Remnants of Arellano-Félix Organization Attracting Renewed Interest in Baja California

03/11/21 (written by rramos) – Recent developments in and around the major border city of Tijuana suggest that the remnants of the weakened Arellano-Félix Organization (AFO), once one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, could be regaining relevance in the strategically important Baja California trafficking corridor.

Within the past year, authorities in Tijuana have intensified their focus on criminal cells associated with the AFO. In October 2020, the Municipal Security and Citizen Protection Secretariat (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana Municipal, SSPCM) announced a joint operation with the Army and National Guard aimed at capturing the cartel operatives assessed to be most responsible for the estimated 2,000 homicides in the city throughout 2020. Of the 15 “priority” individuals targeted by the action, six were tied to the AFO. This was followed by a sweeping operation by federal forces in January 2021 that resulted in the arrest of dozens of AFO members after six separate search warrants were carried out in Tijuana. By March 2021, officials announced plans to send more than 100 National Guard troops to Tijuana in an effort to contain rising violence in recent months stemming from competition between criminal groups. In justifying the deployment, Isaías Bertín Sandoval, representative of the federal Security and Citizen Protection Secretariat (Secretaría de Seguridad y Protección Ciudadana, SSPC) in Baja California, specifically cited the Arellano-Félix Organization as one of the groups responsible for the recent increases in violence, and added that the AFO was “regaining strength” (author’s own translation).

Elsewhere in the greater Tijuana metropolitan area, there are further indications that the AFO is resurfacing as a relevant criminal actor. The group appears to be particularly active in the neighboring municipality of Ensenada, where investigators from the Baja California Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) recently determined that AFO remnants are among the groups responsible for “exponential growth” in homicides in various parts of the city. This assessment is in line with numerous reports throughout 2020 indicating that the AFO was engaging in violent clashes over control of Ensenada’s port and retail-level drug sales.

The AFO’s Evolving Role in the Tijuana Plaza

The AFO’s renewed ability to capture the attention of officials and the broader public demonstrates that the role played by the group in Tijuana’s organized crime landscape continues to evolve. Following a period of dominance in the 1990s, the AFO was severely weakened in the 2000s by the arrests of its main leaders, internal disputes, and a protracted conflict with the Sinaloa Cartel, which eventually “gained control” of most of the Tijuana plaza. After years of decline and a relatively low profile, the first significant resurfacing of the AFO came with the incursion of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) into Baja California roughly around 2016. Most of the AFO’s remaining cells began to align with the CJNG in an effort to bolster their position vis-à-vis the Sinaloa Cartel. This alliance gave rise to a regional branch of the CJNG known as the Tijuana New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Tijuana Nueva Generación, CTNG) charged with seizing control of the Tijuana trafficking corridor away from the Sinaloa Cartel. However, media reports have consistently pointed to the existence of a group of AFO holdouts, led in part by Pablo “El Flaquito” Huerta Nuño, who have actively resisted any alliance with the CJNG and have remained committed to preserving the AFO as a separate, independent organization. This has resulted in a three-way conflict in Tijuana between the Sinaloa Cartel, CJNG-CTNG, and independent AFO remnants that is currently fueling elevated levels of violence in the city. 

Although the AFO’s role in the three-sided struggle for control of Tijuana is often overshadowed by the rivalry between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG (a contest with nationwide implications), AFO remnants have added a further destabilizing dimension to Baja California’s already complex security situation. For example, the AFO has repeatedly provoked or exacerbated internal divisions within its larger rivals. In August 2020, the AFO secured the defection of a high-ranking CJNG operative in the nearby municipality of Tecate after authorities began to target CJNG activities in the city. The AFO was also quick to capitalize on disagreements between CJNG members over changes in leadership by recruiting disaffected hitmen and drug dealers in Tijuana and Ensenada and integrating them into the AFO network. Furthermore, the AFO has been able to hold its own in Tijuana’s widespread retail-level drug trade, which has become a significant driver of violence in numerous parts of the city. Police sources who spoke to Aristegui Noticias cited residual cells of the AFO, alongside the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG, as the primary perpetrators of homicides linked to local-level drug distribution. Thus, although the AFO in its current state is not nearly as powerful as it was at the peak of its influence, the group has regained an ability to observably impact criminal dynamics in the greater Tijuana area.

Photo: Excelsior

Outlook for the AFO in Baja California’s Increasingly Complex Criminal Panorama

Looking forward, there are emergent issues that may provide indications as to the ways in which the AFO’s place in Baja California’s criminal panorama might change in the near future.

One possibility is that the AFO may play a role in the internal conflict within the Sinaloa Cartel between the sons of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera (known collectively as “Los Chapitos”) and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García that has been unfolding across various parts of Mexico. Forces affiliated with “Los Chapitos” have reportedly extended the dispute to Baja California by targeting associates of “El Mayo” in the state capital city of Mexicali. To expand their efforts to other parts of the state, “Los Chapitos” have allegedly forged alliances with Pablo “El Flaquito” Huerta Nuño, mentioned previously as a leader of the AFO “dissidents” who refused to ally with the CJNG, and David “El Lobo” López Jiménez, identified by authorities as one of the former CJNG operatives who was later recruited into the AFO. Another indication of AFO involvement in internal frictions within the Sinaloa Cartel can be found in reports that Alfonso “El Aquiles” and René “La Rana” Arzate García, two brothers who have long been assessed to be high-ranking figures within the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations in Baja California, sought an alliance with “El Flaquito” and the AFO after a falling out with “El Mayo.” These potential scenarios, while based on open source reporting, would constitute important steps towards renewed relevance for a group previously thought to have been effectively dismantled.

Still, there are questions as to whether the AFO will be able to fully re-establish itself as a significant player on the national and international stages. The group was recently excluded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from a list of Mexican criminal organizations with the greatest impact on the U.S. drug market that was featured in the latest National Drug Threat Assessment. Given that criminal cells linked to the AFO have been split between those that are closely aligned with the CJNG through the CTNG branch and those that operate independently, it is likely that the AFO’s impact will remain limited to Baja California, with analysts anticipating that the AFO will continue to play a supplemental role in the larger battle between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG for control of the critical Tijuana border region. 

Sources

Reyna, Juan Carlos. “Last Link to the Tijuana Cartel Gets Arrested While Celebrating Mexico’s World Cup Win.” VICE News. June 29, 2014. 

“Crece Cártel de Jalisco por alianza con Arellano.” Diario de Juárez. August 20, 2016.

Alonso, Luis Fernando. “Expert Says Weakened Sinaloa Cartel Under Attack by Rivals.” InSight Crime. October 10, 2016. 

Davis, Kristina. “El hijo de un capo de la droga describe una infancia cargada de violencia; en su fiesta de dos años explotó un coche bomba.” Los Angeles Times. March 24, 2018. 

Gutiérrez González, Rodrigo. “Cártel Tijuana Nueva Generación: La temible fusión de ‘El Mencho’ y los Arellano Félix.” La Silla Rota. March 22, 2019. 

Villalba, Javier. “Internal Strife Within the CJNG in Baja California, Mexico.” InSight Crime. August 27, 2019. 

“CS vs CAF por el puerto.” Zeta Tijuana. March 16, 2020. 

Mosso, Rubén. “Vinculan a proceso a ‘El Cabo 20’, presunto líder de sicarios de los Arellano Félix.” Milenio. April 7, 2020. 

Beittel, June S. “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations.” Congressional Research Service. July 28, 2020. 17-18. 

“El CJNG se divide. Células en BC brincan a los Arellano Félix y a “Los Erres”, del Cártel de Sinaloa.” Sin Embargo. August 12, 2020. 

Calderón, Vicente & Rubio, Daniel Ángel. “Tijuana: Zona libre para el narcomenudeo.” Aristegui Noticias. August 26, 2020. 

Betanzos, Said. “Narco intenta controlar puerto en Ensenada, advierten autoridades.” Milenio. October 20, 2020. 

Rubio, Eduardo. “Van tras los 15 sicarios más violentos de Tijuana.” La Silla Rota. October 23, 2020. 

“El regreso de los Arzate.” Zeta Tijuana. November 9, 2020. 

Alvarado, Isaías. “Sicarios por un sueldo de $95: el comando de los hijos de ‘El Chapo’ que fracasó en la frontera.”  Univision. November 15, 2020.

Jones, Nathan P., Sullivan, John P., & Bunker Robert J. “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 31: Escalating Violence in the Greater Tijuana Plaza.” Small Wars Journal. December 4, 2020. 

Rivera, Salvador. “In 2020, Tijuana reached grim milestone: 2,000 murders.” Border Report. January 4, 2021. 

Murillo, Eduardo. “Detienen a casi 40 miembros de los ‘cárteles’ de Sinaloa y Tijuana.” La Jornada. January 31, 2021. 

“‘Los Chapitos’, en la pugna por BC.” Zeta Tijuana. February 1, 2021. 

“‘Los Chapitos’ disputan BC con ‘El Mayo’, reclutan a ‘Menchos’ para enfrentarlo.” Vanguardia. February 3, 2021. 

“Tijuana, una ciudad aterrorizada por las disputas entre cárteles.” El Sol de México. February 13, 2021. 

Domínguez, Alejandro. “AMLO no viene a jalar orejas por inseguridad.” La Voz de la Frontera. February 18, 2021. 

“El Valle, foco rojo del narco.” Zeta Tijuana. February 22, 2021. 

“2020 National Drug Threat Assessment.” Drug Enforcement Administration. March 2, 2021.

“Betrayals and New Alliances: Los Chapitos in Baja California.” Borderland Beat. March 2, 2021. 

Fabela, Octavio. “Violencia en BC por reorganización de cárteles, explica Bertín.” Uniradio Informa. March 2, 2021. 

Zavala, Marinee. “Cientos de elementos de la Guardia Nacional llegarían a Baja California para combatir violencia.” Telemundo. March 2, 2021. 

“El Resurgimiento del Crimen Violento en Tijuana”: Análisis de Justice in Mexico

05/18/18 (by Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira and David A. Shirk) — Justice in Mexico has released a new Spanish translation of “The Resurgence of Violent Crime in Tijuana” by Jaime Arredondo, Zulia Orozco, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk.

The publication provides an assessment of the recent resurgence of violent crime in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in the state of Baja California. Drawing on the latest available information and statistics, the authors examine the varied trends in the major categories of violent crimes in Tijuana: homicide, assault, robbery, extortion, kidnapping, rape, and other sex crimes.

Below you will find a detailed summary of the report in Spanish. For a detailed summary in English, click here.

Descargar “El Resurgimiento del Crimen Violento en Tijuana”

Análisis: El Resurgimiento del Crimen Violento en Tijuana

El análisis del programa Justicia en México de la Universidad de San Diego, elaborado por de Jaime Arredondo Sánchez Lira, Zulia Orozco, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira y David A. Shirk, bajo el título “El Resurgimiento del Crimen Violento en Tijuana” proporciona una evaluación del reciente incremento de delitos con violencia en la ciudad fronteriza del estado de Baja California. Basándose en la información y las estadísticas disponibles más recientes  los autores examinan las distintas tendencias de las principales categorías de delitos violentos en Tijuana: homicidio, asalto, robo, extorsión, secuestro, violación y otros delitos sexuales.

Según la Secretaría de Seguridad Pública del Estado de Baja California, el número de homicidios en 2008 y 2009 alcanzaron los 1,094, que en ese momento representaban niveles récord de violencia para la ciudad. Sin embargo, a partir de 2015, la ciudad experimentó un aumento gradual en el número de homicidios en 2015 (612 casos con 674 víctimas), 2016 (872 casos con 919 víctimas) y 2017 (1,618 casos con 1,780 víctimas) que ahora han colocado a la ciudad en la cima del incremento nacional de homicidios, en donde Tijuana representa cerca del 6% de todas las víctimas de homicidio en México.

 

Los autores han encontrado que la distribución de la violencia en Tijuana es desigual, y refleja divisiones geográficas, económicas y sociales. Al examinar los datos de homicidios a nivel colonia, los autores encontraron que dicha violencia está altamente concentrada en áreas específicas, principalmente en tres grupos que corresponden a zonas específicas dentro de la ciudad: Tijuana Oriental (que comprende las delegaciones de La Presa, La Presa Este y Otay). la delegación de Sánchez Taboada y la delegación Centro. También encontraron que el 20% de todos los homicidios se concentraron en solo 10 de las aproximadamente 850 colonias de Tijuana. De ellos, las tres colonias más violentas representaron el 10% de todos los homicidios en el municipio: Camino Verde (75), Zona Norte (49), Zona Centro (32).

Mientras tanto, las tendencias delictivas se han mezclado para generar otras formas de crímenes violentos en Tijuana en los últimos años. Por ejemplo, los robos a mano armada en espacios públicos también han disminuido en general desde su punto más alto en 2008-10, cuando en promedio se contabilizaban más de 300 incidentes reportados por mes. De 2015 a 2017, la incidencia promedio mensual bajó a aproximadamente la mitad de esa cantidad, sin embargo, en los últimos años ha habido un fuerte aumento en el número de robos a mano armada en establecimientos comerciales de Tijuana llegando a los 300 incidentes reportados por mes, además de registrarse un aumento en el número de robos de automóviles de los 7,655 casos reportados en 2016 a 10,148 en 2017, es decir, unaumento del 32.6%.

 

 

En un esfuerzo por explicar estas tendencias, los autores ofrecen una visión general de la historia reciente del crimen organizado en Tijuana, con la consideración del papel que han desempeñado en las recientes olas de violencia. Los autores encontraron que ha habido un cambio importante en las dinámicas de la delincuencia organizada en Tijuana después de la detención y posterior extradición de Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, quien una vez comandara el cártel de Sinaloa. Desde la caída del capo, una nueva organización criminal, conocida como el “Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación” ha afianzado su presencia en Tijuana y ha enfrentado directamente a los restos del cártel de Sinaloa. En medio del conflicto entre estas poderosas organizaciones criminales—y el vacío de liderazgo en la ciudad—ha habido una falta de control sobre pandillas, traficantes y vendedores de drogas ilícitas, y grupos dedicados a otras actividades ilícitas, todo a nivel de cada esquina, calle y colonia.

Para abordar los problemas delictivos recientes de la ciudad, los autores ofrecen una discusión de las respuestas de seguridad pública y las opciones de políticas disponibles para abordar la crisis de seguridad actual en Tijuana, con algunas recomendaciones generales de política pública para abordar los desafíos recientes de la ciudad. Los autores presentan cinco conjuntos generales de recomendaciones:

Abordar la marginación social y económica:

  1. Invertir en programas de desarrollo social y económico
  2. Implementar estrategias de policía comunitaria en zonas altamente violentas
  3. Mejorar el transporte público y el acceso a las colonias
  4. Programas de desarrollo juvenil y social
  5. Recuperación y creación de espacios públicos

Combatir el crimen organizado:

  1. Reducir la dependencia en la estrategia de Kingpin
  2. Reforzar la capacidad local de las agencias de seguridad pública ante la dinámica cambiante del delito
  3. Disuasión concentrada de la violencia

Atención a Poblaciones Especiales:

  1. Centrarse en prevenir y detener la violencia doméstica
  2. Aumentar la sensibilidad a la atención de víctimas especiales por parte de la policía
  3. Ajustes estacionales en despliegue de la fuerza y en los ​​esfuerzos de atención a víctimas

Ser inteligentes en el tema de las drogas:

  1. Programas de rehabilitación para el uso drogas
  2. Programas de prevención de uso drogas
  3. Colaboración binacional en nuevas regulaciones de marihuana en California
  4. Desarrollar un enfoque de salud pública basado en la evidencia empírica

Mejorar el análisis del crimen y la violencia

  1. Reportar las coordenadas geoespaciales precisas de los crímenes
  2. Profesionalizar el monitoreo y análisis del delito
  3. Fortalecer los programas de estudios criminológicos
  4. Divulgación de pública de la información

 

Descargar “El Resurgimiento del Crimen Violento en Tijuana”

New Policy Brief: The Resurgence of Violent Crime in Tijuana

02/05/18 (written by David A. Shirk) — A new Justice in Mexico policy brief by Jaime Arredondo Sánchez Lira, Zulia Orozco, Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, and David A. Shirk, entitled The Resurgence of Violent Crime in Tijuana, provides an assessment of the recent resurgence of violent crime in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in the state of Baja California. Drawing on the latest available information and statistics, the authors examine the varied trends in the major categories of violent crimes in Tijuana: homicide, assault, robbery, extortion, kidnapping, rape, and other sex crimes.

According to the Baja California State Secretariat for Public Security, the number of murders in 2008 and 2009 reached 1,094, which at the time constituted record levels of violence for the city. However, beginning in 2015, the city saw a gradual increase in the number of homicides in 2015 (612 with 674 victims), 2016 (872 cases with 919 victims), and 2017 (1,618 cases with 1,780 victims) that has now placed the city at the forefront of a national surge in homicides, with Tijuana accounting for close to 6% of all homicide victims in Mexico.

The authors find that the distribution of violence within Tijuana is uneven and reflects geographic, economic, and social divisions in the city. Examining neighborhood level homicide data, the authors found such violence to be highly concentrated in specific areas, primarily in three clusters that correspond to specific zones within the city: Eastern Tijuana (comprising the delegations of La Presa, La Presa Este, and Otay), the Sanchez Taboada delegation, and the Centro delegation. They also found that 20% of all homicides were concentrated in only 10 out of the roughly 850 neighborhoods in Tijuana. Of those, the three most violent neighborhoods accounted for 10% of all homicides in the municipality: Camino Verde (75), Zona Norte (49), Zona Centro (32).

Meanwhile, crime trends have been mixed for other forms of violent crime in Tijuana over the past few years. For example, armed robberies in public spaces have also generally declined since the peak in 2008-10, when was an average of over 300 reported incidents per month: in 2015-17, the average monthly incidence was down to roughly half that amount. However, there has been a sharp increase in the number of armed robberies in Tijuana’s commercial establishments in recent years, reaching as high as 300 incidents per month, and a surge of car thefts from the 7,655 cases reported in 2016 to 10,148 in 2017, an increase of 32.6%.

In an effort to explain these trends, the authors provide a general overview of the recent history of organized crime in Tijuana, with consideration of the role it has played in recent surges in violence. The authors find that there has been an important shift in organized crime in Tijuana, due to the arrest and extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who once controlled the Sinaloa cartel. Since his fall, a new criminal organization, known as the “Jalisco New Generation Cartel” has asserted its presence in Tijuana and has directly clashed with the remnants of the Sinaloa cartel. Amid the conflict between these powerful criminal organizations—and the leadership vacuum among the city’s criminal “shot callers”—there has been a lack of control over local gangs and dealers engaged in illicit drug sales and other illicit activities at the neighborhood and street-corner level.

To address the city’s recent crime problems, the authors provide a discussion of the public security responses and policy options available to address Tijuana’s current security crisis, with some general policy recommendations for addressing the city’s recent challenges. The authors present five overarching sets of policy recommendations:

  • Addressing Social and Economic Marginalization:
    1. Invest in social and economic development programs in Tijuana.
    2. Implement community policing in highly violent areas
    3. Improve public transportation and neighborhood accessibility
    4. More youth outreach and social development programs
    5. Recovery and creation of public spaces
  • Combatting Organized Crime:
    1. Reduce dependence on the Kingpin Strategy
    2. Re-enforce local law enforcement capacity amid shifting crime dynamics
    3. Focused deterrence of violence
  • Attending to Special Populations:
    1. Focus on preventing and stopping domestic violence
    2. Increase sensitivity to special victims in local policing
    3. Seasonal adjustments in force deployment and victim response efforts
  • Getting Smart on Drugs:
    1. Drug rehabilitation programs
    2. Drug prevention programs
    3. Binational collaboration on new marijuana regulations in California
    4. Evidence-based public health measures
  • Improving the Analysis of Crime and Violence
    1. Report precise geospatial coordinates of crimes
    2. Professionalize crime monitoring and analysis
    3. Strengthen criminological studies programs
    4. Dissemination of public information

 

 

Justice in Mexico presents results of new study of Tijuana police

IMG_3569 On March 12, 2015 Justice in Mexico presented the results of its latest Justiciabarómetro survey, titled: Diagnóstico integral de la policía municipal de Tijuana (in Spanish), developed in collaboration with the Institute for Security and Democracy (Instituto para la Seguridad y Democracia, INSYDE), the Law School of the Autonomous University of Baja California (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, UABC) in Mexicali, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the University of Guadalajara (Universidad de Guadalajara, UdeG). The Tijuana survey builds on the findings of two similar studies conducted in Guadalajara in 2009 and Ciudad Juárez in 2011, and was implemented for Justice in Mexico by the polling firm Data Opinión Pública y Mercados (DATA-OPM) form Mexico. Like these previous studies, the Justiciabarómetro-Tijuana constitutes one of the largest independent studies of municipal police ever published in Mexico. Focusing on the border city of Tijuana, adjacent to San Diego, California, this is the largest survey conducted by an independent group of institutions with 1,917 participants with a minimum margin of error (+/- .87%) and a confidence interval of about 99%.

The report examines the views and opinions that predominate among the administrative and operational staff of the municipal police in Tijuana on various aspects related to their work. The survey inquires about the human capital and organization of the municipal police, including community relations and views of recent judicial reform efforts. Among the most relevant findings:

  • The average age of the police department is 38 years, and about 20% are female.
  • 25% have some level of higher education either undergraduate or graduate, 35.8% completed high school, 18.4% have not completed high school, 15.6% reported having completed secondary school and only 5.3% incomplete secondary or lesser degree. 56.6% report an income of less than 15,000 pesos (around $1,000 USD), and most of them (85.5%) believe it would be fair an increase of about 51%.
  • Officers note that they often have to buy their own equipment. Over 70% said they had to buy their own boots, over 60% say that have to buy their own uniforms, and many (43.3%) say that they do not receive equipment in a timely fashion.
  • A 77.7% believe that police in Tijuana has improved in the last ten years, and 42.8% believe that citizens evaluated the police with high scores.
  • Nearly 50% believe it is the citizens who foster corruption while 34.8% think it is citizens and police alike.
  • Respondents indicate that the major security problems in Tijuana are burglary (56.1%), low scale drug dealing (13.7%) and car theft (6.5%). The problems identified as easier for municipal police to resolve are burglary (23.6%), traffic accidents (15.8%) and gangs (14%). The most diffcult to resolve are kidnapping (24.8%), homicide (21.1%), drug trafficking (17.55).
  • 92.2% of the police say they do not have enough knowledge of the New Criminal Justice System, and 57.1% do not consider themselves ready to operate under the new system, which will be implemented nationwide in June 2016.

JusticiabarómetroIMG_0679 consist of a series of studies produced by Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego’s Department of Political Science and International Relations, which provides policy analysis and recommendations concerning the rule of law in Mexico, based on the opinions and experiences of the operators of the criminal justice system.  This survey was supported by the generous underwriting of the Open Society Institute. The Municipal Government of Tijuana and the Secretary of Public Security were supportive at all times facilitating access to the institution and its members, and providing the necessary logistical support. The study was coordinated by María Eugenia Suárez de Garay, David Shirk, and Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, along with other law enforcement and security specialists from Mexico and the United States.

 

TO VIEW THE FULL REPORT ONLINE (42.5MB PDF) PLEASE CLICK HERE.