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To those who closely follow violence in Mexico, the reports can sometimes seem overwhelming: Two shot dead in Cancun; 15 murdered in the last 24 hours in Tijuana; 12 dismembered bodies found in trash bags in Jalisco, etc. The headlines come in day after day in a steady rhythm of violence, and the photos are worse than the headlines. Images of dismembered bodies or of "narcomantas," messages from cartels on banners, left next to severed human heads appear at least weekly.
Mexican news outlet Milenio on July 1 published its unofficial count of murders in Mexico for the first half of 2019. Milenio counted 2,249 murders in June alone, the highest monthly number the news outlet has recorded since it began keeping its own tally in 2007. In fact, this is the first time that Milenio's numbers have ever surpassed 2,000 for any given month.
According to Milenio, the four states with the highest murder counts in June were Jalisco with 206, Mexico with 202, Baja California with 181 and Guanajuato with 176. While these numbers are not official, they still serve as a good barometer by which to measure the state of the country's violence. As expected, the country appears well on its way to another record-setting year for murders.
Viewed individually, daily acts of violence in Mexico can appear senseless — but the violence is not senseless when seen through the lens of the overarching dynamics driving it. While some violence in Mexico results from personal disputes or local grievances, the majority results either from competition between cartels or among a cartel's members. Since 2006, Stratfor has worked to analyze, understand and chronicle the cartel dynamics that have driven the preponderance of the violence in Mexico. We present our findings in our annual cartel report, which helps clients understand what is driving the violence in Mexico.
One commonality we are observing across Mexico is that the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) is playing a role in nearly every part of the country experiencing elevated violence, either directly or indirectly.
While the CJNG is busy expanding into other parts of the country, it is also embroiled in a bloody battle in its home turf of Guadalajara. The CJNG is facing a challenge from a splinter of the cartel that calls itself "Nueva Plaza" composed mostly of former CJNG members and led by Carlos "El Cholo" Enrique Sanchez Martinez and Erick Valencia Salazar, aka "El 85."
Sanchez Martinez is a former high-ranking member of the CJNG who reportedly broke with the group after the CJNG's leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes (aka "El Mencho"), ordered the execution of a Colombian financial operator. Valencia Salazar, one of the founders of the CJNG, believes Oseguera Cervantes informed on him to the police in 2012 so that he would be arrested and Oseguera Cervantes could assume sole control of the organization. Following his release from prison in December 2017, Valencia Salazar has sought revenge on Oseguera Cervantes. Though he is a cousin of Rosalinda Gonzalez Valencia, the wife of Oseguera Cervantes, in this case, his grudge is stronger than his familial loyalties.
While interpersonal conflicts may have sparked the CJNG-Nueva Plaza conflict, it appears the Sinaloa cartel's Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada has fueled the fighting by helping fund Nueva Plaza in an effort to weaken his CJNG rivals.
Most of the violence in Mexico state is as a result of a turf war between smaller-scale groups competing for control of retail drug sales in Mexico City, and of other criminal activity such as prostitution and extortion. Several such "narcomenudistas" are active in Mexico City, but the most powerful are the Union Tepito; the Cartel de Tlahuac; and the Anti-Union Tepito, or La U, a Union Tepito splinter. At the end of May, the leaders of both the Union Tepito and La U were arrested in police operations.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced June 27 that he will deploy national guard forces to Mexico City to help stem the growing crime problem there.
In recent weeks, Mexican authorities have claimed to have arrested several CJNG members in Mexico City and said they believe the organization is attempting to expand its presence in the region. The CJNG had been supporting Union Tepito but may now be attempting to assert itself directly in the Mexico City area in the wake of the leadership losses by Union Tepito and La U. This increase in direct CJNG activity is likely to result in more violence. On June 27, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced that he will deploy national guard forces to Mexico City to help stem the growing crime problem.
The vast majority of the violence in Baja California state is a result of the continuing struggle for control of the Tijuana smuggling plaza. The dominant cartel group in Tijuana is the Sinaloa cartel branch run by the Arzate Garcia brothers, Rene (aka "La Rana") and Alfonso (aka "El Aquiles"). The brothers are Tijuana traffickers who helped Sinaloa wrest control of the city from the Arellano Felix organization (aka the Tijuana cartel), and they are now fighting to retain their position, which includes control over street-level retail drug sales as well as cross-border smuggling routes.
Their main opposition is a remnant of the Tijuana cartel that sometimes refers to itself as the Cartel de Tijuana Nueva Generacion, an acknowledgment of its affiliation with the CJNG. The CJNG is involved in this dispute because it does not have a border crossing of its own, and so has to pay a "piso," or tribute, for contraband it smuggles through border crossings controlled by other groups. Such payments can reach tens of millions of dollars a year for a large drug trafficking organization, thus providing the group a large financial incentive to attempt to control drug-smuggling routes known as plazas — even if this means protracted fighting. Coincidentally, this is the same reason that the Sinaloa cartel began its efforts to wrest control of border plazas controlled by other groups in 2003 such as Nuevo Laredo, where it failed, and then later Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, where it succeeded.
With both of the local factions in Tijuana backed by powerful outside cartels with massive resources, the battle for control of the city may grind on until some unforeseen development impacts the dynamic.
The Mexican government has launched an aggressive nationwide operation to stem fuel theft in the country, an operation that began with the deployment of federal security forces to the Salamanca refinery in Guanajuato. While these efforts have reduced the problem, they have done little to quell the violence in Guanajuato state.
Several cartels are active in Guanajuato, including remnants of Los Zetas, but the main catalyst of the violence there is the struggle between the CJNG and a regional organized crime group known as the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel led by Jose Antonio Yepez Ortiz (aka "El Marro".) Yepez Ortiz and his organization are fighting hard to keep the CJNG at bay, but the CJNG keeps sending forces into the state. The result has been sustained bloodshed.