The body of a missing Mexican congresswoman has been found in a shallow grave more than a month after she was abducted by armed men while raising awareness about the coronavirus pandemic.
Anel Bueno, a 38-year-old lawmaker from the western state of Colima, was snatched on 29 April in Ixtlahuacán, a town on a stretch of Mexico’s Pacific coast that the drug trade has made one of the country’s most murderous regions.
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador told reporters on Wednesday a suspect had been detained over the killing of Bueno, who was a member of his party, Morena.
“We still don’t know the causes,” López Obrador added.
Indira Vizcaíno, a local politician from the same party, tweeted: “Your departure hurts me deeply – I’m saddened not just by the fact but by the cruelty.”
Vizcaíno, another López Obrador ally, said authorities were fighting to catch the killers “and bring justice – for this case and all of our country’s victims”.
Ixtlahuacán is a 30-minute drive from Tecomán, a picturesque seaside town that has earned the unenviable reputation as Mexico’s most murderous municipality because of its strategic position for drug smuggling cartels.
In 2017 Tecomán’s murder rate of a reported 172.5 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants resembled that of a war zone. Last year more than 100 clandestine cemeteries were found there containing the bodies of those who had dared cross the cartels.
Colima is one of five Mexican states the United States state department urges travellers against visiting.
Calderón sends in the army
Mexico’s “war on drugs” began in late 2006 when the president at the time, Felipe Calderón, ordered thousands of troops onto the streets in response to an explosion of horrific violence in his native state of Michoacán.
Calderón hoped to smash the drug cartels with his heavily militarized onslaught but the approach was counter-productive and exacted a catastrophic human toll. As Mexico’s military went on the offensive, the body count sky-rocketed to new heights and tens of thousands were forced from their homes, disappeared or killed.
Simultaneously Calderón also began pursuing the so-called “kingpin strategy” by which authorities sought to decapitate the cartels by targeting their leaders.
That policy resulted in some high-profile scalps – notably Arturo Beltrán Leyva who was gunned down by Mexican marines in 2009 – but also did little to bring peace. In fact, many believe such tactics served only to pulverize the world of organized crime, creating even more violence as new, less predictable factions squabbled for their piece of the pie.
Under Calderón’s successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, the government’s rhetoric on crime softened as Mexico sought to shed its reputation as the headquarters of some the world’s most murderous mafia groups.
But Calderón’s policies largely survived, with authorities targeting prominent cartel leaders such as Sinaloa’s Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
When “El Chapo” was arrested in early 2016, Mexico’s president bragged: “Mission accomplished”. But the violence went on. By the time Peña Nieto left office in 2018, Mexico had suffered another record year of murders, with nearly 36,000 people slain.
“Hugs not bullets”
The leftwing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador took power in December, promising a dramatic change in tactics. López Obrador, or Amlo as most call him, vowed to attack the social roots of crime, offering vocational training to more than 2.3 million disadvantaged young people at risk of being ensnared by the cartels.
“It will be virtually impossible to achieve peace without justice and [social] welfare,” Amlo said, promising to slash the murder rate from an average of 89 killings per day with his “hugs not bullets” doctrine.
Amlo also pledged to chair daily 6am security meetings and create a 60,000 strong “National Guard”. But those measures have yet to pay off, with the new security force used mostly to hunt Central American migrants.
Mexico now suffers an average of about 96 murders per day, with nearly 29,000 people killed since Amlo took office.
During a 2018 interview with the Guardian, Vizcaíno backed one of the key pledges López Obrador made to Mexicans ahead of his election that year – that efforts to combat organised crime would start to tackle the social roots of crime and no longer “just be a matter of fighting fire with fire”.
“Crime rates aren’t going up because people feel like being bad. Crime rates are going up because people need to eat,” Vizcaíno said at a restaurant in Colima’s capital that was the scene of a 2015 assassination attempt on its ex-governor.
Bueno had been attempting to raise awareness of Covid-19 prevention techniques when armed men swept into the area on pickup trucks and ordered her inside.
During a 2018 interview Tecomán’s mayor, Elías Lozano, blamed the bloodshed blighting the region on “the lack of honest politicians”.
“That’s the root of it all. Politicians had the choice of deciding between staying on the sidelines or getting involved – and many decided to get involved because there were economic benefits,” he said.