Severed Heads in Mexico City do not Signal Capital’s Decline

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The discovery of two severed heads in Mexico City has raised concerns that the capital may no longer be immune from the worst excesses of drug violence, but the capital has enough security resources to prevent such brutal displays becoming common.

The heads were left on a busy street near an army base in Mexico City on Monday, alongside a narco-banner signed in the name of the “Mano con Ojos” and the Nueva Generacion del Chapo Guzman.

One of the heads was placed on the hood of a truck reported stolen in Tecamac, a municipality located north of Mexico City, while the other head was found on the sidewalk near the truck. Mexico City’s Attorney General Miguel Mancera later said that the bodies of two men, between 20 and 30 years old, were found inside the truck. The Attorney General attributed the beheadings to the organized crime group Mano con Ojos, but revealed few details of the narco-banner. The website Historias del Narco transcribed the text of the message, which reads (translated from Spanish by InSight Crime):

We dedicated ourselves to robbing, assaulting and extorting in the Mano con Ojos’ plaza, a plaza which belongs to the organization Nueva Generacion del Chapo Guzman. This is dedicated to those that deny our presence in the Metropolitan Zone and so that they will know that the plaza is not forgotten. Yours truly, the Nueva Generacion del Chapo Guzman and the Mano con Ojos organization.

The Mano con Ojos is a criminal gang that emerged from remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization. The group operates in the Mexico City metropolitan area and has been fighting for control of “narcomenudeo,” or retail drug sales in municipalities located on the outskirts of Mexico City, as well as portions of the Federal District.

Mexico City’s Attorney General said that he did not know whether the narco-banner signaled a new alignment between the Mano con Ojos and the Nueva Generacion del Chapo Guzman. He ascribed the murders to Juan Rodriguez Rodriguez, alias “El Casas” or “El Juanjo,” the gang leader alleged to have taken over leadership of the Mano con Ojos after the arrest of its former leader, Oscar Osvaldo Garcia Montoya, alias “El Compayito,” in August.

With violence on the rise in large urban areas of Mexico, including Guadalajara and Monterrey, some fear that recent cartel-related murders in and around Mexico City may signal that the capital is in danger of becoming the next battleground for warring cartels. According to the Associated Press, the city has not seen a public dumping of severed heads since January 2008.

Federal authorities report that at least seven cartels have a presence in the capital and, while gruesome displays of menace like these decapitations are more commonly seen in embattled states like Nuevo Leon and Guerrero, Mexico City and the surrounding metropolitan area has·experienced its share of violence.

Analyst Alejandro Hope argued on his blog, Plata o Plomo, that the discovery of the severed heads does not signal an oncoming wave of violence in Mexico City, as the capital’s public security resources will largely prevent such gratuitous displays of cartel power. According to Hope, the state must provide real disincentives for criminal actors or groups that use such brutal tactics. He argues that, while future brutal killings are likely to occur, the most ruthless criminal acts can be deterred by a strong response from local and federal authorities.

From Hope’s blog:

Organized crime has always been present in Mexico City (it is enough to visit Tepito to realize this), just as it has always been present in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, or Monterrey. The point is not where it is found, but how it behaves. It is possible to have a widespread presence of organized crime without excessive levels of violence, and vice versa.

[…] In organized crime, as in other activities, effective practices end up being adopted by all participants, above all when they do not involve additional costs or risks. And yes, public displays of brutality are practices of proven effectiveness: they deter rivals, intimidate potential victims, and help to preserve internal discipline. And no, they generally do not bring additional costs or risks: the probability of capture by the authorities or of reprisals by rivals does not really grow if you decapitate, mutilate, skin, or “calcify” a victim. What is surprising is not that criminals in the capital use these practices, but that they don’t use them more often.

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