04/21/21 (written by rramos) – Guanajuato’s state police force (Fuerzas de Seguridad Pública del Estado, FSPE) announced on April 5 that two of its officers were killed following a confrontation with armed civilians in the city of Irapuato. FSPE personnel were conducting patrols when they were suddenly ambushed by a group of armed men traveling in a pick-up truck that featured homemade armor plating. Milenio reported that after the attackers were repelled by the state police, investigators found multiple long guns and bulletproof vests with the logo of an unspecified criminal group at the scene.
This latest assault comes on the heels of similar incidents in other parts of Guanajuato in recent weeks. In the city of Silao, to the northwest of Irapuato, a state police officer was kidnapped and later killed by armed civilians on March 31. Roughly a week and a half prior on March 20, the bodies of three agents from the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) were found inside an abandoned truck in the rural community of Campuzano, southeast of Guanajuato City.
The state has been an epicenter of violence directed against police. According to the non-governmental organization Causa en Común, Guanajuato ended 2020 as the deadliest state in Mexico for law enforcement personnel, with the total number of slayings of police officers increasing 5% last year compared to the total seen in 2019.
Current State of Play in Guanajuato’s Criminal Landscape
Frequent attacks against government security forces are one of the consequences of Guanajuato’s volatile security environment. Beginning roughly in 2017, a brutal conflict between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) and the locally-based Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL) has consistently made Guanajuato one of Mexico’s most violent states. Authorities had hoped that the August 2020 capture of the CSRL’s high-profile leader, José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez Ortiz, would help quell the fighting, with Governor Diego Sinhue calling the arrest “a great step towards reclaiming peace” (author’s own translation).
However, violence in Guanajuato has continued as the state’s organized crime landscape appears to have grown more complex after the capture of El Marro. In October 2020, Alfonso Durazo Montaño, then-federal security secretary, stated that infighting had erupted within the CSRL following El Marro’s detention, with various factions violently competing to assume leadership of the organization. In line with this assessment, various potential replacements have been identified in rapid succession since the arrest. These have included El Marro’s father and brother, a close associate named Adán “El Azul” Ochoa who was arrested after fleeing persecution by CJNG hitmen, and most recently, an operative known as “El Dalugas” captured in March 2021 who had previously been identified by state authorities as El Marro’s lead hitman.
Meanwhile, the CJNG has been attempting to expand its presence across Guanajuato, presumably to take advantage of the CSRL’s weakened position. According to El Universal, however, the CJNG has remained unable to establish complete control over the state due to three concurrent turf wars. In particular, the CJNG’s expansion efforts in Guanajuato have met resistance in: 1) traditional CSRL strongholds in the southeast, such as Celaya and Los Apaseos, where CSRL operatives continue to enjoy deeply-rooted local support, 2) León, Guanajuato’s largest city, where a local-level gang known as Unión de León reportedly refused to ally with the CJNG, and 3) areas of southern Guanajuato near the border with Michoacán, where elements linked to Los Viagras criminal group (which has fought an extended struggle with the CJNG in Michoacán) are reportedly active and have allegedly provided support to the CSRL.
Fighting in these areas of Guanajuato has continued to rage on in 2021. In the southeast, narcomantas (posters featuring messages written by criminal groups) discovered at the end of March point to continued CSRL opposition to the CJNG’s entry into cities like Celaya. David Saucedo, a security analyst, told Zona Franca in an interview that an ongoing rise in homicides in León has been due in part to the Unión de León’s ongoing resistance to CJNG incursions into the city. As for Guanajuato’s southern border with Michoacán, the Defense Ministry (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) announced on April 8 that it would be sending an additional 700 troops to towns like Uriangato and Moroleón in response to simultaneous clashes between various groups, including the CJNG and CSRL.
Positive Signs Raise Uncertainty
According to El Financiero, Guanajuato ended 2020 as the state with the greatest total number of homicides, the second consecutive year in which Guanajuato led the nation in that regard. However, the number of homicides in the state appeared to drop considerably in the first two months of 2021, falling from 815 in January and February of 2020 compared to only 596 in the same period this year. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was quick to attribute the reduction in homicides to the deployment of the National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN).
However, the reasons behind the decrease in homicides in 2021 so far may have more to do with the state of Guanajuato’s organized crime situation than any government policy. In a separate interview, Saucedo argued that the fall in homicides could be due to the CJNG slowly consolidating its grip on an increasing number of municipalities. This would not be the first time that the establishment of relative hegemony by one criminal group in a hard-hit area of Mexico resulted in a drop in violence. When homicide rates began to fall in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, around 2013 following the brutal Sinaloa Cartel-Juárez Cartel turf war, some analysts asserted that the improving situation was more likely due to the Sinaloa Cartel winning control of the city than any of the security strategies pursued by government authorities. Given the persistent instability that has characterized Guanajuato’s security situation, it may be premature to start celebrating the positive signs that have been seen in the early parts of 2021.