Rising Violence Along Baja California-Sonora Border Tied to Larger Organized Crime Disputes

04/08/21 (written by rramos) –

Continuous Increase in Homicides in Mexicali

Recent data from government agencies and civil society appear to indicate a considerable increase in homicides in Mexicali, the capital city of Baja California. On March 25, Juan Manuel Hernández Niebla, president of the Citizen Public Security Council of Baja California (Consejo Ciudadano de Seguridad Pública de Baja California, CCSPBC) told El Heraldo de México that homicides in Mexicali rose 32% in January and February of 2021 compared to the same period last year. Official figures released by the state Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General del Estado, FGE) three days earlier had shown an even larger jump, with reported homicides in the municipality increasing 43% in the first two months of this year compared to the same period in 2020. According to the FGE, a significant portion of homicides in 2021 so far have been concentrated in the Mexicali Valley region, which lies east of Mexicali’s urban core and is composed of various rural communities situated near Baja California’s border with Sonora. 

The steady growth in homicides in Mexicali in the early part of 2021 reveals a worrying trend that appears to have taken hold of the city within the past year. In December 2020, data from the National Citizen Observatory (Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano, ONC) showed that Mexicali had suffered a 36% increase in homicides during the first 10 months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. If the growth in murders seen at the beginning of this year continues, the city may experience another year-on-year increase in homicides by the end of 2021.

Photo: Radio Patrulla.

Cross-Border Criminal Activity in San Luis Rio Colorado

The uptick in violence is not confined to Mexicali. Located across the state border in neighboring Sonora, the municipality of San Luis Rio Colorado has also seen a rise in violent crime during the same period in which Mexicali has faced higher murder rates. Local media outlets reported in July 2020 that figures from the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) showed a 6% increase in homicides in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. That year, San Luis Rio Colorado had suffered a dramatic spike of nearly 250% in the number of homicides recorded in the city.  

Due to the geographic proximity between the Mexicali Valley (where most of the homicides in Mexicali have been concentrated) and areas of San Luis Rio Colorado that have seen criminal activity, authorities have assessed that incidents of violence seen on both sides of the state border are likely interconnected.

Organized Crime Conflicts Driving the Surge in Violence

The upsurge in violence in both Mexicali and San Luis Rio Colorado appears to be driven by larger conflicts that have implications beyond the Baja California-Sonora border region. According to Zeta Tijuana, public security agencies in Baja California have determined that the sharp rise in homicides in Mexicali is due largely to two criminal groups, both with ties to the Sinaloa Cartel. One group has been identified as Los Rusos, led by Jesús Alexander “El Ruso” Sánchez Félix and Felipe Eduardo “El Omega” Barajas Lozano. The other group is Los Salazar, a longstanding branch of the Sinaloa Cartel known for its strong criminal influence in Sonora. 

Both Los Rusos and Los Salazar are themselves linked to the larger struggle within the Sinaloa Cartel between the sons of jailed kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, known collectively as Los Chapitos, and their father’s former associate, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García. “El Ruso” and “El Omega” have been identified as members of the faction headed by El Mayo, while Los Salazar are widely reported to be associated with Los Chapitos. Media reports indicate that Los Salazar have been gradually entering Mexicali from San Luis Rio Colorado as part of Los Chapitos’ broader efforts to target Sinaloa Cartel operatives who have remained loyal to El Mayo. This has meant that Los Salazar have been locked in an ongoing clash with “El Omega” and “El Ruso” for control of Mexicali. For his part, “El Ruso” has at times been active in San Luis Rio Colorado as part of a continuous struggle with Los Chapitos. These cross-border incursions by both sides have turned the region between Mexicali and San Luis Rio Colorado into yet another theater of operations in the larger conflict between Los Chapitos and El Mayo. 

There are recent indications that the fighting that has straddled the border between Baja California and Sonora may intensify further. In early March 2021, government intelligence officials determined that Los Salazar had formed an alliance with Los Garibay, a local criminal group active in the Mexicali Valley. Authorities reportedly expect that this partnership will enable Los Salazar to more effectively compete against the forces of “El Omega” and  “El Ruso.” In particular, Los Garibay, with their familiarity of the local terrain in the Mexicali Valley, may provide assistance to Los Salazar in navigating the area’s numerous rural roads, thereby allowing Los Salazar to move between Sonora and Baja California more easily. With these recent developments, it is likely that high levels of violence will persist along the border between the two states. 

Sources

Navarrete Forero, Maria Alejandra. “Narco Funeral Draws Attention to Los Salazar in Mexico.” InSight Crime. August 20, 2019. 

Rodríguez, Leonardo. “Incrementan los niveles de violencia en SLRC.” El Sol de Hermosillo. December 7, 2019. 

Gómez, Óscar. “Aumenta en 2020 el índice de homicidios en SLRC.” Tribuna de San Luis. July 25, 2020. 

Melgoza Vega, Humberto. “En San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora, se ha desatado una lucha a muerte por el control del corredor de la droga.” Animal Político. October 23, 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. 

“Histórica cifra de asesinatos en Mexicali narco, la principal causa.” Zeta Tijuana. January 11, 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. 

Gómez, Óscar. “Grupos armados desatan violencia en SLRC y su valle.” Tribuna de San Luis. February 23, 2021. 

“Los Salazar y Los Garibay, por el control del Valle de Mexicali.” Zeta Tijuana. March 1, 2021. 

“Los Chapitos and Los Salazar form a truce with Los Garibay to enter Baja California.” Borderland Beat. March 9, 2021. 

“‘El Zabe’, le llaman. Es el hombre de Los Salazar en Mexicali, donde se libra una guerra sin cuartel.” Sin Embargo. March 17, 2021. 

Villa, Eduardo. “Grupo armado ‘levanta’ a dos personas de un convivio familiar, en Mexicali.” Zeta Tijuana. March 20, 2021. 

“Encabeza BC Estados más violentos del Noroeste.” El Imparcial. March 22, 2021. 

Garibay, Atahualpa. “Baja California tiene uno de los índices delictivos más altos del país.” El Heraldo de México. March 25, 2021. 

Tapia, Mariela. “Incrementaron homicidios en BC, pese a “disminución” de incidencia delictiva: Consejo Ciudadano.” La Voz de la Frontera. March 25, 2021. 

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