Photographs of the missing student protesters in Iguala

A recent massacre of student protesters in the turbulent state of Guerrero has shined a spotlight on the Guerreros Unidos -- the criminal organization reportedly behind the murders -- and on the changing nature of Mexico's criminal underworld.

As previously reported by InSight Crime, on October 5 Guerrero's Attorney General Iñaky Blanco told the press that local police had handed over 17 student protesters to criminal group the Guerreros Unidos, a splinter cell of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), to be killed. The announcement accompanied the discovery of a mass grave with 28 bodies close to where the students were murdered, raising fears that some of the 43 students who were still missing following October 3 protest in Iguala, Guerrero were among the dead. 

Since the massacre, new information has been released linking Iguala's mayor, Jose Abarca Velazquez, to the criminal group responsible for the killings.

An internal report by federal intelligence agency the CISEN, dated October 1, stated that Abarca Velazquez's brother-in-law was the local Guerreros Unidos boss in Iguala, reported El Universal. According to the report, Abarca has further ties to organized crime in the region: two additional brothers-in-law were former members of the BLO, while his mother-in-law worked for Arturo Beltran Leyva, the former head of the drug trafficking group who was killed by security forces in 2009.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Guerreros Unidos' involvement in this case highlights an ongoing trend in Mexico: larger drug trafficking cartels are giving way to smaller criminal groups, who must look for more diverse revenue streams rather than relying principally on the transnational drug trade. The fragmentation of Mexico's criminal underworld follows a pattern that has been seen in Colombia, in which an increasing number of small criminal groups rely on extortion, micro-trafficking, and contract killings to bring in cash. 

Without any obvious financial incentives to go after student protesters on their own, it is likely the Guerreros Unidos was working acting as "muscle" for corrupt local officials. If this is indeed the way the Guerreros Unidos operate, this makes them more similar to a street gang than a sophisticated drug cartel like their predecessors in the BLO.

 SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

The Guerreros Unidos, who broke away from the BLO following the killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva, is considered a "mini-cartel" and is involved in drug trafficking but now specializes in extortion and kidnapping. Following the April 2014 arrest of the Guerreros Unidos' leader, Mario Casarrubias Salgado, alias "El Sapo Guapo," the criminal group -- which a Mexican official has said was once the primary supplier of marijuana to Chicago -- fragmented, likely pushing them to resort to these other criminal activities for income. 

Investigations

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

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...