Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 29: An Overview of Cartel Activities Related to COVID-19 Humanitarian Response  

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 6:37pm

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 29: An Overview of Cartel Activities Related to COVID-19 Humanitarian Response  

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan

Various organized crime entities throughout Latin America, Europe, and Africa—including gangs, cartels, and mafias—are increasingly responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways. These include accounting for a shift in their illicit revenue streams and exploring new economic opportunities that are emerging. In the area of humanitarian response, a large number of the Mexican cartels are now actively engaging in these activities for their public relations and propaganda value in supporting their ‘protector of the community narratives’ targeted at the local citizenry under their control. These cartel activities are not without precedent and have taken place in Mexico in the past—though not as widespread and pronounced as they are now—and further reinforce ongoing criminal insurgency analysis related to this phenomena linked to Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘social banditry’ construct.   

Key Information: Drazen Joric, “El Chapo’s daughter, Mexican cartels hand out coronavirus aid.” Reuters. 16 April 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-mexico-cartels/el-chapos-daughter-mexican-cartels-hand-out-coronavirus-aid-idUSKBN21Y3J7?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social:

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A daughter of famed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and several Mexican cartels have been doling out aid packages to help cash-strapped residents ride out the coronavirus pandemic.

In one video posted on Facebook, Guzman’s daughter, Alejandrina, can be seen stuffing toilet paper and food into a cardboard box bearing slick logos and a designer stencil-style image of her father, the former Sinaloa cartel chief who is now in a maximum security U.S. prison.

The oil, sugar, rice and other items in the boxes, which the video narrator calls “Chapo’s provisions”, were distributed in Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara, in western Jalisco state.

Alejandrina’s handout was linked to her company, which legally markets clothing and alcohol associated with her father’s image under the “El Chapo 701” brand.

Key Information: “Reportan entrega de despensas del Cártel del Golfo en Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas.” Economía Hoy. 6 April 2020. https://www.economiahoy.mx/nacional-eAm-mx/noticias/10466405/04/20/Reportan-entrega-de-despensas-del-Cartel-del-Golfo-en-Ciudad-Victoria-Tamaulipas.html:

Usuarios de redes sociales difundieron este fin de semana fotografías en las que presuntos integrantes del Cártel del Golfo (CDG) entregaban cajas con despensa a pobladores de Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas como “apoyo” ante la pandemia de coronavirus.

De acuerdo con las fotografías, en las cajas se puede leer la leyenda “Cártel del Golfo en apoyo a CD. Victoria. Señor 46 Vaquero”.

Cada caja contenía artículos como aceite, arroz, harina de maríz, latas de atún, galletas, cereal, azúcar, café, sopas y leche condensada.

Según el conteo oficial, en Tamaulipas se han registrado 38 pacientes positivos de coronavirus y dos fallecimientos.

Esta no es la primera vez que ocurre algo así. En 2013, cuando el Huracán Ingrid arrasó con la entidad, los damnificados también recibieron paquetes con alimentos por parte del mismo grupo cr[i]minal.

Note—the article contains CDG social media (Twitter) postings with imagery.

Key Information: “Los Viagras y el Cártel del Golfo: qué cárteles se están aprovechando del coronavirus para repartir despensas.” Infobae. 7 April 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/04/07/los-viagras-y-el-cartel-del-golfo-que-carteles-se-estan-aprovechando-del-coronavirus-para-repartir-despensas/:

El grupo criminal Los Viagras tienen mil y un rostros. Uno por cada persona que lo mira. En Michoacán es considerado un cártel “benefactor”.

Aprovechando la crisis por coronavirus, el grupo de narcotráfico, que ha logrado desordenar todo el estado, repartió decenas de despensas a los pobladores de la comunidad de Acahuato, municipio de Apatzingán. 

Un video revelado por Breitbart News muestra a hombres armados en una camioneta pick up con la batea llena de despensas. 

La grabación registra alrededor de 300 pobladores de la región recibir los insumos por parte de “El Señor de la Virgen”. “De la mera gente de la Virgen les vienen a regalar una despensa a cada uno. Son los que mandan aquí”, dice uno de los sujetos. 

En Apatzingán y otros municipios de Tierra Caliente todos los días suceden robos de tráileres que transportan abarrotes hasta alimentos del campo. En la ciudad de Buenavista por ejemplo, los comerciantes y productores del campo son obligados a comprar a la delincuencia el producto de sus robos.

Note—the article contains Los Viagras social media video posting screenshots. 

Key Information: “CJNG reparte despensa por coronavirus ahora en San Luis Potosí.” La Verdad Noticias.14 April 2020, https://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/CJNG-reparte-despensa-por-coronavirus-ahora-en-San-Luis-Potosi-20200414-0033.html:

De nueva cuenta sicarios del Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) fueron vistos entregando despensas a los pobladores, aunque en esta ocasión en varias rancherías de San Luis Potosí

Aprovechando esta situación diversos grupos criminales, entre ellos el CJNG, han aprovechado la oportunidad para congraciarse con la población de diferentes municipios, pues se les ha visto llevando cajas con despensa a los pobladores que se han visto afectados por el coronavirus (Covid-19)…

En esta ocasión los sicarios del CJNG entregaron la despensa en Salinas de Hidalgo, Villa de Arriaga, Villa de Reyes, Santa María del Río, Tierra Nueva, Rioverde, Villa de Zaragoza y Soledad de Graciano Sánchez.

Note—the article contains CJNG social media imagery.

Key Information: “La Familia Michoacana también hace entrega de despensas ante el COVID-19.” La Verdad Noticias. 19 April 2020, https://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/La-Familia-Michoacana-tambien-hace-entrega-de-despensas-ante-el-COVID-19-20200419-0078.html:

Ahora, para no quedarse atrás en la carrera, La Familia Michoacana no se quedó con las ganas de ayudar a los habitantes más necesitados y vulnerables, así que se unió a los otros cárteles regalando despensas ante la crisis sanitaria ocasionada por el COVID-19

Fue a través de redes sociales que esta organización criminal difundió las imágenes donde se puede observar a adultos mayores sosteniendo bolsas con despensas que contienen productos de la canasta básica, como productos enlatados, papel higiénico, cereales y cloro.

Con la leyenda: “Apoyo de La Familia Michoacana. El comando de la M”, las despensas fueron entregadas aunadas a una calcomanía pegada con las imágenes de un pescado y una fresa, haciendo referencia a los hermanos Hurtado Olascoaga.

Los reportes oficiales indican que las despensas repartidas por sicarios de La Familia Michoacana fueron entregadas en los municipios de San Lucas, Villa Guerrero y Santiago en el sur del Estado de México, así como en localidades del municipio de Arcelia en Guerrero.

Analysis

Transnational gangs, criminal cartels, and mafias are adapting to and exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic in a variety of ways.  These responses vary among jurisdictions and organizations.[1] In Rio de Janeiro, we see gangs (gangues) and militias (milícias) competing with each other and the state for competitive control of favelas.[2] In Cape Town, South Africa, rival gangs have instituted a truce and provide food parcels to the community.[3] In El Salvador, maras control social distancing while mafias in Italy and beyond seek to gain profit from the pandemic.[4] In Latin America, gangs—especially territorial-prison gang complexes—are gaining in strength and stature from opportunities provided by the COIVID-19 pandemic.[5]

In Mexico, the criminal cartel response to COVID-19 varies among cartels and the areas they control (or seek to control).  In Sinaloa, the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS) faction  dominated by Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera’s family is providing humanitarian aid to the community and branding that aid with El Chapo’s image.[6] In Tamaulipas, the Gulf cartel (CDG) is also distributing humanitarian aid in response to the pandemic.[7] 

As Falko Ernst and Vanda Felbab Brown have observed, the provision of humanitarian aid by armed non-state actors (ANSAs) or criminal armed groups (CAGs) is not new.[8]  The COVID-19 pandemic is just the latest iteration of a long-standing practice of  the ‘utilitarian provision of social goods’ by rebels, and CAGs. 

Derived from fragmentary social media postings and news reports the following Mexican cartel activities vis-à-vis the COVID-19 pandemic are provided on a cartel-by-cartel basis:

• Cártel del Golfo; CDG (Gulf Cartel): Hundreds of aid boxes were passed out to lower socio-economic residents in Ciudad Victoria and Matamoros, Tamaulipas by the Gulf Cartel. The boxes came in two different varieties—white cardboard boxes for Ciudad Victoria and brown cardboard boxes Matamoros. The boxes contained basic staples such as sugar, coffee, soups, oil, rice, cornmeal, tuna, crackers, cereal, and condensed milk. The boxes, of which over a hundred were delivered, were labeled so that the local residents knew that they were COVID-19 aid originating from the cartel rather than from the Mexican state or federal government. Each box had a sticker on it stating that it came from Señor 46 Vaquero—Evaristo “Comandante Vaquero” Cruz—the current CDG leader of the cartel faction running Matamoros.  Photo opportunities of CDG gunmen standing next to the residents being provided with the boxes were widely taken in a number of instances and posted to social media by the cartel.[9] The cartel had earlier provided aid after Hurricane Ingrid took place in September 2013 in Tamaulipas and again in September 2017 after an earthquake affected a number of states.[10]   

CDG Aid

“Cartel del Golfo, en apoyo a Cd. Victoria, Señor 46 Vaquero” Source: Gulf Cartel Social Media. Reposted by La Expansion Chiapas. Facebook. 5 April 2020, https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=647989252701897&set=pcb.647989576035198&type=3&theater.

Gulf Gunmen

“Gulf Cartel gunmen posing with supplies provided to a local resident in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas.” Source: Gulf Cartel social media [Twitter post], 10 April 2020, https://twitter.com/vigilantehuaste/status/1249005928575152128/photo/3.

• Cártel de Sinaloa; CDS (Sinaloa Cartel); El Chapo’s (Chapo Guzman’s) Daughter: Cártel de Sinaloa has been linked to COVID-19 response activities on two levels. The first is on a humanitarian level and tangentially linked to CDS by means of El Chapo’s daughter Alejandrina Guzman. She recently appeared in a video in Guadalajara providing ‘Chapo Provisions’ (Chapo dispensas) to local residents. These provisions consist of cardboard boxes filled with toilet paper, water, various food items such as soup and rice and beans, and soap. They are being provided as a publicity stunt for the El Chapo 701 fashion line tied to the commercial website https://www.elchapoguzman.com which is printed on the side of the cardboard boxes with his image. The young ladies providing the provisions sport El Chapo facemasks with a shirt from the clothing line also evident in part of the video.[11] More closely linked to CDS are provisions being given to local residents in Santa Bárbara, Chihuahua by la Gente Nueva; GN (the New People) who are the armed wing of the cartel. Hundreds of packages in plastic bags sporting the image of Osama bin Laden were delivered to the poor and older individuals in the community. The provisions included soap, chlorine, toilet paper, maseca, oatmeal, sugar, coffee, soups and other canned goods.[12] The second level of activities linking CDS to COVID-19 response is via quarantine enforcement. In a video released by CDS, a wooden paddle labeled ‘COVID 19’ is being utilized by Sinaloa cartel sicarios (hitmen) to spank the bare buttocks of an individual who ignored the curfew enacted by Los Chapitos (El Chapo’s sons). The curfew does not apply to people going or returning from work during the day and into the evening but is in full force after 10:00 pm for all individuals.[13]   

A Guzman

Alejandrina Guzman filling a ‘Chapo Provision.’ Source: Newsflash/@elchapoguzmanoficial701 Social Media Marketing. Reposted by ViralTab, https://viraltab.news/el-chapo-covid-masks-as-daughter-distributes-aid-boxes/.

El Viejo de Guadalajara

Elderly handicapped resident in Guadalajara receiving a ‘Chapo Provision.’ Source: Newsflash/@elchapoguzmanoficial701 Social Media Marketing. Reposted by ViralTab, https://viraltab.news/el-chapo-covid-masks-as-daughter-distributes-aid-boxes/.


La Vieja

An Older Woman in Santa Bárbara, Chihuahua Receiving Relief Package from Armed Gente Nueva Gunman. Source: CDS Social Media Posted at WhatsApp. Reprinted in Infobaehttps://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/04/24/presuntos-integra...loa-repartieron-despensas-en-chihuahua-con-la-imagen-de-bin-laden/.

COVID Paddling

Resident in Sinaloa Having Bare Buttocks Paddled by CDS Hitman. Source: CDS Social Media Twitter Video Posting (Screen Shot at 0 Seconds of 38 Second Video)“VIDEO - Chapitos Sicarios del Cártel de Sinaloa lo levantan y tablean por no respetar sus ordenes de no salir por COVID-19.”  Frontera Al Rojo Vivo. 19 April 2020, https://lare2s.blogspot.com/2020/04/video-chapitos-sicarios-del-cartel-de.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter.

• La Familia Michoacana; LFM, FM (The Michoacán Family—Remnant ‘El Comando de la M’ ): La Familia leaders Jhony “El Mojarro” and José “La Fresa” Hurtado Olascoaga (who are related) provided COVID-19 aid to low income and older residents in San Lucas, Villa Guerrero, and Santiago in southern Mexico as well as towns in the municipality of Arcelia, Guerrero. The aid consisted of plastic bags containing toilet paper, chlorine, canned goods, and cereal with a sticker attached stating “Apoyo de La Familia Michoacana, El Comando de La ‘M’” (Support from La Familia Michoacana, The M Command). The sticker also had a Fish and Strawberry on it. These are the symbols of the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers.[14] For a video containing images of heavily armed FM forces and its gunmen (sicarios) handing out the provisions see the following cartel social media reposted at YouTube.[15] La Familia Michoacana as well as its successor Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán (The Knights Templar of Michoacán)—unlike most of the Mexican cartels—has a long tradition of “more extensive and formalized efforts at service provision” rather than engaging in opportunistic aid activities for solely propagandistic purposes.[16] The FM El Comando de La ‘M’ faction of the cartel is a marginal group and relatively minor in importance compared to the organization’s strength during its height quite a few years ago. 

COVID-19 LFM Aid Package

COVID-19 Aid Package with the Sticker “Apoyo de La Familia Michoacana, El Comando de La ‘M’” with a Fish and a Strawberry Image (Translated: Support from La Familia Michoacana, The M Command; The Fish and Strawberry are the symbols of the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers who are LFM leaders). Source: LFM Social Media. Reposted at La Verdad Noticiashttps://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/La-Familia-Michoacana-tambien-hace-entrega-de-despensas-ante-el-COVID-19-20200419-0078.html.

• Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación; CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel): The cartel has been has been giving out COVID-19 aid to residents in the municipalities of Salinas de Hidalgo, Villa de Arriga, Villa de Reyes, Santa María del Río, Tierra Nueva, Rioverde, Villa de Zaragoza, and Soledad de Graciano Sánchez in San Luis Potosí[17] and earlier in Cuautitlán, Jalisco[18]. In the case of Cuautitlán, one or more caravans of CJNG vehicles with supplies for the local inhabitants were said to have entered the area. The provisions were given on behalf of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes ‘El Mencho’ the leader of CJNG under his other pseudonym ‘El Señor de los Gallos’ (The Lord of the Roosters).[19] The aid is being provided as free gifts to win over the local communities by attempting to convince them that CJNG is with the people and is their friend. 

CJNG Poster

‘El Señor de los Gallos, Mencho, Con El Pueblo’ (The Lord of the Roosters, El Mencho; Leader of the CJNG, with the people) Poster in San Luis Potosí.  Source: CJNG Social Media Posting. Reprinted in Vanguardia, https://vanguardia.com.mx/articulo/cartel-de-jalisco-regala-despensas-por-coronavirus-de-parte-de-el-mencho.

CJNG COVID-19 Provisions

COVID-19 Provisions Provided to Local Residents. The Sticker on the Box Reads ‘De parte de sus amigos, apoyo por contingencia COVID-19’ (From your friends, COVID-19 contingency support). Source: CJNG Social Media Posting. Reprinted in Daily Mailhttps://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8218479/Notorious-Mexican-cartels-aid-countrys-poor-struggling-coronavirus-pandemic.html.

• Los Viagras (The Viagras): The Los Viagras cartel has been identified as passing out COVID-19 aid in the form of food to hundreds of residents in the region of the municipalities of Apatzingán[20] and Santiago Acahuato[21], Michoacán. Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación is dominant in this region with the food aid being used to undermine their authority and bring community goodwill to Los Viagras[22]. Part of this aid is said to be funded by street taxation (renta) of local businesses:  

“Sources close to Los Viagras, the group that recorded its hand-outs in the streets of Apatzingán, said the group is asking local businesses for ‘contributions’ to finance its aid.”[23]

Viagras Aid

Los Viagras Passing Out Food to Community Members in the Apatzingán region of Michoacán. Source: Las Viagras Social Media Video Posting on WhatsApp. Reposted in “Cartels take advantage of Covid-19 to ‘buy’ population and territory with food aid.” Plataforma. 21 April 2020, https://www.plataformamedia.com/en-uk/news/society/cartels-take-advantage-of-covid-19-to-buy-population-and-territory-with-food-aid-12097422.html.

• Los Zetas (Zetas Cartel Remnant): COVID-19 aid has been passed out by Commander 45 Z in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, which is a major port city in its southern region. The aid consisting of toilet paper and other household goods is provided in clear basic bags with a sticker attached stating “En apoyo a la ciudadana de Coatzacoalcos y sas Alrededores de parte Del SR COMANDANTE Z45” along with a shield with some non-distinct images on it. The text is translated to read “In support of the citizens of Coatzacoalcos and surroundings on behalf of Commander Z45.” The reporting on this aid is fragmentary and drawn from what appears to be cartel related social media:

Zetas Noticias

Source: Ignacio Carvajal’s Facebook Page. Reposted by Código Veracruz Noticias. 16 April 2020, https://www.facebook.com/CodigoVeracruzNoticias/posts/2590548131267420.

Veracruz Aid Recipiants

Residents of Receiving COVID-19 Aid from Commander 45 Z in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.  Source: Ignacio Carvajal’s Facebook Page. Reposted by Código Veracruz Noticias. 16 April 2020, https://www.facebook.com/CodigoVeracruzNoticias/posts/2590548131267420.

• Los Grandos (Beltrán Leyva Organization; BLO Remnant): Two video postings—one via social media[24] and one via a television broadcast[25]—showing the image of a man being struck on the buttocks with a stick with a line of other men awaiting their discipline for ignoring a local curfew put in place by a criminal organization in Teloloapan, Guerrero have been identified.[26] 

Resident Disciplined

Resident Being Disciplined for Breaking Curfew in Teloloapan, Guerrero by Undetermined Cartel. Social Media.Buggs @alexmarentes. Twitter, 24 April 2020, https://twitter.com/alexmarentes/status/1253773933188284416.

 

Table 1a

 

Table 1b

The preceding activities engaged in by the Mexican cartels related to COVID-19 have been summarized in Table 1a&b.[27] Three types of activities have been identified—the provision of aid to the community, special taxing of businesses to provide that aid, and quarantine (social distancing or curfew) enforcement. The special taxing appears to be a one-off activity conducted by Los Viagras either due to organizational greed or their lack of economic capacity to provide aid to local residents which seems less likely. What has been more typical—at least from that of some of the maras in El Salvador —has been some street tax forgiveness due to the economic hardships COVID-19 has been causing. The La Unión Tepito criminal group in Mexico City, however, is collecting its extortion payments from local businesses like small shops and street sellers.[28] Quarantine enforcement of the local populace in the case of the Cártel de Sinaloa‘Gente Nueva’ wing and Los Grandos in Mexico is a more common activity and has been evident in other criminal organizations in Brazil[29] and Central America[30]. 

The actual provision of aid to the local populace appears to be more of a Mexican Cartel phenomenon—as opposed to the maras and other criminal entities in Latin America. It is most evident with cartel plaza jefes (city bosses) and cartel jefes who are having their names and organizational imagery (i.e. criminal branding) directly linked to the provision of COVID-19 aid, such as Señor 46 Vaquero in Cuidad Victoria and Matamoros (CDG), El Chapo in Guadalajara (CDS; via his daughter), the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers in various towns in southern Mexico and Guerrero (FM), El Mencho in the states of San Luis Potosí and Jalisco (CJNG), and Commander 45 Z in Coatzacoalcos (Zetas remnant).[31] This is in line with Hobsbawm’s writings on ‘social banditry’ embodied in his works Bandits (1969) and reflected in our recent SWJ-El Centro anthology The Rise of the Narco State (2019)[32]. The plaza jefes are attempting to undermine the state in the eyes of the local residents for its unjust feudal (e.g. authoritarian) treatment of them. Tied to a ‘Robin Hood’ archetype, they seek to become the underclasses’ benefactor for public goods and, as a result, gain their loyalty and trust. However, in many instances, such aid attempts are primitive in nature with the local residents highly fearful of not appearing grateful enough in their acceptance given that it is being delivered by heavily armed cartel sicarios (gunmen).[33] 

Still, the high level of publicity surrounding the delivery of this aid—especially after the El Chapo 701 fashion line media stunt in Guadalajara—has gotten the full attention of the highest levels of Mexican federal authority. This has resulted in Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) stating that the criminal organization provision of “care packages filled with basic foodstuffs and cleaning supplies were not helpful.”[34] 

The Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the underlying tensions between states and their criminal competitors. Criminal cartels and territorial gangs (Third Generation Gangs) are actively competing with the state and providing humanitarian aid and exerting informal social control to secure support from the communities where they operate. This competition is an indicator of state transition (or state-making) utilizing the mantle of  ‘social banditry’ as described by Hobsbawm and Sullivan.[35]  Future research and experience is needed to determine the long-term effects of this humanitarian branding within cartel-controlled areas and in relation to the state at large. 

Sources

Drazen Joric, “El Chapo’s daughter, Mexican cartels hand out coronavirus aid.” Reuters. 16 April 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-mexico-cartels/el-chapos-daughter-mexican-cartels-hand-out-coronavirus-aid-idUSKBN21Y3J7?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social.

“Reportan entrega de despensas del Cártel del Golfo en Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas (Reports of a delivery of pantry items by the Gulf Cartel in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas).” Economía Hoy. 6 April 2020, https://www.economiahoy.mx/nacional-eAm-mx/noticias/10466405/04/20/Reportan-entrega-de-despensas-del-Cartel-del-Golfo-en-Ciudad-Victoria-Tamaulipas.html.

“Los Viagras y el Cártel del Golfo: qué cárteles se están aprovechando del coronavirus para repartir despensas.” Infobae. 7 April 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/04/07/los-viagras-y-el-cartel-del-golfo-que-carteles-se-estan-aprovechando-del-coronavirus-para-repartir-despensas/.

“CJNG reparte despensa por coronavirus ahora en San Luis Potosí.” La Verdad Noticias.14 April 2020, https://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/CJNG-reparte-despensa-por-coronavirus-ahora-en-San-Luis-Potosi-20200414-0033.html.

“La Familia Michoacana también hace entrega de despensas ante el COVID-19.” La Verdad Noticias. 19 April 2020, https://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/La-Familia-Michoacana-tambien-hace-entrega-de-despensas-ante-el-COVID-19-20200419-0078.html.

End Notes

[1] See Richard Behar, “Organized Crime in the Time of Corona.” Forbes. 27 March 2020, https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardbehar/2020/03/27/organized-crime-in-the-time-of-corona/#4c2725f0150d; Kevin Sieff, Susannah George, and Kareem Fahim, “Now Joining the Fight Against Coronavirus: The World’s Armed Rebels, Drug Cartels and Gangs.” Washington Post. 14 April 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-taliban-ms-13-drug-cartels-gangs/2020/04/13/83aa07ac-79c2-11ea-a311-adb1344719a9_story.html; Colin P. Clarke, “Yesterday’s Terrorists Are Today’s Public-Health Providers.” Foreign Policy. 8 April 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/coronavirus-taliban-ms-13-drug-cartels-gangs/2020/04/13/83aa07ac-79c2-11ea-a311-adb1344719a9_story.html; and “Crime and Contagion: The impact of a pandemic on organized Crime.” Policy Brief. Global Initiative Against Transnational Crime. March 2020,https://globalinitiative.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/CovidPB1rev.04.04.v1.pdf. In addition, an emerging research project at Indications for Poverty Action is assessing the variations in gang and organized crime reaction in Medellín, Colombia to the COVID-19 pandemic. See Christopher Blattman, Benjamin Lessing, Santiago Tobon, Gustavo Duncan, ”The Other Virus: How Gangs and Organized Crime are Responding to the COVID-19 Crisis.” IPA (Indications for Poverty Action), https://www.poverty-action.org/recovr-study/other-virus-how-gangs-and-organized-crime-are-responding-covid-19-crisis.

[2] See Niko Vorobyov, “Inside the Gangs Handing Out Pandemic Supplies in Rio’s Favelas. Filter. 27 April 2020, https://filtermag.org/rio-gangs-favelas-coronavirus/ and John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 22: Rio’s Gangs Impose Curfews in Response to Coronavirus.” Small Wars Journal. 10 April 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-22-rios-gangs-impose-curfews-response-coronavirus.

[3] Peta Thornycroft, “Unprecedented truce in notorious South African slums as gangs join forces to hand out coronavirus aid.” The Telegraph. 12 April 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/12/unprecedented-truce-notorious-south-african-slums-gangs-join/.

[4] See John P. Sullivan, Robert J. Bunker and Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 23: El Salvadoran Gangs (Maras) Enforce Domestic Quarantine / Stay at Home Orders (Cuarentena domiciliar).” Small Wars Journal. 5 May 2020, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-23-el-salvadoran-gangs-maras-enforce-domestic and Valantina Di Donato and Tim Lister, “The Mafia is poised to exploit coronavirus, and not just in Italy. CNN (at WTOP News). 19 April 2020, https://wtop.com/coronavirus/2020/04/the-mafia-is-poised-to-exploit-coronavirus-and-not-just-in-italy/.

[5] See Steven Dudley, “Latin America’s Prison Gangs Draw Strength From the Pandemic.” Foreign Affairs. 5 May 2020, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/americas/2020-05-05/latin-americas-prison-gangs-draw-strength-pandemic; John P. Sullivan, “The Challenges of Territorial Gangs: Civil Strife, Criminal Insurgencies and Crime Wars.” Revista do Ministério Público Militar (Brazil), Edição n. 31, November 2019, https://bit.ly/2WC1fJ2 [shortened URL]; and Vanda Felbab-Brown and Paul Wise, “When pandemics come to slums.” Brookings. 6 April 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/04/06/when-pandemics-come-to-slums/.

[6] Drazen Joric, “El Chapo’s daughter, Mexican cartels hand out coronavirus aid.” Reuters. 16 April 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-mexico-cartels/el-chapos-daughter-mexican-cartels-hand-out-coronavirus-aid-idUSKBN21Y3J7?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=Social.

[7] “Reportan entrega de despensas del Cártel del Golfo en Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas.” Economía Hoy. 6 April 2020. https://www.economiahoy.mx/nacional-eAm-mx/noticias/10466405/04/20/Reportan-entrega-de-despensas-del-Cartel-del-Golfo-en-Ciudad-Victoria-Tamaulipas.html.

[8] See Falko Ernst, “Mexican criminal groups see Covid-19 crisis as opportunity to gain more power.” The Guardian. 20 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/20/mexico-criminal-groups-covid-19-crisis-opportunity-gain-power and Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Mexican cartels are providing COVID-19 assistance. Why that’s not surprising.” Brookings. 27 April 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/04/27/mexican-cartels-are-providing-covid-19-assistance-why-thats-not-surprising/.

[9] Alma Keshavaraz and Robert J. Bunker, “Gulf Cartel Distributes Food and Supplies to Residents of Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas.” OE Watch.  May 2020: 88.  See also Fernando Eslava, “Cártel del Golfo reparte despensas en Tamaulipas por Covid-19.” La Hoguera. 6 April 2020, https://lahoguera.mx/cartel-del-golfo-reparte-despensas-en-tamaulipas-por-covid-19/; “Cartel del Golfo reparte despensas a familias de escasos recursos ante la contingencia de Coronavirus.” MTP Noticias. 6 April 2020, https://mtpnoticias.com/viral/virales/cartel-del-golfo-reparte-despensas-a-familias-de-escasos-recursos-ante-la-contingencia-de-coronavirus/; and “Mexican Cartel Gunmen Distribute Food Baskets Amid Coronavirus, Easter.”Breitbart (Cartel Chronicles). 14 April 2020, https://www.breitbart.com/border/2020/04/14/mexican-cartel-gunmen-distribute-food-baskets-amid-coronavirus-easter/.

[10] John P. Sullivan, “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations.” Small Wars Journal. 3 December 2012, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/criminal-insurgency-narcocultura-social-banditry-and-information-operations; John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 15: Skullduggery or Social Banditry? Cartel Humanitarian Aid,” Small Wars Journal. 25 November 2013, http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/mexican-cartel-strategic-note-no-15-skullduggery-or-social-banditry-cartel-humanitarian-aid; and John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 24: Cartel and Gang Provision of Post-Earthquake Humanitarian Aid.” Small Wars Journal. 21 October 2017, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-strategic-note-no-24-cartel-and-gang-provision-post-earthquake-humanitarian.

[11] Ana Lacasa, “El Chapo COVID Masks As Daughter Distributes Aid Boxes.” ViralTab. 22 April 2020, https://viraltab.news/el-chapo-covid-masks-as-daughter-distributes-aid-boxes/. The story is generated by NewsFlash a ‘bespoke agency’ who generate news media—presumably for the El Chapo 701 line in this instance—for marketing purposes. See also Adry Torres, “El Chapo’s daughter films herself loading up food packages that have the drug lord’s face printed on them for the elderly struggling in Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic.” Daily Mail. 16 April 2020, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8227469/El-Chapos-daughter-prepares-boxes-food-supplies-elderly-struggling-COVID-19.html.

[12] “Presuntos integrantes del cártel de Sinaloa repartieron despensas en Chihuahua con la imagen de Bin Laden.” Infobae. 24 April 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/04/24/presuntos-integra...loa-repartieron-despensas-en-chihuahua-con-la-imagen-de-bin-laden/.

[13] “VIDEO.- Chapitos Sicarios del Cártel de Sinaloa lo levantan y tablean por no respetar sus ordenes de no salir por COVID-19.”  Frontera Al Rojo Vivo. 19 April 2020, https://lare2s.blogspot.com/2020/04/video-chapitos-sicarios-del-cartel-de.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter.

[14] “La Familia Michoacana también hace entrega de despensas ante el COVID-19.” La Verdad Noticias. 19 April 2020, https://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/La-Familia-Michoacana-tambien-hace-entrega-de-despensas-ante-el-COVID-19-20200419-0078.html and “La Familia Michoacana se une al reparto de despensas.” Proceso. 17 April 2020, https://www.proceso.com.mx/626282/la-familia-despensas.

[15] "La Familia Michoacana reparte despensas #Guerrero #Edomex." YouTube. 19 April 2020, https://bit.ly/35LuJbq [shortened URL].

[16] Shawn T. Flanigan, “Motivations and Implications of Community Service Provision by La Familia Michoacána / Knights Templar and other Mexican Drug Cartels.” Journal of Strategic Security. Vol. 7, No. 3, Fall 2014: 66, https://scholarcommons.usf.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1365&context=jss.

[17] “CJNG reparte despensa por coronavirus ahora en San Luis Potosí.” La Verdad Noticias.14 April 2020, https://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/CJNG-reparte-despensa-por-coronavirus-ahora-en-San-Luis-Potosi-20200414-0033.html. See also Adry Torres, “Notorious Mexican cartels hand out food and sanitizer to poor struggling with the coronavirus pandemic.” Daily Mail. 14 April 2020, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8218479/Notorious-Mexican-cartels-aid-countrys-poor-struggling-coronavirus-pandemic.html.

[18] “CJNG hace entrega de despensas a pobladores de Cuautitlán.” La Verdad Noticias.10 April 2020, https://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/CJNG-hace-entrega-de-despensas-a-pobladores-de-Cuautitlan-20200410-0203.html.

[19] "CJNG hace entrega de despensas a pobladores de Cuautitlán.” La Verdad Noticias.

[20] Falko Ernst, “Mexican criminal groups see Covid-19 crisis as opportunity to gain more power.” The Guardian. 20 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/20/mexico-criminal-groups-covid-19-crisis-opportunity-gain-power.

[21] Laura Mallene, “Mexican Drug Cartel Gives Out Food to the Poor Amid Pandemic.” Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. 7 April 2020, https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/12038-mexican-drug-cartel-gives-out-food-to-the-poor-amid-pandemic. Originally sourced to information provided in “Integrantes de el Cartel del Golfo entrega despensas por Covid-19 en Tamaulipas.” El Blog Del Narco. 5 April 2020, https://elblogdelnarco.com/2020/04/05/integrantes-de-el-cartel-del-golfo-entrega-despensas-por-covid-19-en-tamaulipas/.

[22] “Cartels take advantage of Covid-19 to ‘buy’ population and territory with food aid.” Plataforma. 21 April 2020, https://www.plataformamedia.com/en-uk/news/society/cartels-take-advantage-of-covid-19-to-buy-population-and-territory-with-food-aid-12097422.html.

[23] Falko Ernst, “Mexican criminal groups see Covid-19 crisis as opportunity to gain more power.”  

[24] Social Media. Buggs @alexmarentes. Twitter. 24 April 2020, https://twitter.com/alexmarentes/status/1253773933188284416.

[25] Uno Video. TOMAS Munzer, Ocosingo Chiapas. Facebook. 20 April 2020, https://www.facebook.com/pg/TOMAS-Munzer-Ocosingo-Chiapas-1056036444438481/posts/.

[26] Cartel identification provided by Alex Marentes—owner and founder of Borderland Beat—who was informed by an anonymous source. Twitter communication with Buggs @alexmarentes on 27 April 2020, https://twitter.com/alexmarentes/status/1254943777589878784. City identification derived from Facebook posting by Azteca Noticias on 20 April 2020, https://bit.ly/2zgTVdQ [shortened URL). For cartel background see, “Granados gang boss caught in Guerrero.” Mexico News Daily. 13 April 2017, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/granados-gang-boss-caught-in-guerrero/.

[27] The Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) has been said to been passing out COVID-19 aid in some news articles. See, for example, “La Familia Michoacana también hace entrega de despensas ante el COVID-19.” La Verdad Noticias. 19 April 2020, https://laverdadnoticias.com/crimen/La-Familia-Michoacana-tambien-hace-entrega-de-despensas-ante-el-COVID-19-20200419-0078.html. No direct photographic evidence of such aid has been identified in online cartel social media or news reports specifically addressing it.

[28] Maria Alejandra Navarrete, “Extortion Payments in Mexico and Central America.” InSight Crime. 13 April 2020, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/coronavirus-extortion-mexico-central-america/.

[29] John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 22: Rio’s Gangs Impose Curfews in Response to Coronavirus.” 

[30] John P. Sullivan, Robert J. Bunker and Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 23: El Salvadoran Gangs (Maras) Enforce Domestic Quarantine / Stay at Home Orders (Cuarentena domiciliar).” 

[31] In the case of Los Viagras, no plaza jefe has been identified as taking responsibility for the provision of aid to the local community.

[32] Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits. New York: Delacorte Press, 1969 and John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds., The Rise of the Narcostate (Mafia States). A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Anthology. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2018. 

[33] A La Familia Michoacana member informed a journalist that “Ungrateful ones, will be killed” concerning their distribution of COVID-19 provisions to the local community. Chivis Martinez, Trans., “La Familia Michoacana debates journalist – ‘We should be applauded’ for Covid19 help ‘Ungrateful ones, will be killed.” Borderland Beat. 24 April 2020, http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2020/04/la-familia-michoacana-debates.htmlOriginal Spanish source, “Falsas ayudas del crimen organizado a damnificados por COVID-19.” Nota de MVS Noticias. 23 April 2020, https://mvsnoticias.com/videos/nacion-criminal/falsas-ayudas-del-crimen-organizado-a-damnificados-por-covid-19/.

[34] “Mexico president tells gangs to stop handing out coronavirus aid.” Al Jazeera. 21 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/mexico-president-tells-gangs-stop-handing-coronavirus-aid-200421060420772.html.

[35] On state transition (and state-making), see Charles Tilly, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime.” Chaper 5 in Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol, Eds. Bringing the State Back In (pp. 169-191). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/CBO9780511628283.008. On social banditry, see Eric Hobsbawm, Bandits, at note 32 and John P. Sullivan, ”Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations” at note 10. 

Additional Reading

Mexico Specific

Shawn T. Flanigan, “Motivations and Implications of Community Service Provision by La Familia Michoacána / Knights Templar and other Mexican Drug Cartels.” Journal of Strategic Security. Vol. 7, No. 3, Fall 2014: 63-83.

John P. Sullivan, “Criminal Insurgency: Narcocultura, Social Banditry, and Information Operations.”   Small Wars Journal, 3 December 2012.

John P. Sullivan, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 15: Skullduggery or Social Banditry”  Cartel Humanitarian Aid."Small Wars Journal, 25 November 2013.

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 24: Cartel and Gang Provision of Post-Earthquake Humanitarian Aid.” Small Wars Journal, 21 October 2017.

COVID-19 Specific

John P. Sullivan, José de Arimatéia da Cruz and Robert J. Bunker, Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 22: Rio's Gangs Impose Curfews in Response to Coronavirus.” Small Wars Journal, 10 April 2020.

John P. Sullivan, Robert J. Bunker and Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 23: El Salvadoran Gangs (Maras) Enforce Domestic Quarantine / Stay at Home Orders (Cuarentena domiciliar).” Small Wars Journal, 5 May 2020. 

 

About the Author(s)

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an adjunct research professor, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. He has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com .   

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.