Mexico Security Memo: Struggle in Puerto Penasco

3 MINS READJul 25, 2012 | 11:00 GMT

Possible Sinaloa Federation Role

Two groups of gunmen exchanged fire on a sports field behind a school July 19 along Lazaro Cardenas Street in Puerto Penasco, Sonora state, according to July 20 media reports. Police responding to the scene discovered three dead bodies, two vehicles (one of which was armored), various firearms and a fragmentation grenade. During a subsequent pursuit of individuals involved in the gunbattle, police engaged the suspects in a firefight, which left one gunmen and one police officer dead and two other police officers wounded.

Struggle in Puerto Penasco

120724 Hot Spots This Week in Mexico

Mexican media outlets suggest one of the gunmen was the brother of Raul "El Negro" Sabori Cisneros, a Sinaloa Federation lieutenant arrested in April 2011 in Hermosillo, Sonora state. The possible involvement of a Sinaloa member along with the use of several gunmen and an armored vehicle suggest that someone at least briefly presented a challenge to the Sinaloa Federation's operations in Puerto Penasco.

According to unnamed witnesses cited in open-source reports, continuous fighting between two competing drug cartels in Puerto Penasco has occurred for the past two weeks. Gunfights are rare in Puerto Penasco; the Sinaloa Federation gained control of the city after pushing the Beltran Leyva Organization out of northern Sonora state in 2010. While intercartel violence in northern Sonora declined in 2011, it continued in the southern half of Sonora state, which is closer to the main area of operations for splinter groups from the former Beltran Leyva Organization in northern Sinaloa state.

Puerto Penasco serves the Sinaloa Federation as a stopping point along land drug-trafficking routes and as a seaport for drug traffickers sailing the Gulf of California. It often uses small, local criminal organizations to transport illicit drugs across the U.S.-Mexican border. These smaller organizations sometimes have violent disputes with each other, but these disputes do not necessarily involve the Sinaloa Federation.

It is unlikely a smaller group would challenge the Sinaloa Federation without support from a larger criminal organization, such as Los Zetas or a splinter group of the former Beltran Leyva Organization. Even if the July 19 incident represents part of an ongoing cartel turf war instead of a one-off dispute, the level of violence probably will not match that of turf wars elsewhere in Mexico due to the more desolate nature of the area. 

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

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