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The Pineda Clan: a criminal dynasty in Mexico

Enrique Lopez
October 24, 2014

The former mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca, had been accused of suspicious business dealings. Critics point to his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa, who belongs to a clan linked to organized crime.

Jose Luis Abarca, andu Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Alejandrino Gonzalez

In 2012, when he won the elections for mayor of Iguala, Jose Luis Abarca had no political experience whatsoever. Up to that point he had been a merchant of straw hats, and later, of jewelry.

In 2008, before beginning his political career, he announced the construction of a ​​70,000 square meter shopping plaza, the "Galeria Tamarindos," with seven theaters and 50 stores. The origin of the money that financed the project remains unknown.

Before his election, Abarca had simultaneously made ​​contact with both the Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD, social democrat), hoping that one of them would back his bid for political office. He finally got the support of the PRD after making substantial financial contributions to the party.

Also in 2012, a short-lived blog accused Abarca of having "suspicious ties." The author remains unidentified (his Google+ profile does not provide any information and the only entry is the one that refers to Abarca's bid). Most likely, the blog was part of the propaganda war during the political campaign. But all of its allegations have been confirmed in investigations conducted by Mexico's Attorney General's Office (PGR).

A long history

Based on the testimony of convicted criminals, the PGR was able to reconstruct the history of the criminal alliances in Iguala since Abarca took office.

Arturo Beltran Leyva, head of the criminal group Los Beltran Leyva, was killed in the resort of Cuernavaca during an operation to capture him, in 2009. As a result, the cartel split into several groups, one of which was called Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors).

By then, the family of Maria de los Angeles Pineda, wife of Jose Luis Abarca, already had several years of formal collaboration with the Sinaloa Cartel and with Beltrán Leyva.

The Pinedas, as they were known, controlled the drug trafficking in Guerrero, and partly in Morelos, in the name of the Sinaloa Cartel. But there are indications that its scope went far beyond. One of the Pineda brothers, Salomón, has been identified as the head of a cocaine distribution network that allegedly started in Colombia and Venezuela. Passing through Mexico, the ring is supposed to have reached the city of Atlanta, Georgia.

But the alliance with the Beltran Leyva cartel had its limits, too. Alberto and Mario Pineda Villa were found dead near Mexico City in 2009. Their murders - a apparently a vendetta - were attributed to Arturo Beltran Leyva.

Criminal Covenant

Once in office, Abarca quickly established a "criminal network in several municipalities" of Guerrero, according to Mexican authorities. The anonymous author of the blog Iguala Libre described it as a "criminal pact between the Beltran Leyva cartel, and state and local police". This "included a 'cleansing operation' to eradicate common criminality”, in order to facilitate the trafficking and distribution of narcotics.

Two years later, Mexican prosecutors confirmed that the Guerreros Unidos leadership was paid "up to 3 million pesos on a regular basis." At least 600,000 Mexican pesos were paid to local police on a monthly basis, says the prosecution, citing witnesses in the case.

The leader of Guerreros Unidos, Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, described Maria de los Angeles Pineda as "the key operator" of Iguala's criminal network.

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