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Mexico Security Memo: Degrading Security in Puerto Vallarta

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Twenty-two tourists were robbed at gunpoint Feb. 23 in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco state, while returning to their cruise ship from a nature preserve as part of planned activities for their Carnival cruise. Masked gunmen stopped their bus and forced the passengers to hand over cash, cameras, watches and other valuables. Though no one was injured in the incident, the robbery demonstrates the degradation of security as a result of the ongoing drug wars in Mexico.

Targeting a group this large is unusual for the area for a number of reasons. Transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), commonly referred to as cartels, typically do not target tourists in Mexico's popular resort areas in order to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Local organized criminal groups try to avoid attacking tourists, and the citizens of resort areas try to prevent attacks on tourists, since all residents benefit from the revenue tourists bring to the area through the purchase of goods and through tour packages.

Local organized crime and TCOs may avoid targeting tourists, but the insecurity resulting from the drug wars helps individual criminals and small cells of criminals thrive. This robbery is likely the act of an isolated group of criminals. Since several competing criminal groups, such as Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation, are engaged in drug trade-related violence throughout Jalisco state, fewer law enforcement resources are available to deal with individual criminal actors.

CJNG Leader Arrested

Mexican authorities announced Feb. 23 the arrest of Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) plaza boss Adolfo Solis Bejarano in Veracruz, Veracruz state. Mexican marines reportedly found Solis while on patrol after receiving an anonymous tip. According to authorities, Solis is linked to 67 murders from two incidents in 2011 in Veracruz state, including a Sept. 20 incident in which 35 bodies were dumped on a street in Boca del Rio, Veracruz state. CJNG has been conducting an offensive campaign against Los Zetas in Veracruz state since CJNG's incursion into the Zetas stronghold in mid-2011. Solis is one of the highest-level CJNG leaders that authorities have captured in Veracruz state since CJNG's initial incursion. While the impact of Solis' arrest is not certain, CJNG is at a disadvantage in replenishing its ranks in Veracruz. 

It is important to remember that CJNG did not originate in Veracruz. The organization entered the state in mid-2011 from its home state of Jalisco. CJNG is still young, having formed sometime after the death of Ignacio "El Nacho" Coronel Villarreal, one of the heads of the Sinaloa Federation, in July 2010, and Veracruz is still new territory. A plaza boss leading an organized criminal cell must be familiar with the area and have an established network of individuals with whom to work, such as informants and government officials. After the loss of Solis, either another operator in CJNG's cell in the city of Veracruz must step up, or CJNG will need to send another individual into Veracruz who will have to familiarize himself with the region and the people. However, CJNG still occupies many other areas in Veracruz state and has the backing of the powerful Sinaloa Federation, so one leader's capture will likely not alter its operations in the long term.

Feb. 21

  • Gunmen traveling in two vehicles killed two state police officers on a bridge leading to Cereso prison after an ambush in Chilpancingo de los Bravo, Guerrero state.
  • Gunmen traveling in a white vehicle killed five taxi drivers in northwest Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Three inmates were stabbed and killed in Topo Chico prison in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Gunmen killed a street vendor outside a primary school in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, for failing to pay an extortion fee.
  • Mexican authorities detained 13 members of Los Zetas in Tlajomulco de Zuniga, Jalisco state. The leader of the detainees said they were recruited by Los Zetas plaza boss "Don Jose" and claimed that he was paid 100,000 to 150,000 pesos (about $8,000 to $12,000) every two weeks to distribute to Los Zetas members in his cell.
  • Three bodies showing signs of torture were found in Los Vidrios, Sonora state. A message left with the bodies said the executed men were killed for being car thieves.

Feb. 22

  • Five members of Los Antrax, a gang under the Sinaloa Federation, were ambushed and killed by gunmen in an armored vehicle in Culiacan, Sinaloa state. The Los Antrax members returned fire, killing one of the attackers.
  • Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of three people who had been tortured and executed in the Villas del Sol neighborhood of Culiacan, Sinaloa state.
  • The Mexican military seized 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of opium gum while on patrol in San Miguel, Guerrero state.
  • Federal authorities arrested Humberto Canales Lazcano, cousin of Los Zeta leader Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, and 12 other Los Zetas members during an operation in Zempoala, Hidalgo state.

Feb. 23

  • Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of two men beside a highway in Navolato, Sinaloa state. The bodies had their hands bound and showed signs of torture.
  • Mexican authorities found the bodies of four men inside the trunk of a car in Papanoa, Guerrero state.
  • Two gunmen killed the Sinaloa state police investigations director and his brother in front of the Noroeste newspaper office in Culiacan, Sinaloa state.

Feb. 24

  • Mexican authorities found two executed taxi drivers in a taxi near Acapulco, Guerrero state. The bodies were left with a message threatening the municipal police chief.
  • Gunmen killed two car washers in northern Monterey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Gunmen hijacked several buses and established roadblocks in multiple areas of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. They also posted narcomantas addressed to Nuevo Leon state Gov. Rodrigo Medina that said that Los Zetas gave Medina $20 million and that Los Zetas could release inmates and kill Gulf cartel operators at will. The narcomantas, signed with the names of two Los Zetas leaders, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales, also said Los Zetas would take power by force if the Mexican government failed to cooperate.

Feb. 25

  • Gunmen executed a man in a vehicle before setting it on fire in the Valle de Chapultepec neighborhood of Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of two minors in the Corregidora neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state.
  • Gunmen killed two men and injured two others in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. The name of an organized crime group was spray-painted on a nearby wall.
  • The Mexican military announced the seizure of 600 kilograms of methamphetamine and a vehicle with California license plates from a synthetic drug lab in Cheran, Michoacan state.
  • Federal police seized 739 kilograms of marijuana from a vehicle in Agua Prieta, Sonora state. The vehicle was reported stolen from Douglas, Ariz., in October 2011.

Feb. 26

  • Mexican authorities discovered the body of a man in San Pedro, on the outskirts of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. According to authorities, the victim was a halcon, or scout, who monitored military and law enforcement movement for an organized crime group.
  • Gunmen in a white Nissan Murano executed five people in a residence used for drug sales in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Gunmen opened fire on a federal police station in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state. The attackers also threw explosive devices, but all failed to detonate. No injuries were reported.

Feb. 27

  • Mexican authorities seized 120 helmets belonging to the Knights Templar in Apatzingan, Michoacan state. The helmets were plastic 12th century-style replicas that were used in Knights Templar ceremonies.
  • Mexican authorities found a hidden grave containing 50 bodies in Cristobal Colon, Durango state. According to authorities, the victims had been killed on separate occasions dating back to 2010.
  • Gunmen killed a police officer in front of his home in Los Mochis, Sinaloa state.

This article reprinted by permission of Stratfor.

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