Mexico's brutal drug violence has hit a new level of complexity

Christopher Woody
Mexico Sinaloa state Culiacan shooting killings violence

(AP Photo/Rashide Frias)


Public displays of brutality have become common as drug-related violence has roiled Mexico over the last decade.

The recent discovery of a man's body on top of a hospital in northwest Mexico, apparently dropped there from an airplane, takes that brutality to a new level of complexity.

The body reportedly landed on the roof of a hospital in the town of El Dorado, about 38 miles southwest of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state.

Witnesses reported seeing a person thrown out of a plane flying low over a Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS) hospital on April 12, a health official told Reuters, saying the incident occurred around 7:30 a.m.

Officials were unable to identify the body, clad in a red shirt and gray socks and without pants, because of damage from the fall, though Milenio reported that it showed signs of torture.

State prosecutors said the body had signs of severe trauma in line with "impact on the hard surface."

"It is a man, but we don't know more," Antonio Garcia, a spokesman for the IMSS, told The Washington Post. "The impact of the fall makes it more difficult to be able to identify him or the wounds he suffered.

"I can't recall anything like this happening before," he said.

Culiacan, Mexico

AP Photo/Guillermo Arias

The health official told Reuters that two other bodies were found in the town. Local media reported they had been thrown from the same plane as the body discovered on top of the hospital and that suspected gang members had picked them up.

"This is an agricultural area, and planes are regularly used for fumigation," the official said, noting that the IMSS hospital was operating normally.

Sinaloa state, long a hub for drug production, has become a battleground in recent months, especially after the extradition of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the longtime kingpin who guided the Sinaloa cartel to the top of Mexico's narco hierarchy.

Factions of the cartel, one led by Guzman's sons, are fighting for control of the organization and its turf. (Mexican authorities also have seized hundreds of aircraft from Guzman's cartel over the last decade.)

"I have no doubt that it was thrown from an aircraft," Javier Valdez, a journalist with local newspaper Rio Doce, told El Pais. "The only thing that we don't know is if they launched him alive or already dead."

Defenestration would be a new wrinkle in cartel violence, but public displays are nothing new.

The body of a man hangs from a bridge in Tijuana, northwestern Mexico, on late Nov 2, 2016

© AFP Guillermo Arias

Narcomantas — as such grisly displays are known — appeared frequently during the major cartel clashes in the late 2000s and early 2010s. Narcomantas attract a lot of attention, which is at times valuable for cartels and gangs.

Since authorities usually do not verify who is responsible for a narcomanta, cartels have used them to attract law enforcement to the turf of rivals. They are also powerful messages to the public, telling it to support or avoid certain groups or areas.

In November, a bound body was found hanging from a footbridge 10 miles from the US border in Tijuana. Several months before that, the US State Department issued a warning to travelers in the city, citing such markers as signs of growing insecurity.

Homicide victims in Mexico 2014 to 2017

Christopher Woody/Mexican government data

Homicides rose by more than 22% in Mexico in 2016, and the killing only intensified at the beginning of this year.

In cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, prized by traffickers for their proximity to the US border, body counts have risen precipitously in recent months, stirring worry among many in Mexico that the days of cartel clashes may be returning.

In Sinaloa, ground zero for major cartel activity, elements of those drug wars are back and intensifying, according to Valdez.

"Everything is confused, the paranoia, one doesn't leave the house, the absence of authority because of complicity or omission," Valdez told El Pais, comparing the brutality and atmosphere to 2008, when the Beltran Leyva Organization went to war with its erstwhile partners in the Sinaloa cartel.

"The only difference is that now the violence has moved to the rural zones of Culiacan, not to the city itself like then, when it became a morgue."

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