Mexico Narco Messages Reflect Weakness of State Institutions: Study

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Leaving narco messages in instances when a victim is killed in a bloodthirsty manner is a strategy employed by criminal groups to gain “respect” and “build a reputation among their rivals and society as a whole,” according to a study by the Center for Research and Economic Development (Centro de Investigación y Desarrollo Económico – CIDE) that analyzed more than 2,000 such messages.

The study entitled “Evolution of Organized Crime in Mexico through Narco Messages” classified 2,680 messages found between 2007 and 2011 in 25 of the country’s 32 states. The study identified the main contents, geographic location, and type of homicide that the messages were associated with, among other details.

The study notes that while the main motive in 44 percent of the messages analyzed was to send a threatening or hateful message to rival groups, the motive in 22 percent of the messages, identified as “messages of justice,” was to single out the murdered person as an alleged offender.

*This article was translated, edited for clarity and length and published with the permission of Animal Político. It does not necessarily represent the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

The third primary motive for killings identified by investigators in the narco messages was vendettas against alleged informants of rival groups. At least 135 of these cases were detected.

Ten percent of the narco messages also expressed anti-government sentiments. This proportion is similar to the number of messages where the primary motive is related to a specific territorial dispute.

Vindictive Violence Reaching a Boiling Point

With the increase in violence in Mexico, the number of narco messages accompanying killings has also skyrocketed. From 2007 to 2011, CIDE identified 43,801 registered killings associated with organized crime. The level of violence rose from 2,595 homicides in 2007 to almost 13,000 in 2011.

Likewise, the act of vindicating this type of violence rose during the same time period. While in 2007 only 56 narco messages were found in homicide cases, 948 such messages were found in 2011. This is an increase of more than 1,500 percent.

“In 2007, only one criminal group was identified with narco messages, and only 1 percent of all killings committed by criminal groups were tagged” with a message left with the body, CIDE reported. “By contrast, in 2011 more than 110 groups were identified and 11 percent of all killings were tagged.”

According to the study, the increasingly visible intention to highlight and vindicate criminal acts may simply be “in fashion,” but there is also a real interest on the part of these groups in making themselves visible to society, authorities, and rival groups.

The appearance of messages left at a crime scene or added afterwards is also a phenomenon that began in specific sites before spreading considerably.

The study identifies the April 2007 appearance of a narco message from the Zetas in Guerrero announcing the initiation of the group’s operations in that region as being among the first such cases. Also among the first cases were two messages left in Nuevo León in the same year, one addressed to a prosecutor and another to officials that allegedly collaborated with the Sinaloa Cartel.

SEE ALSO: Zetas News and Profile

Narco messages have now been found in at least 25 of the 32 states in the country.

The study identifies Guerrero as the state in which the majority of the narco messages (429) have been found, which is equivalent to 16 percent of all the messages analyzed.

“This could be a reflection of territorial wars between the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel and the Familia Michoacana,” the study indicates.

Sinaloa is the second region with the greatest presence of homicide-related narco messages during the period studied, with 285 in total.

“In the majority of the messages found in Sinaloa in which a group can be identified, the Sinaloa Cartel was either the victim or the perpetrator. In other messages different groups accuse the cartel of collaborating with the government … Although the Sinaloa Cartel had the state under its control, the content of these messages indicate that other groups (the Juárez Cartel, the Zetas, and the Beltran Leyva Organization, among others) also disputed over territory,” according to the study.

The third area with the greatest presence of narco messages was Chihuahua with 272, largely due to the violence caused by the dispute between the group known as “La Línea” (an armed wing of the Juárez Cartel) and cells of the Sinaloa Cartel.

These areas are followed by the State of Mexico with 259 reported messages, and Michoacán with 186 messages.

Extreme Violence as a Brand

As part of their study, the experts at CIDE studied and classified how the homicides were committed in cases where vindictive messages were left. They found that many were committed with extreme violence.

“It is important to note that the type of death most common in recorded killings was by firearms. However, more savage methods have been regularly utilized, such as decapitations, dismemberments, and mass graves, among others,” the experts wrote.

According to the data, 55 percent of killings in which narco messages were found were homicides committed with firearms. In raw numbers, this would be 1,478 homicides.

However, there are 661 cases of narco-message findings where the victim was decapitated or dismembered. On average, this is one in four of the cases analyzed. To that must be added the 132 cases where the victim was asphyxiated, and 23 more cases where the bodies on which the messages were left were completely incinerated.

*This article was translated, edited for clarity and length and published with the permission of Animal Político. It does not necessarily represent the views of InSight Crime. See the Spanish original here.

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