“MX” for Borderland Beat
Disclaimer: This is a translated opinion report written by Adrián López Ortiz, a reporter from the Sinaloa-based newspaper Noroeste. The data was provided by the government and the opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author.
|Homicide rates in red; Disappearances in blue|
For several months, authorities, businessmen and journalists in Sinaloa have praised the decreasing homicide rates in the state.
February closed with 55 homicides (a 1.89 daily homicide average). It had been a long time since Sinaloa reached below the 2.0 daily average. So far this year, Sinaloa has a median of 2.02 homicides per day. If these rates continue, Sinaloa could reach a homicide rate of 24.85 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020.
This would be the lowest rate since 2007, just before the split between the Beltrán Leyva and the Sinaloa Cartel, when 15.22 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants were registered. But these low homicide rates are not good reasons to celebrate yet. Disappearances are on the rise and authorities are doing very little to address them.
Are these numbers to say that we are reaching peace? No. Or rather, not yet. Here’s why.
Short answer: Insufficient number of police officers and high impunity rates.
Long answer: We still do not have concrete evidence that the low homicide rates are directly tied to improvements in security and justice. Two indispensable characteristics are needed to create a peaceful society: (1) a sufficient and trained police force; and (2) a strong rule of law that translates into low impunity rates, especially for high-impact crimes such as homicide.
Sinaloa does not have either of these. The state has 6,243 operational police officers and at least 4,000 more police officers are needed to meet the standard required by the United Nations (UN) of 300 police officers per 100,000 inhabitants. While the state police force has grown by 18.8 percent during the governorship of Quirino Ordaz Coppel, he has bet for the easier path: militarization. Ordaz Coppel requested the federal government to bring in more military troops, including the National Guard (GN). The problem with this strategy is that neither the GN nor the military are under state command and at any time they can be re-purposed, which leaves Sinaloa defenseless.
In addition, according to the “Rule of Law Index 2019-2020” of the World Justice Project, Sinaloa occupied the 11th position nationwide with a score of 0.42, above the average of 0.39. The indicators where Sinaloa scored the highest compared to the rest of the 32 states in Mexico were Criminal Justice (3/32), Civil Justice (7/32) and Open Government (7/32). It scored poorly in fundamental rights (21/32) and Order and Security (16/32). The progress from the previous year was poor, too. Sinaloa only improved 0.01 overall.
But the most serious factor in Sinaloa is the high impunity rate. We currently do not have official figures to know the impunity rates in the state. In a 2018 report done by non-profit organization México Evalúa, Sinaloa authorities did not provide them with the total number of criminal cases solved or in process. But there is also no reason to think that Sinaloa’s situation is drastically different from the rest of the country, which has a 96.1 percent impunity rate for criminal cases.
There are more numbers that explain Sinaloa’s precarious law enforcement situation. Sinaloa has 2.6 public prosecutor agencies per 100,000 inhabitants, below the national average of 2.8. In addition, it has 1.4 investigative police officers, 8.8 prosecutors, 3.4 case agents, and no government officials assigned to care for victims per 100,000 inhabitants. In terms of judges, Sinaloa is not better either: they have 0.6 judges trained in Mexico’s New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, or NSJP) for every 100,000 inhabitants, below the national median of 0.9.
Influence of the Sinaloa Cartel
The Sinaloa Cartel continues to demonstrate that it has an enormous financial, logistical and manpower capacity. Examples abound: the recent shootings in Guamúchil that extended for hours and plunged its residents into fear and anxiety; wide mountain areas that we know are controlled by gangsters without authorities even daring to go in; and the most recent case: the incursion of an armed group to the Regional Clinic No. 1 to finish off (or rescue?) an injured person in another previous shooting.
And of course, the strongest evidence we have of Sinaloa’s institutional inability to face the enormous power of the Sinaloa Cartel was on October 17 during the failed arrest of Ovidio Guzmán. That day the cartel managed to gain control of a large sector of the capital, imposed its conditions and achieved its objective by bringing federal and state authorities to their knees. The humiliation of the Culiacanazo is already part of Mexico’s collective memory.
Disappearance rates have not stopped increasing since 2010. Most of the cases never reach the press and are sometimes only known through the stories of victims’ families. According to figures from the Prosecutor’s Office, from September to November 2019, 372 missing person complaints were filed. That is 4.08 disappearances per day. 79 percent of the people reported missing are still missing and only 3 percent are identified as deceased.
Sinaloa has two disappearances for every murder. That is the harsh truth of the state’s “pacification.” Sinaloa cannot celebrate the reduction of the murders while clandestine mass graves proliferate and missing persons groups continue to multiply.
Sinaloa residents may often lose their perspective of what it once was to live in peace. We can deceive ourselves and believe in the official version that “we are doing well”. But the evidence says otherwise. It is time that we begin to see homicides and the disappeared as a whole and not as isolated phenomena.
We can buy the propaganda that drug cartels only “kill each other” and that more “good people” live in Sinaloa when compared to gangsters.
But let’s not forget that, until now, the fragile peace of Sinaloa has not been in the hands of citizens and authorities, but in the control of drug cartels that wage war between each other. That war is happening in Sinaloa, where they have historically produced and sold drugs and laundered their money for decades. It is a turf that the Sinaloa Cartel shares with us.
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