Small Wars Journal

The Mexican Undead: Toward a New History of the “Drug War” Killing Fields

Wed, 08/21/2013 - 1:38pm

The Mexican Undead: Toward a New History of the “Drug War” Killing Fields

Molly Molloy

“First, it is not exactly a war on drugs...”

- President Felipe Calderón, CNN, May 19, 2010


Power in Mexico works as a system of arrangements between government, business and narco-trafficking. The drug business has functioned pretty well for decades, generating huge sums of money and funneling it into government and legitimate businesses. Violence was always part of its corporate culture as there is no way to enforce contracts in the drug business without murder. For years this level of violence seemed acceptable to those in power. Starting in December 2006, President Calderón deployed the army, and lethal violence in Mexico exploded. He said he was fighting drug trafficking, but the flow of drugs and money continues unimpeded. In 2010, Calderón said it was not exactly a war on drugs, but rather a crusade for public safety. There is evidence of social cleansing aimed at those deemed worthless to society: los malandros. At least 130,000 Mexicans have been killed and civil society at all socio-economic levels is plagued by kidnapping, extortion and murder. Some look to the new president from the old political power system to make a new arrangement that might bring the violence back down to the acceptable levels. And that “acceptable” level of murder will probably remain much higher than it ever was before 2006.

Felipe Calderón assumed the presidency of Mexico in December 2006 and soon deployed the Mexican army into the streets and countryside. He said he was fighting drug trafficking. Six and a half years later, at least 130,000 Mexicans have been murdered and another 27,000 have officially disappeared. The killings increased steadily during Calderón’s term, averaging 56 people per day from 2007-2012, double the daily average during the previous term of Vicente Fox. Preliminary data for 2013 indicates nearly the same level of slaughter seven months into the term of Calderón’s successor. The international press, especially in the United States, consistently report that only 60,000 to 80,000 Mexicans have died and often repeat without question the Mexican government claim that 90 percent of the dead are criminals. Reporters present no evidence to support the lower number of casualties, nor provide evidence that nine out of ten murder victims are criminals. 

Mexico and the United States continue to assert that this a war on drugs, but provide no evidence that the drug trade has diminished despite the mounting death toll and the billions of dollars spent.  Cocaine, heroin and other street drugs are as cheap (or cheaper) today and as readily available as during the 1980s. And the  huge sums of money generated by drugs continues to flow unimpeded through Mexican and expanding global markets.

This essay asks who is doing the killing and why, and provides evidence of the true number of Mexican dead who have disappeared from news accounts. As war correspondent Martha Gellhorn wrote a generation ago, “If nobody puts it down on the record anywhere, then the monsters win totally.”[i]

Our Daily Massacre...[ii]

In August 2008 I visited the site of what at that time was the largest mass killing in Ciudad Juárez since the Mexican revolution. Nine people had been shot to death in a small, private drug rehab center during a church service. I arrived less than 36 hours after the massacre and workers onsite were mopping up blood and preparing to abandon the city. They said they had been warned earlier in the week and had asked the police and army for protection, but had not gotten away soon enough. This day, they worked fast--tossed bedding and clothes into the trash and whitewashed their logo from the front of the small building in this poor barrio on the west side of the city. They feared the gunmen would return--no police or soldiers stood guard, though at this time at least 8000 federal troops patrolled the city. This neighborhood was only a couple of miles from the main army barracks in Juárez.

Eyewitnesses to the massacre--including an evangelical pastor who had been preaching at the moment of the attack--said that the gunmen were dressed like soldiers. Witnesses in the neighborhood said that a truck parked at the end of the street less than one hundred yards away carried men in the uniform of the “Red Berets”-- the Mexican Army elite paratrooper unit. Neighbors reported that automatic rifle fire inside the rehab center went on for 15 minutes, but no one came to help or to investigate. The mother of one 17 year old victim sat beside his coffin in a small house sharing a wall with the rehab center. The house overflowed with  people attending the wake, sitting in plastic chairs in the kitchen and outside on the dirt patio. The mother said her son had gone to the rehab center to get help for his glue-sniffing habit. When the gunfire started, she hid under the furniture in her house and when the shooting finally stopped, no ambulances came. Survivors and neighbors took the wounded to hospitals in their own cars. This boy’s grandmother found his body in the street but he was already dead.[iii]

The nine people executed at this rehab center in August 2008 were added to the total of 228 people killed that month in Juárez. A year later, in early September 2009, another attack on the Casa Aliviane rehab center killed eighteen. A week later, on September 15, 2009--the eve of Mexican Independence Day--another ten people were shot to death at the Anexo la Vida rehab center near downtown Juárez. And nineteen people were massacred in an attack in early June 2010 on a drug treatment center in Chihuahua City (three hours south of Juárez). Six more were shot to death outside of an outpatient drug clinic in Juárez on June 16, 2010.

Government officials said that drug sellers and gang members used the rehab centers as hiding places and that rival gangsters had carried out the massacres. But, the killers used military gear and tactics. Most of the victims were young men from very poor families and most were addicts--the kind of people called “malandros” in Juárez--street kids, drug users, prostitutes, petty criminals and others considered human garbage. Human rights observer Gustavo de la Rosa offered this explanation for the killings in the Guardian and Observer in October 2009:

“The majority of those killed...are malandros...people of no value in this use to any cartel...people below poverty whose death has no explanation except as part cleansing...the extermination of the lowest of the low.

There are execution squads, another breed forensically killing malandros, planned assassinations of the unwanted. And if we look at exactly how they are done, they are experts in killing characteristic of training by the army or police.”[iv]

Three years later, in September 2012 when the death toll in Juárez had surpassed 10,000, the Narco News Bulletin described several emails from a Mexican consular officer to the Stratfor intelligence firm that had been revealed by Wikileaks: “Mexican Special Forces Employed as Death Squads in Drug War.” These emails describe the Army special forces units deployed to Juárez as the “paracaidistas/paratroopers,” sent into Juárez to target gangs and drug addicts.[v]

One year after the first rehab center massacre, on August 14, 2009, Ramon and Martha Barrera. their pregnant daughter and two grandchildren were chased down as they drove along the Juárez-Porvenir highway in a rural area to the southeast of Juárez. Martha Barrera and her daughter Vanessa were U.S. citizens and lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The family had been visiting Ramon’s elderly parents in the rural community of El Mimbre near the town of Guadalupe in the Valle de Juárez. Ramon, Martha and Vanessa were shot to death. A man in Las Cruces answered a phone call and heard his father’s voice, "I'm dying, I’m dying, I'm dead."  He heard his sister pleading for her life, "Don't kill me. No don't kill me." He thinks his niece and nephew are dead also, but they are taken to a hospital in Juárez, after being sprayed with shattered glass and gunpowder. The boy watched his mother die, her head blown apart by the bullets. A cousin waited in a parking lot surrounded by chain link and razor-wire on the U.S. side of the bridge for the bodies to be delivered so that he could bring them home.[vi]

At a wake in El Mimbre, Ramon’s brothers kept a nervous vigil and told the newspaper that they didn’t know why the family had been targeted. If Ramon had been involved in anything bad (andar mal), then why would he have been driving through the dangerous Valle de Juárez[vii] with his family? Jaime Barrera, the brother who had identified the bodies at the scene said, “What can we hope for? There will be no justice. We know that nothing will be done.”[viii]

The next day, thirty family members washed cars for donations at several Burger King parking lots in Las Cruces to help raise the $6000 needed to bring the bodies back across the border and to buy clothes for two small orphans. “This was just a family,” said a cousin collecting money in a zippered bag. She had no idea why her relatives were murdered. “If they were cartel, then why would we have to raise money to pay for funerals?”

Thousands of stories like these are the real record of the “drug war” death toll in Ciudad Juárez and Mexico. But the stories appear in the local press and then vanish, and these incidents never appear in the U.S. or international press unless, like the Barrera family, relatives on the U.S. side of the border speak out. Even then, there is the tendency to taint every victim with the assumption of some criminal activity--they must have done something bad / deberian andar mal--but no evidence is ever provided. Like the Barrera family, the relatives of thousands of victims know that there will be no justice. Nothing will be done.

Thousands Murdered, Nearly All Unarmed...[ix]

October 2010 was the most violent month for homicides in Juárez with a total of 359 murders.  On October 14, 2010, I gave a talk about the violence in Juárez to a group of New Mexico law enforcement officials and first responders. The audience included federal prosecutors, state and local police, U.S. marshals, national guard, U.S. army, emergency medical personnel--and quite a few people who wore no name tags and did not reveal their professional affiliations. At the end of my presentation, one of them asked:

"Did I hear you say that most of these people killed are civilians?"

--Yes, I said.

"Well, I have a real problem with that since they are obviously involved in the drug trade and that is why they are being killed."

--Well, I said, as far as I know, there is no evidence of that and considering what we know, it appears that in this war, the overwhelming majority of the deaths are people shot down on the street, in their homes or workplaces, on playgrounds, etc. In my reading of the daily accounts of the killings, it is clear that most of the victims are ordinary people, exhibiting nothing to indicate they are employed in the lucrative drug business. So, yes, I call them civilians.

On August 25, 2011, El Diario de Juárez published award-winning reporter Sandra Rodriguez’ investigation of 3,203 homicide case files from the state prosecutor’s office in Chihuahua covering the period January 2010-July 2011. None of the cases were solved and the files contained little more than forensic descriptions of the bodies, a catalog of the ballistic remains and a note about the weapons used. If a witness was interviewed at all, the only question asked was, “What was he or she involved in?” Something would be construed as a link to organized crime and thus end the investigation. Police work in Juárez consists of finding ways to criminalize the victims. Only 59 of these 3,203 files contained evidence that weapons were found near the bodies of the victims. Thus, in only two percent of these murders, was there any indication that the victims were armed or had any preparation to defend themselves at the moment that they were killed.[x]

The Diario reporter was unable to obtain any official comment from the state regarding this evidence, but several academic researchers in Juárez did respond. Criminologist Salvador Cruz said it was absurd to think that any person involved in organized crime would be on the street without a weapon. And that any genuine fight against organized crime would attack the international flows of money, not the lowest level street peddlers. Sociologist Teresa Almada said that it is easy to declare the dead to be guilty because they have no way to defend themselves. The researchers also noted that 97 percent of homicides are never investigated or solved, instead, the victims are declared guilty of their own deaths. This results in the "double victimization" making it impossible for family members to demand any real investigation or justice for their murdered relatives.

Still, the governments of both Mexico and the U.S. and many experts in both countries quoted in the media, argue that the majority of the killings occur because organized crime groups are fighting each other and that 90 percent of the victims are criminals. Just a few months before that first rehab center massacre in August 2008, Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz of Juárez,  gave an interview to the El Paso Times. He said that two organized crime groups were fighting in the city and that it had caused a “lack of tranquility.” He also said the majority of the people who had died were not from Juárez and that many bodies were left unclaimed in the morgue. And, “Fortunately, there have been practically no innocent civilians killed in these encounters. There have been about five innocent civilians killed in about 450 violent deaths in the city in the last five months.” He was not asked for evidence to back up his statement.[xi]

Earlier, in April 2008, just a few days after the official announcement of the military incursion into the state of Chihuahua, the commander of the operation, General Jorge Juárez Loera, told gathered reporters, “The media are very important to us. Tell the truth, say what you have to say, but say it with courage. And I know that the media are sometimes afraid of us, but they should not be afraid. I hope they will trust us...and I would like to see journalists change their stories and instead of ‘one more murder victim’ they should write ‘one less criminal.’”[xii]

Counting the Dead

I began keeping track of homicide deaths in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua in January 2008 when about 46 people were murdered in 31 days and no one in a city known for being a violent place could recall such a large number of murders in one month--more than one person each day killed in a city of about 1.3 million people. By March 2008, the monthly tally had risen to 117--more than 3 people per day. In April 2008 some 8,000 Mexican army troops and federal police flooded into the city and during the next three years, the numbers of murders rose exponentially. In the summer and fall of 2009 and again in 2010, the city experienced six months when more than 300 people were victims of homicide; the murder rate approached 300.[xiii] During 2010, an average of nearly 10 people per day were murdered in Juárez.

Juárez was now the epicenter of violence in the country, and arguably the most violent city in the world from 2008-2011. Media in Mexico and worldwide attributed the violence to the “war on drugs” declared by President Calderón after he took office in December 2006 and deployed the Mexican army. The hyper-violence in Ciudad Juárez did not begin to subside until late in 2011 after repeated massacres and other human rights abuses committed by the federal forces created such a rift between local, state and federal officials and the public that most of the military troops were finally withdrawn from the city.

Below is a trend graph of the monthly homicide tallies in Juárez from January 2008-December 2012 using data from the State Attorney General (Procuraduria and Fiscalia) as reported in El Diario de Juárez.[xiv]

Since 2007, more than 11,400 people have been murdered in Ciudad Juárez. In all of Mexico, at least 120,000 and possibly more than 130,000 people have been victims of homicide during the same time period. According to the government’s own sources, an additional 27,000 people are counted as disappeared—meaning that they have been reported missing but there is no confirmation of their deaths, that is, there are no bodies counted that conform to these reports of missing and disappeared people. Mexico’s population is about 112.3 million according to the National Statistical Agency’s website (INEGI, Using these rough estimates, this means that a city with one percent of the total national population accounted for about nine percent of the homicide victims in the country from 2007-2012.

This level of killing did not magically stop at the end of Calderón’s term at the end of 2012, though the numbers did significantly decrease in Ciudad Juárez from the most violent period.[xv] Media and Mexican government agencies have reported “drug war related” homicides from December 2012 through June 2013 (the first seven months of the Enrique Peña Nieto administration) that range from 1,000 – 2,000 per month across Mexico. 

My work has primarily focused on monitoring the daily and monthly homicide statistics for Ciudad Juárez since 2008, but I have also tracked Mexican media and news agency reports on homicides nationwide since August 2011 and compared reported counts to INEGI[xvi] bulletins providing the cumulative national homicide statistics between 2005-2010.[xvii] In mid-2011, major news media were reporting “about 40,000” deaths in Mexico since the beginning of Calderón’s term in December 2006. But, the INEGI figures for 2007-2010 and an estimate for the first six months of 2011 from another Mexican agency totaled at least 86,000.[xviii]

INEGI released its annual report in August 2012 with updated counts including a higher annual figure for 2011 of 27,199.[xix] On July 17, 2013, the online news source Animal Politico, reported 27,700 homicides in 2012--a figure that would have been a significant increase over 2011 and showing a continual increase throughout Calderón’s presidential term.[xx] However, on July 30, an official INEGI press release reported the slightly lower figure of 26,037 homicides for 2012--a decrease of 1,176 from the 2011 tally (increased to 27,213 in this latest bulletin).[xxi] The murder rate (homicides per 100,000) in Mexico is down slightly from 24 to 22, still one of the highest national murder rates in the world. In 2007, Mexico’s murder rate was 8.

Below is a summary of the annual data from INEGI for the years 2007-2012, using the data from the most recent bulletin issued July 30, 2013.

For comparison, the table below contains INEGI homicide data for past four Mexican presidential terms. Homicides trended down fairly steadily from 1989-2006 and then doubled during the Calderón sexenio, 2007-2012.[xxii]

*INEGI homicide data for 1990-1994 plus SINAIS (Sistema Nacional de Informacion de Salud) for 1989.

The national numbers in Mexico are compiled from the reports of local and state offices that forward information to the national agency.[xxiii] The statistics are reported approximately six months after they have been collected. Another national agency, the Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Publica (SESNSP or SNSP) reports homicides that have been legally processed from the states and these data are often reported in the Mexican media as they are released more often than the cumulative INEGI reports.

The data reported by INEGI and SNSP count different things: INEGI reports vital statistics death that were officially classified as homicides by a legal medical official (analogous to a coroner). Each homicide reported in the INEGI database conforms to a body issued a certificate recording homicide as the cause of death. SNSP data is compiled from the preliminary investigations (averiguaciones previas) opened up by police agencies in thousands of local and state jurisdictions around the country.[xxiv] The SNSP and INEGI data are inconsistent, but there is no simple explanation for the differences. In the data that I have seen, the total homicides reported by the SNSP are greater than the cumulative numbers reported by INEGI. One possible explanation is that crime scene data is inherently preliminary and tends to inflate the numbers. A police investigation may begin by counting the death as an intentional homicide (homicidio doloso in Mexico) but by the time the body gets to the morgue where a death certificate is issued, it may have been determined to be an accidental or negligent homicide (homicidio culposo or without intent) and thus may not be included in the later cumulative homicide numbers reported by INEGI.

The following table includes homicide data from INEGI and from the SESNSP:

Source for SESNSP Data: Incidencia Delictiva, Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Publica, Fuero Comun

Source for INEGI Data 2007-2012:

Because these data come from different sources that are counting different things (legally certified bodies of murder victims at morgues vs. killings reported in initial crime scene investigations), we must be satisfied with a “reasonable estimate” of the numbers of homicides based on a kind of triangulation. Except for 2007, the INEGI annual number is significantly larger than the homicidios dolosos number from the SESNSP. If we start with the cumulative 2007-2012 INEGI total of 121,683 homicides nationally and add just the 9,433 homicidios dolosos counted by the SNSP for the first six months of 2013, we get an estimate of 131,116 for the total number of intentional homicides in Mexico for the past 6.5 years, the period spanning the official beginning of President Calderón’s “war on drugs” to the end of June 2013, which includes the first seven months of the Enrique Peña Nieto administration. So far, an average of 1,572 people per month have been murdered since Peña Nieto took office--an average of about 52 people per day--only slightly less than the average across all six years of the Calderón sexenio of 56 per day.

Despite the fact that these numbers from national and state agencies in Mexico cumulatively add up to more than 130,000 homicides in Mexico since 2007, most media in the U.S. and the world continue to report lower estimates ranging from 50,000 to 80,000 as representing the death toll in the Mexican “war on drugs.” On April 28, 2013, the New York Times reported,[xxv] “Meanwhile, the violence that has left about 60,000 people dead over the past five years rages on.” And in the Washington Post on April 27, investigative reporter Dana Priest writes, “Also unremarked upon was the mounting criticism that success against the cartels’ leadership had helped incite more violence than anyone had predicted, more than 60,000 deaths and 25,000 disappearances in the past seven years alone.”  Three months later, in a report on the murder of a Mexican Navy admiral in Michoacan, the BBC reports, “Seventy-thousand people are estimated to have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2007.” [xxvi] And these underestimates are not just the province of the mainstream press. An academic article in the February 2013 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, includes this statement in its introduction: “Since this conflict began, over 45,000 people have died in the fighting, and the areas of impunity have grown to include wide swaths of territory constituting hundreds of locales now under control of the cartels.” [emphasis added].[xxvii]  On a website that catalogs death tolls in conflicts worldwide, Mexico is presented this way: [xxviii]

Associated Press, January 11, 2012, "Mexican drug war toll: 47,500 killed in 5 years". Source:

Why do media, academic and reference sources continue to report homicide statistics that are often less than half of the actual numbers of homicides as counted by the Mexican government’s own agencies? The answer is that reports going back to early 2010 from the Mexican executive branch sought to justify the militarization of the “war on drugs.” Those reports were based upon a poorly defined subset of the actual homicides in the country that sought to restrict discussion to a “war” on organized crime and/or, “presumed criminal rivalries.” That narrow subset represented about 50 to 60 percent of the actual homicides officially reported by INEGI and the SESNSP and those lower numbers have been repeated for years as fact in the international press without reference to the statistics released by these official agencies.

Newspeak[xxix] of the Dead...(George Orwell, Mexico Needs You)

The undercount reported in the international press is also a product of a narrative created by the Mexican government that limits casualty counts to “organized crime related” or “drug war related” homicides reported in several official datasets released to the media in 2011 and 2012. The methodology for identifying and reporting this “organized crime data” has never been adequately explained by the government, nor have the media asked for evidence to support government claims represented in these official tallies. One researcher inside INEGI called the figures “quite shady and methodologically flawed.”[xxx] Indeed, several months before the end of Calderón’s term, the government’s criteria for distinguishing “organized crime related” homicides from other intentional homicides (homicidios dolosos) were called into question by the very officials involved with compiling and disseminating these statistics.[see footnote 39]

A database entitled “Deaths that have occurred due to presumed criminal rivalries” was released on the website of the Mexican Presidential Office in January 2011. It covered December 2006 through December 2010 and reported a total of 34,612 homicides.[xxxi] Another report was issued in January 2012 from the Attorney General of Mexico that extended the count through September 2011 and tallied 47,515 homicides.[xxxii] Although these databases have not been officially updated since September 2011, it is still common in 2013 for some media to report the death toll as simply “more than 40,000,” a low estimate even at the time this data was initially released.[xxxiii]  And the international media never mention the Mexican government’s own admission back in 2010 that fewer than five percent of the crimes were ever investigated.[xxxiv] In fact, according to Animal Politico, only two percent of the 27,700 homicides for 2012 had been “clarified” by conviction, sentencing and punishment for those responsible.[xxxv]

Although several years have now been documented in the press with unofficial tallies of 1,000-2,000 murders each month, the numbers commonly reported in the international press still refer to lower estimates of 50,000-80,000 in mid-2013--nearly two years after the release of the last official figure of 47,515 as of September 2011. And few, if any, press accounts in the U.S. question the sources for those numbers or consult Mexican homicide statistics produced by INEGI and SESNSP that are updated regularly and document much higher numbers than the politically-influenced and methodologically flawed executive branch databases.[xxxvi]

One of the most consistent and often-cited sources on the homicides in Mexico in English  is the Trans-Border Institute (TBI) at the University of San Diego. The TBI reports issued throughout 2010-2012 used data from the Reforma newspaper and the databases from the Presidency and the Procuraduria (the Attorney General). These sources produced much smaller numbers (usually between 40 and 60 percent of the total) of homicides that were said to be “organized crime related” or in a direct translation from the government websites: Base de datos por fallecimientos por presunta rivalidad delincuencial / Database of deaths due to presumed criminal rivalries. The criteria used have been described by various government spokesmen and media, though there is no evidence that these criteria were ever officially defined. A version of these criteria is reproduced in English in the February 2013 TBI report: [xxxvii]

Table 1: Comparing Criteria for Classifying Homicides Linked to Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime 

Mexican Government: “Organized crime Homicides”

1. Victim killed by high-caliber or automatic firearm typical of OCGs (e.g., .50 caliber, AK- & AR-type)

2. Signs of torture, decapitation, or dismemberment

3. Body was wrapped in blankets (cobijas), taped, or gagged

4. Killed at specific location, or in a vehicle

5. Killed by OCG within penitentiary

6. Special circumstances (e.g., narco-message (“narcomensaje”); victim alleged OCG member; abducted [“levantoń ”], ambushed, or chased)

Reforma: “Narco-Executions” (Narcoejecucciones)

1. Victim killed by high-caliber or automatic firearm typical of OCGs (e.g., .50-caliber, AK- & AR-type) 

2. Signs of torture, decapitation, or dismemberment

3. Execution-style and mass-casualty shootings

4. Indicative markings, written messages, or unusual configurations of the body 

5. Presence of large quantities of illicit drugs, cash or weapons 

6. Official reports explicitly indicting involvement in organized crime

Source: Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2012, Trans-border Institute, University of San Diego, February 2013,

Since at least the middle of 2010, the Mexican government has used these arbitrary criteria to report homicide numbers to international media that are about half of the total homicides in the country. And, since these murders are described as “related to organized crime” or as “the product of criminal rivalries” or as “criminals killing other criminals,” these reports have the effect of legitimizing the extremely high rate of homicides in the country.

In August 2012, Reforma reported that a spokesman from the Calderón administration, Jaime Lopez Aranda, said that the government would cease publishing data on the organized crime-related murders for the remainder of the Calderón term because the criteria for classifying the homicides was arbitrary and the government could not accurately determine the causes of the homicides: “They set the criteria and said, ‘well, let’s see, if they used high caliber weapons, if they moved the body, if the victim is bound, if there are signs of torture...if two or more of these characteristics are present, then this could be attributed to organized crime.’ They had some methodological support for what was published, but it was only an approximation, as if to say, ‘yes, it seems like this could be an organized crime homicide.’” [xxxviii]

This admission from the Calderón administration with less than four months left in the presidential term, that it really did not know what the homicide death toll was, called into question all of the other prior announcements of the “drug war” death toll and it went almost unreported in the U.S. and other international press.[xxxix]

In February 2013, the TBI issued Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2012. Here is a quote from the online introduction to this report:

“However, under President Calderón, the number of overall homicides annually increased more than two and a half times from 10,452 in 2006 to 27,213 in 2011, according to figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, INEGI). During the first five full years of Calderón’s term—from 2007 through 2011—INEGI reported 95,646 people killed, an average of 19,129 per year, or more than 50 people per day. By these measures, there was a 24% average annual increase in overall homicides during the Calderón administration. Calculating that overall homicides appear to have dropped by roughly 5-10% in 2012, our estimate is that the total number of homicides during the Calderón administration was likely around 120,000 to 125,000 people killed, depending on whether INEGI or the National System of Public Security (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) data are used.[xl]

Previous bulletins from the TBI generally reported the government’s organized crime data without questioning its methodology, though they did point out difficulties in getting access to underlying data. This statement from the February 2013 report echoes the Frontera List postings going back to September 2011 when I first realized that it was necessary to count ALL homicides, not just those supposedly related to organized crime. Murders happen for many reasons and the distinctions matter little to the victims and their families. Consider these two random examples from the current news:

On August 10, 2013, El Diario reported a shootout in the community of San Agustin in the violent Valle de Juárez that killed four people and injured two more. The article mentions the calibers of the bullets and weapons (AK-47 and AR-15), indicators of organized crime. The dead are not identified, but this multi-homicide is linked (without evidence) to the death a few days earlier of Gabino Salas Valenciano, “El Ingeniero,” said to have been killed by the Mexican army in another town in the Valle. In the same few days, two young men were killed in the barrio Rancho Anapra on the far west side of the city--one had been kidnapped and then apparently stoned to death by his captors after they failed to collect a ransom of 5000 pesos. Another man was reported to have been drinking at his house when he left to go to a store in the neighborhood but was killed along the way by someone who hit him in the head with an enormous rock.[xli] Rocks are not usually assumed to be weapons of choice for organized crime. But such acts of violence are common in a city characterized by poverty and extremes of social neglect. These are just a few examples from thousands of published accounts of murders in one city in Mexico that illustrate the difficulty of accurately counting and categorizing the crimes.

President Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI party took office on December 1, 2012 and pledged to bring peace. The administration claims a significant decline in violence and homicides in Mexico but there is no evidence to support such a claim.[xlii] What has happened is that the epicenters of extreme violence have dispersed around the country making it much more difficult to get a clear idea of how many people are dying on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. When Peña Nieto took office, the government resumed reports of “organized crime related” deaths, issued periodically with some fanfare by a junta of government agencies in Mexico (SEGOB--Interior, SEDENA--Army, Marina (Navy), Federal Police and PGR--Attorney General). These reports have claimed modest improvements, though the estimates are close to 1,000 dead each month since December 2012. The TBI published a summary in August 2013 with a total of 5,989 “organized crime related” homicides from January-June 2013.[xliii] In August 2013 Animal Politico reported that the SEGOB would no longer distinguish crimes linked to narco-trafficking from other homicides.[xliv]  The number of “homicidios dolosos” or intentional homicides as reported by the SESNSP for the January-June 2013 was 9,433.[xlv]

Mexican security expert Alejandro Hope reported in April 2013 in Insight Crime that the numbers “don’t add up.” The government’s numbers for April indicated that “organized crime” homicides had decreased slightly while other undefined homicides had increased. Thus, the government claimed progress in their fight against organized crime even as the total homicides in the country increased. Hope asks:

“Does this mean that the drug traffickers are killing much less, but that all other possible forms of violence are growing? Has there been an explosion of domestic violence, bar fights, land conflicts and assaults that end in murder? What factors could explain a phenomenon of this nature? Or, is it not more likely that the government changed the criteria for classifying a homicide as ‘related to organized crime’? If this is the case, how can comparisons with previous periods be valid?”[xlvi]

If there had been any doubt as to the Mexican government’s motive in its presentation of the crime numbers, in April 2013, a presidential advisor, Óscar Naranjo Trujillo (a former general and head of the national police in Colombia)[xlvii] addressed a national conference for public security communicators. He  recommended that spokesmen and heads of agencies eliminate certain terms from their official communications. Some terms to be censored included: ejecutado (execution victim), capo (druglord or cartel boss), cartel, levanton (pickup or abduction that usually ends in death), encajuelado (a body in a car trunk), encobijado (body wrapped in a blanket and dumped on the street), decapitado (decapitated person) or descuartizado (a dismembered body).

The idea was to do away with these popular slang terms associated with narco-trafficking so as not to glorify the criminals. Criminologists and journalists reacted. Edgardo Buscaglia said that the elimination of a certain lexicon from official communications indicated that the government had no strategy to actually fight crime, so it would appear to be doing something by getting rid of the language associated with crime. Journalist Sanjuana Martínez, said that violence in the country was not a perception, but a reality. “In Mexico there are still executions, decapitations, dismemberment, bodies hung from bridges, kidnappings, extortions and disappearances. These things happen every day and now they want to silence us by an order from Los Pinos.”[xlviii]

This same advisor, Óscar Naranjo Trujillo, while seeking to “do away with narco-trafficking by prohibiting certain words...” is the same military man who, according to the Washington Post, supervised the expansion and transformation of the Colombian National Police into a paramilitary force of more than 170,000, a force that also deploys commando units against leftist groups as well as against narco-traffickers.[xlix] Colombia, a country with less than half the population of Mexico (about 48 million) has a combined army and paramilitary national police force of 405,000.[l] Mexico, with a population of 112 million has about 260,000 active duty military troops and about 40,000 Federal Police.[li] If Mexico were to expand its military and federal police to a per capita level comparable to Colombia’s, it would have a combined military and paramilitary force of 945,000.

It is well documented that during the recent years of the “drug war” in Mexico, the levels of murder, kidnappings and forced disappearances increased wherever the army, navy and federal police were deployed. It is also known that the U.S. aid to Mexico under the Merida Initiative was modeled after a similar program called Plan Colombia in the 1990s. And that Colombian military strategists have been and are currently involved at the highest levels of the Mexican government. What is not known is what would happen if Mexico’s military and paramilitary forces were to double or triple in size to per capita levels like those in Colombia. But few if any Mexicans would want to find out after experiencing the slaughter of 130,000 of their fellow citizens since Felipe Calderón unleashed the Mexican military into the cities and villages of Mexico.

Torture...Social Cleansing...Death Squads...

When will the killing end? “When all of the people who need to be killed are dead.”

                                                            Anonymous resident of Ciudad Juárez, 2009

The portrait of former President Calderón in much of the mainstream press is that of a heroic but tragic figure--he is often lauded as the person who courageously challenged Mexico’s drug cartels.[lii] The elite viewpoint as expressed in the Mexican national press is that Calderón’s strategy was brave but badly executed and that the high death tolls might have been mitigated if only Mexico had taken better advantage of intelligence and cooperation in the fight against drug kingpins provided by U.S. security agencies.[liii] This elite view of Calderón’s presidency is often echoed by the press and in academic and policy think tanks in the U.S., though it is safe to say that the majority of Mexicans hold Calderón in contempt and blame his policies and actions for the slaughter of so many people.[liv] After leaving office, Calderón  accepted a post in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and is reported to travel to speaking engagements around the world earning up to US$150,000 per speech.[lv] A petition to Harvard’s president to withdraw the fellowship garnered more than 36,500 signatures in the month before Calderón left office--many of the petition signers were Mexicans.[lvi]

In November 2006, a month before becoming president, Calderón met George W. Bush in Washington. He asked the United States to “partner with Mexico to restore security.” According to the version of the meeting told by U.S. ambassador Tony Garza and published by Alfredo Corchado, long-time Dallas Morning News bureau chief in Mexico, Calderón described the Mexican problem as operating to remove a tumor but finding that the cancer had spread, leaving the entire body rotten to the core with corruption. Bush asked Calderón what he needed and Calderón told the president that he would get back to him with the details. Then, according to Garza’s recollection, “Calderón...jokingly added, ‘If Jack Bauer’s got it, I need it.’”[lvii] [emphasis added]

Ever since the popular TV show 24 first aired in October 2001, the Jack Bauer character has embodied the justification for torture and other human rights abuses in the fight against terrorism. Jack Bauer has been evoked in the White House, the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court as the man who saves America (or at least Los Angeles) every week from a fantasy ticking time bomb by torturing terrorists. When Calderón began his campaign in December 2006, the United States was quick to brand Mexican drug traffickers as narco-terrorists and to provide military aid, intelligence and moral support in the war.[lviii]

For more than four decades, historian Alfred McCoy has documented the U.S. role in the development of counterinsurgency techniques, including torture, and its application of these techniques around the world resulting in human rights abuses to civilians. This work has often involved U.S. intelligence agencies working in tandem with criminal despotic governments and drug traffickers who generate huge sums of money to fund secret and illicit war.[lix] McCoy recently exposed the mainstream acceptance of torture and the key role played by the Fox creation, Jack Bauer:

“As mass media filled screens large and small with such simulations [of torture], Fox’s 24 introduced the character Jack Bauer as an American cultural icon for the age of terror. Through a complex emotional layering of split-screen visuals, ticking clock, pulsating music, and eroticized torture moments, the show’s phenomenal impact soon made the mere mention of his name a complete and convincing argument for abuse. Across the political spectrum, Bill Clinton praised him, President Bush imitated him, and Justice Scalia cited him. Through this mix of fiction and fantasy masquerading as logic and evidence, the American people set aside law, constitution, and UN convention to accept torture, shrouded in the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation” as necessary for their national security.”[lx]

It is not surprising that Calderón  invokes Jack Bauer in his request to George W. Bush for help. And no, I do not believe it was a joke, though we might wonder if Mexico has anything to learn from Jack Bauer. Six years after Calderón’s visit to the White House, Amnesty International released a report entitled, Known Abusers, But Victims Ignored: Torture and Ill-Treatment in Mexico.[lxi] A few notes from the press coverage of the report:

“‘Across Mexico criminal suspects often face detention and trial on the basis of evidence obtained under torture and ill-treatment while prosecutors and courts fail to question seriously information or evidence obtained in this manner.’ ...

In the last three years, Amnesty International has recorded reports of torture in all 31 states and the Federal District. ...

Torture and ill-treatment takes place during detention - suspects can be held by prosecutors for up to 80 days before being charged or released. ...

Across Mexico military personnel performing policing functions have held thousands of suspects in military barracks before presenting them to prosecutors. In this context, there have been numerous reports of torture and ill-treatment while in military custody.”[lxii]

On July 2, 2008, an Associated Press report about Americans training Mexican police in torture techniques appeared in many U.S. newspapers and on television. Mexican media said that the United States was teaching police to torture.  The official explanation from the government that officers were being trained to withstand torture they might receive at the hands of drug cartels was laughed at by Mexican readers and viewers.[lxiii] One day later, the alternative newsmagazine Counterpunch revealed that the trainer in the videos was a contractor from a private U.S. security firm and notes that the videos were released to Mexican media just one day after President Bush approved the first $400 million installment of U.S. security aid to Mexico:  

“The existence of a training led by a US defense contractor to teach Mexican police torture tactics in order to combat organized crime and the local government’s adamant defense of the program is particularly disturbing considering the US government’s recent approval of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative. Plan Mexico is an aid package specifically designed to support President Felipe Calderón’s deadly battle against organized crime. It will fund more US training for Mexican police and military, in addition to providing them with riot gear, spy equipment, and military aircraft. Plan Mexico allows funds for the deployment of up to fifty U.S. defense contractors to Mexico.”[lxiv]

And though the reports of torture tripled [lxv] during Calderón’s term, it is well-documented that Mexican police and justice officials have long used torture as their main investigative technique. Torture is so common in Mexican policing that news media display front page photographs on a daily basis showing people detained for crimes with obvious signs of having been physically abused while in custody.[lxvi]

On April 13, 2010, a confidential report compiled by Mexico’s security ministers at the request of the Mexican congress was leaked to the Associated Press. It said that Mexico’s “drug war” had killed nearly 23,000 people since December 2006.[lxvii] The press coverage immediately preceded a visit by President Calderón to the U.S. in May of 2010. During his visit, he appeared with Wolf Blitzer on CNN and was interviewed at some length about the huge death toll. In a remarkable statement that to the best of my knowledge has never been noted or explained in press or policy statements about the Mexican violence, Calderón says “it is not exactly a war on drugs.” He also insists that 90 percent of the dead are criminals killed by other criminals. Blitzer finds this characterization hard to believe but when pressed, Calderón repeated this claim several times. Here is the transcript of part of that interview: [added emphasis]:

BLITZER: This drug war is -- is getting out of control. I know you've tried, since becoming president, to do something. But in "The Wall Street Journal," they just did a story the other day and -- and CNN has similar information. Nearly 23,000 people have been killed in Mexico since you launched your war on these drug cartels -- these drug gangs. Is that right?

Calderón : There are several things that I need to clarify. First, it is not exactly a war on drugs, in the sense that my object is not only and not mainly drugs, or narcotrafficking itself. It's not a war on drugs in the old sense of Mr. Nixon established here in the States.

My focus is to guarantee the safety for Mexican families, which are under threat of the organized crime in Mexico.

BLITZER: Because the murders and -- and the kidnappings, it seems to me, from afar, as if it's almost out of control.

Calderón : It is not out of control. It is part of the process that we are stopping. Fortunately, we started to take action on time. Before, previous to me, the authority was not enough strong, was not -- was not applying the law in the right sense. That that is the reason why the organized crime started to grow in Mexico. Part link with narcotrafficking in the old sense and part linked with the new markets in order to develop the distribution of drugs in Mexico...

BLITZER: All right...

Calderón : But after that...

BLITZER: Because I -- I'm wondering, are the drug gangs, the cartels, are they winning this war right now?

When I hear a number like 23,000 people killed since you launched your initiative...

Calderón : No. They -- they are not winning.

Let me clarify that the other part of my answer. Most of that -- 90 percent of those casualties are of -- are casualties of criminals themselves that are fighting each other. It's very clear for us according -- with our records, that it's possible to understand, for instance, in one particular homicide, what could be the probable reasons for that, and 90 percent of that are criminals linked in one way or another to the gangs. Now, the Mexican gangs are passing through a very unstable process, splitting themselves and fighting each other. That explains most of those casualties. They are not --

BLITZER: There are not innocent civilians among the 23,000?

Calderón : Some of them.

BLITZER: You're saying that many of them are gang members themselves?

Calderón : 90 percent.

BLITZER: 90 percent?

Calderón : 90 percent, yes. 90 percent out of all of the homicides that we are able to understand or explain the causes of that. 2 percent of that, less than 2 percent are innocent civilians, yes, more of less killed by the criminals. That's the worst part of that. [lxviii]

In an article published in the national Mexican newspaper El Universal about one month after Calderón’s repeated claim that 90 percent of the people killed in Mexico were “criminals fighting each other,” government officials admitted that 95% of these crimes were not even investigated. So, despite Calderón’s claims, the government provides no evidence that 90 percent of the victims are criminals because almost none of the crimes are investigated, much less solved.[lxix]

In October 2010, El Universal  published an article headlined, “Social cleansing, not drug war… Paramilitary footprints: Legislators say the state permits the existence of death squads…Investigation: Due to massive numbers of executions, the Senate of the Republic asks for reports on the existence of death squads.”[lxx]  The article details efforts of a few Mexican senators, including Ricardo Monreal Avila, to obtain a report from CISEN, the internal intelligence branch of the government, that provided evidence of the existence of paramilitary death squads implicated in many of the estimated 30,000 killings up to that time. Civic organizations that monitored human rights in the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Nuevo Leon and Baja California spoke of deaths and disappearances that have never been reported: “The silence is terrible. No account is given of what actually happens and if it were possible to reveal these ‘black operations’ we would see that there are not 28,000 dead as the government says, but rather, more than 40,000.”  Deserters from the army and police who have been dismissed for corruption make up these squads of killers and ‘operate dressed in official uniforms, driving patrol cars, and with weapons, badges and keys just like the forces of the state.’ A human rights lawyer in Baja California says that extermination squads have been named ‘black commandos.’ ‘We cannot just talk about groups of thugs, gunmen, sicarios and drug trafficking activities; these accusations imply the full participation of the state.’ ”[lxxi]

This information has also been ignored by the international press. However, in November 2009, El Diario conducted a poll in Juarez and reported in a headline: “Half of Juarez residents in favor of death squads.” An earlier media flurry had erupted over an announcement by the mayor of a city in the state of Nuevo Leon that he had created “grupos rudos” or extralegal paramilitary squads that would carry out the “limpieza” or cleanup of criminals from his city. When respondents were asked if the mayor of Juarez should do something similar, about half of them said it would be a good idea.[lxxii]

In December 2011, President Calderón gave a speech to members of the Mexican Navy (La Marina) in which he said that members of organized crime were like cockroaches and animals infecting the country and they could only be eliminated through social cleansing. He noted that in the war against narco-trafficking, it was the marines who had neutralized many of the biggest criminals.[lxxiii]

This statement from the Mexican head of state, deemed a hero and valiant drug warrior by U.S. government and law enforcement leaders, was not reported in the English-language press either. Death squads and social cleansing were echoes of the dirty wars of the past and not part of the official discourse between NAFTA partners. But President Calderón had presided over the violent deaths of more than 90,000 citizens of his country up to that time (December 2011) and was now proclaiming it housecleaning and necessary and that there was much more to be done. And he repeatedly assured Mexicans and the world that 90 percent of the victims in Mexico were criminals.[lxxiv]

In late June 2013, the Mexican news magazine Proceso published excerpts of a new book by legislator Ricardo Monreal Avila, Escuadrones de la Muerte en Mexico / Death Squads in Mexico, in which he documents the existence of hundreds of groups of paramilitary killers employing up to 200,000 people in the service of organized crime, private businesses, and the state. Monreal says that some of these squads perform their acts of killing for any or all of these interests, depending on who is willing to pay them for a particular job. Most of the members of these groups are current or former police or military--some have deserted to go into private business, but others may work at one time or another for the military, for government law enforcement units, for private contractors and/or for criminal organizations. Back in 2010, when Monreal was a member of the Mexican Senate, he had presented evidence of these groups to members of the Calderón cabinet who denied that such groups existed and only one Mexican newspaper reported Monreal’s allegations. (see note 71).[lxxv] The only English-language report on Monreal’s book was a short note on the website, InSight Crime: Organized Crime in the Americas.[lxxvi]

Press accounts in Mexico often reveal links between police, military and other security forces and organized crime, though first-hand accounts are rare because candor can mean death. When Amado Carrillo Fuentes ran the Juárez drug organization, his name almost never appeared in print. But, when he died in 1997, his life suddenly became an open book--huge deposits in Citibank of New York, $500 million per year paid as protection money in Mexico, generous donations to the Catholic Church, and close relationships at the highest levels of government, including with the general appointed as  Mexico’s “drug czar.” It was known that any threat to Carrillo’s power from media, law enforcement or competitors in business would get people killed.[lxxvii]

But sometimes people break the silence. For many hours during 2008-2010, I had the opportunity to interview a man who spent 20 years working within the criminal organization known as the Juárez cartel. He had been trained in a police academy in Mexico and worked for 20 years as a Chihuahua state police commander and a professional assassin. These interviews were the source material for a magazine article, an award-winning documentary film, and a book-length autobiography.[lxxviii]  In addition to the accounts of kidnappings, murders and clandestine burials of victims, the subject described a system of corruption and collusion between government officials and criminal operatives that erases the imagined lines between organized crime groups and law enforcement corporations. This man was the commander of the anti-kidnapping unit of the Chihuahua state police and at the same time he abducted and killed people who owed money to his cartel bosses.

I have given numerous presentations about “El Sicario,” to literary and film audiences as well as to law enforcement professionals, civic groups and criminal justice classes in the United States. Some film and literary critics imply that these are works of fiction, that the writer Charles Bowden invented the character and that the man who appears on the screen is an actor. This view doesn’t come up in other kinds of audiences. Every presentation--especially in the border region--brings forth people who quietly share personal experiences of lost friends or relatives or of a family member who has been “in the life.” Many Mexicans have been victims of the police, the army or other state security forces. Many Mexicans have suffered injury and death at the hands of criminals who act in the guise of police and law enforcers, many others have joined the ranks of the persecuted when they testify to these state-sponsored acts of violence against their relatives.


Julian Leyzaola was a retired Mexican army lieutenant colonel in late 2008 when he took on the job of police chief and secretary of public security in Tijuana. He (along with his military comrades) is credited with the “purification” (depuracion) of the police force and cleanup of the city. Dozens of officers were tortured and forced to confess to being criminals and to sign lists of names of fellow officers who would then be picked up and given the same treatment. Hundreds of police were dismissed from the force and many were prosecuted for involvement in organized crime. Some survivors filed human rights charges against Leyzaola--charges that are still pending years after he left Tijuana to work his cleanup magic in Ciudad Juárez. Leyzaola has acquired the status of cult hero in both cities as the quintessential tough cop.[lxxix]

According to Jorge Ramos, the Tijuana mayor who named Leyzaola to the post of Public Security Secretary, “Those arrested with weapons or drugs were turned over to Leyzaola personally and he delivered them to the military. They were never heard from again.”[lxxx] One policeman swept up in Leyzaola’s cleanup operation spoke to a reporter and described his torture and his realization that it was the military that carried out many murders:

“There’s something worse than the beatings, broken ribs...pain you cannot stand... And they really know how to do it. Imagine this. Imagine it blindfolded. What’s going on? I immediately thought about the dead that I had found on the outskirts of Tijuana. This was how we found them! Hands and feet bound, heads and body parts wrapped up...just like me now. I cannot believe that this is happening to me! I said to myself, ‘Can it be the army doing this, or the criminals?’ I could not tell the difference. Finally I understood that they were both criminals. I said to myself, ‘I'm not worth shit to them. I’m going to be thrown out, tortured, a bullet to my head and they’ll put a narco poster on me saying that I’m part of a criminal gang.’ But it will be them! (the military)”[lxxxi]

Another person interviewed by the reporter is an officer who was initially a trusted operative working directly under Leyzaola. Later, he is targeted as one of the bad guys. He is taken to the military headquarters and tortured. Here is his account of how some operations took place:

Jorge Sanchez Reyes remembers when he was chief of Special Operations, an elite group set up by Leyzaola with 70 officers he selected himself. Sanchez and his men always wore black combat uniforms and masks covering their faces. They got their orders personally from Leyzaola each day. Or sometimes over a special radio frequency... The idea...was that they would confront criminals, even though in Tijuana the large scale assassinations never happened. ... Sanchez received instructions to deploy his men toward a point in the city and then he would find out that on the opposite side there would be shootouts or narco-mantas or bodies would appear hanging. "Have you ever carried a dead body? It is incredible, but you realize that they weigh double. Now, imagine carrying 3 or 5 bodies to a bridge This requires at least 15 people and at least 20 minutes if you are also going to post a message...This makes you think, no?"

In fact, some of the torture victims and human rights officials who brought the charges against Leyzaola believe that these tactics were carefully arranged policy involving agreements between government authorities, cartels and the business community. One of the tortured policemen said, “We now realize that this was all planned, that it was a strategy of collaboration between the three levels of government, the business community and the politicians.” [lxxxii]

Leyzaola’s tenure in Ciudad Juárez began in 2010 and he is generally credited with cleaning up the city. And with torturing and killing people in police custody, though at the time of this writing, he has not been formally charged with these abuses in Juárez. In effect, most of the witnesses to his abuses were people in custody and if they survived, they did not want to risk retributions to them or to their families for testifying against the powerful police chief and his political and military allies.

In January 2012, a mother in Ciudad Juárez is quoted in the newspaper: "For me, the police are like an epidemic. They are the ones who are killing and torturing and after that, they accuse [their victims] of being the criminals.”[lxxxiii] The article goes on to say that several people testified that they had witnessed Juárez municipal police chief Julian Leyzaola beating this woman’s 24-year-old son, Jorge Padilla, to death after he had been arrested on November 9, 2011 and was being held in custody for suspicion of involvement in another murder. The witnesses said that the police chief  then ordered six of his men to dump the body outside the city to destroy the evidence. The body of Jorge Padilla was found a few days later in a gully outside of the city along the Pan American highway. In January 2012, four days after Jorge Padilla’s mother (her name was not revealed in the press accounts) testified in the state attorney general’s investigation into her son’s murder, four hooded men entered her house, shot and killed two more of her sons—Carlos Omar, 14, and Andres Dario, 20—while they were sleeping and in front of her other five younger children. The attackers poured gasoline on the bodies and set fire to them, destroying the house. At the time of this attack, the mother was working a second shift in an assembly plant. One of the surviving children provided the eyewitness account to the newspaper reporter.

After this attack, the mother refused to participate further in the criminal investigation of her older son’s murder and she refused to file charges in the murders of her other two sons. She feared the attackers would return to harm her surviving children. “In my case, I do not want to see the police, nor do I want to know that they are nearby. I have already told them not to ask me any more questions, that I no longer want to know anything, and it is not for me, but rather, for my other children, who have no one else to care for them.”

On the evening of February 6, 2012, Sonia Tapia Cisneros, a U.S. citizen who lived in Juárez and who had founded a private elementary school in a poor neighborhood on the west side of the city, and her 9-year-old son, Jose Lopez Tapia, were in her vehicle in the Colonia Diaz Ordaz near their home. They were waiting outside of a friend’s house to pick up her daughter who was staying there. Municipal police approached her vehicle and yelled at her to get out, but in the darkness and confusion, Mrs. Tapia thought they were telling her to drive away quickly to get out of a dangerous situation. As she stepped on the gas, the police fired at the car and about a block away, she stopped because her son riding in the back seat cried out to her that he had been shot. The police officers approached her and scolded her for causing her child to be wounded. They rushed the boy to the hospital and then took Mrs. Tapia into custody and drove around with her handcuffed to the back of an official pickup truck for several hours in the cold winter night.

At the police station, she remained in the back of the truck for another two hours before she was brought inside the station where she spent the rest of the night in a cell. She later testified that police chief Leyzaola came to the station while she was there. The next day, the police brought her to the state prosecutor’s office where she was told that the police had accused her of attempted murder, saying that she had attempted to run over the agents who had ordered her to stop and that several armed and hooded men got out of her vehicle and ran away. A cursory investigation by the prosecutor established that the police were lying and that they had shot the child. Four police officers were taken into custody. After more than 24 hours had passed Mrs. Tapia was finally allowed to go to the hospital to be with her son who had undergone emergency surgery. She and her sister Paula Tapia, a physician who assisted in her nephew’s treatment, spoke to the press. Though Sonia and her son are U.S. citizens, they had lived most of their lives in Juárez. Other family members are not U.S. citizens and Paula Tapia indicated that those living in Juárez feared retaliation from the police. Human rights ombudsman for the state of Chihuahua, Gustavo de la Rosa stated to the press: “Police officers have orders to shoot to kill…and later they invent any kind of excuse. In this case they added illegal detention to the aggression.” There were reports that this family left Juárez as soon as the boy was well enough to be moved to a hospital in El Paso.[lxxxiv]

It is likely that we will never know how many people have been tortured and killed during the long career of Lieutenant Colonel Julian Leyzaola Perez. He will leave office in October 2013 when the term of Ciudad Juárez Mayor Hector Murguia ends. It was recently reported that the two city officials will maintain their official body guards after leaving office.[lxxxv]

The Lost... The Found...  “We Bury Our Own Dead”...

The Disappeared

In addition to the more than 130,000 documented homicide victims in Mexico since 2007, an unknown number have been victims of forced disappearances. A government database of reported disappearances includes more than 27,000 victims. Another number of the dead--sometimes added to the homicide count, sometimes not--are people whose bodies are found in mass graves that come to light in various places around the country. There are also the numbers we cannot know...the cifra negra / black number...people who are gone but whose deaths or disappearances are never reported and never counted for many reasons.[lxxxvi] But, one of the main reasons is fear. In many areas of rural Mexico, families bury their own dead out of fear of reporting anything to government officials.

On February 20, 2013, a report was issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailing the role of Mexico’s security forces in “widespread enforced disappearances.” According to the report, “Virtually none of the victims have been found or those responsible brought to justice, exacerbating the suffering of families of the disappeared…”[lxxxvii] Cases highlighted in this new report are from cities and municipalities dispersed widely around the country. The 249 cases investigated in detail by Human Rights Watch in this report are added to the documentation compiled and published by this organization in recent years for Mexico.

On the same day that Human Rights Watch released this report the Mexican Federal Secretaria de Gobernacion (SEGOB)[lxxxviii] announced that the department will make records public soon on the cases of more than 27,000 disappeared people. In an article published by McClatchy newspapers, the HRW report is quoted: “In many cases, these detentions occur in victims’ homes, in front of family members; in others, they take place at security checkpoints, at workplaces or in public venues, such as bars,” the report says. “When victims’ relatives inquire about detainees’ whereabouts at the headquarters of security forces and public prosecutors’ offices, they are told that the detentions never took place.” [lxxxix]

Hidden Graves

Clandestine mass graves are another phenomenon of the Mexican hyper-violence that makes it difficult to accurately count the dead. Many people are killed and their bodies never arrive at a morgue or hospital where death certificates are issued so that they can be counted and added to the statistics kept by INEGI. Periodically, mass graves come to light, especially during periods characterized by conflicts between rival criminal groups and/or political power brokers in a region. In early 2008 in Juárez, several dozen bodies were unearthed from the patios of houses and walled compounds in the city and as the murder toll rose during the year, the news reports often mentioned that it was not certain how (or if) these bodies were to be counted. For example, from an article in El Diario de Juárez on June 24, 2008 when the murder toll in the city surpassed 500 in less than 6 months: “... 518 murders have occurred in the border city and the Valle de Juárez so far in 2008, in comparison to 316 in all of 2007. And this is without counting the 45 bodies of people executed that were found in two clandestine narco-cemeteries and which were sent to the Attorney General of the Republic for investigation.” [xc]

That article and hundreds more (a total of 907 between January 1 and November 13 2008) were written by El Diario reporter Armando Rodriguez, most of them reports of murders, including detailed descriptions of the excavations of the clandestine graves found in February and March 2008. His reports of the weekly and monthly homicide tallies in Juárez noted that these 45 murder victims were not included in the official counts kept by the Chihuahua state prosecutor because it could not be determined exactly when or where they had been killed.

Armando Rodriguez was assassinated on November 13, 2008, as he sat in his car with his young daughter in the front seat beside him. His murder remains unsolved. He is one of more than 80 journalists murdered in Mexico since 2000. In one of the final articles of  2008, another reporter paid homage to Rodriguez’ diligent accounting: “Even though 1,606 victims have been counted, there are also the cases of the 45 corpses recovered by federal agents in February and March in clandestine graves found in two houses.”[xci]

Many other mass graves (often called narcofosas) were uncovered in different regions of Mexico in subsequent years, including dozens of bodies in several different sites in the Valle de Juárez and in other rural areas of Chihuahua. More than 260 bodies were dug up from scattered sites in the city of Durango during April and May of 2011, added to more than 180 bodies found in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas a month earlier. In this Time report, human rights workers point to the similarity of the phenomena to massacres and mass graves in the Balkan and Central American wars and note that members of the police and security forces are often implicated in the abductions and killings.[xcii] In the Tamaulipas graves, many of the dead were identified as migrants from Central and South America. Migrant killings often remain unidentified and uncounted for the simple reason that their family members cannot travel to Mexico to look for them. 

We must also realize that those bodies that come to light when mass graves are uncovered are a fraction of the actual number of uncounted dead. The sicario that I interviewed on several occasions during 2008-2010 told of his first murder and how he got rid of the body: “The first person I killed, well, we were state policemen doing a patrol,” he says. A call came and directed them to pick up a person who had lost a quantity of drugs that belonged to one of their bosses. While driving around the city in the police car, one man speaks the police code for homicide: 39. At the signal, the sicario strangles the target. They drive around for hours with the body in the car, drinking and snorting cocaine. At one point they panic and call a boss to ask what they should do with the body. They are told: “We don’t pay you to ask questions, we pay you to solve problems.” They finally go to a deserted spot in an industrial area of the city, open up a manhole and dump the body into the sewer. His bosses told him he had passed the test. He was eighteen years old.[xciii]

He estimates that during his career as a Chihuahua state policeman and Juárez cartel assassin that he killed hundreds of people. He also disposed of many bodies and buried them inside walls or under concrete slabs in ordinary neighborhoods in cities and towns across Mexico. He stresses that this work was supervised and facilitated by cartel operatives who were also active duty police officers with access to official vehicles, communication equipment and the power to carry out these jobs with impunity. He was part of a system that moved drugs, generated a lot of money and killed people who did not obey the rules of the system. The system was sanctioned by state actors at all levels. His career predated the current wave of violence, beginning in the late 1980s and ending when he escaped sometime before 2008. He emphasizes that most of the people he killed and buried during his career have never been officially reported as dead or missing and that their bodies will likely never be found.

“We bury our own dead...”

A woman about 50 years old[xciv], travels more than a thousand miles from her home in southern Mexico with five children. At the border, they are kidnapped and held for ransom in a safe-house. When the kidnappers realize there are no relatives in the United States to extort for money, the woman and the children are taken out to the desert and let go. They are picked up by immigration officials and detained. She told the officials that her husband and daughter had been murdered in their village in Mexico. For years the family had been threatened by criminals who tried to force her children to sell drugs for them. Over and over her husband refused. She never reported the threats because the police and officials in her town worked for the traffickers. Finally, the men came and murdered her husband and her daughter. The U.S. official asked her what happened after the murders. Did the police come? What did they do? The woman answered, “No, they didn’t say anything because they never came. You don’t tell police anything. Everybody buries their own dead. It was natural death. Nobody tells the truth.”

No More Silence...”

I started to chronicle Mexican violence when murders exploded in Ciudad Juárez in early 2008. From the 1980s through 2007, murders in the city had ranged from 200-300 per year. In 2010, more than 3,500 people were murdered. Juárez and the state of Chihuahua were the most violent places in Mexico and possibly in the world. I read and archived dozens of newspaper articles--the nota roja--each week, noting details of the murders and the victims. The violence has been portrayed as shootouts between powerful drug cartels, yet most victims were unarmed at the time they were killed. Most victims were ordinary poor people, like Neri Dominguez Pacheco, a 24 year old woman from Veracruz. She was washing cars on a city street when she was shot to death in June 2008. She had three children and was 4 months pregnant. Her parents had come to Juárez years before to work in the maquiladoras, but in the 2008 recession, jobs disappeared. After Neri’s murder, the family told the newspaper they would return to Veracruz to try to raise their orphaned grandchildren, though they had no work there either. They needed $1,500 to ship their daughter’s body back to Oteapan, Veracruz.[xcv]

Mexico is not the most violent country in the world or in the western hemisphere. That title probably now belongs to Honduras, with a population of about eight million and a national murder rate of 86.[xcvi] The homicide rate in Mexico is 22 or 23, compared to a rate of 5 in the United States, though national murder rates, especially in countries with large populations tend to smooth out the hot spots of violence in cities or regions.[xcvii] I often hear the argument that “Chicago (or Detroit or Baltimore or Los Angeles...) is just as violent as Mexico and the police are corrupt there also.” Even with the recent upsurge in homicides in Chicago, its murder rate is about 18. Detroit has one of the highest rates in the U.S. at 55; the rates in New York and Los Angeles rank among the lowest.[xcviii]

Early in 2011, the BBC reported on peace talks to settle a civil conflict in the Philippines: “The negotiations are not expected to produce immediate results to end an insurgency that dates back half a century in which 40,000 people were killed.” [emphasis added][xcix] The Philippines has a population of about 94 million; this one civil conflict has lasted for more than 40 years and killed 40,000 people. At the time I heard this news broadcast, the violence in Mexico (population 112 million) had killed more than 50,000 people in 4 years.

The death toll from homicide in Mexico since 2007 may only lag behind those countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Sri Lanka and the Congo region of central Africa where hot civil wars, foreign invasions and insurgencies have raged in recent years. And yet, Mexico is touted as a thriving democracy with a fast-growing economy, a middle class majority and the closest of friendly relations with the United States.[c] These fantasy visions of Mexico are repeated frequently in the U.S. and world press while at the same time, Mexico is the scene of violent conflict that has killed more than 130,000 and disappeared at least 27,000 people in the past six and a half years. As Mexican legal scholar John Ackerman wrote earlier this year, “...violence continues to wreak havoc over large swathes of the country.  Organized crime-related executions continue at the startling pace of more than 1,000 a month since Peña Nieto took office on Dec. 1. While some border cities like Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana have shown improvement, other coastal cities such as Acapulco and Veracruz are much worse off than they were in the past. And even in places where the homicide rate has gone down, there is widespread suspicion that this is due more to deals being cut with the drug cartels than to actually defeating them...”[ci]

In August 2013 as I write, a Mexican court freed Rafael Caro Quintero, the 1980s drug lord who served 28 years of a 40 year sentence for the murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena.[cii] Sandra Avila Beltran, another renowned trafficker portrayed in the media as “Queen of the Pacific” was released to U.S. immigration authorities after serving a little more than a year in a U.S. prison. The Mexican government announced that she would not be arrested after her deportation from the U.S. [ciii]

Power in Mexico works as a system of arrangements between government, business and narco-trafficking. The drug business has functioned pretty well for decades, generating huge sums of money and funneling it into government and legitimate businesses. Violence was always part of its corporate culture as there is no way to enforce contracts in the drug business without murder. For years this level of violence seemed acceptable to those in power. Starting in December 2006, President Calderón deployed the army, and lethal violence in Mexico exploded. He said he was fighting drug trafficking, but the flow of drugs and money continues unimpeded. In 2010, Calderón said it was not exactly a war on drugs, but rather a crusade for public safety. There is evidence of social cleansing aimed at those deemed worthless to society: los malandros. At least 130,000 Mexicans have been killed and civil society at all socio-economic levels is plagued by kidnapping, extortion and murder. Some look to the new president from the old political power system to make a new arrangement that might bring the violence back down to the acceptable levels. And that “acceptable” level of murder will probably remain much higher than it ever was before 2006.

Meanwhile, thousands of Mexicans murdered since 2007 have disappeared from the official government tallies of the dead, and from the stories told in world media. Those 60,000-80,000 who are counted, are dismissed in the Mexican government’s official narrative as “criminals killing each other.” These are the “undead” who must come back from their clandestine graves to refute the lies told about them. These people are murdered three times--first when they are shot to death on the street, again when they are determined to be criminals simply because they have been murdered, and finally, when their deaths are erased from the historical record. 

When the sicario emerged from his world of horror to speak of what he had done during his years working as a tool of criminal organizations and the Mexican state, his desire was to give the dead back their voices.  And to bring their bodies into the light. “No mas silencio.”

End Notes

[i] Quoted in Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy,  Friends can also betray you: Mexicans pay in blood for America’s War on Drugs.  

[ii] Translation from a headline on the Juárez news website,, March 23, 2010. The original story is no longer available online. Here is an English translation:

LA MATAZÓN DE CADA DÍA / Our Daily Massacre 23 Marzo 2010 @ 18:13 pm

Comando shoots four coffin sellers in Colonia Guadalajara Izquierda

Four little angels went to heaven this afternoon in the Colonia Guadalajara Izquierda.

They worked at a market stall of Los Angelitos Funeral Home at the corner of Barbados and Santo Domingo. The sicarios came and shot the defenseless funeral workers with pistols and rifles.The young men were in the business of selling coffins but never thought of having to use them for themselves.

People at the scene said the young men (aged 19, 23 and 24) had been involved in the past with the Blue Star gang and their enemies, the Tiburones, did not forget old quarrels. But the kids had left this behind and were working for a living painting and doing other interior work on the small funeral business.

 The mother of two of the dead boys said that they had been threatened and she blamed the police…

When 120 federal and state police and soldiers came to the scene they were greeted with anger and contempt by the neighbors and relatives of the dead men, who began to yell: “Get out of here assholes, go find the killers…you are worthless, standing there looking so pretty… if you are not going to do your job, you might as well get the fuck out of here...” 

[iii] Molly Molloy, Massacre at CIAD #8 in Juárez, August 18, 2008,

[iv] Ed Vulliamy, Life and death in Juárez, the world’s murder capital. The Observer, October 4, 2009.árez [Text is no longer online at the Guardian website, but it is available at this link: and is archived on the Frontera List.

[v] Bill Conroy, Mexican Special Forces Employed as Death Squads in Drug War, Email Records Released by Wikileaks Reveal: Specially Trained Troops Conducted “Surgical” Strikes on Narco-Trafficking Cells, Gangs and Addicts. Narco News Bulletin, September 17, 2012.

[vi] These scenes were reported in local TV news featuring interviews with family members in Las Cruces.

[vii] “By 2009, the valley, with a population of 20,000, had a shocking murder rate of 1,600 per 100,000 inhabitants—six times higher than its neighboring “deadliest city in the world”—according to government estimates.”Melissa del Bosque, The Deadliest Place in Mexico: Who is killing the people of the Juárez Valley? Texas Observer, February 29, 2012,

[viii] Luz del Carmen Sosa, Velan en El Valle a las victimas; familia desconoce causa del crimen. El Diario de Juárez, August 16, 2009. Author’s archive. 

[ix] Translation of the headline from the story by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto in El Diario de Juárez: Han ejecutado a miles...casi todos desarmados, August 8 2011. Author’s archive.

[x] Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, Han ejecutado a miles...casi todos desarmados. El Diario de Juárez, August 25, 2011.  For more details on this investigation see the reporter’s book, La Fabrica del Crimen, Sandra Rodriguez Nieto, Mexico, DF: Editorial Planeta Mexicana, 2012.

[xi] Daniel Borunda, Juárez mayor says city has ‘lack of tranquility’, El Paso Times, June 16, 2008,

[xii] ‘Ejecutados son un delincuente menos’ El Diario de Juárez, April 4, 2008. General Juárez Loera was widely quoted in Chihuahua news media on April 4, 2008, just a few days after the official incursion of Mexican army troops into the state. Three years later, on May 22, 2011, the general was shot dead when he got out of his car to investigate an accident along a highway on the northern outskirts of Mexico City just a few weeks after he had retired from the Army.

[xiii] Published figures on the murder rate for Juárez from 2008-2011 range from 150-260. This number depends on the population estimate used in the calculation. Some citizens’ groups estimated that more than 250,000 people fled the city between 2009 and 2011. The official census figure for 2010 was 1.3 million. If a low estimate of 1.1 million is used in calculating the murder rate in 2010, then the murder rate was about 300.

[xiv] Murder in Ciudad Juárez, 1993-2012 * 

Total 1993-2007 = 3,538 (0.7 per day)

2007 =  320

2008 = 1,623 (4.4 per day)

2009 = 2,754 (7.5 per day)

2010 = 3,622 (9.9 per day) ** 

2011 = 2,086 (5.7 per day)

2012 = 797 (2 per day)

Total killed since 2008 = 10,882

Total killed since 2007 = 11,202

Average of 6 people per day since Jan 2008

* Figures compiled from data reported by the State Attorney General (Fiscalia) for Chihuahua and reported in El Diario de Juárez

**original media tally for 2010=3,111; March 2011 Fiscalia report = 3,951; Fiscalia spokesman gave new figure of 3,622 to Reuters reporter in October 2011. Mica Rosenberg and Julian Cardona, Special Report: Federal Forces sully Mexico’s war on drugs, Reuters, December 27, 2011.árez-violence-idUSTRE7BQ0BN20111227

[xv] Juárez Homicides 2013








TOTAL = 266

An average of about 1.3 victims per day so far in 2013

[xvi] INEGI--Instituto Nacional de Estadistica y Geografia

[xvii] Comunicado Num. 287/11 28 de julio de 2011, En 2010 se registraron 24 mil 374 homicidios.

[xviii] I have updated these counts regularly to the Frontera-List. See: National homicide data--How many people have been murdered in Mexico? Frontera-List posting by Molly Molloy, September 10, 2011.!searchin/frontera-list/national$20homicide$20data--How$20many$20people$20have$20been$20murdered$20in$20Mexico?/frontera-list/TW2T2CKfLcQ/E527K6TjEyMJ

[xix]  Boletin de Prensa Num. 310/12 20 de agosto de 2012, En 2011se registraron 27 mil 199 homicidios. The official tally for 2011 was increased to 27,213 in the updated INEGI press bulletin issued on July 30, 2013

[xx] Paris Martinez, 98% de los homicidios cometidos en 2012 estan impunes. Animal Politico, Julio 17, 2013,

[xxi] Boletin de Prensa Num. 288/13, 30 de julio de 2013. En 2012 se registraron 26 mil 037 homicidios.

[xxii] Source for the INEGI homicide data for 1990-2006 and SINAIS data for 1989 was provided by James Creechan, Ph.D., in a personal communication, “Homicide by Sexenio: A Brief Research Note:INEGI Vital Statistics Data, August 1, 2013.

[xxiii] Unlike US FBI counts based on police data, the Mexican data comes from vital statistics sources tabulating causes of death. The INEGI documents contain the following description of how these data are compiled, for example this explanation from the August 2012 bulletin: “Contains records of 4,723 Civil Registry Offices and 1,096 Public Ministry agencies which provide information to INEGI on a monthly basis. In the Civil Registry Offices data on homicides are compiled from the death certificates issued by legal medical officers (coroners). This information is complemented by that provided by the Public Ministry Agencies in their statistical records.”

[xxiv] The clearest explanation I have seen comes from an article in Animal Politico in March 2011: Jose Merino, INEGI vs. SNSP: 18,323 homicidios en el aire entre 1998 y 2009, Excerpts translated and posted on the Frontera List on September 10, 2011.

[xxv] A list of all of these reports would go on for many pages, so I will limit myself to several recent citations.

[xxvi] Ginger Thompson, A drug war informer in no-man’s land. New York Times, April 28, 2013.

Dana Priest, U.S. role at a crossroads in Mexico’s intelligence war on the cartels, Washington Post, April 27, 2013,

Mexican Admiral Carlos Salazar killed in Michoacan ambush, BBC, 29 July 2013,

[xxvii] Robert J. Bunker, Santa Muerte: Inspired and Ritualistic Killings, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, February 2013,

[xxviii]   Statistics of Wars, Oppressions and Atrocities of the Twenty-First Century,

[xxix]  “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” George Orwell, 1984, Quotable Quotes,

See also:

[xxx] Anonymous email communication with author, August 1, 2013

[xxxi] Bienvenido al sistema de consulta de la base de datos de fallecimientos ocurridos por presunta rivalidad delincuencial / Welcome to the system for consulting the database of deaths that have occurred due to presumed criminal rivalries. This database is no longer available at the previous link and a message at the site says: Debido al cambio de administración se están realizando ajustes en el sitio.Por el momento, esta página no está disponible. Agradecemos su comprensión. / Due to the change in the administration adjustments are being made to this site. For the moment, this page is not available. Thank you for your understanding.

[xxxii] That database is still online at the website of the Procurador General de la Republica (PGR) with the title: Base de Datos por Fallecimientos por Presunta Rivalidad Delincuencial

[xxxiii] “The Zetas and other drug gangs have killed more than 40,000 people in the past seven years.” This caption appeared in an article on The Daily Beast on August 5, 2013 by Alfredo Corchado, Dallas Morning News bureau chief and author of the new book, Midnight in Mexico (New York, Penguin, 2013).

[xxxiv] Silvia Otero, No investigan 95% de muertes en “Guerra,” El Universal, June 21, 2010,

[xxxv] Paris Martinez, 98% de los homicidios cometidos en 2012 estan impunes. Animal Politico, Julio 17, 2013,

[xxxvi] The online news source, Truthout, published an update to the available statistics in November 2012, citing the figures from the Frontera-List and a few other media accounts of the increasing death toll in Mexico, estimating that the total number of homicides would exceed 120,000 by the end of Calderón’s term in December 2012. Mark Karlin, Fueled by War on Drugs, Mexican Death Toll Could Exceed 120,000 As Calderón  Ends Six-Year Reign, TRUTHOUT, November 28, 2012,ón -reign-ends-with-six-year-mexican-death-toll-near-120000

Now that the official INEGI number of 26,037 homicides in 2012 has been published, it appears that even the high estimate published in the Truthout article was probably an undercount.

See also, Molly Molloy, Mexican Death Toll in Drug War Likely Higher Than Reported, Phoenix New Times, July 26, 2012,

[xxxvii] Cory Molzahn, Octavio Rodriguez Ferreira and David A. Shirk, Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2012. San Diego: Trans-Border Institute, February 2013.

[xxxviii] H. Prado, R. Herrera, Esconde Federacion la cifra de ejecutados, Agencia Reforma, August 15, 2012. My translation of Lopez Aranda’s statement as quoted: “Pusieron los criterios y dijeron: ‘a ver, si usaron armas de fuego de alto calibre, si movieron el cuerpo, si lo amarraron, si hay huellas de tortura, si se cubren dos o más de estas (características) podrían ser como de crimen organizado’. Tenía sustento metodológico lo que se publicó, pero solamente era aproximación, como un decir ‘me late que este puede ser’ (homicidio por crimen organizado)”, explicó.

[xxxix] The news website Insight Crime reported, “Mexican Government Stops Publishing Data on Crime-Related Deaths,, but I am not aware of any mainstream U.S. newspapers that reported it. The full text of articles and commentary is archived in a Frontera-List posting, August 17, 2012: Mexican government admits it doesn’t know how many homicides are related to drug war...!searchin/frontera-list/Mexican$20government$20admits$20it$20doesn$27t$20know$20how$20many$20homicides$20are$20related$20to$20drug$20war/frontera-list/8YSyXD4m_Dw/0YqwDN4YWL0J

[xl]  The Justice in Mexico Project Releases its Report “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2012,” February 5, 2013.

[xli] Ejecutan a cuatro en el Valle; dejan 2 heridos, El Diario de Juárez, August 10, 2013,; Mató banda a adolescente porque no pagaron rescate de 5 mil pesos, El Diario de Juárez, August 9, 2013,;

Va a la tienda y en el trayecto lo matan con una piedra,El Diario de Juárez, August 11, 2013,

[xliii]Justice in Mexico News Monitor, Vol. 8, No. 4, April-July 2013, Trans-Border Institute,

[xliv] Segob ya no distinguirá crímenes vinculados a narco en cifras de homicidios, Animal Politico, August 9, 2013,

[xlvi] Alejandro Hope, Mexico’s Violent Crime Numbers Don’t Add Up, Insight Crime, April 24, 2013, See also the commentary on the Frontera-List, April 30, 2013,!searchin/frontera-list/%22Mexico$27s$20violent$20crime$20numbers%22/frontera-list/Z1QRcMECEQc/12uKf_TVee0J

[xlvii] William Booth and Nick Miroff, Peña Nieto to name Colombian as security adviser, Washington Post, June 14, 2012,

[xlviii] Luz del Carmen Sosa, Quiere Gobierno terminar al narco prohibiendo palabras: expertos, El Diario de Juárez, April 16, 2013, See commentary and full text articles at Frontera-List, George Orwell, Mexico Needs YOU... April 17, 2013,!searchin/frontera-list/%22George$20Orwell%22/frontera-list/MYXfD9hkIYM/nQFjCzLA0xsJ

[xlix] See note 44.

[lii] Marina Jimenez, Felipe Calderón : The man who took on the drug cartels, Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 28, 2010ón -the-man-who-took-on-the-drug-cartels/article1585334/

[liii] Sergio Aguayo, La intelegencia,, 24 de julio, 2013.

[liv] One nasty but common nickname for Felipe Calderón , often seen in “comments” sections of websites and news media is “Fecal.”

[lv] Sigue Calderón los pasos de Fox: cobra 150 mil dólares por conferencia, 23 de febrero, 2013, Proceso,

[lvi] Harvard Appeal: 100,000 Signatures, One For Each Person Sacrificed During Felipe Calderón's Senseless US Backed War

A comment from one petitioner from Colima, Mexico: “Because Calderón  has left Mexico in a state of war, he has not proved to have any of the so-acclaimed political mind that could enable him to teach at all. The only subject he can teach is corruption, impunity and cynicism. He is not ethically qualified. He has committed crimes against humanity.”

[lvii] Alfredo Corchado, Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through A Country’s Descent into Darkness, New York, Penguin, 2013. p. 176.

[lviii] Douglas Lucas, Are Mexican Drug Lords the Next “Terrorist Targets?” Who What Why

[lix] Alfred McCoy, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, Central America, Colombia. 2nd Revised Ed.,Chicago, Lawrence Hill, 2003. The original edition of this book was published in 1972 as The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, (Harper & Row) and focused on the origins of the international heroin trade in Asia after WWII and its rapid growth during and after the Vietnam War.

[lx] Alfred McCoy, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation (Critical Human Rights Series). University of Wisconsin Press, 2012. p. 185-186.

[lxii] Daniel Becerril, Mexico: Authorities urged to end torture epidemic, Reuters, October 11, 2012,

[lxiii] Police videos cause a stir in Mexico, Human rights officials express concern about videos of Leon city officers practicing torture techniques; Police chief says they were only training exercises, Associated Press, July 2, 2008,,0,7832339.story; Police ‘Torture’ Videos Cause Uproar in Mexico,

[lxiv] Kristin Bricker, Plan Mexico Gets Rough: U.S. Contractor Leads Torture Training in Mexico, Counterpunch, July 3, 2008,

[lxv] Elisabeth Malkin, Mexico: Torture Reports Triple, Group Finds, New York Times, October 11, 2012,

[lxvi] For background on police practices in Mexico and failed reform attempts, see Neils A. Uildriks, Mexico’s Unrule of Law: implementing human rights in police and judicial reform under democratization, Lanham, Md., Lexington Books, 2010.

[lxvii] E.Eduardo Castillo, Mexico: Drug violence has killed 22,700 since 2006, Associated Press, April 13, 2010. The original AP link is no longer valid, but a short version of the article is available here:

Also, several versions of the original story are archived on the Frontera List newsgroup site at this link:!searchin/frontera-list/%22Mexico$3A$20Drug$20violence$20has$20killed$2022$2C700$20since$202006%22/frontera-list/uy1CPVxTXw4/jpyKjdw9mkEJ

[lxviii] CNN Transcripts, The Situation Room: Interview with Mexican President Felipe Calderón ...Aired May 19, 2010

[lxix] Silvia Otero, No investigan 95% de muertes en “Guerra,” El Universal, June 21, 2010,

[lxx] Ignacio Alvarado, Ven «limpia social,» no narcoguerra; Las huellas de los paramilitares: El Estado permite la existencia de escuadrones de la muerte: legisladores. El Universal, 18 de octubre de 2010.

[lxxi] This article and an English translation were posted to the Frontera List on October 18, 2010.!searchin/frontera-list/%22evidence$20of$20%22social$20cleansing%22$20...$20CISEN%22/frontera-list/a6pyazB1G0U/Xqo6UShA6owJ

The online Narco News Bulletin also published a series of articles by Bill Conroy going back to late 2008, examining the increasing violence in Mexico and investigating evidence of paramilitary death squads. See: Juárez murders shine light on an emerging ‘Military Cartel’, December 6, 2008,árez-murders-shine-light-emerging-military-cartelEvidence of "Extrajudicial" Death Squads Emerging in Mexico, March 20, 2011;  US-Trained Assassin Teams Now Deployed in Drug War, August 28, 2011,

[lxxii] Mitad de juarenses, a favor de escuadrones, El Diario de Juarez, November 5, 2009. Full text in the Frontera List archive

[lxxiii] Arturo Rodriguez Garcia, Compara Calderón  a criminales con “cucarachas” / Calderón  compares criminals to cockroaches. Proceso, December 14, 2011.

[lxxiv] On August 17, 2013, the online news magazine, published an article entitled: La “limpieza social” es una practica comun en 9 ciudades del pais; el DF presenta casos desde 1998 / “Social cleansing is a common practice in 9 cities in the country; in Mexico City cases reported since 1998.

[lxxv] Jorge Carrasco Araizaga, Los escuadrones del exterminio, Proceso, July 2, 2013,; Ricardo Gomez, Denuncia Monreal existencia de “escuadrones de la muerte,” El Coordinador del Movimiento Ciudadano presenta libro editado por la Camera de Diputados, El Universal, July 2, 2013, The print edition of Proceso (Issue No. 1913), June 29, 2013, published extensive excerpts of Monreal’s book.

[lxxvi] Claire O’Neill McCleskey, 200,000 People Involved in Mexico ‘Death Squads’: Congressman, InSight Crime, July 4, 2013,

[lxxvii] John Ward Anderson, After Death, Kingpin’s Life is an Open Book, Washington Post, November 25, 1997.

[lxxviii] Charles Bowden, “The Sicario: A Juárez Hitman Speaks, Harpers Magazine, May 2009,; Gianfranco Rosi (Director) and Charles Bowden (Producer), “El Sicario Room 164,” Arte France/Les Films d’Ici, 2010.; Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden (Editors). El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin, New York: NationBooks, 2011.

[lxxix] Julian Leyzaola and the “purification” of Tijuana and Juárez deserves a much longer treatment than this paper. The best source in English is: William Finnegan, Letter from Tijuana: In the name of the law a colonel cracks down on corruption, The New Yorker, October 18, 2010.

[lxxx]Leyzaola’s tactics as described by Mayor Jorge Ramos who named him Public Security Secretary in 2008: “Desde el momento en el que Leyzaola tomó posesión como Secretario de Seguridad, nos ordena que cualquier persona detenida con armas o con droga se la entreguemos personalmente. ‘Me la traen y me la llevo al cuartel’, nos dijo. Aquello se hizo una moda: todas las personas que detuvimos con armas y con droga se las llevamos a él, y él las entregaba a los militares. No volvías a saber nada de ellas”. Originally published in: Ignacio Alvarado Alvarez, Leyzaola: La Manipulacion policiaca en Tijuana,, June 4, 2013.

[lxxxi]   My translation of this quote from Jaime Avila Flores, a former police officer in Tijuana, tortured at the military base in March 2009. “Hay algo más fuerte que unos golpes, que una costilla rota, algo con lo que no te puedes levantar. Y ellos saben hacerlo muy bien. Imagínate esa posición. Imagínate con los ojos vendados. ¿Qué está pasando? A mí inmediatamente se me vinieron a la cabeza los muertos que yo había encontrado por las orillas de Tijuana. ¡Así los encontraba!, maniatados, vendados de la cabeza y de las mismas partes del cuerpo que yo. ‘¡No puedo creer que esto me esté pasando a mí!’. Dije: ‘¿El Ejército estará haciendo esto, o son los malos?’. Ya no podía dividir la frontera entre quiénes son cada quién. Lo que estaba entendiendo ahora es que los dos son los malos. En mi cabeza yo decía: ‘Ya valí cacahuate. Van a tirarme torturado, con un balazo en la cabeza y me pondrán una cartulina que diga que pertenecía a la maña’. ¡Pero serán ellos!”. Originally published in: Ignacio Alvarado Alvarez, Leyzaola: La Manipulacion policiaca en Tijuana,, June 4, 2013.

[lxxxii] Ignacio Alvarado Alvarez, Leyzaola: La Manipulacion policiaca en Tijuana,, June 4, 2013.

[lxxxiii] Por miedo a represalias contra sus otros hijos, renuncia a exigir justicia / For fear of reprisals against her other children, mother refuses to seek justice. Diario de Juárez, January 10, 2012,

[lxxxiv] Alejandro Martinez Cabrera, 4 Juárez officers charged in case after boy, 9, shot, El Paso Times, February 9, 2012.

[lxxxv] Araly Castañón, Seguirán con escoltas Teto y Leyzaola, después de terminar su gestión, El Diario de Juárez,August 8 2013,

[lxxxvi] Mexico Evalua, an independent organization, compiles and publishes analyses of many different government statistics, including a series of publications on violence. See for example: Leticia Ramirez de Alba, Indice de victimas visibles e invisibles de delitos graves,  Mexico Evalua Programa de Seguridad Publica, August 2011.

[lxxxvii] Human Rights Watch, Mexico's Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored, February 20, 2013,

“This 176-page report documents nearly 250 “disappearances” during the administration of former President Felipe Calderón, from December 2006 to December 2012. In 149 of those cases, Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence of enforced disappearances, involving the participation of state agents.”

[lxxxviii] ;

The Secretaría de Gobernación (Secretariat of Governance, often loosely (mis)translated as Secretariat of the Interior), often shortened to SEGOB is the Cabinet-level agency of Mexico responsible for administering the country's internal affairs, similar to other country's interior ministries. It is administered by the Secretary of Governance. In later 2011, Secretary Francisco Blake Mora was killed in a air crash but in the Peña Nieto government, the post is held by Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong

[lxxxix] The full text of these articles was posted on the Frontera-List on February 21, 2013:!searchin/frontera-list/27,000$20disappeared/frontera-list/ySFjxV-YM_U/wdNbthfLnkoJ

Tim Johnson, Mexico admits 27,000 missing; Human rights Watch protests crisis of ‘disappeared.’ McClatchy Newspapers, February 20, 2013.

See also:

Tracy Wilkinson, Report rebukes Mexico over cases of the missing, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2013.,0,5483212.story

El número oficial de personas desaparecidas en México es 27 mil casos: Segob /The official number of disappeared persons in Mexico is 27,000 cases: SEGOB, February 20, 2013,

[xc] Armando Rodriguez, Rebasan aqui los 500 homicidios en 6 meses, El Diario de Juárez, June 24, 2008. [The full text is no longer available at the El Diario website, but is one of thousands saved in my personal gmail archive of Mexican media clips from 2008--present]

[xci] Martin Orquiz, Con mil 606 homicidios cierra el año más sangriento en la historia juarense, El Diario de Juárez, December 31, 2008. [The full text is no longer available at the El Diario website, but is one of thousands saved in my personal gmail archive of Mexican media clips from 2008--present]. The murder tally for 2008 was later increased to 1,623, but it was never made clear if the 45 bodies from the clandestine graves were included in the tally.

[xcii] Tim Padgett, Durango’s Killing Fields: The Grave in the Garden, Time, May 21, 2011.,8599,2072887,00.html

[xciii] Charles Bowden, The Sicario: A Juárez Hitman Speaks, Harper’s Magazine, May 2009, p. 48

[xciv] She must remain anonymous for her safety. Some details of her story are changed to conceal her identity, but her story is recorded in an official U.S. immigration document.

[xcv] Armando Rodriguez, Racha violenta; matan a embarazada, El Diario de Juárez, June 4, 2008.  Horacio Carrasco, Vino a buscar trabajo y halló la muerte', June 5, 2008. [author’s email archive]

[xcvi] Edward Fox, 2012 Record Year for Homicides in Honduras, InSight Crime, January 22, 2013. The country has about 8 million people and 7,127 murders in 2012.  See: In contrast Mexico’s population is

[xcvii] For an in-depth comparative study of homicides worldwide, see, The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODOC), 2011 Global Study on Homicide,

[xcviii]U.S. Data from the Crime in the United States 2012 Preliminary Annual Uniform Crime Reports, FBI,; Juárez data from Chihuahua Fiscalia based on population of 1.3 million for all years. However is is probable that the population was higher in 2007 than it is in 2012. See also, Anmargaret Warner, et. al. The 25 Most Dangerous Cities in America, Business Insider,

[xcix] Peace Talks Between Manila and Maoist Rebels Begin, February 16, 2011,

[c] Thomas L. Friedman, Is Mexico the Comeback Kid? New York Times, February 24, 2013; Shannon K. O’Neil, Mexico Makes It: A Transformed Society, Economy, and Government, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2013,

[ci] John Ackerman, The Mexico Bubble, Foreign Policy, May 1, 2013,ña_nieto?page=0,1

[cii] Diana Washington Valdez and Daniel Borunda, Mexican kingpin Rafael Caro Quintero’s release fuels anger, El Paso Times, August 18, 2013,

[ciii]  Lorena Figueroa, ‘Queen of the Pacific’ won’t be arrested once she arrives in Mexico, El Paso Times, August 17, 2013.


Categories: Mexico - El Centro

About the Author(s)

Molly Molloy is a retired research librarian and border and Latin American specialist at the New Mexico State University Library in Las Cruces, NM. She is the creator and editor of the Frontera List, a forum for news and discussion of border issues. Since 2008 she has provided detailed documentation of homicides in Mexico, with an emphasis on Ciudad Juarez. More than 11,000 people have been murdered in Juarez since 2008, making that border city the epicenter of the recent hyperviolence in Mexico. She translated and co-edited El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin (Nation Books, 2011) and has written for The Nation, Phoenix New Times [here and here], Narco News Bulletin, and other publications. Molloy is often called upon to consult with academic researchers, attorneys and journalists about the violence in Mexico.