Mexican police crisis in prelude to power transition

Mexican federal police and the military have taken over policing duties in Acapulco, after the entire municipal force was disarmed Sept. 25 due to suspected co-optation by criminal gangs. The city’s police chief, Max Sedano Román, and five of his commanders were detained by Mexican naval troops. Two of the commanders were arrested "for their probable responsibility in the crime of homicide." Their weapons and other equipment of the city police force have bee seized by Guerrero state authorities. The Guerrero government said it took the step "because of suspicion that the force had probably been infiltrated by criminal groups" and "the complete inaction of the municipal police in fighting the crime wave." Acapulco had a homicide rate of 103 per 100,000 inhabitants last year, one of the highest rates in Mexico and the world. The Washington Post last year described the resort city as Mexico’s murder capital.

Since 2014, municipal police have been disarmed in more than a dozen towns and cities in Guerrero, including state capital Chilpancingo’s force in January on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping of three yuths and the killing of two of them. Last year, up to 45 "fake" cops who had infiltrated the municipal police force of Zihuatanejo were arrested.

Municipal forces in other states have also been disarmed and disbanded after collusion with organized crime was uncovered. Police in Tehuacán, Puebla, were relieved of their duties last month due to suspected connections to organized crime, while authorities disbanded the municipal force in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, in March. (Mexico Daily News, Sept. 25)

Extrajudicial killings in Puebla
But the federal forces are also accused of widespread corruption and brutality.  Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) on Sept. 19 accused Puebla state police and federal troops in the extrajudicial killing of two alleged fuel thieves. The incident took place at the community of Palmarito Tochapan, Quecholac municipality. A total of 10 were killed in the confrontation—six civilians and four military troops—and numerous wounded on both sides. Among the 13 detained, four were minors. In at least two of the civilian deaths, the scene was found to be "manipulated," with firearms placed alongside the bodies. (Jurist, Sept. 20)

Mariachi massacre in Mexico City
The police crisis comes amid a growing atmosphere of insecuriy throughout the country. Gunmen with rifles and pistols killed three people and injured at least seven in a tourist plaza in downtown Mexico City Sept. 14, as they were chasing three men dressed as mariachi musicians who fled on motorbikes. Plaza Garibaldi is a major tourist destination filled with mariachi bars, then pakced as the capital was kicking off Independence Day weekend celebrations. After years of being an oasis of relative security in Mexico, the capital has seen homicides surge since 2014 to record levels. (Reuters, Sept. 15)

Journalist assassinated in Chiapas
The wave of deadly attacks on journalists claimed another victim with the killing of reporter Mario Leonel Gómez Sánchez in the southern state of Chiapas Sept. 21. Gómez, a reporter for local newspaper El Heraldo de Chiapas, was slain outside his home in the town of Yajalón by two unidentified gunmen riding a motorcycle, according to news reports. Gómez had covered the local crime beat, and had recently written about an alleged homicide and about a family that survived an attack by unknown gunmen. In 2016, Gómez had reported receiving death threats on Facebook after he published an article about accusations of corruption against federal congressman Leonardo Rafael Guirao. In an interview with press freedom group Article 19, the reporter said that the congressman's local henchman, known in the region as "El Francotirador" (The Sniper), had written on the social network that he was "going to blow your head off." Gómez was the ninth journalist to be assassinated in Mexico so far this year. (CPJ, Sept. 24; TeleSur, Sept. 21)

Police state and 'hemispheric defense'
And these very narco-compromised security forces are poised to win sweeping new powers. Passed by the Mexican Senate last December, the Internal Security Law vastly expands the powers of federal troops operating in a domestic security capacity. The law has especially generated controversy by relaxing public oversight to security forces, and it will not be implemented until the Supreme Court confirms it later this year. (Jurist)

And of course this comes with the imprimatur of approval from Washington. On Sept. 20, Mexico's defense secretary and top armed forces commander, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, received an award for his contributions to "hemispheric defense" from the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies, an arm of the Pentagon's National Defense University. (APRO, Sept. 19)

Earlier this year, several human rights groups called upon the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into the Mexican amred forces over what they called a systematic campaign of murders, torture, sexual violence and forced disappearances.

Mexico's left-populist president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador is scheduled to take office Dec. 1 amid an escalating human rights crisis in the country.

Map: CIA