The State of Veracruz has become one of the most violent regions of Mexico and records the highest number of disappeared persons in the country. Under the “leadership” of former Governor Javier Duarte Ochoa, the state government deliberately denied and covered up the levels of crime the people of Veracruz have suffered. The local government and judiciary were completely infiltrated by cartels, which guaranteed impunity for crimes committed by cartels and the government itself.
As an example of the complicity of the State government, Governor Duarte of Veracruz from 2010 to 2016 and awaiting trial for multiple charges of embezzlement, insisted the most serious crime in the state was the theft of sweets from convenience stores. Reflecting a trend across Mexico, organized crime in Veracruz has mutated from narco-trafficking into a diverse and predatory set of criminal enterprises, including extortion, kidnapping-for-ransom, human trafficking, and oil siphoning. What makes Veracruz distinct from other areas in Mexico is the speed and depth at which the security situation has deteriorated.
Cartel War Zone
Veracruz has long been the home turf of the para-military cartel Los Zetas. Even though Veracruz is surrounded by territory owned by the Gulf Cartel, the Gulf Cartel never had much of a presence in Veracruz. It has been said, and there is much evidence to support the fact, that Los Zetas were very closely tied to former Governor Javier Duarte. It is common for cartels to pay protection money to government officials in Mexico, however, the lines between Ochoa’s administration and Los Zetas were almost imperceptible. The government was often seen as an extension of the Zeta cartel and this greatly affected the speed and depth by which the state devolved into lawlessness.
In 2016 Governor Duarte fled Mexico to Guatemala as an investigation into his corruption obtained proof of his widespread racketeering and embezzlement of public funds. He was on the run for six months before his arrest in April of 2017. The scandal surrounding Duarte’s administration highlighted scrutiny on the Zetas’ operations, and there is evidence that government forces have increased efforts to bring the group to heel in Veracruz. This collapse of the political regime as the dominant criminal power appears to have left a vacuum of chaos in the state. Duarte was replaced by an opposition governor for the first time in Veracruz’s modern history.
In addition to more anti- Zeta offensives from the government, the Zetas’ control has been tested by a multitude of additional factors, particularly the incursion of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG). The group — which formed of the remains of late Sinaloa Cartel boss Ignacio Coronel’s organization…has made in-roads in regions around the country and has been engaged in a battle with the Zetas in Veracruz for most of 2017. There are now essentially four parties vying for control of the state: Los Zetas, CJNG, the Federal government/military and the administration of the new governor Gov. Miguel Ángel Yunes.
The GJNG cartel endeavored early on to battle the Zetas drug trafficking organization in Veracruz state, under the name “Matazetas,” or “Zetas Killers,” which is described as either another name for the CJNG or a special cell of the group responsible for assassinations. The group claimed responsibility of a 2011 massacre of 35 people in Veracruz, and a month later security forces recovered the corpses of another 30-odd apparent victims of the group.
Petroleum War of 2017/2018 “The Triangulo Rojo”
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and Los Zetas began a war in the limits of Puebla and Veracruz for the control of the hydrocarbon theft business from Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). The fight for control of the "Red Triangle" started in August 2017 after Jesús Alfredo Beltrán Guzmán, "El Mochomito" nephew of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loaera-finalized his alliance with members of the Jalisco Cartel Nueva Generación . Late last month local newspapers published that "El Mochomito" has started a war against Los Zetas for the control of the areas where the illegal extraction of fuel from the Pemex pipelines takes place.
The "Red Triangle" consists of the municipalities that absorb the brunt of activity of organized crime groups that fight for the control of the Pemex pipelines. Among the municipalities are: Palmar de Bravo, Quecholac, Tecamachalco, Acatzingo, Tepeaca, Acajete, Amozoc, Cuautlancingo, Coronango, Xoxtla, Huejotzingo, Tlaltenango, Huejotzingo, San Martin Texmelucan, San Salvador El Verde and Santa Rita Tlahuapan.
The Federal Preventive Police informed the media that the constant entrances of Zetas coming from Veracruz to Poblano territory have been repelled by the members of the CJNG and they have even unleashed massacres and violent messages. Landowners, police, PEMEX workers and innocent bystanders have all been killed in these battles between Los Zetas and CJNG and El Mochomito’s fighters.
This information also indicates that there are CJNG cells that entered the area of the Red Triangle to co-opt residents in marginalized communities such as Palmar de Bravo, Acajete, Acatzingo, Quecholac and Tepeaca. While members of the CJNG enter the territory of Puebla, in Veracruz, Los Zetas control the areas of Perote, Córdova and Orizaba. However, to solidify its acceptance among the people of Puebla, the CJNG provides food to the communities or support for the delivery of services that some municipalities lack, such as the delivery of water tanks or the creation of roads.
Through these serviceds and payments the members of the CJNG gain the trust of the people and maintain control of the hydrocarbon theft chain. The chain involves payments to the owners of the lands surrounding the pipelines of Petróleos Mexicanos as well as gifts and large sums of money to physical security experts from PEMEX to know timetables and areas where oil theft can be done.
Although it can be seen as progress from 2017 when the Duarte administration was essentially an extension of Los Zetas or vice versa, Veracruz is still one of the most violent and distressed areas of the country. Wholesale reform of the judiciary, the police forces and a much heavier hand by the federal government are needed to instill some semblance of control over the region. Below are some highlights of the crimes that were perpetuated against the people of Veracruz in recent times.
-On the outskirts of the city of Veracruz, investigators have so far unearthed the remains of 250 people at a mass grave.
-681 cases of unresolved disappearances are recognized by the federal government, whereas “2,750 cases have been denounced before the state attorney’s office.
- -Meanwhile, civil society organizations estimate there may be up to 20,000 unresolved cases of disappearances in Veracruz. And they say none of these have been solved. As of February 2016, the nationwide estimate of disappearances was 27,659, suggesting Veracruz may be responsible for up to 72 percent of Mexico’s total disappearances.
- -According to Mexico’s National Institute for Statistics and Geography, 94.6 percent of the total crimes in Veracruz go unreported.
- -Mexico is the “most corrupt country among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) member states.” And, the report by the International Crisis Group suggests, Veracruz is arguably the most corrupt state.
- -Since 2010, corruption investigations have been opened against 11 governors of Veracruz, “amounting to an estimated total of $15 billion of allegedly embezzled funds.”
- -Veracruz recorded the second highest number of kidnappings in the first 11 months of last year, and was third in gang-related homicides.
- -Reported kidnappings totaled 180 and intentional homicides numbered 1,778 in 2017
- -Jalisco New Generation Cartel is believed to have been responsible for leaving the severed heads of five men on the hood of a taxi in Veracruz on Jan 5th 2018.