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Fighting Among Drug Traffickers Leads To Surge Of Murders In Mexico


As many as 65 people were killed in several states throughout Mexico this weekend. The worst violence was in the state of Sinaloa. Sinaloa has seen homicides skyrocket since the recapture and extradition to the U.S. earlier this year of the powerful drug lord Joaquin El Chapo Guzman. NPR's Carrie Kahn joins us from Mexico City to talk about this spike in murders. Hi, Carrie.


SIEGEL: And it was a very bloody weekend. What's going on?

KAHN: Well, it wasn't just this weekend. It's been a very bloody year. And sadly, it's more of the same. What sort of spiked the numbers this weekend was one gun battle between suspected crime gang members and local police outside Mazatlan, Sinaloa, that left 17 civilians dead and five local police officers injured. We don't have the official numbers for June yet, but I can tell you that the May murder rate was the highest number of homicides seen in Mexico since statistics were first kept back in the 1990s.

SIEGEL: You mentioned a gun fight between gang members and police. Do these typically involve police, or is much of the violence just among gang members?

KAHN: Well, most analysts attribute what is going on right now - fighting within drug cartels and among drug cartels. There is a severe internal fighting going on now inside the Sinaloa Cartel, which is Mexico's largest and once the most powerful. That fighting started, like you said, when Joaquin Chapo Guzman was captured in 2015 and has intensified since he was extradited to the U.S. earlier this year. His sons are really trying to exert control in that power vacuum, and they're fighting the sons of one of Chapo's top lieutenants who was just arrested. So there's this new generation of Sinaloa Cartel fighting.

And speaking of the new generation, there's also fighting between the Sinaloa Cartel and this new upstart and very violent New Generation Jalisco Cartel. That's what it's called. And that's especially in places like Tijuana and Baja California Sur where the famous tourist resort of Los Cabos are. They've just been experiencing just horrific violence there, a spike of more than 300 percent in the murder rate over last year.

SIEGEL: Carrie, in the face of this rise in the homicides in Mexico, how is Mexican law enforcement doing in coping with it?

KAHN: I think that's a great question, and I don't think - when we hear about the violence, you know, all the attention is focused on these spectacular shootouts and gruesome murders and not really looking at a lot of those questions, too. And, like, if you just look at Sinaloa's state where a lot of the murders take place - like, there were 30 this weekend - the policing in that state is terrible. And just quoting one respected security analyst, he says, the police - local police there are understaffed - horribly understaffed. There's more murders in the state than there are police. And then if you look at the state police force, he says, to put it bluntly, they're corrupt and inept. Nearly half of them have failed what they call routine confidence tests, which are lie detector and background checks.

Another factor which isn't getting talked about a lot is this new judicial system instituted throughout Mexico in the past two years. While it strengthened the rights of the accused - they are now innocent until proven guilty, not the other way, what it used to be - it now relies on evidence gathering and good police work to convict criminals. And the police just aren't up to the task, so many criminals are going free.

SIEGEL: The Mexican drug cartels' big marketplace is in the United States. What do we know about the drug business? Has it been interrupted at all by all the talk of more border security with Mexico?

KAHN: It doesn't look as if it has been affected at all. Heroin production in Mexico is up, and heroin demand in the United States is up, too.

SIEGEL: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thanks, Carrie.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.