Dismembered, burned and tortured: Mexico sees its deadliest month in 2021

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MEXICO CITY — The corpses of three people, dismembered and burned, were found in bags in Abasolo, in the state of Guanajuato, on Sept. 2. Three days later, a trans woman was murdered in the same state, and the body of a man, burned and tortured, was found hanging from a tree in Coacalco state. On Sept. 7, more than 300 migrants who had been kidnapped were rescued in Aguascalientes, and on Sept. 19, an entire family in Chihuahua was killed and an explosive package in Guanajuato caused the deaths of two men.

The list of bloody events seems endless, but it's only a sample of the 438 acts of extreme violence that the Mexican nongovernmental organization Causa en Común registered in September, the deadliest month this year.  

Researchers estimate that the rise in extreme violence has left 6,314 people injured or dead in the first seven months of 2021.

The group said in its new report on Atrocities Registered in the Media that there have been at least 800 cases of torture this year, in addition to 640 incidents of dismemberment, mutilations and destruction of corpses, the discoveries of 502 clandestine graves, 418 massacres and 341 murders of women that were perpetrated with extreme cruelty.   

“It seems very serious to us, because it is not only terrible that people are murdered in Mexico, but how they are murdered,” said Luis Sánchez Díaz, a researcher at Causa en Común, which defends rights and freedoms. “This type of news is not just another figure, and it is very unfortunate that we are beginning to normalize this type of violence.”

Every month, the group counts the “atrocities” recorded in the media, defined as events in which there is “intentional use of physical force to cause death, laceration or extreme mistreatment.”

The organization warned that it bases its numbers only on journalists' reports, so “there will be an undetermined number of atrocities that were not registered.”

Sánchez Díaz said: “We see that the country is becoming more militarized with the actions of the National Guard, [yet] there is an increase in violence. It is absurd to think that the country is becoming more peaceful when, on average, 97 people are murdered every day.”  

National Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval has said recently that the army has deployed 28,395 troops — among them 6,244 on the southern border and 7,419 on the northern border with the U.S.

“Keeping the military in the streets and not fighting corruption affects everything,” Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a specialist in criminal organizations at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, told Noticias Telemundo. She wasn’t involved in the Causa en Común investigation.

While violence has exploded in the country as the justice system has deteriorated, suffering from “many limitations,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration inherited the effects of former President Felipe Calderón’s war against drugs, Correa-Cabrera said.

“Atrocities such as extortion, kidnapping, torture and murder occur throughout the country, but nothing happens. However, it is not something new, because this was seen in previous governments. It is enough to look at past figures to understand that it is an enormous challenge,” she said.  

Migration and massacres

The report found that massacres (killings of three or more people) peaked in July, when 67 were recorded, and that the high monthly tallies continue. The researchers warned that there is a relationship between the events and the presence of migrants in Mexico.

“It seems important to us to point out that this increase in victims is due to the fact that there is an escalation of violence not only against the country’s population, but also against migrants,” Sánchez Díaz said, speaking about the proliferation of kidnappings and violent incidents against people who are passing through Mexico as they migrate north to the U.S.  

The National Migration Institute has rescued 19,162 migrants who were victims of organized crime, many of them Central Americans. From Aug. 21 to Sept. 20 alone, the army rescued 63,614 migrants.

“We live in fear, because it is a very corrupt area. All the people tell you that the cartels impose the rules, the drug is the law,” said Yorje Pérez Moreno, a Venezuelan migrant who was extorted during his stay in Mexico this year.

Human Rights First, a Washington-based organization, has recorded 6,356 violent attacks against migrants who had been deported to Mexico since January — including rape, kidnapping, extortion, human trafficking and other attacks. 

A rise in femicides

The worst month so far has been May, when 62 cases involved the violent murders of women. Sánchez Díaz said it’s a worrying trend that worsens each month.

“It is often said that many of these deaths are linked to organized crime, but we see that most cases of violence against women have to do with their partners or with a circle close to them,” Sánchez Díaz said.

The highest number of femicides during López Obrador’s administration came in August, when 107 were registered, according to data from the Ministry of Security and Citizen Protection. It is also the highest number since 2015.

Femicides increased by 8 percent from January to August compared to the same period last year.

“There is a growing trend in the murders of women, but it is not well reflected, because in Mexico very few are classified as femicides,” said Patricia Olamendi, a feminist activist and human rights expert. “The majority classify them as intentional or culpable homicides. But if we add these three situations, we have an average of 20 murders of women a day.”

An ‘almost total’ impunity

In a report published last week, Hallazgos 2020 (“hallazgos” means “findings”), the think tank México Evalúa found that 94.8 percent of the cases reported in Mexico go unpunished.

“It is a criminal justice system that does not respond to the demands of citizens because it has been left in distress. There is no political leadership to correct the deficiencies and allocate the resources that are required,” said Chrístel Rosales, a researcher for the organization's justice program. 

The report found that 93.3 percent of cases aren’t reported to authorities and that of the small percentage that are, 95 percent go unpunished. The attorney general’s office initiated 38,855 investigations last year, 60 percent fewer than in 2019.

Although the investigation takes the coronavirus pandemic into account, experts say the population’s distrust of the justice system and its limitations also has an impact. 

It is a bleak scenario, because only three-tenths of 1 percent of cases are resolved. “It is almost total impunity,” Rosales said.

More women detained, and with longer sentences      

The México Evalúa report found that women experience inequality in the penal system because their rights are less respected.

When they testify, they are pressured to give other versions of events to a greater extent than men. In addition, fewer are afforded their rights, and 1 in 2 women are deprived of their freedom while awaiting sentence.

“The justice system is treating women differently, in a negative sense. ... For example, they are given more extensive sentences than men, especially in sentences greater than 21 years, because two-thirds are women,” Rosales said. 

The problem is structural. Men dominate the judicial system, which widens the gaps and the inequalities.

“There is still a sexual division of labor. Women are assigned lower positions that are more administrative or secretarial, while positions of decision-making, research and strategic planning are occupied by men,” Rosales said. 

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