Drug gangs continue to terrorize towns in northern Mexico, kidnapping and killing local residents as organized crime maintains its infiltration at the municipal level.
The Durango municipality of Canelas in the Sierra Madre Occidental – also known as the Golden Triangle of narcotrafficking – has been plagued for two years by continual acts of violence that have gone unpunished.
Mayor Santiago Cháidez Jiménez is said to be masterminding a group of hitmen who kill locals who refuse to pay protection money or are not aligned with their “political interests.” The state prosecutor received its first complaint against Cháidez two days after he took office in August 2013, when he was accused of being responsible for the disappearance and murder of around 20 people.
The mayor is believed to be in charge of a cell of the Sinaloa Cartel, also known as the Pacific Cartel, acting on the orders of the Cabrera Sarabia brothers Felipe, José Luis and Alejandro. The three kingpins have attracted international notice, leading the U.S. to freeze their assets in March.
Felipe Cabrera has been accused of running a narcotics operation from beginning to end, overseeing the cultivation of marijuana plants and poppies before trafficking the finished product – cannabis and heroin – north of the border.
“We know who is who, and that the current mayor’s son heads a group of killers hired from the ranks of municipal and state police,” reads one report on Cháidez’s alleged reign of terror in Canelas. It further claims that a heroin processing plant is hidden beneath a country house and ranch owned by the mayor.
Canelas’ crime connections are strong. Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is believed to have been married here in 2007.
In the border state of Chihuahua, in the municipality of Chinipas, 300 families were recently forced to flee their homes in the town of Las Chinacas after a convoy of armed men threatened them. The gunmen were rivals of the Sinaloa Cartel in the Sierra Tarahumara.
Also in Chihuahua, Madera is under near total control by criminals, according to journalist Dora Villalobos, whose recently published book Looking for Justice explores key events that have affected the town since an insurgency against the military there in 1965.
The Madera Cartel is reportedly intertwined in all levels of town life, keeping tabs on the daily activities of residents including bureaucrats, farmers, landowners and businessmen, and routinely carrying out kidnappings and extortion with impunity.
As a result of this established criminal presence life in Madera has been marked by regular violence, which has seen two or three people murdered every week. Despite the violence, it is claimed that drug traffickers co-exist peacefully with local residents – presumably as long as they do not interfere.
In her book Villalobos suggests that alternative methods of government will be needed if Mexico is to overcome its endemic problems with organized crime. Madera, Las Chinacas and Canelas have little or no direct contact with the federal government, leaving them vulnerable to targeting by drug gangs; it is in such politically isolated areas that Mexico’s criminal fraternity makes its presence most felt.
To make matters worse, municipal police tend to be poorly paid, making them prone to bribery. An initiative by President Enrique Peña Nieto seeks to address this problem by consolidating municipal forces under state control.
The mando único will see Mexico’s 1,800 municipal police forces integrated with its 32 state police departments.