Gang violence hits Mexican leader’s ratings, U.S. warns of ‘parallel government’

Gang violence hits Mexican leader’s ratings, U.S. warns of ‘parallel government’
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Support for Mexico’s president has fallen some ten percentage points during a surge in gang-related violence, a poll showed on Friday, just as the U.S. ambassador voiced concern about “parallel government” by cartels in parts of the country.

The Nov. 6-11 survey of 1,000 Mexicans for newspaper El Universal showed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had an approval rating of 58.7%, down from 68.7% in late August. The poll had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Although Lopez Obrador’s popularity remains strong compared with many world leaders, nearly one year into his administration, skepticism is growing about his performance on the back of several shocking security lapses to recently roil Mexico.

Last month the president took flak from critics when it emerged security forces had released a son of the notorious kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after heavily-armed cartel gunmen overwhelmed security forces and briefly took control of the northern city of Culiacan.

That criticism was compounded by outrage and condemnation of the government from some U.S. lawmakers when suspected cartel gunmen massacred three mothers and six children of dual U.S.-Mexican nationality in northern Mexico last week.

U.S. President Donald Trump has responded by suggesting Mexico should join the United States to fight the cartels, fueling concerns that the American leader could use gang violence to put pressure on the Mexican government as he has over migration.

Speaking on Thursday, the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City, Christopher Landau, offered a terse assessment of the situation, saying there were parts of Mexico in which drug cartels formed a kind of “parallel government”.

“It can’t be that the territory where they have this kind of power continues to expand across the country,” Landau said on Thursday during an event in the northern city of Monterrey in remarks that were later broadcast on television.

“The future of Mexico is so important that if we don’t fight this now, it’s going to get much worse,” he added.

A dozen years of gang-fueled violence have claimed well over 200,000 lives in Mexico and murders hit record levels last year.

Taking office in December, the veteran leftist Lopez Obrador has pledged to address the root causes of crime and is pursuing a less confrontational approach to pacifying the country.

He quickly created a new militarized police force, or National Guard, to tackle the problem. But at the behest of Trump, thousands of its members have been sent to the borders of Mexico to help contain illegal immigration from Central America.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Family tells how 13-year-old boy hid siblings in Mexico massacre

Family tells how 13-year-old boy hid siblings in Mexico massacre
By Lizbeth Diaz

BAVISPE, Mexico (Reuters) – After watching gunmen shoot dead his mother and two brothers, 13-year-old Devin Langford hid six surviving siblings in nearby bushes and walked for miles in a rugged expanse of northern Mexico to get help.

The harrowing account was given by members of three Mexican-American Mormon families that suffered a brutal attack by suspected drug cartel hitmen on Monday which claimed the lives of three women and six children and sparked outrage and condemnation in the United States.

The families, members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in northern Mexico decades ago, were set upon as they drove along a remote dirt road in Sonora state.

Following the attack, Devin, who was uninjured, set off alone in rough, mountainous terrain, walking 14 miles (23 km) to look for help, the families said in a statement.

“After witnessing his mother and brothers being shot dead, Dawna (Langford)’s son Devin hid his six other siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” the account states. For 11 hours, the relatives had no idea about what had happened to their loved ones.

The three mothers and 14 children were in three vehicles that left from a small village in Sonora to meet with relatives in neighboring Chihuahua state and Phoenix, Arizona.

The murders sparked immediate calls from U.S. President Donald Trump for Mexico to join forces with the United States to crack down on drug gangs amid mounting concerns over security after a string of mass killings in the past few weeks.

On the defensive, Mexico has countered by urging the U.S. government to help stop the flow of arms south of the border.

Security Minister Alfonso Durazo stressed that Remington shell casings of U.S. origin were found at the crime scene.

“That’s one of the most relevant details we can give you,” he told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.

No official explanation has been given for the killings, though the Mexican government said the victims may have been caught in the crossfire of a bloody turf war between an arm of the Sinaloa Cartel and its rival, the Juarez Cartel.

Relatives of the dead have dismissed the notion that the women and children could have been targeted due to mistaken identity in a shooting spree that authorities said left more than 200 military-grade shell casings behind.

The mothers of the Langford, Miller and Johnson families were driving separate SUVs when the gunmen opened fire. All three mothers lost their lives in the slaughter.

The youngest of Devin’s siblings, 9-month old Oliver, was shot in the chest; 8-year-old Cody had bullet wounds to the jaw and the leg, while Xander, 4, had been hit in the back. Brothers Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, lay dead.

When Devin failed to return, his 9-year-old sister Mckenzie, who was grazed in the arm, went after him and walked 10 miles before getting lost in the dark. Search parties later found her, the families said. Another sister, Kylie, was shot in the foot, while sibling Ryder was uninjured.

Nearby, the attack on the vehicle transporting the Miller family had claimed five lives; mother Rhonita, and four children, including 8-month old twins Titus and Tiana.

“All shot and burned in their vehicle,” the families’ statement said. “Only ashes and a few bones remain.”

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Bavispe; Additional reporting by Sharay Angulo in Mexico City; Editing by Dave Graham and Rosalba O’Brien)

Nine Americans die in Mexican massacre, Trump proposes ‘war’ on drug cartels

Nine Americans die in Mexican massacre, Trump proposes ‘war’ on drug cartels
By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Gunmen killed nine women and children in the bloodiest attack on Americans in Mexico for years, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to offer to help the neighboring country wipe out drug cartels believed to be behind the ambush.

All nine people, Mexican-Americans killed in Monday’s daytime attack at the border of Chihuahua and Sonora, belonged to the LeBaron family, members of a breakaway Mormon community that settled in northern Mexico’s hills and plains decades ago.

Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the nine, traveling in several SUVs, may have been victims of mistaken identity, given the high number of violent confrontations among warring drug gangs in the area.

“The convoy made up of suburban vans could have been confused with criminal groups that fight for control in the region,” Durazo said at a news conference alongside Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

A video posted on social media showed the charred and smoking remains of a vehicle riddled with bullet holes that was apparently carrying the victims when the attack occurred.

“This is for the record,” says a male voice speaking English in an American accent, off camera, choking up with emotion.

“Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up.”

Reuters could not independently verify the video.

A family relative, Julian LeBaron, called the incident a “massacre” and said some family members were burned alive.

In a text message to Reuters he wrote that four boys, two girls and three women were killed. Several children who fled the attack were lost for hours in the countryside before being found, he said.

He said it was unclear who carried out the attack.

“We don’t know why, though they had received indirect threats. We don’t know who did it,” he told Reuters.

“My cousin was murdered with her children in the truck,” said Alex LeBaron, another relative in one of the villages inhabited by the extended family. He said all the victims were U.S. citizens, and most also held dual citizenship with Mexico.

TIME TO ‘WAGE WAR’ -TRUMP

Under Trump, the United States and Mexico have often been at loggerheads over trade, the U.S. president’s anti-immigration rhetoric and his plans to build a wall on their common border.

But Trump has praised Lopez Obrador, his Mexican counterpart who took office 11 months ago, for helping to reduce the flow of Central American migrants to the United States.

Trump tweeted that he would await a call from Lopez Obrador, urging him to accept U.S. assistance.

Lopez Obrador said he would call Trump on Tuesday about ways to cooperate on security but rejected what he called any foreign government intervention.

“I’ll speak with President Trump to thank him for his support, and to see if in cooperation agreements there’s the possibility of getting help,” he told the news conference. “I don’t think we need the intervention of a foreign government to deal with these cases,” he added.

Trump wrote on Twitter: “The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!”

“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth,” Trump added.

Mexico has used its military in a war on drug cartels since 2006 but despite the arrest or killing of leading traffickers the campaign has not succeeded in reducing drug violence. In fact, it has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

The government has registered more than 250,000 homicides in the last dozen years, most of them related to the drug war.

Lopez Obrador has blasted the security strategy of previous Mexican governments, saying more than a decade of war against drug traffickers is officially over and he will seek alternative solutions.

“War is irrational. We believe in peace,” said Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office last December.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI already work very closely with Mexico to combat the cartels.

In 2010, two members of the Chihuahua Mormon community, including one from the LeBaron family, were killed in apparent revenge after security forces tracked drug gang members. The Mormons had suffered widespread kidnappings before that.

Northwestern Mexico has been home to small Mormon and Mormon-linked communities with family ties to the United States since the late 19th century.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Additional reporting by Dave Graham, David Alire Garcia, Daina Beth Solomon and Sharay Angulo; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Howard Goller)

Murders in Mexico rise by a third in 2018 to new record

Murders in Mexico rose by 33 percent in 2018, breaking the record for a second year running, official data showed, underlining the task facing the new president who has pledged to reduce violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Murders in Mexico rose by 33 percent in 2018, breaking the record for a second year running, official data showed, underlining the task facing the new president who has pledged to reduce violence in the cartel-ravaged country.

Investigators opened to 33,341 murder probes compared with the previous year’s record of 25,036, according to information from the Interior Ministry published on Sunday.

Mexico has struggled with years of violence as the government has battled brutal drug cartels, often by taking out their leaders. That has resulted in fragmentation of gangs and increasingly vicious internecine fighting.

The complexity of fighting criminal groups is a major test for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who assumed office in December, vowing to try a different approach to his predecessor.

Former President Enrique Pena Nieto presided over a 40 percent rise in murder investigations across his six-year mandate from his first full year in office in 2013.

Of Mexico’s 32 regions, the central state of Guanajuato registered the highest number of murder probes opened in 2018, at 3,290, more than three times as many murder probes as the 1,084 investigations opened in 2017.

Guanajuato has been hit by bloody turf wars among gangs battling for control of a lucrative market for stolen fuel.

The data showed 861 cases of murders of women in 2018 compared with 735 in 2017.

Mexico’s national statistics office (INEGI) also calculated a record number of homicides in 2017, at 31,174 murders, or 25 per 100,000, using other methodologies. INEGI has yet to present its data for violent crime in 2018.

(Reporting by Delphine Schrank; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

With 25,339 murders in 2017, Mexico suffers record homicide tally

- A police cordon reading "Danger" is pictured at a crime scene where unknown assailants gunned down people at a garage in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, January 4, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – There were more than 25,000 murders across drug-ravaged Mexico in 2017, the highest annual tally since modern records began, government data showed.

Investigators opened 25,339 murder probes last year, up nearly 25 percent from the 2016 tally, interior ministry data released on Saturday showed. It was the highest annual total since the government began counting murders in 1997.

Mexico has struggled with years of violence as the government has battled vicious drug cartels that have increasingly splintered into smaller, more bloodthirsty, gangs.

Violence is a central issue in July’s presidential election. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto faces an uphill battle to keep his ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in office.

There were 40 percent more murder investigations opened last year compared with 2013, Pena Nieto’s first full year in office.

Mexico on Thursday dismissed a claim by U.S. President Donald Trump that it was the most dangerous country in the world.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Philippines’ drug enforcement agents face heat now that they are running Duterte’s war on drugs

Agents of the Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency (PDEA) search a house of a drug trafficker during a raid in Tondo, Manila, Philippines, December 10, 2017.

By Peter Blaza

MANILA (Reuters) – Carrying firearms and search warrants, and prepared for fierce resistance, about 30 Philippine anti-drugs agents pour out of three vans in a dramatic raid in one of the capital’s illicit drugs hotbeds.

Some wearing flak jackets, others carrying rifles, the agents burst into three suspected drug dens in Manila’s Tondo area and in under an hour, arrest all four targets, without a drop of blood spilled.

The operation by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or PDEA, was one of the success stories of an 18-month-old war on drugs.

That campaign has faced intense criticism from United Nations’ officials, some governments, and human rights groups, because it has led to the killing of nearly 4,000 mostly poor Filipinos, largely by the police.

Human rights monitors allege that executions by the police have been commonplace. The police say that the killings have been in self defense.

In what he suggested was a move to appease such criticism, President Rodrigo Duterte in October put PDEA in charge of his signature campaign, challenging an agency with just a fraction of the manpower of the police. He has since ordered the police to play only a supporting role.

Reuters journalists spent more than a week with a PDEA unit in Manila earlier this month and joined them in the Tondo operation, which agents said followed weeks of surveillance.

Duterte’s critics say his drugs war is targeting street-level dealers and lacks commitment to go after drug cartels behind the methamphetamine supply.

PDEA disputes that, and highlights the challenges it faces in going after kingpins with only 1,000 agents compared to the 190,000 personnel the police had drawn from.

Each agent juggles intelligence gathering, drug busts and raids, and often exasperatingly long court appearances that disrupt operations. Cases must be watertight, they say, as high-profile targets can afford to hire top lawyers.

“We see to it that we are morally convinced that the suspect is really involved in drugs,” said an agent, known as “Happy”, who requested his full name be withheld to ensure operations are not compromised.

PDEA insists it does everything possible to avoid bloodshed. It says that 28 drug suspects and 11 PDEA personnel were killed during its operations from the start of Duterte’s campaign to the middle of October.

“If the suspect does not fight back, why would we kill them?” said Christy Silvan, the acting deputy head of PDEA’s special enforcement service.

“But if that person fights back and has a gun, then we would not allow our troops to be the first one killed.”

Founded in 2002, the agency specializes in gathering intelligence and its typical operations revolve around searching for mid-level to prominent drug suspects, making arrests, compiling evidence and supporting court proceedings.

According to “Happy”, the threat remains even when criminals are in handcuffs, because agents have to appear in court to testify.

“If we got a big-time drug lord, they may hire a hitman to kill us,” he said.

(Writing and additional reporting by Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty)

Mexico drug war investigators unearth 47 more skulls in mass graves

Clothing is pictured on a wire fence at site of unmarked graves where a forensic team and judicial authorities are working in after human skulls were found, in Alvarado, in Veracruz state, Mexico,

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Investigators unearthed the skulls of 47 more suspected victims of Mexico’s drug war in Veracruz state, just days after uncovering 250 skulls at a separate mass grave used by drug cartels, the state’s attorney general said on Sunday.

Veracruz, on Mexico’s Gulf coast, has long been a stomping ground for criminal gangs, who fight over lucrative drug and migrant smuggling routes.

Giving details on the latest grisly find, Jorge Winckler said the skulls and remains of multiple body parts were unearthed from eight unmarked graves, clustered in a 120 sq meter area, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the town of Alvarado.

So far, Winckler said, investigators had positively identified one three-person family, missing since September 2016, and the remains of two other men.

“The work continues,” Winckler told a news conference, vowing to track down the perpetrators.

Just days earlier, investigators recovered more than 250 skulls from another unmarked grave 60 kilometers (37 miles)further north in the Gulf state of Veracruz.

That burial site was uncovered by relatives of missing family members, impatient with officials’ apathetic response, who launched their own search for missing family members.

The relatives’ groups have exposed the government’s slow progress in attending to rights abuses and victims.

The former governor of Veracruz, Javier Duarte, who belonged to the country’s ruling party, is a fugitive, fleeing organized crime charges.

Separately, on Sunday the Veracruz attorney general’s office said it was investigating the murder of a journalist, Ricardo Monlui, who was shot dead in the town of Yanga.

Veracruz is the most dangerous state in Mexico for journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in 2016 that at least six reporters had been killed for their work since 2010, when Duarte took office, adding it was investigating nine other cases.

(Reporting by Edgar Garrido; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Gunmen abduct suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel

A general view shows a restaurant where unknown assailants kidnapped a group of people in the Pacific tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico,

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Eight armed men abducted “six or seven” suspected members of the Sinaloa drug cartel from a restaurant in the heart of Mexico’s Pacific tourist resort of Puerto Vallarta early on Monday morning, the state attorney general said.

Local authorities say the victims were seized around 1 a.m. CDT (0600 GMT) on Monday from a restaurant in the resort town.

Interviewed on local television, Jalisco Attorney General Eduardo Almaguer said the men who were abducted were believed to be members of the Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s most feared drug smuggling gangs, which was led by Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman until his capture in January.

Almaguer said the suspected gang members were accompanied by nine women who were left behind, adding that the kidnappers had yet to make any contact with authorities.

Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco, is one of Mexico’s top vacation destinations, luring all-inclusive tourists and high-end sunseekers to its beaches.

Jalisco, which lies south along the Pacific coast from Sinaloa, is also home to the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has become one of the country’s most powerful drug gangs in recent years.

In a statement, the prosecutor’s office said it was investigating the incident, while Almaguer said he was trying to fully identify the men who were abducted.

(Reporting by Anahi Rama and Lizbeth Diaz and Luis Rojas; Editing by Alan Crosby and Joseph Radford)

Federal Agents seize longest Mexico California drug tunnel

United States attorney Laura E. Duffy looks down the opening of a hole in the ground after the discovery of a cross-border tunnel

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) – Federal agents have seized a ton of cocaine and seven tons of marijuana smuggled through a clandestine tunnel stretching a half mile beneath the U.S.-Mexico border, the longest one yet unearthed in California, authorities said on Wednesday.

Six people were arrested as authorities in San Diego moved on Monday and Tuesday to shut down the tunnel, the 13th underground passageway discovered along California’s border with Mexico since 2006.

The 870-yard-long tunnel, one of the narrowest found in the region, also yielded an unprecedented cache of drugs.

“This is the largest cocaine seizure ever associated with a tunnel,” said Laura Duffy, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California.

The northern end of the tunnel, like most of the others, emerges in a narrow industrial expanse between the Otay Mesa port of entry and the California Highway Patrol’s border facility. The area, known for its heavy clay soil, is primarily traversed by trucks hauling tons of legitimate cargo between the two countries every day.

The latest tunnel, excavated 46 feet beneath the surface, ran from the bottom of an elevator shaft built into a house in Tijuana to a hole in the ground on the U.S. side enclosed within a fenced-in lot set up as a pallet business. The hole was concealed under a trailer-sized trash dumpster that smugglers used to move the drugs off the lot, federal officials said.

“They put the drugs in the dumpster and then hauled the dumpster to another location to unload it,” Duffy said. Federal agents followed a truck that carted the dumpster to a central San Diego spot about 25 miles north of the border and watched as the cargo was loaded onto a box truck, which drove away.

San Diego County sheriff’s deputies who stopped the truck seized 2,242 pounds of cocaine and 11,030 pounds of marijuana, and arrested three men, Duffy said. Federal agents searching the pallet lot and the tunnel recovered an additional 3,000-plus pounds of marijuana and arrested three more suspects, she said.

The suspects were all jailed on various drug-trafficking conspiracy charges.

Federal agents who patrol the Otay Mesa area immediately north of the border began watching the pallet company, its yard stacked with grimy, wood-frame racks, in October, Duffy said.

“The investigation began with an astute border patrol agent who identified this business as suspicious,” Duffy said. “They began monitoring this location and saw the people here conducting dry runs.”

(Editing by Steve Gorman and Andrew Hay)

Border 40 Percent Secure; 1 in 5 Intercepted Illegals Have Criminal Record

The head of the U.S. Border Patrol testified to Congress that less than half of the southern border is under “operational control.”

Brandon Judd cited violent conditions as part of the problem and added that one out of every five people caught attempting to enter the U.S. has a criminal record in Mexico or the U.S.

In 2014, the border patrol caught around 486,000 illegal immigrants, but only 91,000 were returned to Mexico.

“This is the challenge we are facing at the border today. There are those who will point to lower apprehension rates and tell you the border is secure. Border Patrol agents, however, throughout this nation will tell you the border is not secure and the southwest border certainly is not safe,” Judd testified.

Judd also said that drug cartels are a major issue.

“These cartels are well organized, heavily armed, and pathologically violent. To give you sense of the violence the official death, as quoted earlier, toll from the cartel violence in Mexico is 60,000. This is more than the United States military lost in in Vietnam. However, the unofficial death toll in Mexico is over 120,000 killed and another 27,000 missing and presumed dead,” Judd said.

“In Mexico, the cartels kill without hesitation or fear of prosecution. In May of this year, cartel members shot down a Mexican Army helicopter in the State of Jalisco. Why would we expect them to behave any differently on the U.S./Mexico border?”