A protester in Mexico during 2012 elections

Mexico's authorities refused a freedom of information request for details on the country's drug cartels, further evidence that the Enrique Peña Nieto administration is trying to limit the public's understanding of what is happening around the country with regards to organized crime.

Proceso magazine reported that Reforma newspaper filed a request that the government share information about the number of criminal cartels currently active in Mexico, their leaders, and their areas of influence. In response, the Attorney General's Office (PGR) stated that the information would be sealed for 12 years because the release of such information would put the government's anti-crime strategies at risk. Sharing information about the identities of top criminal leaders and their likely location would give rival criminal organizations a strategic advantage, the PGR said.

Reforma noted that under previous President Felipe Calderon, profiles of the major criminal groups active in Mexico, and their leadership, were usually released in the annual reports of government agencies, including the PGR, the Federal Police, the military, and the now-extinct Secretariat of Public Security (SSP).

The fracturing of major drug trafficking organizations such as the Zetas, the Beltran Leyva Organization and the Gulf Cartel is believed to have contributed to rising violence in the country, as a growing pool of small splinter groups fight for power. Mexico's attorney general has said that between 60 and 80 new criminal organizations have emerged since Calderon initiated the offensive against organized crime in 2006.

InSight Crime Analysis

The PGR's response to Reforma seems to be part of a broader strategy of the Peña Nieto administration to deny access to information to non-governmental and governmental entities alike. Since taking power December 1, the new government has sought to centralize the control and flow of information (the one exception being the debacle over the numerous reports about the "disappeared"). This includes keeping information away from government allies as well, many of whom are muttering privately about their own lack of access to information in this government.  

The specific denial in this case seems is a perfect example of what we can expect going forward. The information requested about Mexico's criminal groups is fairly basic. This denial is particularly odd given that, just a few months ago, the attorney general released a public estimate of how many criminal organizations are currently active in the country. 

Mexican media outlets have recently used freedom of information requests to break organized crime stories that embarrassed the government. El Universal, for example, relied on a freedom of information request in order to reveal that the government hyped up its supposed near-capture of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in 2012.

Mexico's government has a responsibility to restrict the release of sensitive information to the press if it endangers national security, but this can be interpreted broadly or strictly. It is not always an easy decision. Any government faces the challenge of balancing the public's right to know with the need to censor sensitive information, especially when it could put civilians or members of the security forces at risk. The US government confronts the same problem and often comes to the same conclusion as the Mexicans: last year, the US government rejected over one-third of the freedom of information requests filed.

However, the PGR's arguments that the information requested by Reforma would endanger the government's anti-crime strategy are not convincing. They feed into the larger impression that rather than striving for transparency, the government remains evasive and even misleading on matters related to organized crime as it undermines the administration's narrative that this is "Mexico's moment."

Simply put, the PGR's response to Reforma looks like a federal agency failing to follow even the most minimal standards of disclosure. This is especially troubling since Mexico's freedom of information law, passed in 2002, was once described by Human Rights Watch as "the most unambiguous achievement in the area of human rights during the [Vicente] Fox presidency." And a constitutional reform approved in 2007 further strengthened Mexico's transparency laws, mandating that federal, state, and municipal agencies follow the principle of maximum disclosure. 

The struggle to obtain information goes beyond government censorship. Many journalists have been pushed into self-censorship due to threats and conflicts of interest. It is little wonder that social media outlets have become an increasingly important, if flawed, way for the public to access information about crime. But even these informal watchdogs are sometimes intimidated into silence.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Analyzing the Data

In the last decade, homicides in Guatemala have obeyed a fairly steady pattern. Guatemala City and some of its surrounding municipalities have the greatest sheer number of homicides. Other states, particularly along the eastern border have the highest homicide rates. Among these are the departments of Escuintla...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...