Areas of Cartel Influence in Mexico
MIN READFeb 26, 2015 | 21:31 GMT
Mexican organized crime became decidedly less organized in 2014. The regional challenges and leadership losses the Sinaloa Federation experienced in 2013 continued, particularly with the arrest of top leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera. Meanwhile, the lower-tier structures of the Sinaloa Federation, such as the subgroups operating in Chihuahua, Sonora and Baja California states, grew more independent from the cartel's remaining top-tier crime bosses.
Elsewhere, the remaining Gulf cartel factions in Tamaulipas state disintegrated further. Some cooperated in the same cities, while others waged particularly violent campaigns against one another. In Michoacan state, the Knights Templar were all but dismantled, leaving Servando "La Tuta" Gomez Martinez the sole remaining founding leader. Several crime groups, all based in the Tierra Caliente region of southwestern Mexico, from which the Knights Templar originated, filled the void left by the Knights Templar's absence.
Confusing as the devolution of organization crime groups is, three geographic centers of cartel activity exist at present: Tamaulipas state, Sinaloa state and the Tierra Caliente region. With the criminal landscape continuing to fracture, it is marked now by newly independent groups headed by leaders who previously had participated in the same criminal operations as their new rivals.
Though numerous turf wars between regional groups continued after 2012, Tierra Caliente-based organized crime expanded geographically thanks to the efforts of groups such as the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Knights Templar. Tierra Caliente, which means "hot lands," is a rural lowland area surrounded by mountainous terrain that was initially heavily valued by drug traffickers for marijuana cultivation, though for several years now it has produced primarily methamphetamines and heroin. The value of the region for organized crime increased along with the growth of the port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan, making the state a key bridge between Mexico's coast and the interior and a key port for smuggling narcotics and chemical precursors. Turf wars that emerged or escalated within Tierra Caliente in 2012 — most notably the Knights Templar against the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and Guerreros Unidos against Los Rojos — have become some of the most violent disputes in Mexico and the source of what will be the Mexican government's greatest security concerns in 2015.