Yet more grim evidence emerged this week that Mexico's warring cartels are becoming a real military force and underground parallel state in the country's lawless northeast. Small Wars Journal on Feb. 13 noted a press release from the Mexican attorney general's office, the PGR, announcing that federal police and army troops had raided a winery near Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, where 13 vehicles were being fitted with armor plating. Small Wars Journal calls it a "narco-tank factory." A huge amount of ammunition was also confiscated in the raid, although it seems the people who were running the workshop all escaped. The PGR said they believe the makeshift factory was being run by the Gulf Cartel.
In an open acknowledgement that it cannot secure its pipeline system from plunder by criminal gangs, Mexico's state oil monopoly Pemex announced Feb. 18 that it will no longer pump refined gasoline and diesel through the duct network. Mexico lost $1.14 billion last year to pipeline thefts last year—a 70% increase over the previous year. This is an ominous sign that the drug cartels are becoming the real power on the ground throughout much of the country—moving beyond their mainstays of illicit substances to contraband control of legal commodities like oil and minerals, establishing a virtual parallel economy. Pemex will now only send "unfinished" fuel through its more than 14,000 kilometers of pipeline, reported El Universal. The company said in a statement: "Customers should make sure that the fuel they buy has been delivered from Pemex terminals, and not buy gasoline or diesel from anyone other than gas stations or authorized dealers, given that...it could damage motors."
In a report published on Feb. 13, the United Nations' Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) called on the Mexican government to prioritize actions to deal with the large number of disappearances taking place in many parts of the country, often with the participation of government functionaries. Although international attention has been focused on the September abduction of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College, located in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa, the total number of people who have gone missing in Mexico since the militarization of the "war on drugs" began in late 2006 is estimated at 22,600. "[I]n contrast to the thousands of enforced disappearances," CED member Rainer Huhle told a news briefing, citing the government's own statistics, "there are exactly six persons put to trial and sentenced for this crime."
Identical twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores on Jan. 27 were the latest to be sentenced in a series of high-profile federal cases targeting the Sinaloa Cartel's operations in Chicago. Accused of running a continent-spanning trafficking ring, they each received 14 years in prison after US District Judge Ruben Castillo agreed to sharply reduce their term in recognition of their work as government informants. Castillo called the Flores twins, natives of Chicago's West Side, the "most significant drug dealers" he'd dealt with in two decades on the bench, stating that they had "devastated the walls" of US national security by bringing at least 70 tons of cocaine and heroin into the country from 2005 to 2008. Prosecutors also charged the twins smuggled $1.8 billion back to Mexico—wrapped in plastic and duct tape. But it was federal prosecutors who pleaded for leniency, hailing the twins for gathering evidence against the Cartel's long-fugitive kingpin "El Chapo" Guzmán, who was finally busted in Mexico last year.
The nonprofit Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) released a report on Feb. 7 citing a number of irregularities in the Mexican federal government's investigation of the disappearance of 43 teachers' college students in Iguala de la Independencia in the southwestern state of Guerrero the night of Sept. 26-27. The Argentine experts have researched deaths and disappearances in about 30 countries, including those that occurred in their own country during the 1976-1983 "Dirty War" against suspected leftists and in Guatemala during that country's 1960-1996 civil war. The Argentines were brought into the investigation by the parents of the missing students, who had attended the traditionally leftist Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College in the Guerrero town of Ayotzinapa.
Federal and state authorities said they rescued 129 Mexican workers on Feb. 5 from sexual and labor exploitation at Yes Internacional SA de CV, a Korean-owned garment assembly plant in Zapopan in the western state of Jalisco. The factory was closed down, and four of the executives were detained, according to the National Migration Institute (INM). The workers--who were mostly women, including six minors--reported being subjected to blows and insults, and federal authorities indicated that they would investigate reports of interrupted pregnancies and serious injuries apparently resulting from sexual assaults. In 2013 Jalisco police said they rescued at least 275 people who had been held in inhumane conditions in a tomato-packing factory.
Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), Mexico's giant state-owned oil monopoly, signed contracts worth $149 billion with outside companies from 2003 to 2012, according to a Jan. 23 investigative report by Reuters wire service; about 8% of the contracts were cited by a congressional watchdog, the Chamber of Deputies' Federal Audit Office (ASF), as having irregularities "ranging from overcharging for shoddy work to outright fraud," Reuters wrote. The problems involved more than 100 contracts with a total value of $11.7 billion.
Mexican authorities on Jan. 8 detained 13 members of a local police force in the state of Veracruz in connection with the Jan. 2 abduction of journalist Moisés Sánchez. The detained constitute a third of the police force in the town of Medellín. State prosecutor Luis Ángel Bravo said the men could be held for 30 days while an investigation is underway. Sánchez was taken from his home by unknown gunmen in civvies. Tests are underway on a body found in the town, to determine if it is the remains of the missing journalist. Sánchez edited a local weekly in Medellín, La Unión (it appears not to have a website), with a reputation for fearless coverage of drug-related violence. The arrests came in the case hours after a group of journalists interrupted a session of the Veracruz legislature in state capital Xalapa with placards reading "7 DAYS WITHOUT MOISES."