Official figures reveal that narco-violence made 2017 the deadliest year in Mexico's modern history. The grim total surpassed that of 2011, when the militarized drug war of then-President Felipe Calderón led to 22,409 homicides. A total of 23,101 homicide investigations were opened in the first 11 months of 2017, according to figures published Dec. 22 by the Governance Ministry, which has been tracking the yearly kill count back to 1997.
Brazilian federal police on Dec. 28 announced the arrest of José González Valencia, one of the top leaders of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG)—the criminal machine that in recent years has risen to challenge the Sinaloa Cartel for control of Mexico's narco trade. Valencia, known as "Chepa" or "El Camarón" (The Shrimp), was arrested at Aquiraz, a resort near the coastal city of Fortaleza, where he was spending the Christmas holidays with his family. Authorities said Valencia had been living in Bolivia for two years after fleeing Mexico, and had entered Brazil as a tourist on a Bolivian passport.
An estimated 5,000 Tzotzil Maya peasants have been forced to flee their homes in the municipality of Chalchihuitán, in Mexico's southern Chiapas state, facing threats by armed men in a land dispute with the neighboring municipality of Chenalhó. The displaced, living in improvised camps since their homes were attacked in October, only started to receieve aid this week, as Chenalhó residents blocked all three roads to the community. Army vehicles started delivering aid Dec. 12 after one blockade was relaxed, but on condition that only humanitarian aid be allowed through. The army and state and federal police have established a Mixed Operations Base in the area. The local Catholic diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas said that an "atmosphere of terror" prevails in the area, and warned of a repeat of the 1997 Acteal massacre, when 45 were killed by paramilitary gunmen in a hamlet of Chenalhó.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Dec. 5 said that Mexico's proposed security legislation will not assist its armed forces in combating the war on drugs, but will contribute to the atmosphere of impunity in the country. The Law on Internal Security (PDF) was approved by the Chamber of Deputies last month. The law would would under certain circumstances allow place police officers to be placed under the command of the armed forces. Despite pressure from rights groups, the law would not place restrictions on the power of the armed forces to regulate themselves, which has led to widespread rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances.
The latest grim manifestation of the unrelenting prison crisis in Latin America comes from the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, where authorities confirmed Oct. 10 that 16 inmates were killed, and 25 wounded, in an uprising at the Penal de Cadereyta facility. Prison riots in Mexico are often related to struggles between rival narco-gangs, but this one started as an inmate protest over abysmal conditions at the overcrowded state lock-up. Prisoners took guards hostage to press such basic demands as adequate food and water. One prisoner was killed in fighting with guards before the state police were sent in. The inmates erected barricades of matresses and set them on fire, prompting police to respond with lethal force.
In the long string of Mexican journalists assassinated for covering police abuse and narco-corruption, the latest case is particularly egregious. On Oct. 6, authorities in San Luis Potosí found the body of Edgar Daniel Esqueda Castro outside the city's airport, dead of three gunshot wounds. He had been abducted by armed men in police uniforms the previous night.
Yet another Mexican journalist was slain Aug. 22, as the cartels continue to exact vengeance on any who would dare to report on their reign of terror and corruption across much of the country. Cándido "Papuche" Ríos, who covered the nota roja (crime and police beat) for local newspaper Diario de Acayucan, was gunned down by unknown assailants along with two other men in the town of Hueyapan de Ocampo, Veracruz state. One of the other two men, with whom Ríos was talking outside a gas station, was a former municipal official.
A 29-year-old man believed to be the godson of imprisoned Mexican narco lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán was indicted on drug charges in a San Diego federal court on Aug. 7. Damaso López Serrano AKA "Mini Lic" was charged with smuggling unspecified quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. He'd turned himself in to US border agents several days earlier, and is said to be the highest-ranking Mexican kingpin ever to surrender in the territory of the United States.