A new study claims that up to 200,000 people in Mexico could be involved in death squads, whether at the service of organized crime, private interests, or even state actors, highlighting the alarming proliferation of armed groups in Mexico.
A study authored by Congressman Ricardo Monreal Avila, "Death Squads in Mexico," divides the death squads into four categories according to who funds and supports them, as Proceso reports. Official groups -- a term which Monreal uses to refer to groups funded by state actors -- include paramilitary groups and clandestine Armed Forces units dedicated to exterminating criminals. Private groups are made up of mercenaries, often from Israel or the United States, contracted by businesses for personal security. Parallel groups are composed of members of criminal organizations. Finally, there are insurgent groups, which include Mexico's growing number of self-defense organizations.
Many of these groups rent out their services to criminal organizations, function as private armies, and provide services such as kidnapping, extortion, and human trafficking, according to Monreal. The report estimates that six out of ten members are former police or military, and that the total number of recruits may be as many as 200,000. The report also asserts that the so-called private and parallel groups, which include a rising number of women and minors, are the most dangerous of the organizations, as Univision reports.
Monreal's study also criticizes the state for failing to recognizing the existence of these death squads and for failing to take back institutional control in areas where armed groups maintain a "parallel illegal economy."
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The congressman's report helps shed light on the alarming number of illegal armed groups in Mexico which are either out of the state's control or actually working alongside or even within state security forces.
Monreal's condemnation of "private" armed groups hired by businesses to protect their employees and interests is particularly concerning, given the explosion in demand for private security in recent years in Mexico.
The report also directly challenges assertions by previous president Felipe Calderon, who denied the existence of death squads and paramilitary forces in Mexico after a spate of killings attributed to a group calling itself the "Mata-Zetas" (Zetas Killers).
The definition of "death squad" in the report may be too broad, and it is not necessarily accurate to refer to Mexico's self-defense organizations as "insurgent" groups. However, the report is illustrative of a disturbing trend in Mexico: the state's loss over its monopoly on the legitimate use of force.