Monday, November 16, 2015
'NarcoData' Offers an Updated View of Mexican Organized Crime
By Patrick Corcoran
A new project from two online media outlets in Mexico presents a fresh view of organized crime's role in the country and its development over the course of the last several
Last month El Daily Post and Animal Político -- two media sources of Mexican news founded in recent years -- launched NarcoData, which they call an "interactive website that offers an in-depth study of the past four decades of organized crime in Mexico."
The website offers a comprehensive picture of the criminal groups operating in Mexico. Using information obtained from Mexico's attorney general's office (PGR, for its initials in Spanish) via public records requests, NarcoData has built a
list of criminal cells and the larger cartels for which they work during the past three presidencies. The content of these
official reports allows viewers to compare government assessments of organized crime from the Vicente Fox administration (2000-06)
through the Felipe Calderon administration (2006-12), and into the current Enrique Peña Nieto administration.
addition to its public records requests, NarcoData also borrows from a number of other open sources. It lists two books by
Luis Astorga, a prominent academic whose research focuses on organized crime, and one by Guillermo Valdes, the former chief
of Mexico's intelligence agency CISEN, as sources. It also says it uses information from government press releases on arrests and
seizures pertaining to organized crime.
One of NarcoData's most notable features is its mere existence,
as it reflects an emerging trend: the growth of highly sophisticated civil society groups performing their own analysis on
security and other key issues. These groups, such as the Instituto Mexicano de la Competitividad and Lantia Consultores, serve as a more trustworthy counterweight to government narratives. In so doing, they help hold the government to account
with their own analysis, and obligate it to operate with a higher degree of transparency and competency.
Mexico has long had a boisterous independent press, the degree of specialization of projects like NarcoData goes beyond what a daily
newspaper typically produces. This fosters a more informed civil society, and it reverses a post-Mexican Revolution tendency
of a passive citizenry being fed the dictates of the government.
InSight Crime Analysis
first glance, the most striking takeaway from the research is the sheer increase in the number of criminal organizations operating
in Mexico. During the Fox administration, the PGR apparently broke the nation's criminal underworld into seven different groups, denominated by their respective leaders: the Arellano Felix family, the Carrillo Fuentes family, Osiel Cardenas, Joaquin
"El Chapo" Guzman and Hector Luis Palma Salazar, the Amezcua Contreras family, the Diaz Parada family, and the Valencia family.
also: Mexico's News and Profiles
In the most recent government report, dated 2014, four of the above groups have essentially disappeared or been radically
reshaped under different leadership, while two others are dramatically weaker. Only Chapo Guzman's organization remains
largely similar to its past iteration. Furthermore, the seven main groups during the Fox tenure have been drastically expanded.
Peña Nieto's team reported the existence of nine primary organizations, under which 45 different cells operate.
The atomization of Mexico's criminal landscape is a fundamental change, and one widely commented upon by InSight Crime and a multitude of other outlets. However, the picture presented by NarcoData is slightly more nuanced. There are indeed vastly more organizations on the
government's radar today than there were ten years ago during the final stretch of the Fox tenure.
current official counts of organizations operating in Mexico City are substantially less than they were under Calderon, when the government reported the presence of 80 different cells. It is not clear if this reflects changes in the methods of tabulation and classification,
or if it stems from a genuine change in the landscape. That is, a renewed tendency toward criminal consolidation following
years of splintering.
See also: Coverage of Tools and Data
Both explanations are plausible, but the implications of the two possible versions are profoundly different. If it's
the former, it is merely another case of the government massaging the security narrative to suit its own ends. But if the
organized crime groups have begun a process of consolidation, it means one of the foremost trends of the past decade has reversed
itself, and Mexico's security challenges are in the process of evolving toward another phase.
As the analysts from NarcoData point out,
the government's own analysis refers to activities by the large criminal organizations in Mexico City. Publicly, figures from different levels of government have long denied this, hewing to an image of the nation's capital as immune from the chaos of Michoacan's Tierra Caliente or the US/Mexico border region. This, together with growing evidence from on the ground, indicates that the government version is not aimed
at describing the facts, but merely at assuaging the nation's most populous region.
This commentary, "NarcoData
Provides New Viewpoint of Mexico's Security Situation," was first published in InSight Crime, on Nov. 12, 2015 and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization. InSight Crime's objective
is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Patrick Corcoran is a graduate of the University of Tennessee, and received an
MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.