Mexico’s attorney general has identified Maria de los Angeles Pineda, the wife of the former Iguala mayor and a possible accomplice in the disappearance of 43 students, as one of the leaders of the Guerreros Unidos criminal group.
During a private meeting with senators from the ruling party, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam referred to Maria de los Angeles Pineda as the “head of the gang,” reported Reforma. The attorney general told senators that since Pineda had been protected as part of the Guerreros Unidos leadership, it had been difficult for investigators to find the evidence necessary to charge her with organized crime.
“However, we did an investigation that included prisons in the United States, where we were able to obtain testimonies that clearly and directly link [Pineda] with the management of the Guerreros Unidos group,” Murillo reportedly stated.
The attorney general also reportedly identified Pineda’s husband, Jose Luis Abarca, as the second-in-command, and linked Pineda’s parents and siblings to the group.
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Although Excelsior and Reforma have interpreted Murillo’s comments to mean that Pineda is the main Guerreros Unidos leader, it is not entirely clear from his statement whether she is the head of the group or simply part of its leadership structure. Pineda — who has been charged with organized crime but not in the murder of some 43 students who were allegedly killed last September at the hands of the criminal group and at the behest of Pineda’s husband — had previously been identified as the gang’s main political operator.
However, Murillo’s statements do not mark the first time Pineda’s family has been associated with the Guerreros Unidos. In October, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido Garcia stated that Pineda’s brother Salomon Pineda Villa, alias “El Molon,” took over the leadership of the organization after founder Mario Casarrubias Salgado, alias “El Sapo Guapo,” was captured in April 2014.
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Murillo’s comments should be treated with caution because he likely has a vested interest in making Pineda appear to be a powerful underworld figure and in further separating the administration from the bloody event that has upended the Mexican government. By his own admission, the Attorney General’s Office has had a difficult time finding sufficient evidence to charge Pineda with organized crime, and it appears that prosecutors have thus far been unable to make charges related to the students’ disappearances stick. If Pineda really was the group’s commander, these problems might seem more understandable.
In a January 27 press release, the Attorney General’s Office explained that the Guerreros Unidos had a clear hierarchal structure in which subordinates received orders directly from their immediate superior — who was usually referred to using only his or her alias — to prevent lower-level members from learning the identities of the group’s leaders.
Pineda and her husband were captured in Mexico City in early November after Murillo identified the couple as the intellectual authors of the September disappearance of 43 student protesters. (For a full recap of the missing students case, click through InSight Crime’s timeline below.)