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Dec 12, 2012 | 11:15 GMT

4 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: A Fight for the Sierra Madre Occidental

Stratfor

Territorial Exchanges in Chihuahua State

On Dec. 7, a group of gunmen entered Guadalupe y Calvo, a small town in southwest Chihuahua state, and began a spree of violence that lasted through the weekend. Residents said the assailants, who reportedly killed at least 11 people, took control of the town by blocking its main roads and searched for people to execute inside homes. The gunmen reportedly belonged to a group that had broken away from the Sinaloa Federation. While the involvement of such a splinter group is uncertain, Stratfor believes the attacks were likely linked to an ongoing fight for control over Mexico's "Golden Triangle" — a region of the Sierra Madre Occidental Mountains responsible for high levels of drug production, particularly marijuana and opium — in which Sinaloa has played a central role.

The incident in Guadalupe y Calvo reflected a dynamic that has become common in the Golden Triangle, where rival organizations have been struggling for control over towns and where several similar episodes of violence have occurred in recent months. On Aug. 16, for example, gunmen shot and killed the police chief of Guadalupe y Calvo. Two days later, the town's entire police force fled the area in response to additional threats by the gunmen, forcing the Mexican military and state law enforcement to intervene.

121112 Hot Spots This Week in Mexico lite

Much of the violence can be linked to the Sinaloa Federation's struggle for control in the Golden Triangle, in part because the organization is fighting several smaller groups in the region, most notably La Linea and Los Mazatlecos — two groups allied with Los Zetas. While the culprits of the Dec. 7 attacks in Guadalupe y Calvo have not been identified, Stratfor believes that responsibility lies with one of these groups — if not the Sinaloa splinter group.

For the Sinaloa Federation, the struggle highlights the difficulty the organization has had in maintaining control over regional transportation routes and drug production. And the prolonged nature of the regional conflicts indicates that Sinaloa's ongoing effort to uproot its rivals has been unsuccessful. Sinaloa's struggles could be perceived as insubstantial to the organization, since the organization still has one of the largest shares of the Mexican drug trade and has limited itself in the region to fighting Los Mazatlecos and La Linea. But given their relatively small size, the Sinaloa rivals rely heavily on revenues from drug production, and neither group can likely afford to stand down. Unless the Sinaloa Federation either escalates its efforts to remove its rivals or negotiates agreements with them, back-and-forth episodes of large-scale violence in southwest Chihuahua state will likely continue.

Murder of a Coahuila Mining Executive

On Dec. 7 in Sabinas, Coahuila state, authorities discovered the body of a mining business owner named Basilio Nino Ramos with a gunshot wound in his neck, signs of torture and his dismembered finger placed in his mouth — a symbol used by cartels on victims believed to be informants, suggesting links to organized crime. Authorities have not named any possible culprits or motives for the killing, although the manners in which the victim was maimed and then left in a public area are common among killings by organized criminal groups.

While no evidence has been released clearly implicating Los Zetas in the murder, the cartel has allegedly been involved in Coahuila state's mining industry. Nino Ramos owned Minera La Mision, a coalmine operator in Muzquiz, Coahuila state, that has reportedly been one of several mining businesses under investigation by the Mexican attorney general's office on allegations of laundering money for the cartels. If the accusations are true, then Nino Ramos was probably in frequent contact with organized criminal groups to coordinate the illicit financial transactions and a plausible target for cartel-related violence.

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 and designed to provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the situation. To learn more about this new fee-based custom service, visit www.stratfor.com/msm.

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