.
In many of the territories, the killing is connected to disputes between the Zetas, the Jalisco Cartel-New Generation (CJNG), and the newest arrivals, an alliance between the Zetas-Vieja Escuela and the Gulf Cartel, the report states.
At stake is control of criminal economies including drug trafficking corridors, microtrafficking, kidnapping, and fuel theft. In zones in the center of the state, however, much of the violence is believed to be connected to internal power struggles within the Zetas, which have seen their hierarchy decimated by deaths and arrests, according to the report.
The previous Veracruz state administration of Javier Duarte currently faces allegations of massive corruption and close collusion with organized crime networks, and Duarte is himself on the run.
Among the latest wave of violence, there have been several cases that Sin Embargo states suggest these networks are sending a message to the new governor. Sin Embargo highlights three events that could be interpreted this way.
First there was the series of murders of petty criminals in the first weeks of Yunes administration, accompanied by the message "we don't kill innocents."
This was followed by an organized crime group transporting two corpses 260 kilometers to dump them near Yunes' old residence.
And most recently, there was the kidnapping of two women doctors on International Women's Day, who were quickly released without ransom -- at least according to the official version of events -- after their abduction sparked a crisis in the governor's office.
Bringing violence in Veracruz under control and breaking the ties between state institutions and organized crime were key facets of Yunes' election campaign last year. However, confronted with a deteriorating security situation, Yunes has now fallen back on a common refrain of beleaguered Mexican politicians, claiming the violence has only affected criminals and that "good people and workers" should have nothing to fear, according to Sin Embargo
While the authorities struggle to contain the warring criminal networks, new illustrations of how far the state has fallen into the grips of organized crime continue to emerge.
On March 12, Flavino Rios, who took over from Duarte as interim governor, was arrested and placed on remand for a year, as he answers charges of aiding Duarte's escape, reported Univision. Rios admits organizing an official airplane to transport Duarte, but denies he was aware at the time that the governor was already a fugitive.
On the outskirts of the city of Veracruz, meanwhile, investigators have so far unearthed the remains of 250 people at a mass grave. Prosecutor Jorge Winckler said they believed the remains to be people disappeared in previous years by organized crime networks working in collusion with the past authorities, reported the Guardian.
InSight Crime Analysis
The extent of the collusion between state and criminal actors in Veracruz is becoming ever clearer, and it is evident the criminalization of the state far predates the reign of Javier Duarte. Reports complied by international bodies such as the International Crisis Group and Reporters Without Borders, as well as the investigations into mass graves, have documented the impact of this state-mafia nexus. The reports state that rampant violence against journalists and sky high levels of disappearances took root as organized crime networks flourished and their corrupt government partners sacked state coffers.
However, while this criminal-state status quo was itself responsible for horrific violence, attempts to break the ties between the state and the underworld could create yet more chaos and violence, as may already be happening.
In regions of Mexico where criminals and officials collude to such an extent, state actors play a key role in maintaining the underworld equilibrium, keeping the worst violence in check and the chaos of mafia disputes at bay, and therefore avoiding the outside attention and scrutiny such insecurity would bring. This role has been clearly evidenced in places such as Ciudad Juarez on the US border. These actors, not only from government but also the police, military, prosecutor's office and other institutions can be key interlocutors and guarantors, making deals and arrangements and offering protection to certain networks to ensure there is a degree of balance in the underworld.
In regions such as this, disrupting these networks, as has taken place in Veracruz, can exacerbate underworld tensions, with the political instability leading to criminal instability.
Corruption will not disappear any time soon from Veracruz, but it is unlikely to be as organized and systematic as it allegedly was under the previous administration. This also raises the possibility that various corrupt state actors still operating may side with different criminal networks, adding to the chaotic power struggles.
Although it is too soon to judge the success of the Yunes administration, the events of his time in office so far underline the scale of the challenge he faces, and show all too clearly that the nature of this challenge means things may well get worse before they get better.