Sandra Ávila Beltrán, dubbed the "Queen of the Pacific" by the Mexican media, arrived Aug. 21 at the Federal Social Readaptation Center (CEFERESO) Number 4 in Tepic, Nayarit, days after she was extradited to Mexico from the US. The transfer came after a US judge in Maimi gave her credit for time served on the basis of five years she spent behind bars in Mexico and another year awaiting sentencing in Florida. She was arrested upon her arrival back in Mexico, to face new charges of money-laundering on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Mexico's most notorious kingpin, Rafael Caro Quintero, was released Aug. 9 from Puente Grande federal prison in Jalisco where he had been incarcerated for the past 28 years. He left the facility at dawn, several hours before the release order was made public. The First Appellate Tribunal in Guadalajara found in March that Caro Quintero was improperly tried for the 1985 torture-killing of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, and that charges should have been brought at the state rather than federal level. Federal prosecutors immediately appealed to the Supreme Justice Court of the Nation, which refused to rescind the lower court's decision. The Third Circuit Tribunal, also in Guadalajara, has now followed through by issuing Caro Quintero an amparo—a judicial order barring any federal action against him.
President Barack Obama said April 30 he will wait until he meets with his Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto this week to discuss Mexico's decision to curtail access of US security agencies. "I'm not going to yet judge how this will alter the relationship between the United States and Mexico until I've heard directly from them to see what exactly are they trying to accomplish," Obama said in Washington. Mexico confirmed days earlier that it has ended direct access by US law enforcement agents to their Mexican counterparts; now all communication is to be routed through the federal interior ministry, Gobernación.
Colombian National Police on April 17 announced the arrest in Cali of Cesar Demar Vernaza AKA "El Empresario"—accused boss of Ecuadoran narco-gang Los Templados and purported top South American operative of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. In February, he had escaped from a maximum-security prison in Guayaquil, known as "La Roca" or "The Rock," where he was serving a 25-year sentence for homicide. He allegedly came to Cali to establish contact with regional narco bosses and rebuild his operations along Colombia's Pacific coast. Arrested with him was an associate named only as "La Bestia" (the Beast) who was also among the 16 convicts sprung from La Roca in the February jailbreak. La Bestia attempted to resist arrest, taking the residents in his building hostage and threatening to blow up a gas tank. Authorities negotiated him down and he ultimately surrendered. (Colombia Reports, April 17)
Citing frustration with mounting criminal violence, the National Congress of Honduras on April 16 moved to suspend prosecutor general Luis Alberto Rubí and his assistant, replacing them with a temporary oversight committee. The five-member commission, made up of leaders of the country's political parties, will have 60 days to analyze why the prosecutor's office, the Fiscalía General de la República, has made little headway on numerous criminal cases, and draft a plan to reform the institution. With a homicide rate of 90 per 100,000 residents, Honduras is often called the world's most violent country. Prosecutors solve only about 20% of homicide cases, on average. The National Congress estimates 20,644 homicides have gone uninvestigated in the 28 months of the current administration. (InfoSurHoy, La Prensa, Tegucigalpa, April 18; AP, NYT, April 17; La Prensa, April 16)
Seven were killed March 29 when a masked gunman in a bullet-proof vest and black uniform opened fire with an AK-47 in a bar in in the commercial center of Chihuahua City in northern Mexico. Three of the dead were women who worked at the bar, called Mogavi. The city has seen a wave of violence as the Juárez Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel battle for control of the strategic corridor leading to the border town of Ciudad Juárez, immediately up the highway to the north. In a similar incident that night, gunmen opened fire in a bar in Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero state, killing four civilians and three off-duty federal agents. The previous night, an armed commando raided a nightclub called La Habana in Oaxaca City, in Mexico's south, menacing staff and patrons with AK-47s, shooting up the bar's facade, and abducting one man identified only by his nickname, "El Chiquilín."
The Mexican military announced Feb. 10 the capture of Jonathan Salas Avilés AKA "El Fantasma" (The Ghost), accused of being the security chief for fugitive Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin Guzmán AKA "El Chapo" (Shorty), in Culiacán. Salas apparently surrendured after being surrounded by three helicopters and at least eight navy vehicles. In the typical confusion, the governor of Sinaloa last year mistakenly announced that Salas had been killed in a clash with Mexican Marines. (BBC News, El Universal, Sexenio, Feb. 10; Justice in Mexico, March 5, 2012) The arrest of a figure close to El Chapo while the kingpin himself remains at large has been reported again and again and again and again and again—leading to conspiracy theories that Chapo is being protected by the Mexican state, at the price of the occasional sacrifice of a lieutenant to save face.
Drug-related violent deaths reached 12,394 in Mexico last year, according to a count released by the daily Milenio on Jan. 2. The account said this was an increase of 110 over 2011, but 264 less than in 2010, the most violent year of the Felipe Calderón presidency. (However, by the government's own figures, the total for 2012 was 12,903, and 15,273 for 2010.) For a fifth consecutive year, Chihuahua was the most violent state in the country, accounting for 18% of total deaths. Yet a Dec. 30 report on El Paso Inc notes the official number of murders in the violence-torn border city of Juárez dropped to about 800, down from a peak of 3,622 in 2010 that won the sobriquet "Murder City." The government of course takes credit, pointing to the jailing of gang leaders and social programs for at-risk youth. A Jan. 11 report on National Public Radio admits that may be part of the explanation, but says "word on the street" is that the long, bloody turf war is winding down because one side won: the interloping Sinaloa Cartel defeated the local and now heavily factionalized Juárez Cartel.