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Deadly Ambush in Jalisco Pits Cartels, Authorities, and Community against Each Other
On July 11th, personnel from the Jalisco Prosecutor’s Office and the Tlajomulco de Zúñiga Municipal Police responded to a report of a clandestine grave from a member of the Jalisco Seeking Mothers Collective. As the security personnel reached Flaviano Ramos Norte Street in the Larios community, their vehicles activated seven of eight buried improvised explosive devices (IED), killing six and injuring 17.
Among the dead were three members of the State Prosecutor’s Office, a Tlajomulco police officer, and two civilians, according to the Jalisco State Attorney, Luis Joaquín Méndez Ruiz. Twelve civilians, a municipal officer, an agent of the State Prosecutor’s Office, and three minors, aged nine, thirteen, and fourteen were also injured by the explosives.
Municipal firefighters and paramedics were deployed to the scene to aid those injured in the blasts, where they extinguished four vehicles, one private and three belonging to security officials. The vehicles were severely damaged by the IEDs.
Municipal and state police officers, along with agents from the State Prosecutor’s Office, were also dispatched to the site of the explosions to provide security for their injured colleagues and to cordon off the area when they later located additional IEDs and requested backup from the Technical Specialist Squad for Disabling Explosive Devices (TEDAX) to diffuse the remaining explosives.
Mexican Military, National Guard, and judiciary elements launched a security operation in Tlajomulco de Zúñiga municipality and the southern Guadalajara metropolitan region to locate those responsible for the attack. In addition, the United States consulate in Guadalajara confirmed the presence of personnel from the Agency for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), to document the area of effect, and obtain information regarding the composition of the explosives and their method of detonation.
During a press release shortly after the incident, the Governor of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro Ramírez, stated that a member of the Jalisco Seeking Mothers Collective had received an anonymous report regarding the location of hidden graves the day prior to the bombings, and subsequently informed the proper authorities. Governor Ramírez said that authorities responded to the reports “how we’ve always done” during a press release, only for authorities to be led into a “trap”. The governor announced search operations will no longer be conducted in response to anonymous complaints until protocols are revised and a new method of conducting searches has been determined.
Governor Ramírez claimed the anonymous report was a trap, intended to lure authorities to the area where the explosives had been placed, but members of the Jalisco Seeking Mothers Collective deny that the phone call ever took place.
The day after the incident, the Jalisco Searching Mothers Collective made a post on their Facebook page, where they denied Governor Ramírez’s claims and stated their intent to continue the searches. A translation of the post is as follows:
“Our collective, the Searching Mothers of Jalisco, does not agree! With the statements of our Governor [Enrique Alfaro Ramírez], since we work with our own resources and do the work that corresponds to the government, with this recent attack which we regret and join the grief of the families of those lost. We categorically deny that it has anything to do with us, we deny that the people involved are part of our collective and of others, we never received that call nor was it made from us and we never go out at night to the field, their strategy to intimidate the mothers who only seek to return their family members home is illogical, as we have never received any kind of threats or intimidation from cartels, why now limit media outlets from covering us collectives, missing people and uncovered clandestine graves? In this last [clandestine] grave of San Juan Evangelista [of Tlajomulco de Zúñiga, Jalisco] 51 people have been exhumed and is not even one-fourth of the work done, if you think we’re in danger Enrique Alfaro Ramírez give us the protection we deserve for doing your work! Don’t you want to hide what the world knows that we’re walking over a cemetery! Jalisco is number 1 in disappearances, and no one has been arrested for it. You do not want to silence us or violate our rights as relatives or violate the rights of our disappeared to be searched for! the Searching Mothers of Jalisco will continue the fight to bring them home!”
During an interview with W Radio, Indira Navarro, leader of the Jalisco Searching Mothers Collective, denied Governor Ramírez’s claims that the search collective was involved in the incident, and stated that the governor's claims were an attempt to suspend their searches, since what they uncover “inconveniences” the governor. Navarro said that while normally the collective may reach out to authorities if reported locations of clandestine graves have been confirmed, in this instance, they did not communicate with authorities, as they never received the report. Navarro also said that the group did not participate in the search, as they refuse to operate at night, and that they will continue to search for human remains, even if the governor wants to “place his foot on their necks.”
When asked about the situation regarding missing persons in Jalisco, Navarro claimed that only one-fifth of missing cases are accounted for and that the official number, 14,074, is an artificially low number. Navarro believes that a “black” list of missing persons may exist, as the state has allegedly closed active cases without locating the reported missing individuals. When the Jalisco Seeking Mothers Collective attempted to confirm the status of missing individuals through official registries, they observed that the reports were no longer registered, even though the individuals had not been officially located. The group’s claim has been backed up in a report by the news publication Informador, that details the state's failure to properly register missing case reports to the National Registry of Missing and Unlocated Persons, hindering rescue efforts and assisting in the disappearance of these victims.
On July 16th, the Searching Mothers of Jalisco Collective, along with 25 other search collectives, marched from the Gloreita de las y los Desaparecidos to the Government Palace in protest of Governor Ramírez’s decision to halt search operations in the state and demanded that a list of appeals be met. The list is as follows:
Reinforce, in clear and determined times, the security protocols related to the searches that originate by anonymous complaints, so that the integrity of the people who participate and accompany the search actions is safeguarded, with the full participation of the families.
The Governor of Jalisco [Enrique Alfaro Ramírez] assures families that all search actions they carry out will have the support of authorities.
Guarantee that in the event of any type of discovery of bodies and human remains, authorities will provide an immediate and effective response and that our search efforts are not obstructed.
Ensure and provide certainty to the families by the Governor of Jalisco, that no type of suspension or cancellation of search actions will be carried out, and that his message does not have any consequence or affectation to the search operations already scheduled or to be scheduled.
Set a clear and certain period of time for the suspension of searches originating from anonymous complaints.
Not making decisions that will affect search actions, without prior consideration of the effective participation of the relatives of the disappeared persons. Not without the families!
Make every effort to guarantee an independent, prompt, and effective investigation of the events that occurred, which will allow the public and relatives of disappeared persons to be provided with exhaustive information on what conspired, and to clarify its relationship with the searches, anonymous complaints, and the work of the seekers.
Stop the speeches and actions that re-victimize, intimidate, and stigmatize the relatives of those missing.
Guarantee the full exercise of the right to free social protest and expression of ideas, which is essential to demand our rights.
Comply with the legal obligations provided for in the laws on disappearance by the authorities of the three levels of government in relation to the actions of searches, investigations, care for the victims of disappearance, and forensic identification.
The halt of search operations conducted for anonymous reports is a grave issue for search collectives. Hector Flores, a member of the Jalisco Luz de Esperanza Disappearances Collective, stated that anonymous calls are usually the only method they use to obtain information regarding hidden graves.
After the march was announced on July 13th, Governor Ramírez stated during a press release that search operations would continue in Jalisco, but that they would no longer respond to incidents made by anonymous complainants, saying, “The search for missing persons is not suspended, we are going to continue fulfilling this important task…What I said, and I said it very clearly, is that any procedure that arises from an anonymous complaint is suspended until we have an adequate protocol to respond to this type of circumstance.” These measures are contradictory to the Citizen Committee of the State Search System’s previous recommendations regarding risk assessment during searches that were refused by the state on the basis that they’re “already in place.” In addition, Governor Ramírez said authorities had received multiple calls urging security personnel to travel towards the site of the explosion in the three days prior to the incident.
It was later determined that among the dead was Óscar Rodríguez Díaz, the owner of the land on which the anonymous caller claimed hidden graves were located, and where the explosives had been placed. Family members confirmed Díaz was at the scene of the incident, and news publications had broadcast footage of Díaz speaking with security personnel shortly before the explosion, as he queried about the operation being conducted on his land. Díaz went missing after the explosion, and his family later reported his disappearance.
Family members searched various hospitals and the Forensic Medical Service (Semefo) in an attempt to locate Díaz but were unsuccessful until July 13th, when they were contacted by authorities to return to Semefo and identify Díaz's remains.
On July 17th, the Jalisco Prosecutor’s Office announced the arrest of two individuals, Segio Julián ‘N’ and Samuel ‘N,’ for their alleged participation in the attack. The suspects were charged with attempted homicide, crimes committed against representatives of authority, and criminal association. During a press conference, Luis Joaquín Méndez Ruiz, the State Attorney of Jalisco, stated that investigations into the incident have “only just begun” and that personnel of the Public Ministry are conducting their own investigations to locate and capture individuals who have been identified as participants in the incident. On July 21st, through a continuation hearing, it was determined that the case against the two detainees was sufficient for the criminal process to begin, and the suspects were sentenced to two years of preventative detention.
No official entities have identified the criminal organization behind the incident, but a report published by Anabel Hernandez for DW News alleges the attack was orchestrated by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) in conjunction with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP), stating documents that the main suspect in the explosion has been identified as Carlos Andrés Rivera Varela ‘La Firma,’ a Colombian National and local criminal leader — known as a “plaza boss” — for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. The report claims Varela would act as the middleman between the criminal organizations, and was responsible for the introduction of FARC-EP explosive experts from Colombia into Mexico.
Relationships between the FARC and Mexican criminal organizations are not new. According to the DEA 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment, the FARC-EP had operated as the supplier of cocaine to various Mexican transnational criminal organizations, such as the Beltrán Leyva Organization, Los Zetas, and CJNG, who then facilitated the distribution of cocaine to the United States. In addition to possibly being recruited as mercenaries, FARC militants have reportedly provided training for approximately 50 members of CJNG and ‘Los Cuinis’ or ‘Los González Valencia,’ who operate as the financial arm of the criminal organization.
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel’s relationship with the FARC-EP has also influenced their armament. A report by the Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN) states that the criminal organization had begun producing similar explosives to those used by the FARC-EP, known as ‘potatoes,’ highly unstable makeshift explosives consisting of various compounds, with a payload of nails, rocks or bolts to cause harm to their intended target.
Reports claim the Tlajomulco de Zúñiga incident was the first of its kind in Mexico, but similar attacks have been orchestrated before, with criminal organizations luring authorities to areas laden with explosives.
On June 28th, National Guard personnel were conducting patrols in the state of Celeya when they received a report regarding a vehicle parked in the Sauz de Villaseñor community of Celaya, Guanajuato. National Guard personnel located the vehicle and attempted to search the interior, when an explosive was activated by a tripwire, resulting in three personnel gravely injured and seven with mild injuries. Shortly after the incident, a written communication circulated through the encrypted messaging application, Telegram, which claimed the attack was aimed against ‘fedepales’ or former federal policemen who were recruited to operate as municipal police officers.
In an interview for Borderland Beat, David Saucedo, a security analyst in Mexico, said the incident was a “trap” orchestrated by the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel. While initial news reports contradict the report given to authorities, Saucedo stated it was not a concerned citizen or local resident who made the call, but rather a suspected criminal attempting to lure authorities towards the explosives “...the voice which reported the vehicle to 911 has been identified as belonging to someone who has made other 911 calls that were, in fact, traps for Celaya’s policeman.” As the use of explosives by criminal organizations advances so must the response and preventative measures by security forces evolve alongside it, as these attacks will not be lone instances in an ever-growing conflict.