Five medical students found dead inside a vehicle, their bodies bearing signs of torture.
Four passers-by killed by gunmen who shot at a hairdresser.
Eleven young people cold by criminals who threw a party.
The recent attacks – all taking place in the past month – are the latest in a series of mass killings in Mexico that have drawn renewed attention to the government’s struggle to control the violence raging across the country.
“Everywhere you look, there is a nephew, a brother, a friend dead,” said Angélica Zamudio Almanza, whose nephew was killed in Sunday’s shooting at a party in Guanajuato, one of Mexico’s most violent states.
He was, he said, “between fear, helplessness, anger.”
In the run-up to Mexico’s crucial presidential elections next summer, violence has become perhaps the most prominent political issue in the nation, where electoral shows Insecurity is the population’s main concern and the ruling party faces pressure to show progress in its fight against increasingly powerful drug cartels.
Preliminary investigations offer few clues that there are new dynamics in the criminal world behind the recent wave of mass murders. What is clear, analysts say, is that they are all driven by a constant that no Mexican leader has touched: near-total impunity for criminals.
Less than 4% of criminal investigations are solved in Mexico, studies showand approximately 92% of crimes went unreported in 2022.
“Criminals are emboldened, because they know there is practically zero chance of facing punishment,” said Eduardo Guerrero, a security consultant based in Mexico City. “They know they can do whatever they want, that’s the common denominator.”
Cartel rule has also become a focus for American officials, with Republicans threatening to invade Mexico to fight criminal groups and growing concern in Washington that criminal gang attacks on communities are adding to the wave of migration on the southern border.
“When you see a breakdown in the security services’ ability to protect civilians, when it’s not just cartel-on-cartel violence, it has to matter to the United States,” said Roberta Jacobson, former U.S. ambassador to Mexico. “NO. 1, probably for this administration, because it will encourage migration if people are displaced.”
According to U.S. government data, an extraordinary number of Mexican families – nearly 160,000 – were caught illegally crossing the southern border from October 2022 to September, four times more than the previous year. The influx, migration experts say, has been spurred in part by cartels that have forced people from their homes with threats of recruitment, extortion or death.
Mexicans’ resentment toward their criminal masters has reached boiling point in some parts of the country.
This month, farmers in central Mexico unleashed their anger against gang members trying to extort them, using machetes and rifles to chase down and kill 10 suspected members of a local cell of the Michoacán Family cartel, officials said.
Some on social media celebrated the incident, partly captured on video, as a triumph of ordinary citizens over their tormentors in the face of an absent government.
But the revolt had a price.
Even as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sent hundreds of soldiers to the area, the cartel’s quest for revenge has prompted more than 100 families to flee their homes in fear, according to reports. local news media relationships.
López Obrador took office in 2018 promising to overhaul the country’s approach to crime, with an emphasis on fighting the poverty that pushes young people to join gangs rather than aggressively confronting cartels on the streets.
The strategy, which López Obrador called “hugs, not bullets,” has had some success, analysts say. Over the past five years, homicides have declined slightly and polls show that people in cities feel safer than under the previous president.
“They left us with a high number of murders,” López Obrador said this month, referring to his predecessors. “But we have knocked them down and they will continue to knock them down.”
However, reports of extortion and missing persons have soared since 2018, and murders are still near the highest levels recorded.
The president also stoked anger by suggesting, without providing evidence, that people killed in high-profile attacks were somehow involved in drug trafficking.
Three days after the medical students were found dead in the city of Celaya, in the state of Guanajuato, López Obrador said during his regular nationally televised press conference that the young people were killed “because they went to buy from someone who was selling drugs in “a territory that belonged to another gang.”
Local officials later said that the investigation showed that the crime had nothing to do with drug dealing, and Fabiola Mateos Chavolla, the mother of two of the victims, he lashed out to the president for his “cruel and irresponsible comments” about his children, saying that Mr. López Obrador had “blamed them for their deaths.”
This week, a few days after the attack on the party, the president again cited “drug use” as the explanation.
Ms. Zamudio Almanza, whose nephew, Galileo Almanza Lezama, 26, was shot dead in the attack, was angered by Mr. López Obrador’s comment.
“In the face of his ineptitude, he has nothing to say other than to revictimize people,” she said of the president.
Victims of recent outbreaks of violence were killed for several reasons, preliminary investigations suggest: medical students encountered criminals at a water park; passers-by at the hairdresser were in the wrong place at the wrong time; the participants of the party offended the young people who were willing to massacre them in revenge.
The wife of Juan Luis García Espitia, a sound engineer killed Saturday while working for the band playing at the Salvatierra party in Guanajuato, said she wanted her husband’s killers to be punished.
“I don’t know how to tell my daughters if I don’t even have the words,” said the mother of three, who would only give her first name, Jazmín, for fear of retaliation. “I don’t know how to explain to them that their dad won’t be here anymore.”
She added: “I won’t get my husband back, but I would like justice.”
Miguel García Lemus contributed reporting from Salvatierra, Guanajuato.