Violence On Pace To Reach Record Highs In Mexico

Jul 6, 2017
Originally published on July 6, 2017 7:49 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To violence in Mexico. At least 14 people died yesterday in a shootout in northern Mexico. Among the dead are several state police officers. The shootout involved two rival drug trafficking cartels. They're fighting for control of the mountains in the state of Chihuahua. And the violence unfolded on the same day that U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly was in Mexico City to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto. They were talking about cooperating to fight organized crime. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, yesterday's shootout was the latest in what's on pace to become a record year of violence in Mexico.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The gun battle began in a small farming town high in the mountains of Chihuahua, according to Carlos Huerta, a spokesman for the state's attorney general's office.

CARLOS HUERTA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It was a battle between two organized crime groups," says Huerta, an offshoot of the Juarez gang and a faction of the Sinaloa cartel. Once Mexico's largest and most powerful gang, the Sinaloa cartel has fractured since its former leader, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, was arrested and extradited to the U.S.

The ensuing power vacuum within the cartel and battles for territory with other gangs have led to an unprecedented surge in homicides throughout the country. More than 11,000 murders were registered in the first five months of this year, putting 2017 on track to be the most violent since the Mexican Revolution. But spokesman Huerta says another factor has led to the rash of murders in Chihuahua.

HUERTA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Huerta says, "previously, authorities allowed drug traffickers to operate freely in the state." He says the new governor of the opposition PAN Party, who took power last year, is putting pressure on organized crime. Chihuahua's former governor is wanted on embezzlement charges and allegedly fled to the U.S. to avoid arrest.

Other states where the PAN won the governor's house from the ruling PRI Party have also seen upticks in violence. But Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope says the rise in violence goes beyond a change of political parties. He points to a deterioration in the rule of law.

ALEJANDRO HOPE: The state is simply not there, not there in terms of police forces and certainly not there in the provision of public services.

KAHN: Absolutely no public services, he says. There's just not enough honest and capable police officers in Mexico to keep the order. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City.

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