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Nov 21, 2012 | 12:30 GMT

Mexico Security Memo: The Struggle for Western Chihuahua


Gunmen opened fire on a truck Nov. 17 in Guadalupe y Calvo, Chihuahua state, killing three passengers. Authorities discovered more than 150 7.62 mm x 39 mm shell casings at the scene of the shooting, indicating the killing was linked to organized crime. Overall violence has significantly declined in Chihuahua state in 2012 compared to 2011, primarily as a result of the Sinaloa Federation successfully having taken control of the most populated cities, Chihuahua and Ciudad Juarez, from the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization and its enforcer group, La Linea. Still, violence like the Nov. 17 incident continues between the Sinaloa Federation and La Linea in most areas of Chihuahua state outside those two cities.

Given that La Linea continues to challenge the much larger and more powerful Sinaloa Federation in southwestern Chihuahua, it will require a stream of revenue to maintain its ability to fight. Western Chihuahua, a major producer of marijuana, serves as this critical source of funds for La Linea.

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Loss of the Ciudad Juarez plaza cost the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization and La Linea the ability to sell significant quantities of higher-priced illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamines and heroin into the United States. As these drugs have much higher prices per volume than marijuana, cartels typically must maintain additional oversight when trafficking them. Shipping via an official port of entry into the United States facilitates this process. Cartels can easily deploy scouts and tail vehicles at such ports of entry when smuggling large shipments of higher-priced illicit drugs, lessening the risk that rivals or the smugglers themselves will steal the load.

In contrast to its successes in seizing control of Chihuahua city and Ciudad Juarez, the Sinaloa Federation has yet to seriously attempt to take control of southwestern Chihuahua. La Linea benefits from the geography of the region, where the mountainous terrain gives it sanctuaries to prepare for assaults on its rivals. The Copper Canyon, a series of six extensive canyons in southwestern Chihuahua, also creates a natural barrier between La Linea in the east and the Sinaloa Federation in the west. Even so, incursions into and across the canyons do happen, as seen with the killing of a Sinaloa Federation lieutenant in Uruachi on Nov. 1.

Given this dynamic, inter-cartel violence is likely to persist in western Chihuahua unless the two groups strike a deal — and nothing suggests such a deal is likely at the moment. La Linea might seek additional smuggling routes from its marijuana fields in the Sierra Madre Occidental mountains, such as Sinaloa routes through northern Sonora and into the southwestern United States. This could lead to increased violence in Sonora as the two groups clash and could explain the recent violence in northern Sonora.

Editor's Note: We now offer the daily Mexico Security Monitor, an additional custom intelligence service geared toward organizations with operations or interests in the region, designed to provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the situation. To learn more about this new fee-based custom service, visit

Mexico Security Memo: The Struggle for Western Chihuahua
1 Geo |  1 Topics 

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