New Working Paper: Organized Crime and Violence in Baja California Sur

Spatial distribution of homicides in BCS in 2017. Source: SNSP, 2017. Map generated by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira

Spatial distribution of homicides in BCS in 2017. Source: SNSP, 2017. Map generated by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira


02/16/18 (written by Genesis Lopez) – A new Justice in Mexico working paper by Laura Y. Calderón, entitled Organized Crime and Violence in Baja California Sur, provides analysis on the elevated levels of violence directly impacting key Baja California Sur cities, Los Cabos and La Paz. Utilizing the latest information and statistics on this topic, Calderón found that much of the violence in Baja California Sur is linked to organized crime groups looking to control these key drug trafficking areas. The working paper further discusses the increase in violence linked to organized crime group rivalries and subsequent government action in these affected regions.

According to Calderón, Baja California Sur’s economy depends heavily on tourism and commerce. Historically, Baja California Sur is characterized by having some of the lowest rates of crime and violence in Mexico. The recent surge in violent crime over the last decade is connected to the region’s transformation into an important nexus for drug traffic operations in Mexico.

Since 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel has dominated the Baja California region- formally headed by drug trafficker, Joaquín “El Chápo” Guzmán. Guzmán’s organization looked to remove other competing organized crime groups in the region. Their success in consolidating a territory monopoly caused a drop in violence while opening their access to the U.S. market. The arrest and extradition of Guzmán caused a significant shift in the structure of Sinaloa, initiating internal competition between regional Sinaloan leaders. Additionally, with major kingpins like Guzmán being targeted by Mexican authorities, other cartels in the area took this as an opportunity to gain power. A new organized crime group called the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (Jalisco New Generation Cartel, CJNG), headed by Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes is rapidly becoming the main competitor to the Sinaloa Cartel.

In response to the increased violence, Mexican authorities deployed soldiers to Los Cabos and La Paz in an attempt to lower the rates of homicides through military presence in important hotspots. This deterrence tactic required the cooperation of municipal, state, and federal forces. However, local law enforcement is often under-trained and minimally equipped to meet the challenge presented by organized crime. Overall, the militarization approach has not proven to be successful.

Calderón posits that the recent violence seen in Baja California Sur could be linked to the spillover effect from other violent states nearby. According to scholars, Miming Pan, Benjamin Widner and Carl E. Enomoto, negative economic growth of one state exacts a consequence on neighboring states, causing the crime rates to increase. Although the Sinaloa cartel continues to hold dominance over almost the entire state, excluding the contested cities of La Paz and Los Cabos, there is a strong internal struggle over the lack of partnerships and centralized leadership for the organization. Moreover, the increasing prominence of the CJNG continues to challenge Sinaloa for the largest, operating organized crime group in Mexico.

Given the salient information presented in Calderón’s working paper, it is important to note that most of the violence happening in Baja California Sur is amongst individuals involved in organized crime. Tourists should exercise caution, but also keep in mind that the number of tourists of being targeted is currently low. Meanwhile, Mexican authorities in Baja California Sur, including local law enforcement and public officials, must be willing to engage in transparent and informed dialogue. Collaboration will be key to protecting the general citizenry and tourist flows, an important source of revenue to the state of Baja California Sur.



Pan, M., Widner, B. and Enomoto, C. E. (2012), GROWTH AND CRIME IN CONTIGUOUS STATES OF MEXICO. Review of Urban & Regional Development Studies, vol 24: p 51–64.





Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix killed in Cabo


Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix. Photo:

10/19/13 — Press reports and officials announced the death of Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, the eldest brother of the nine siblings that make up the leadership of the Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO). Borderland Beat reports that the killing occurred at around 8pm Friday, October 18 at a child’s birthday party that took place in a beachside cabana of the Hotel Marbella, a luxury resort located just east of El Tule, a popular surf spot between Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo. According to the same report, the musical group “Los Toritos” was performing at the event, the party was attended by Sinaloan sports figures (including soccer star Jared Borghetti and boxer Omar Chavez), and there were as many as 100 guests in attendance.


Map of Los Cabos Resorts. Photo:

Most accounts indicate that there was a lone assailant and some say that the subject was shot by a man dressed in a clown suit with a red clown nose. The man reportedly entered the party suddenly and shot the subject once in the head and twice in the chest, fleeing the scene immediately after. The Associated Press (AP) reported that a crime scene photo showed the subject’s body lying on a tile floor and covered by a bloody sheet. The Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la Justicia, PGR) indicated that one of the Grancisco Rafael’s sons identified the body. Federal, state, and local officials responded to the incident and are continuing to investigate.

According to El Universal, Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix was born on October 24, 1949, meaning that he was 63 (just shy of his 64th birthday) when he was killed. He was first arrested in San Diego on August 7, 1980 for attempting to sell 205 grams of cocain to an undercover DEA agent, and then was again arrested in Mexico in 1993 for the murder of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo. While still in custody for serving a ten year sentence for weapons possession, in 2004, a judge approved his extradition to the United States, which was carried out on September 16, 2006. Then on October 15, 2007, Francisco Rafael was sentenced in the United States to prison for six years, after being found guilty of the 1980 cocaine deal. On March 4, 2008, U.S. authorities released him early due to good behavior, according to his lawyer Brian White, and he was repatriated to Mexico via the Santa Fe bridge in El Paso into Ciudad Juárez.

The motivation and implications of Francisco Rafael’s killing remain unclear, and the AP reports that his role was not critical to the AFO. According to John Kirby, a former federal prosecutor in San Diego who co-authored a 2003 indictment against the AFO leadership, “He was never really part of the leadership of the big organization, mostly because he was in jail (in Mexico). He was arrested before they became what they really became.”


Martinez, Ignacio. “Eldest of Mexico’s Arellano Felix Clan Killed.” Associated Press. October 19, 2013.

“Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix is executed in Cabo San Lucas.” Borderland Beat. October 19, 2013.

Redacción. “Ejecutan al mayor de los Arellano Felix.” El Universal. October 19, 2013.