Why Have Battles Between Mexico Marines and Criminals Doubled?

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Confrontations between Mexico’s marines and criminal groups have doubled over a sixteen-month period, showing the extent to which the authorities have come to rely on the armed forces in the face of the corruption and ineffectiveness of local and federal police

According to figures from Mexico’s Secretary of the Navy (Semar), marines were involved in a total of 70 confrontations with alleged criminal groups between January 2013 and April 2014, compared to only 35 between 2010 and 2012, reported Milenio. Between 2006 and 2009, Semar did not report any clashes with criminal groups.  

Tamaulipas was the most dangerous state for marines over the recent 16-month period, with 10 confrontations reported in 2013 and 18 in the first four months of 2014 — forty percent of the total figure. Coahuila saw a total of 8 clashes over the same period, while 7 occurred in Michoacan (see Milenio map below).

Between January and April 2014, marines killed 29 alleged criminals without suffering any casualties.

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InSight Crime Analysis

There are several possible explanations for the spike in confrontations between the marines and criminal groups.

The increase could be caused by more aggressive tactics on the part of either security forces or drug cartels. For example, the fact that a large percentage of the clashes occurred in Tamaulipas could be partly explained by the aggressive tactics employed by the Zetas, who operate in the state and have been known to provoke battles with security forces.

However, a major factor is likely because of the increased role of the marines in fighting organized crime, with the authorities using them instead of local and federal police forces, which have proven particularly susceptible to corruption.

In the operation to capture Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo” earlier this year, for example, officials relied on an elite marines force to avoid risking infiltrations by criminal groups through local police or other law enforcement bodies. US authorities reportedly prefer to work with Mexico’s marines because of their perceived lack of corruption, and have collaborated with them to track down cartel leaders such as Arturo Beltran Leyva.  

SEE ALSO: Zetas Profile 

The lack of marine casualties between January and April 2014, however, raises questions about what the reported confrontations with criminal groups have involved, as such unbalanced figures can be indicative of killings rather than clashes. Semar forces have been linked to disappearances in Mexico, and human rights groups have previously raised concerns that the military is perpetrating extrajudicial killings.

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