- An unidentified person threw two grenades at a US consulate in western Mexico on November 30.
- The FBI is offering a reward of up to $US20,000 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible.
- The nature and timing of the crime hint at the complexity of Mexico’s criminal landscape.
Hours before the inauguration of Mexico’s new president in Mexico City, two grenades were thrown at the US consulate in Guadalajara, the country’s second-biggest city and home to one of the largest US expatriate communities in the world.
A little before 11 p.m. local time on November 30, an unidentified person was caught on film throwing two grenades into the consulate compound in central Guadalajara, which is also the capital of Jalisco state in western Mexico.
The consulate was closed at the time, and no one was killed or injured, but the blast left a 16-inch hole in an exterior wall, and grenade fragments were found at the scene.
The US consulate said the following day that the damage was minimal and that US and Mexican authorities were investigating and “strengthening the security posture” around the consulate. Jalisco state prosecutors also said that federal authorities had taken over the investigation.
The consulate’s operations were limited on Monday, but it resumed normal business on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, the FBI said it was seeking help from the public to identify the person or people involved, offering up to $US20,000 for information leading to those responsible.
“All information can remain anonymous and confidentiality is guaranteed,” a notice on the consulate’s website said.
The attack came shortly before Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was sworn in as Mexico’s president, and it illustrates the challenging criminal dynamics he confronts.
Attacks on US facilities and personnel in Mexico have been rare, and when they have happened, the response has been forceful.
Pressure from Washington after the 1985 kidnapping and killing of of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena led to the breakup of the powerful Guadalajara cartel, and the US response to the 2011 killing of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata helped cripple the Zetas cartel, which was linked to the incident.
While it’s possible the attack Friday could be unrelated to organised crime, the timing and nature of the attack suggest it could be tied to political and criminal dynamics in the country.
Guadalajara is the home turf of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, or CJNG, which has grown rapidly over the past decade to become one of Mexico’s largest and most violent criminal groups.
Its rise was boosted by the 2015 shoot-down of a Mexican army helicopter in western Jalisco, killing six soldiers, which came during an operation to capture the cartel’s leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, or “El Mencho,” who is among the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s most wanted fugitives.
Two weeks before the grenades were thrown at the consulate, the cartel purportedly posted a video online in which it threatened to attack the consulate.
In the recording, a bandaged man says he was ordered to attack the consulate and capture Central American men, women, and children for ransom with which to pay Mexican officials to ignore other criminal activity, according to The Dallas Morning News, which could not independently verify the footage.
That attack, the man reportedly said, was to be a message to the US to leave “Mencho alone.”
The November 30 attack comes a few weeks into the trial of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in New York City. Guzman is the longtime leader of the Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups and a main rival of the CJNG.
In the past, the arrest or death of criminal leaders has triggered more violence, as others fight to fill the void.
Criminal groups may also be hurting because of Central American migrant caravans crossing Mexico that don’t need protection from criminal groups or help from those groups’ human-smuggling networks.
Losing that business ahead of the holiday season have put a strain on cartel leaders, security experts told The Dallas Morning News.
Mexico’s political transition – from the center-right government of Enrique Peña Nieto and his establishment Institutional Revolutionary Party to leftist Lopez Obrador and his new National Regeneration Movement party – may also be stirring turmoil in the underworld.
In the past, such changes have led to more violence, as criminals and corrupt officials adjust to a new political environment – an attack designed to avoid death or injury may be a signal to those assuming power 12 years into Mexico’s bloody war on drugs.
The CJNG in recent months has also been challenged in Guadalajara. A new group, called Nueva Plaza, is believed to be led by a one-time confidant of Oseguera, and some have said other rivals, namely the Sinaloa cartel, could be backing the new group.
In the past, criminal groups have committed high-profile acts, like dumping bodies in public, on rivals’ turf to draw authorities’ attention there.
“Remember that the [New Generation] grew exponentially and became what it is now since the beginning of the Peña Nieto government,” Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, a political science professor at George Mason University and expert on security in Mexico,told The Morning News. “But they should not be attracting attention, and with this attack you’re calling for a response from two governments. Why?”
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