The capture of an alleged local Knights Templar chief on the coast of Guerrero promises to bring down insecurity in one of Mexico’s most violent states, say authorities. But it will take more than that to stave the soaring homicide rate in the country’s top heroin-producing region.
Alberto or Edilberto Bravo Barragán, alias “El Gavilán,” was captured in an operation carried out jointly by the Federal Police and Mexican military in Zihuatanejo on July 11, without a shot being fired, according to a government press release.
Mexican press coverage of Bravo’s capture named him the chief of the Knights Templar criminal organization in Guerrero, which borders the state of Michoacán, where the Templarios were born as a splinter group of the once-mighty Familia Michoacana.
Authorities accuse Bravo of overseeing the production of synthetic drugs for exportation to the United States, most likely methamphetamine.
A source close to InSight Crime said that following Bravo’s capture, a gun battle took place in Zihuatanejo — signs of a possible realignment of power following the removal of the local plaza chief.
“Following this capture, we hope that the criminality and pressures affecting the people here on the coast will improve, that security will improve,” said Guerrero Governor Héctor Astudillo Flores at a press conference following Bravo’s capture.
The authorities also cited the capture earlier this year of Fredy del Valle Berdel, allegedly the former head of the assassin wing of the Independent Cartel of Acapulco (Cartel Independiente de Acapulco – CIDA), and David Canek Palma Analco, the head of the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) in the city of Acapulco, as other key arrests that will contribute to improving Guerrero’s security situation.
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The assertion by Guerrero authorities that the capture of individuals is going to make a dent in the killing is disingenuous. An estimated 50 criminal gangs operate in the state of Guerrero alone, according to the state prosecutor.
In recent years, violence and insecurity in Guerrero has spiraled out of control, and the state is home to one of the world’s most violent cities — Acapulco. There were 857 murders in Guerrero between January and May this year — nationally, there were 7,743, according to government figures. Violence across Mexico has been on the rise this year, echoing levels not seen since President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term began at the end of 2012.
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The mass abduction of 43 students from a rural teachers college nearly two years ago showed the lawlessness present in Guerrero and the collusion of local authorities with criminal groups, and brought attention to the number of people who are missing in the state. Although there have been dozens of arrests since that incident, no one has yet been tried.
The violence in Guerrero reflects, in part, the atomization of Mexico’s old school monolithic criminal organizations, which has given rise to smaller successor groups. Groups such as the Guerreros Unidos — a splinter cell of the BLO — are relying more heavily on other sources of criminal revenue, such as kidnapping, extortion and local drug peddling.
Sources that InSight Crime has spoken to suggest there are tiny criminal cells of 10 people or less operating in Guerrero not involved in drug trafficking at all, and instead focus on kidnapping and extortion as criminality in general soars.
But criminal networks are also fighting over the roaring poppy trade, spurred by the growing appetite for heroin in the US — a result of addicts switching from prescription painkillers to cheaper street heroin. Guerrero is the epicenter of Mexico’s poppy production, and Mexican supply now dominates street-sold heroin in the United States. The rural state also has healthy marijuana and methamphetamine industries.
Insecurity in the state has reached such levels that Governor Astudillo has suggested legalizing the poppy industry in an attempt to bring down the violence. To suggest that the arrests of individual drug bosses will contribute to a decrease in violence is to ignore the poverty and climate of lawlessness that pervades so many parts of the state — bigger problems that cannot be resolved without sweeping social programs and serious anti-corruption efforts.