- Drug Gangs and their Regional Control over Mexico
Drug Cartels in Mexico have a long history, to stop them we must understand their History! Who they are, where they reside and what they do. By understanding the enemy we can prevail!
The Tijuana Cartel is based in one of the most strategically important border towns in Mexico, and continues to export drugs even after being weakened from a brutal internal war during 2009. Due to infighting, arrests and deaths of some of its top members, the Tijuana Cartel is a shell of what it was in the 1990s and early 2000s when it was considered one of the most potent and violent criminal organizations in Mexico. After the arrest or assassination of its founding members, the Arellano Felix clan, the cartel is now headed by Fernando Sanchez Arellano, a nephew of the Arellano Felix brothers who once bloodied Mexico and southern California with their brutish and authoritarian style. With the powerful Sinaloa Cartel moving into Tijuana in force, Sanchez Arellano is struggling to keep a grip on this lucrative drug and human trafficking corridor.
Despite its name, the Guadalajara Cartel is from Sinaloa. Its members left their homeland during a military offensive in the late 1970s the region that included mass arrests and a fumigation campaign. Amidst the offensive, police shot and killed Aviles but a young, upstart Sinaloan named Joaquin Guzman Loera quickly took his place. After working for years with Felix Gallardo, Guzman would form the Sinaloa Cartel. The other members of the group were grooming their own replacements: Fonseca’s nephews were Amado and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes who would later create the Juarez Cartel; Felix Gallardo’s nephews were Benjamín, Ramon, Rafael, Javier, Eduardo (their brothers Luis Fernando and Carlos reportedly did not participate), the core of the future Tijuana Cartel. Meanwhile, the military campaign failed: marijuana and poppy production remained prominent in the area, as well as the neighboring states of Durango and Chihuahua. To be sure, the tri-state region, or so-called “Golden Triangle,” has long represented the power base of the Sinaloans in the drug trade.
After shifting operations to Guadalajara, the group began working closely with the Colombian traffickers who were starting to move cocaine in large quantities through the isthmus. Guadalajara’s stature rose, as did law enforcement efforts to dismantle it. In the early 1980s, a veteran Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent named Enrique Camarena began gathering evidence to prosecute the cartel members. Shortly after Camarena had helped Mexican authorities destroy a large marijuana field, cartel operatives kidnapped and killed him. The US began a massive manhunt and pressured Mexico to do the same. Caro Quintero was arrested in April 1985 in Costa Rica. Felix Gallardo remained at large for years but was arrested in April 1989.
From jail, Felix Gallardo called a meeting in Acapulco and divvied up the territories: Guzman and his partner, Hector Luis Palma Salazar, would get parts of Baja California and Sonora; Rafael Aguilar Guajardo would get from Juarez to Nuevo Laredo (the Carrillo Fuentes brothers would later take over this route); the Arellano Felix brothers would get Tijuana. However, almost from the beginning the Arellano Felix brothers were after more. In 1989, shortly after Felix Gallardo was jailed, Ramon Felix Arellano killed a close associate of Guzman in Sinaloa.
The fight quickly spread. In November 2002, gunmen sprayed bullets into a Puerto Vallarta nightclub where Benjamin and Ramon Arellano Felix had gone. Nine people died; Benjamin and Ramon reportedly escaped through an air duct. In May 1993, the Arellano Felix brother sent gunmen to intercept Guzman at the Guadalajara airport, striking and killing a Mexican Cardinal instead. Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix was arrested by Mexican authorities in 1993. But after Guzman and Palma were arrested, the Arellano Felix clan had no equals. They made a pact with the Caro Quintero clan in Sonora, the Milenio Cartel (the Valencia brothers) in Michoacán, as well as alliances in Colima, Jalisco and Oaxaca that allowed them to dominate the trade from north to south.
After Guzman escaped prison in 2001, a new round of fighting began. In February 2002, Ramon Arellano Felix traveled to Mazatlán to oversee and partake in an attempt on the Sinaloa Cartel’s other force, Ismael Zambada García, alias ‘El Mayo,’ who was eyeing one of the Tijuana Cartel’s prized ‘plazas,’ Mexicali. Zambada, however, got the jump, and his men assassinated Ramon. A month later, Mexican authorities arrested Benjamín. The organization readjusted again. Benjamín made an alliance with the Gulf Cartel’s Osiel Cárdenas Guillén in jail and eyed their common enemy: Guzman.
But numerous arrests in the United States and the extradition of other members to the United States to face charges shifted the balance in favor of the increasingly active US law enforcement agents on both sides of the border. Mexican authorities captured Francisco Javier in 2006, and Eduardo in 2008. After Eduardo’s arrest, the group split. Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias ‘El Ingeniero,’ headed up one faction. Sanchez Arellano is the nephew of the former bosses of the cartel. Eduardo Teodoro García Simental, alias ‘El Teo’ or ‘Tres Letras,’ headed up another faction. García Simental sought an alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel. Sanchez Arellano reportedly allied himself with the Zetas. A bloody feud ensued, but following the arrest of García Simental in January 2010, the organization appears to have consolidated again around Sanchez Arellano.
An indictment in the San Diego District Court unsealed in July 2010 painted a picture of a sophisticated organization very much in business, with contacts in the Mexican police and government, including control over the liaison between the Baja California Attorney General’s Office and the US government. It also says the group’s extortion and kidnapping rackets are flourishing under the watch of the new boss. The “Enterprise,” as US authorities called it in the indictment, has a multi-layered organization that insulates its leadership from legal prosecution. Evidence of this is in the US indictment itself: While the US call it the Sanchez Arellano Organization, Fernando Sanchez Arellano is not indicted. Sanchez Arellano’s mother, Enedina, runs the money side of the business. Two of his uncles remain free but are not wanted by Mexican or US authorities