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Security Brief: CRIME Week of June 28, 2021

Week of Monday, June 28, 2021 | Issue 17

Moon Jung Kim, Kejsi Mellani, Matthew Mitchell, Crime Team


Senator of Tamaulipas, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca[1]


Date: June 30, 2021

Location: Reynoso, Mexico

Parties involved: Mexican government officials; Mexican prosecutors; Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca, GOPES law enforcement unit; the Gulf Cartel

The event: The embattled governor of Tamaulipas in northern Mexico is touting the timely arrests of those allegedly responsible for a grizzly massacre in Reynosa, but doubts remain as to who is truly behind the killings. “Federal, state and municipal governments must send a clear message that there is not, nor will there be, impunity for those who commit criminal acts or violence,” Tamaulipas Senator Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca said June 28. Since the killings, security forces have arrested 25 other people, freed 119 kidnapping victims, and secured weapons and drugs. Those actions were led by a controversial special operations group known as the Grupo de Operaciones Especiales (GOPES), which reports directly to the governor. Some of its members were tied to the brutal January 2021 massacre of 19 people near the US-Mexico border.[2]

The implications:

  • In the aftermath of the escalated violence throughout northern Mexico, Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca was quick to show off arrests made in the most recent mass shooting in Reynoso linked to cartel violence. This comes as the governor has faced numerous allegations linking him to cartels and other organized crime, with Mexican officials passing laws to shield him from prosecution in Mexico. By passing these laws amid calls for his resignation, these actions continue to reduce the Mexican citizen’s faith in their government while suggesting that there will be no investigations or consequences for politicians and government officials who participate in misconduct, setting a dangerous precedent. Allowing government officials and politicians to essentially have no accountability measures could allow violence and corruption in the country to increase at the expense of the public.

  • Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca has not been the only Mexican politician with possible ties to organized crime in Mexico, showing a larger pattern that occurs throughout the entire Mexican government. Corruption in Mexican government has been impacting the country’s overall efforts to decrease crime and properly engage in diplomatic activities with other countries. Continued association with organized crime and cartel groups facilitates the lack of trust in the government and the likelihood for citizens to feel they need to take protection measures into their own hands.

  • The GOPES Unit is considered a highly controversial law enforcement unit in Mexico that has been linked to serious inhuman rights violations and assisting in perpetuating crime while in an official capacity, like kidnappings, murders, and turning over suspects and/or information to criminal enterprises. A unit with such a murky history sends a message that the investigation into this incident may be compromised due to corruption and the individuals arrested may not be the individuals responsible for committing the crimes. Neither the GOPES unit nor the criminal justice system in northern Mexico has a great track record of being just, which may have contributed to organized criminal groups roaming freely without any fear of repercussions.


Date: July 1, 2021

Location: El Salvador

Parties involved: Top Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) leaders; El Salvador government officials; the United States (US), US investigators; US prosecutors

The event: Nearly half a dozen sources from the US and El Salvador say the recent decision to temporarily halt the extradition of several top MS13 leaders to face US charges may be related to an ongoing, unofficial pact between the gang and the Salvadoran government. Current El Salvador government officials, including President Nayib Bukele, have denied the existence of any pact. Yet in 2020, US media and non-governmental think tank reports have asserted the Salvadoran government and the MS-13 had an arrangement in which the gangs agreed to lower homicides and provide political support in return for better conditions in prison and control over government aid programs.[3]

The implications:

  • The allegations regarding the ties between MS13 and the Salvadoran government may drive the US—a close diplomatic and economic partner—to pursue more official probes and heavy-handed foreign policies intended to root out corrupt politicians. It is likely that the US will push for El Salvador to cooperate with more corruption investigations to cut off the flow of MS13 immigrants into Salvadoran borders, despite increasing tensions between the two states. It is also likely that international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) may increase their involvement in El Salvador by sending foreign aid and resources aimed to improve the state’s current criminal justice system and better equip law enforcement forces to handle high-level corruption.

  • El Salvador has identified current and former top government officials as being corrupt before, and this case is just one of several recent claims accusing Salvadoran leaders of providing support to criminal organizations. It is highly probable that there is a high level of distrust in the state from the citizens, which may lead individuals to pursue vigilantism and extrajudicial violence. However, these actions—whether intended to be defense or demonstrations of public dissent—may contribute to the rising violence in the state and encourage citizens to ignore established laws. As a result, the criminal justice institutions in the country may eventually be rendered ineffective, which could lead to the collapse of a democratic society.

  • If both MS13 and the corrupt Salvadoran politicians are able to escape proper prosecution, it is probable that the gang would only continue to expand and may begin to be active in previously untouched regions that stretch past their current groups in Central America and the US. With the monetary assistance of government officials, MS13 would be able to contribute more to the international drug trade and thus increase crime levels throughout the world. Additionally, financial aid from the Salvadoran government will make it possible for the gang to recruit more malleable youths on a global scale, which will undoubtedly increase the number of homicides and street violence cases throughout the world.


Date: July 1, 2021

Location: Brazil

Parties Involved: Brazil’s government officials; Federal law enforcement; Brazil’s health ministry

The Event: The president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro is linked to an alleged corruption scandal that involves irregularities in a COVID-19 vaccine contract for Brazil’s immunization campaign. The vaccine deal is a contract between Brazil’s Health Ministry and Bharat Biotech, the Indian pharmaceutical company producing the vaccines. To buy the vaccines, the Brazilian health ministry was expected to pay $320 million USD, with each vaccine costing $15 USD. However, invoices for the contract included a $45 million USD upfront payment to the Singapore intermediary, which is currently under review as a bribe.[4] Bolsonaro stated to have ordered the federal police to act over the irregularities, but the police denied being contacted.

The Implications:

  • Shortly after the opening of the investigation into Bolsonaro, numerous protesters took the streets of Brazil. Demonstrations continued across Brazil, which has exacerbated concerns that current law enforcement tactics will contribute to the ongoing violence and the deteriorating relations between the public and the Brazilian government. Police have already fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protestors who have tried to march down a closed road.[5] It is likely that protests will continue to expose a distrust not only of the government but also of public health officials, who may be targeted by protestors looking to place blame on the state for the large number of deaths caused by the pandemic. This growing conflict could signal a new phase of political instability.

  • Inequalities in Brazil have created vulnerabilities among disadvantaged populations. The pandemic provides further evidence of the country’s inequality—as the virus spread throughout the country, the president downplayed the risks, resisting lockdown measures and choosing not to wear a mask. Further accusations include Bolsonaro’s threats towards governors and mayors who applied restrictive measures to curb the increase of daily cases. Bosanaro’s actions may therefore qualify as crimes against humanity, as both Brazil and the entire world were put at risk by Bolsonaro’s negligence. New variants of the virus could continue to spread and the pandemic may remain a large concern in Brazil if Bosanaro fails to be hypervigilant about the pandemic, starting with ethical purchases of vaccines.

[1]Senator for Tamaulipas, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca” by Martha Cázares, licensed under Public Domain

[2] Reynosa Massacre Arrests Raise More Questions in Mexico, Insight Crime, July 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/mexico-massacre-arrests-raise-questions/

[3] Did an MS13-El Salvador Govt Pact Temporarily Halt Gang Extraditions?, Insight Crime, July 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/ms13-el-salvador-pact-gang-extraditions/

[4] Pressure mounts on Bolsonaro amid rising anger over vaccine corruption scandal, The Guardian, June 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/01/bolsonaro-brazil-vaccine-covid-scandal

[5] Brazil: Protestors blame Bolsonaro for Covid crisis, BBC News, May 2021, https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-57294415.amp



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