By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
On the morning of Oct.17, 2016, 37-year-old Mexican federal judge Vicente Bermudez went for a routine jog in his neighborhood. He was near his home in Metepec, central Mexico State, without any bodyguards when an unidentified individual came up behind him and shot him point blank in the back of his head. Security cameras captured the incident, as well as the masked shooter running from the scene. Bermudez was transported by emergency responders to a local clinic, where he later died.
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To some, the murder of a judge in Mexico may not come as a surprise. But this incident was shocking for several reasons. It’s true that many public officials, such as mayors, police officials, and lower court municipal judges have been killed by organized crime groups. However, a federal judge has not been murdered in Mexico in at least six years. Also, this does not fit the traditional modus operandi for more established drug cartels, who prefer to control judges through bribery rather than murder. This has Mexican law enforcement officials and drug war observers wondering who was responsible for this attack.
‘El Chapo’ Extradition Case
Bermudez was quite young for federal judge, but he had a considerable amount of experience dealing with cases involving drug cartels. In March 2016, he ordered a stay of extradition for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the notorious leader of the Sinaloa cartel.
According to the Mexican daily El País, also in March 2016, Bermudez took the controversial measure of detaining Abigael González Valencia, alias El Cuini, for 40 days. González is considered one of the ringleaders of the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), rival to Guzmán’s organization.
Mexico’s Judiciary stated Bermudez has reviewed at least 1,500 cases, but among them was also the denial of an injunction for Miguel Treviño Morales, alias Z-40, the former leader of the vicious Los Zetas cartel who has been imprisoned since 2013. A few days ago, Bermudez dismissed a transfer request from Gildardo López Astudillo, alias El Gil, the man allegedly responsible for the disappearance of 43 students near Ayotzinapa, Guerrero State, in September 2014.
Judge Had Numerous Enemies in Mexico
It’s clear that there are plenty of individuals associated with organized crime who had a bone to pick with Bermudez. However, the question boils down to, who had the means to carry out such an attack, and who had the most to gain from engaging in such a blatantly public act of violence?
There is a reason no federal judges have been killed in Mexico in at least six years. It’s too public and brazen for traditional organized crime groups to use such tactics, because bribery allows them more control over the judicial process. Some people have been pointing the finger at Guzmán and the Sinaloa Federation because they are the most powerful cartel in Mexico with the most reach. However, Bermudez was preventing the extradition of Guzman – something that favored El Chapo and his organization. It makes no sense for them to take Bermudez out. This leaves Los Zetas, the CJNG, and any other smaller groups that might have been negatively affected by Bermudez’s decisions on the bench. Out of these groups, the CJNG is the most violent and most likely to eschew traditional organized crime protocols in favor of retaliatory action.
It will be interesting to see what, if anything, the investigation into Bermudez’s assassination uncovers. While no actors can be definitively ruled out, logical analysis implies that El Chapo may actually have had nothing to do with this one.