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Tracking and Analyzing Narcomantas to Better Understand the Criminal Landscape in Mexico

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Narcomappingmx” for Borderland Beat

Note: “Narcomappingmx” tracked narcomantas (narcobanners) from Spring 2021 (January 1 – March 31, 2021). This report includes an overview of the different types of narcomantas, notable events where they were found, and a trend and analysis to help explain the criminal landscape.

Abstract

Scope and Purpose: Mexico is engaged in a brutally violent and seemingly futile internal war. Last year several dozen organized crime groups ended around 40,000 lives as they battled each other for control of the nation’s highly lucrative smuggling routes into the United States. By all metrics, this year is on track to be the bloodiest yet. The escalating violence is marked by mothers posting signs begging for the safe return of their kidnapped daughters, and fathers who desperately hope to find pieces of their missing sons in the overflowing morgues. This war is isolated from the rest of the world, who enjoy the endless supply of cocaine and fentanyl. This project aims to gain a deeper understanding of the organized crime issue in Mexico by cataloguing the messages cartels leave behind which provide valuable insights into Mexico’s existential struggle. 

Methods: Through open-source research in the Mexican press, this project aims to provide a comprehensive data set detailing the story of the drug war through narcomantas (narcobanners). News articles, social media posts, and government reports with mentions of narcomantas are collected and catalogued, organized by important features such as the group involved or location. 

Categorizing and tracking narcomantas is extremely important for understanding how cartels operate. They reveal useful information such as their commanders, rivals, or markets they are involved in. Through keeping a database of narcomantas, we can interpret and research their patterns based on the clues they leave behind. 

Results: The Narcomantas Spring Report found 117 narcomantas across 22 states in Mexico, signed by 32 unique groups. Targets of threats ranged from rival cartels, to Attorney generals. These purposes of these narcomantas are divided into six categories: Threats, Accusations, Recruiting, Introduction, Help, and Bounties. All categories were represented in this data set.

Example of a narcomanta

What are Narcomantas? 

Narcomantas, narco letreros, or narcomensajes, are banners left behind by members of organised crime groups to send messages to rivals, the government, or everyday people. Narcomantas are commonly displayed in public places, such as bridges, town centers, and highways. Narcomantas can be a rudimentary form of propaganda, often accompanied by bodies of rivals.

Types of Data Collected 

The narcomantas data set for Quarter 1 of 2021 contains the Date the narcomanta was placed, the Municipality and State where it was found, group or individual Attribution, Source Date of article, Source Name, Source URL, Category, Target, and Body. 

Date: This is the date the article or source claims the narcomanta was placed. If the source does not indicate this, this cell will be the same as the Source Date. 

Municipality: The municipality where the narcomanta was found. 

State: The state where the Municipality is located. 

Attribution: Narcomantas often are signed by the criminal group or individual who left them. Sometimes the name is censored by the news article or law enforcement who found it. In cases where there is no name listed, the name is withheld, or the manta contains no name, the ‘Attribution’ column will contain “Unknown”. If there is both a cartel and cell name, we only record the cartel name. For example, “Cartel del Golfo – Grupo Espartanos” is recorded just as “Cártel del Golfo”. Source Name: The site or account where the article was published. 

Source URL: The link to the article or post. 

Category: Narcomantas are categorized as one of the following: Threat, Accuse, Recruit, Request Help, Introduce, Bounty, and Unknown. 

Target: Narcomantas will often contain the name of the target entity. This is useful for understanding dynamics between criminal groups – which groups are allied, feuding, or engaged in a stalemate. 

Body: Whether the narcomanta was found with a dead body. 

Sources cited for this report


Different Types of Narcomantas 

Every narcomanta is left for a reason. Some are intended simply to frighten off rivals, while others aim to influence public perception of a group. It is important to categorize narcomantas by their intention, or type, in order to understand how cartels aim to communicate. If we understand the purpose of a narcomanta, we can better understand and research their inner workings.

(2.1) Threats 

Threat narcomantas are the most common type of narcomanta, making up 64% of the total found this quarter. A common mantra is “this will happen to those who” oppose us, sell drugs, extort the locals, etc. 

Threat mantas are often found in the midst of turf wars. Defenders of a plaza aim to scare off the incumbent, or newcomers will use them to frighten those who engage in business with the home cartel. 

An example of this was the string of attacks on tire shops “vulcanizadoras” in Guanajuato, which were being used to sell drugs and illegally stolen gasoline for the Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL). The attackers, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), intended to scare the CSRL’s income streams, limiting their ability to defend their claim to the state. 

“THIS WILL HAPPEN TO ALL THE ASSHOLES WHO CONTINUE BELIEVING IN THE FILTH OF EL MARRO AND ARE HIS HALCONES OR SELLING BLUE JELLY. CORDIALLY: GRUPO ELITE CJNG” 

May 27, 2020, Salamanca, Guanajuato. Photo from BlogDelNarco. Left on a sidewalk next to the bagged pieces of an accused rival drug dealer’s body.

(2.2) Accusations 

Cartels will often leave banners accusing the government of supporting their rival. Often they will name specific police officers or politicians who they allege are on the enemy payroll. 

 ”ROBERTO MADRAZO, MANUEL ANDRADE, ANDRES GRANIER, USING THE GOVERNMENT AND THE PJE, SSP, FOR MANY YEARS HAVE PROTECTED PONCIANO VAZQUEZ, AN ASSASSIN FOR THE MAFIA AND CONTINUE PROTECTING THEIR PARTNER MANUAL ORDONEZ, AND PEOPLE OF CHAPO, MAYO, NACHO, ETC.”

Villahermosa, Tabasco. August 29, 2008. Image from ElSiglodeTorreon.

This narcomanta from the Felipe Calderon era of the Drug War (2006 – 2012) alleges that various Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) politicians, the Secretariat of Public Security, and the Justice Department were colluding to provide protection for the several factions of the Sinaloa Cartel. Later on in 2013, one of the politicians named, Andres Granier, would be arrested on charges of corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement of public funds.

(2.3) Recruiting 

This narcomanta was hung over a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas in April of 2008. 

“The Operations Group Los Zetas wants you, military or ex military. We offer a good salary, food, and will take care of your family. You will no longer be mistreated and will no longer go hungry. We won’t give you Maruchan (packaged noodles) to eat.” 

Photo from Nacion.

This narcomanta from the late 2000s was emblematic of propaganda efforts by Los Zetas which focused on drawing in police officers and members of the Mexican armed forces, many of whom were easily won over by drastically better wages and opportunity for career progression.

(2.4) Introduction 

Cartels will often announce their entry into a plaza through narcomantas. These narcomantas may contain self identification, (EG. “We are CJNG”) warnings for current criminal actors and security forces (EG. “WE ARE COMING FOR ALL THE KIDNAPPERS), establishment of new rules (EG. “Stay inside past 10 PM or be considered an enemy”) Narcomantas announcing introduction can be precursors to violence within the region they are posted in. New criminal groups will have to defeat the defending cartel, often resulting in a bloody turf war. 

“CALVILLO HAS AN OWNER AND IT IS CJNG. WE ARE COMING FOR ALL THE KIDNAPPERS, EXTORTIONISTS, RATS AND GRASSHOPPERS (traitors)…WE REITERATE THAT WE RESPECT THE PEOPLE. AND TO THE GOVERNMENT… FALL IN LINE OR WE WILL MAKE YOU FALL IN LINE”

July 26, 2020. Calvillo, Aguascalientes. Photo from La Verdad del Centro

(2.5) Help

Help messages are often focused on gaining government attention to a cause. These messages were most commonly employed by various “autodefensas” in Michoacan and other Central Mexican states.

(2.6) Bounties 

Bounties are very rare, but as they have a distinct focus, they merit their own category. There has been only one bounty recorded so far this spring, where a local group called “Independientes Unidos” identified several rivals to the public and offered rewards for information. 

“We are an independant group of drug dealers who have joined together to stand against the filthy Alemanes and Gulf who want to take control of the Capital of San Luis Potosi and the surrounding area. Who ever of ers useful and true information about the location of this trash will get between $50,000 to $500,000 pesos as a reward and as for Alfredo Aleman Narvaez, alias El Comandante Alemán, we want the son of a bitch dead or alive, for being the primary source of all violence in the capital.” 

San Luis Potosi, San Luis Potosi. February 16, 2021. Photo and text from BlogDelNarco.

Notable Narcomantas 


(3.1) Deaths of 3 FGR Agents

At 6 PM on Friday of March 19, 2021, an anonymous phone call led Guanajuato city police to Campuzano, a small remote town in rural Guanajuato. Police officers found the tortured bodies of three FGR (Attorney General’s Office) agents inside an abandoned van. 

Written on the window was “Esto nos pasa por extorsionar”, “This happened to us for extorting”. This event adds to the trend of numerous murders of police officers in the state, only behind Estado de México. Guanajuato is currently caught in the middle of a bloody and divisive war between a local organized crime group, the Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL), and two national drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS). 

This conflict cost 4,750 lives in 2020, making Guanajuato the most violent state in México.The newcomer in Guanajuato, CJNG, has battled CSRL for control of Guanajuato’s valuable trafficking routes north, as well as the many PEMEX oil pipelines which cross Central México. Image from Proceso.

(3.2) Message to US Att. General William Barr 

“Attorney General of the United States, William Barr and Fiscalia General de la República Alejandro Gertz Manero, Victor Noe Gonzalez Bourns alias “El 500” ever Jose Gonzalez Bournes alias “Pepe Aguila” Jesus Salas alias “El Chuyin” César Manjarrez alias “El H2” and Fredy Calles alias “El Condor” are the intellectual authors of the massacre of the Lebaron family in Sonora. They continue living unbothered by the government, moving around unhindered as businessmen.” (Following part is unclear to me. Translation from Borderland Beat) “They haven’t been apprehended by the authorities because the government doesn’t want to. Or is the bribery that they pay big enough to make you look away?” 

Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. February 1, 2021. Image from MéxicoWebCast

The Lebaron massacre referenced here was an ambush on a group of US/México citizens from a Mormon community in Chihuahua that left 9 women and children dead and burned in northern México. Traveling in armoured cars, they may have been mistaken for rival cartel members by members of “La Linea”, an armed wing of the Juárez Cartel who fight “Los Salazar” for control of the region.

(3.3) Emergence of New Autodefensa 

“We make a call to the President of Tecamachalco and other authorities from all different levels of government, that we the townspeople are tired of the robbery, we suffer daily extortion and murders, and inefficiencies of the police bodies (Guardia Nacional, State, and Municipal) we have united to end the vices in this area. 

Cordially, Ciudadanos Unidos de Tecamachalco We are not criminals, we are working people, but the rats and authorities have pushed our movement to this.” 

Tecamachalco, Puebla. January 16, 2021. Photo and reporting from MéxicoCodigoRojo

Photos of a heavily armed group called the “Ciudadanos Unidos de Tecamachalco” circulated online in early January of 2021. They claim to be an autodefensa fighting against crime in their hometown, which is located within the “Red Triangle” of huachicol, a hot spot of PEMEX fuel theft in Central México. 

The government of Puebla responded and ordered that they stand down, denouncing the illegal carrying of firearms by non-state actors, and affirmed that law enforcement is handling crime in the region. Luis Miguel Barbosa Huerta, the governor of Puebla stated that these autodefensas are nothing more than criminals who will soon be identified. 

Trends and Analysis  

(4.1) Narcomanta Distribution by State 

Not graphed: 3 narcomantas each in Chihuahua, Ciudad de México, Guerrero, Jalisco, Puebla. 2 narcomantas each in México, Sinaloa, Sonora. 1 narcomanta each in Coahuila, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas. 

Narcomanta distribution by state was heavily weighted towards regions known to be contested by different cartels such as Tijuana, Guanajuato, or Tabasco. Some surprising regions which placed high were Quintana Roo and Veracruz, where much of the fighting takes place between smaller local groups. 

Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 – 3/31 


(4.2) Narcomanta Distribution by Group 

Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 – 3/31 

Of 117 recorded narcomantas, 56 were either left without an attribution, or were censored by the local authorities or press. These are categorized as “Unknown”. Of the 61 narcomantas that were signed by an entity, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación recorded the most with 13, followed by La Barredora (6), Cartel del Noroeste (4), Cártel de Sinaloa (3), and Carteles Unidos (3). “Mera Verga” also was recorded 3 times, but is not considered a group, but rather a common phrase used by several groups or leaders. 

The following 6 groups had 2 narcomantas recorded. C#01 Y C#07, Cartel del Golfo, Ciudadanos Unidos de Tecamachalco, Miauuuuu, Pueblos Unidos de Veracruz, R 15 

The following 20 groups had 1 narcomanta recorded. Autodefensas Michoacán, CABO 13 CABO 57 PURA GENTE DEL 100, Cartel de Ensenada, Cartel de la Sierra, Cártel de Tláhuac, Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima, Carteles Independientes, El Aquiles, El Italia & El Bombero, El Patrón, El Pueblo de Cajeme, El Ruche, El Viejon, Gabino Salas, La Sombra, Los Buenos de TKT (Tecate), Los Salazar, Mata Salazar, Pueblos Indígenas de Coahuayana y la Comunidad indigena de San Miguel Aquila, and Los Zetas Vieja Escuela. 

Because organized crime cells can frequently splinter and switch sides, only the name on the narcomanta is recorded, not their otherwise known allegiance at the time.

Some narcomantas were left by factions of larger cartels. Such as the narcomanta left by “Los Salazar” in Mexicali, Baja California on January 1, 2021 (Zeta Tijuana). Because this narcomanta was signed by “Los Salazar”, and not their parent organization the Sinaloa Cartel, it is counted separately from the Sinaloa Cartels total.

Conversely, in the narcomanta below CJNG’s armed wing “Grupo Elite” signs their name alongside their larger group allegiance. This narcomanta is counted as CJNG’s total. (Photo: BlogDelNarco)


(4.3) Narcomanta Distribution by Type 
Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 – 3/31
The most common type of narcomanta were those used to threaten other groups, security forces, or civilians. These were used in about every state listed by most groups. This indicates that the primary use of narcomantas is to threaten others. Cartels using narcomantas aim to establish control over a region and populace through fear.

(4.4) Relationship Between Violence and Number of Narcomantas in State

The correlation coefficient between the homicide data and narcomantas data by state was 0.49 – a moderate positive relationship. This is unexpected as narcomantas generally accompany turf wars, which raise the homicide count in a region. A possible explanation is that some states such as Guanajuato (4,940 homicides), have finished major conflict and have entered the purge stage of a turf war – where remaining dealers and rival operatives are hunted down by the victor, with no need for narcomantas to continue claiming control. 

Source: Incidencia Delictiva del Fuero Común 2020

(4.5) Accompaniment of bodies 

Of all 117 narcomantas of all categories, 65 (55.56%) were accompanied by at least one dead body.

This percentage increased considerably with the 63 narcomantas categorized as “Threat”, to 39 (62.9%).

This suggests that groups leaving “Threat” narcomantas utilize bodies as added emphasis to bolster their point. “Help”, “Bounty”, “Recruiting”, and “Accusation” narcomantas rarely were accompanied by bodies, perhaps meaning these would detract from their aim. 

This is especially apparent with “Bounty”, “Recruiting”, and “Help”, which rely on controlling the narrative by appearing as the lesser of two evils to be successful in their messaging.

  Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 – 3/31 
                            

(4.6) Narcomantas by Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) 

Source: Narcomappingmx Narcomantas Data Set 1/1 – 3/31

CJNG led the narcomantas count with 13. Four of these were placed in the state of Guanajuato, reflecting the continued turf war with the Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL).

In Guanajuato, CJNG narcomantas continue to highlight the ongoing turf war between the CJNG and CSRL, which has resulted in thousands of deaths in the state over the last few years. This conflict appears to be slowing as the leadership structure of the CSRL has been dealt serious blows by Mexican security forces. Despite the de-escalating conflict, the CJNG and CSRL continue to kidnap and kill each other’s dealers, leaving “Threat” narcomantas, which appeared in this report’s totals.

Three were placed in Morelos, two directed at “Crispin”, which likely refers to Crispín Gaspar Corté, alias “El Crispín”, a leader within the Guerreros Unidos cartel who were allied with the CJNG as of early 2020. 

Photo from Instagram account @narcoguerra_mx.                                           Edgar Núñez Urquiza
The last was directed towards Edgar Núñez Urquiza, an officer with the Fiscalía Anticorrupción Morelos. The narcomanta claimed that he owes the CJNG 300,000 pesos ($17,000 USD). Photo from Instagram account @narcoguerra_mx. Three were placed in Jalisco, two related to conflict with their regional rivals “La Nueva Plaza”. The contents of the third, found at a mass body dump, were not released to the public.

(4.7) Use of Help Narcomantas by Autodefensas 

Narcomantas used to request government help were exclusively used by groups identifying as autodefensas. These groups were the Pueblos Indígenas de Coahuayana y la Comunidad indigena de San Miguel Aquila, Autodefensas Michoacan, Ciudadanos Unidos de Tecamachalco, Pueblos Unidos de Veracruz. 

Coahuayana, Michoacan. Pueblos Indigenas de Coahuayana y la Comunidad indigena de san Miguel Aquila. 1/15/2021 From El Salvador.

Ciudad Isla, Veracruz. Pueblos Unidos de Veracruz.

These appeared within the same month with similar messages – indicating a possible new multi group coalition, perhaps similar to the anti Zeta alliance in Central México in 2010.

Source: Spring Report – Narcomappingmx



Source: http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2021/04/tracking-and-analyzing-narcomantas-to.html


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