May 192016
 

An unclassified DEA Intelligence Report from a year ago has just resurfaced on my desk. Entitled United States: Areas of Influence of Major Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations, it includes two particularly interesting maps.

The report states that “Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) pose the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them. These Mexican poly-drug organizations traffic heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States, using established transportation routes and distribution networks. They control drug trafficking across the Southwest Border and are moving to expand their share, particularly in the heroin and methamphetamine markets.”

As of May 2015, the DEA identified the following cartels that operate cells within the USA: the Sinaloa Cartel, Gulf Cartel, Juarez Cartel, Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios or LCT), Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO), Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion or CJNG), Los Zetas, and Las Moicas.

The maps reflect “data from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) Consolidated Priority Organization Target (CPOT) program to depict the areas of influence in the United States for major Mexican cartels.”

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

Figure 1 (click map to enlarge) shows the distribution of DEA Field Offices. The pie chart for each office shows “the percentage of cases attributed to specific Mexican cartels in an individual DEA office area of responsibility”.

“Since 2014, the Arellano-Felix Organization, LCT, and the Michoacán Family (La Familia Michoacán LFM) cartels have been severely disrupted, which subsequently led to the development of splinter groups, such as, “La Empresa Nueva” (New Business) and “Cartel Independiente de Michoacan” (Independent Cartel of Michoacan) representing the remnants of these organizations.”

Figure 2 (below) shows the dominant transnational criminal organization (TCO) in each domestic DEA Field Division, relative to other active TCOs in the same geographic territory. The map includes population density shading which “is intended to depict potential high density drug markets that TCOs will look to exploit through the street-level drug distribution activities of urban organized crime groups/street gangs.”

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

DEA-Mexican cartel influence in USA

“The Sinaloa Cartel maintains the most significant presence in the United States. They are the dominant TCO along the West Coast, through the Midwest, and into the Northeast. While CJNG’s presence appears limited to the West Coast, it is a cartel of significant concern, as it is quickly becoming one of the most powerful organizations in Mexico, and DEA projects its presence to grow in the United States over the next year. In contrast, Mexican cartels such as the Gulf, Juarez, and Los Zetas hold more significant influence closer to the Southwest Border, but as shown on the map, their operational capacity decreases with distance from the border.”

Other, smaller, “splinter groups from the disrupted LCT organization continue to traffic drugs from the Michoacán, Mexico area into the United States. The BLO, former transportation experts for the Sinaloa Cartel, is most active along the East Coast and is also responsible for the majority of heroin in the DEA Denver area of responsibility. Las Moicas is a Michoacán-based organization with former LFM links, but remains a regional supplier in California and operate on a smaller scale relative to other major Mexican TCOs.”

Related posts:

 

Mar 282016
 

In 2014 there were 285 tortillerias in Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero, when the troubles with the drug cartels really started. Now only 185 remain open as a result of drug gangs attacking the tortilla shops and workers, kidnapping owners and forcing others out of business out of fear of the violence.

Chilpancingo, with a population of over 280,000, is situated in the mountains 105 km north-east of Acapulco. As elsewhere, the tortilla shops are concentrated in the poorer barrios where local criminal gangs also tend to be located. Tortillas are sold from small shops with a view to the street, or are delivered door-to-door by young men on motor cycles.

The drug cartels in Chilpancingo, such as Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos, realized that by controlling the business owners and the employees of tortillerias, they would have a wide-spread and well-placed network of drug distribution points, lookouts and street dealers, operating under the guise of these many small legitimate businesses.

tortilleria

The take-over began in 2014 with the kidnapping of shop owners and workers, often involving a week’s captivity in a secure house, and demands for ransom ranging from 30,000 pesos (US$2100), up to 2 million pesos (US$140,000 for owners of multiple tortillerias.) After release, the victims were forced to co-operate with the cartel’s drug distribution and look-out system, under threat of business closure. The leader of the Chilpancingo tortilla sellers, Abdon Abel Hernandez has been threatened numerous times, kidnapped once, and his family had to borrow a million pesos to secure his release. He says about 35% of the local tortilla industry has shut down since 2014 out of fear.

The regional president of Corpamex (Mexican Confederation of Business Owners) Adrian Alarcon says he also lives with the fear of death for trying to defend his threatened union membership. “Today the tortilla industry is kidnapped by them (criminal groups) just like what happened with public transport when they forced taxi drivers and bus drivers to become the hands and eyes of the narco. The industry is completely infiltrated. The money that comes from the tortillas is used to buy weapons. We are financing them”.

January 2016 march by owners of tortillerias asking for state government help

January 2016 march by owners of tortillerias asking for state government help

He also stated that 36 businessmen were kidnapped and tortured in the central region of Guerrero in the first two months of 2016, with most of the victims being associated with the tortilla industry. “It wasn’t a coincidence”, he said, “that a national survey named Chilpancingo as the country’s worst city to live in. Crime has put an end to everything: investments, jobs, and the desire to make a family here. But if you think the situation here is in a critical state, you should go to Acapulco. Here, the tortilleros are kidnapped, but there they are being killed.” According to Arcadio Castro, leader of the Tortilla Association of Guerrero, 20 tortilla workers lost their lives in 2015 in clashes with organized crime.

The previous chief of police of Acapulco was dismissed after he failed to pass control examinations, known as trust tests, designed to identify those with possible links to organized crime. His replacement expects some 700 of his current force of 1901 municipal police will also fail their next control exams. Given his current budget, he has no hope of renovating his police force with younger, healthier, law-abiding officers. The assault on the tortilla industry is generally not felt in the tourist areas of the city.

In 2010 UNESCO included the traditional Mexican cuisine of Michoacán in its list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in large part based on the multiple uses and cultural centrality of corn in Mexican traditional cooking. This decision was very publicly celebrated by the tortilla industry. Unhappily, today, the tortillerias of Guerrero are struggling to survive the extortion rackets of the local drug cartels.

Main source:

Oscar Balderas. Drug Cartels Are Taking Over the Tortilla Business in Mexico. VICE News, , 16 March 2016; article re-published in Business Insider.

Related posts:

Mar 032016
 

To make it easy to search for specific topics on Geo-Mexico, we add an occasional index page as a starting point for the best links relating to particular key topics. Note that the entire site can easily be searched via our search function, categories (right hand navigation bar on every page) and tags (left-hand navigation bar).

The geography of Mexico’s drug trade: an index page

The Basics

Economics:

Drug War Violence and Crime

Drug Money

Other

Index pages on other topics:

Ground-breaking mapping of Mexico’s drug war

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Ground-breaking mapping of Mexico’s drug war
Jul 022015
 

During the 2006-2012 federal administration, it was possible to map the incidence of crime across the country, with data readily available at both the state and the municipal level. The current administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto has diverted press attention away from the drugs-related violence, arguing that press coverage only serves to give more publicity to the bad guys. Unfortunately, that decision means that it has now become next to impossible to get regularly updated data for, or be able to map, the patterns of criminal activity.

This is one of the inevitable caveats that limits the future application of the ground-breaking methods (using data from 2007 to 2011), developed by Jesús Espinal, a quantitative analyst at the National Institute of Genomic Medicine in Mexico City,and Hernán Larralde, statistical physicist at the National University (UNAM). Their work is described in “Mapping Mexico’s deadly drug war“, in Science magazine.

Mapping by Jesús Espinal Enríquez in Science magazine. Click to enlarge.

Mapping by Jesús Espinal Enríquez in Science magazine. Click to enlarge.

Essentially, they took official data for the location and date of all drug-related homicides in Mexico. They built a complex month-by-month network looking for temporal correlations in the homicide numbers between different cities. “If cities shared a death rate higher than 70 casualties per 100,000 inhabitants in a year and were less than 200 kilometers apart, Larralde and Espinal linked them together on their map to tease out broader geographical patterns.”

The results (summarized by the maps) are interesting. They show the rapid spatial spread of violence during the administration of Felipe Calderón as his government waged its war on drug cartels. The map for 2011 suggests that violence may have been finally becoming less widespread and becoming more focused on a relatively limited number of places.

Two major points are worth emphasizing. First (and as we have repeatedly pointed out in previous posts on this subject), the incidence of violent crime, including homicides, is certainly not similar across the entire country. Some states have much higher homicide rates than others; some municipalities have much higher rates than others. Some parts of the country, including several important tourist areas, have witnessed little or no drug-related violence.

Second, there is no evidence that the spread of violence between 2007 and 2011 occurred by continuous “contagious” diffusion (i.e. that it gradually spread from a single central point or a limited number of central points). The work of these authors supports the contention that the drugs-related activity in Mexico could, and did, increase simultaneously in cities far apart. This is only suggesting a coincidence in timing, and is certainly not proof of any causal connection. A small number of cities, such as Ciudad Juárez, Acapulco, Culiacán, Monterrey, Tampico and
Tijuana, appear as nodes in the network.

This approach may offer some help to policy makers as they consider alternative approaches to combating drugs-related violence, but, as the article makes clear, it does not necessarily mean that the best policy is to attack the cartels in the central hub cities. Aiming at the heart of a major cartel might reduce violence for a time, but could also lead to the formation of numerous smaller splinter groups with different ideals and methods. For example, after the leadership of the Gulf Cartel was dismantled in 2010, the cartel’s former enforcing arm, the Zetas took over, introducing a wave of more extreme violence.

Related posts:

May 182015
 

We have frequently commented on the importance of migration channels linking specific towns in Mexico to particular places in the USA.

quinonesIn his latest book, Dreamland: The True Tale of Americas Opiate Epidemic, journalist Sam Quinones, one of our favorite writers about Mexico, describes the fascinating details of how one particular migration channel – from the small, nondescript town of Xalisco in the western state of Nayarit, to the city of Denver – has fueled an innovative delivery network for black tar heroin, a network that now spreads its tentacles across much of the USA.

Quinones relates the work of narcotics officer Dennis Chavez, who joined the narcotics unit of the Denver Police Department, and was determined to understand the reasons behind the escalation of black tar heroin dealing. Chavez listened carefully to his informants and a key breakthrough came when one particular informant told Chavez that while “the dealers, the couriers with backpacks of heroin, the drivers with balloons of heroin”, all looked very random and scattered, they were not. They were all connected. “They’re all from a town called Xalisco.”

Indeed they were, and the system they had set up was enterprising, innovative, and designed to avoid undue attention.

Read an excerpt:

This excerpt from Dreamland: The True Tale of Americas Opiate Epidemic, published on Daily Beast, explains how “in the 1990s, innovative drug traffickers from Mexico figured out that white kids cared most about service and convenience.”

Sam Quinones’ latest book is a gripping account of many previously murky aspects of the U.S. drug scene. It should interest anyone who wants to understand the human stories behind drug trafficking, international migration and globalization. A must-read!

Related posts:

The abduction and presumed murder of 43 students in the state of Guerrero

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The abduction and presumed murder of 43 students in the state of Guerrero
Nov 182014
 

The disappearance several weeks ago, and presumed murder, of 43 students from a teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero has shocked the nation and sent shock-waves around the world. The isolated mountainous parts of the state of Guerrero have long been home to some of the worst violence and most severe poverty in Mexico. The students went missing in the town of Iguala on 26 September 2014.

We appreciate that many of our readers will already be well informed about recent events, but hope that the following summary, with its links to English-language sources, will be useful.

Mexico’s attorney general has announced that a drug cartel, operating in tandem with the mayor of Iguala and the mayor’s wife, had kidnapped and killed the students, before burning their bodies beyond recognition and dumping the remains in plastic bags in a river. According to some versions, local police were not only aware of the events, but complicit in them.

mexico-kidnapping-horizontal-gallerySoon after the disappearance of the students, several mass graves were located on the outskirts of Iguala, but none of the remains has yet been positively identified as belonging to any of the missing students. However, the remains did include the body of a Roman Catholic priest from Uganda, missing since May 2014. John Ssenyondo, who had been serving in the region since 2010, was allegedly abducted by armed men for refusing to baptize the daughter of a suspected narco.

Earlier this month, security experts searching the landfill site near the town of Cocula (where gang members allegedly killed and burned the students) found rubbish bags with human remains. The charred remains have been sent to a specialized laboratory in Innsbruck, Austria, for testing, but results will not be known for several weeks.

A judge in Guerrero has since charged the city’s former mayor, Jose Luis Abarca, with being the mastermind behind the students’ disappearance, and of responsibility for the murder of six people killed in clashes between the trainees, police and masked gunmen on the night of 26 September 2014. The government has detained more than 70 people in connection with the disappearance of the students. Maria de los Angeles Piñeda, the wife of the local mayor is alleged to be the head of the area’s major drug cartel. Abarca and his wife have both been arrested. The small town of Iguala, site of the murders, installed a new mayor, Luis Mazon, after the incumbent was arrested for ordering the massacre, but he resigned in disgust after only a few hours in office, to be replaced by Silviano Mendiola.

Bloody demonstrations are taking place across the country, threatening tourism and denting the carefully-crafted public relations image of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

In Chilpancingo, the state capital of Guerrero, 600 protestors set fire to cars, a congressional office and the city hall.

The tourist resort of Acapulco has also been the scene of demonstrations. For a short time protestors prevented flights from taking off from the city’s airport, and have also blocked highways. The hotel occupancy rates plummeted to 20% for a time, before beginning to rise again in recent days.

In Mexico City, protestors set fire to one of the wooden doors of the Presidential Palace on the zocalo, Mexico City’s main square. The president has an office in the building but was leading a trade mission to China at the time.

Speaking to Fox News Latino recently, a student leader from the Ayotzinapa school said that, “It’s a national movement that’s launching. People are really upset in Mexico. It’s a movement for all citizens that is sparking protests across the country. That’s what happening now. We’re sending caravans to Chihuahua, Zacatecas, all the states from north to south. It’s family members [of the victims] and student-teachers.” The students also accept fire-bombings as a valid form of political expression.

Reactions in the USA have been mixed. For example, see:

The finances of Mexico’s Knights Templar drugs cartel

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on The finances of Mexico’s Knights Templar drugs cartel
Feb 272014
 

A series of press reports over the past six months has shed interesting light on the variety of ways in which the Knights Templar cartel raises funding and manages its finances. The Knights Templar stronghold is the city of Apatzingan in Michoacán, but the cartel now operates in several states, including Guerrero.

Raising money:

1. Citrus and avocado production and exports

In January 2013, Alberto Galindo, spokesman for the Plan de Ayala National Movement, one of the largest organizations of Mexican farmers, claimed in a press interview that Mexico’s avocado farmers “have data that prove that 225 million pesos [17 million dollars] is the amount extorted by the drug cartels in Michoacán” each year. Citrus growers are also subject to regular extortion by the Knights Templar. We reported on avocado “protection money” back in 2012, and on the plight of citrus farmers in 2011.

2. Iron ore mining and exports

The Knights Templar levy “passage fees” on every ton of iron ore leaving mines in Michoacán for the port of Lázaro Cárdenas. In addition, they are alleged to have confiscated shipments of iron ore and then exported it themselves. They are also alleged to have funded illegal mining operations where iron ore is mined without the requisite environmental permits.

In response, the Mexican government has tightened the regulations for iron ore exports, which now require exporters to demonstrate that all ore being shipped has been mined legally. The main market for Michoacán iron ore is China. It is no coincidence that ore exports to China have quadrupled in the past 5 years. The federal government also ordered the military to take over the administration of the port of Lázaro Cárdenas to put an end to corrupt practices and sever this major source of funding for the Knights Templar.

The discussion related to cartel financing via iron ore exports has implicated several transnational firms who are said to have paid the Knights Templar to allow iron ore shipments from their mines to the port. Michoacán supplies about 25% of all the iron ore mined in Mexico, and about 1 million ha (almost 20% of the state) have been given in concession to transnational mining firms such as Mittal Steel, Ternium (Italy-Argenina), Minera del Norte (a subsidiary of AHMSA) and Pacific Coast Minerals.

Claims, such as those reported here and here, that Minera del Norte paid the Knights Templar $2 dollars/ton to move 10,000 tons of iron ore a week from its four mines in the Tepacaltepec region, have been categorically denied recently by the company’s Communications and Public Relations Director, Francisco Orduña Mangiola. In an e-mail to Geo-Mexico, Orduña writes that his company “has never paid any amount of money to criminals”. He points out that, “On the contrary, it was precisely our Company that denounced the illegal operations of criminal groups in iron ore deposits owned by our company and other companies in the area, from which those groups extracted iron ore that was subsequently exported illegally to China. It was reported to federal, state and military authorities… and this action ultimately resulted in the confiscation of large amounts of illegal minerals in the ports of Lázaro Cardenas and Manzanillo. It is important to say that our company does not export iron ore, and that the lump iron ore extracted in mines located in the Pacific Coast is sent by railway directly to Monclova, Coahuila, and used as a raw material in our steel facilities.”

3. Port traffic and operations

A levy of up to 10% on goods passing through the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.

4. Miscellaneous money laundering activities

Purchase and sale of property, vehicles, cattle, textiles (imported from China and sold in Guanajuato after being relabelled with major brand names), truck tires, etc.

5. Extortion payments

Extortion payments received from truck drivers, gas stations, grocery stores, bars, restaurants, pharmacies, car lots, and even direct from municipalities (in exchange for “permitting” municipal works related to drainage, street lighting, paving). The rise of self defense groups was partially due to citizens’ outrage at the various extortion payments demanded by the Knights Templar.

6. Shipments and sales of drugs (as far away as California and Texas), many of them supplied via the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.

Summary of Knights Templar income from illegal activities [dollars a month]

  • drugs, weapons, kidnapping, pirated items, vehicle thefts, etc: $2.8 million
  • extortion rackets, $1 million
  • extortion of municipalities, $1.1 million
  • investments in real estate, vehicles, textiles, electronic items, etc., $1.3 million

The port of Lázaro Cárdenas was key to the Knights Templar financial plans, and effectively served as the cartel’s “gigantic central bank”, capable of supplying an endless stream of funds to the cartel. It remains to be seen how effectively the government decision to put the military in charge of administering the port will destroy the ability of the Knights Templar to raise funds to support their illegal activities.

Where does all this money go?

Part of it goes on bribing officials. According to an investigation published in Milenio, a national daily, the Knights Templar cartel is believed to spend $2 million a month in bribing officials in the state of Michoacán, and a further $400,000 a month in other states. The Milenio articles (here and here) were based on an official intelligence report that their journalists were given access to for a few hours.

Sample payments made to officials range from up to $26,000 a month to a federal police commander in an important city to $19,000 a month to officials in the prosecutor’s office and $18,000 a month to a state police commander. Officials in smaller cities and local administrations are paid less.

Recipients of drug cartel money also include journalists, with some print journalists receiving $3,000 a month and payments of about $2000 a month to a TV executive.

Related posts (chronological order):

Mexico’s drug cartels and their areas of operation, a 2014 update

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on Mexico’s drug cartels and their areas of operation, a 2014 update
Feb 172014
 

As noted in previous updates on Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas (and methods) of operation, it is becoming ever harder to keep up-to-date with the geography of drug cartel territories. The current federal administration has deliberately limited the amount of hard data relating to drug violence published on government sites or in Mexico’s mainstream press. While this may help to reduce public unease at the levels of drug-related crime, it also means that it has become much harder to analyse the situation and determine overall patterns and trends.

The 2013 UN Global Report on Drugs estimates that Mexico is Latin America`s largest drugs producer, making 30 times more heroin than Colombia. The report also cites statistics showing that more methamphetamine are confiscated in Mexico than in the rest of the world combined.

Previous updates:

The main players  (February 2014) are:

  1. Los Zetas, operating in more than half of Mexico’s 32 states (more territory than their main rivals the Sinaloa Federation), and prone to extreme violence. They have branched out into human trafficking and extortion to support their drug smuggling operations. They control much of eastern Mexico. Even the capture of their top leader in 2013 does not appear to have significantly weakened their internal cohesion.
  2. Sinaloa Federation, which remains in control of most of western Mexico, and increasingly specializes in the production of methamphetamine. The cartel is led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, whose estimated personal net worth exceeds $1 billion dollars according to Forbes magazine. Guzmán escaped from a high secrutiy jail in 2003 but was recaptured in Mazatlán in February 2014.
  3. Gulf Cartel, still important along Mexico’s Gulf coast, but weakened due to infighting, captures of leaders, and conflicts with Los Zetas.
  4. Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios), started in 2010 by former members of The Michoacán Family (La Familia Michoacana), and which now controls much of the drug-related activity in Michoacán and Guerrero. They are in near-constant conflict with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (based in the neighboring state of Jalisco) which has resulted in continued violence along the Jalisco-Michoacán border.

Smaller, regional players:

  1. Tijuana Cartel, operating in the city of Tijuana on the Baja California/California border.
  2. Juárez Cartel, now largely limited to Cd. Juárez and the border with Texas. Mexican federal police say this group now calls itself the New Juárez Cartel (Nuevo Cartel de Juárez).
  3. Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación), based in the state of Jalisco and thought to operate as enforcers for the Sinaloa Federation
  4. Cartel del Pacífico Sur; weak, and competing with Zetas, mainly in the central Mexico state of Guerrero
  5. Independent Cartel of Acapulco, small and apparently declining in importance

Splinter groups (see below):

  1. Sangre Z
  2. Golfo Nueva Generación
  3. La Corona
Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico

Cartel areas and drug routes in Mexico, 2012. Copyright Stratfor. Click map for enlarged version

Recent changes (2013-2014)

Early in 2013, Mexico’s National Security Cabinet revealed the emergence of several new drug trafficking organizations. The new groups–Sangre Z, Golfo Nueva Generación, and La Corona– are splinter groups from Los Zetas, the Gulf Cartel, and the Sinaloa Federation respectively. The new groups formed in response to the arrest of key operatives in the large cartels. These new groups are reported to be well equipped and well-armed, generating revenue through drug trafficking and by levying protection payments on other drug traffickers who pass through their turf on their way to the USA..

In 2013, the situation in the western state of Michoacán became particularly unstable with drug-related violence (shootouts, roadblocks and the torchings of vehicles) perpetrated by the Knights Templar in many parts of the state. The town of Apatzingan in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán is the main bastion of the Knights Templar organization. The increased violence resulted in the well-publicized rise of civilian “vigilante” militia groups (community self-defense groups), prepared to take on cartel members in direct combat in their efforts to reduce the incidence of extortion, kidnappings and other crimes. Self-defense groups sprang up in more than 30 municipalities in Michoacán including at least 15 of the state’s 113 cities. Places with self-defense groups included Buenavista Tomatlan, Coalcoman, Tepalcatepec, Los Reyes, Aquila, Paracho, Cheran, Tancitaro, Paracuaro and Nueva Italia.

For a good summary account of the struggle between the Knights Templar and the vigilantes, see Mexican Vigilantes Beat Back Ruthless Knights Templar Cartel by journalist Ioan Grillo. We will take a closer look at the Knights Templar in a future post.

In recent months, in the wake of drug gang attacks on gas stations and electricity facilities in Michoacán, the federal government has stepped up its attempts to resolve the security problems in the state. In some places, it has replaced city officials and local police forces en masse. In the important Pacific Coast port of Lázaro Cárdenas (a main port of entry for the chemicals used for methamphetamine production, and a main export port for minerals, one of the more lucrative sources of income for the Knights Templar), the federal government sent in the military to administer the port.

In their efforts to curb the rise of civilian militia groups, the federal and state governments have announced a scheme which allows militia members to register to join new, state-controlled Rural Protection Forces (RPF). As of early February 2014, about 500 “self-defense” members had already registered to join the RPF.

The federal government has also announced the creation of a 3.5-billion-dollar purse to support 250 specific actions in Michoacán designed to reactivate the state’s economy, reinforce security and aid its social assistance programs.

Related posts (chronological order):

The geography of Mexico’s drug trade: new cartels involved in turf wars

 Mexico's geography in the Press, Updates to Geo-Mexico  Comments Off on The geography of Mexico’s drug trade: new cartels involved in turf wars
Feb 202013
 

As we suggested a year ago – Mexico’s drug cartels and their shifting areas of operation, a 2012 update  – it is increasingly difficult to track the areas of operation of the major drug trafficking groups in Mexico. The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control recently added a new narcotrafficking group in Mexico, the Meza Flores family, to its list of Foreign Narcotics Kingpins. (This designation prohibits people in the USA from engaging in transactions with the named individuals or their organization, and freezes any assets the individuals or organization may have under U.S. jurisdiction).

According to the Treasury Department’s statement, the Meza Flores family began operations in about 2000 and is responsible for the distribution of considerable quantities of methamphetamines, heroin, cocaine and marijuana in the USA. It is headed by Fausto Isidro Meza Flores (aka “Chapito Isidro”) and is based in the town of Guasave, in the state of Sinaloa. (Meza Flores was previously in the Juárez cartel before becoming a high ranking member of the now defunct Beltran Leyva cartel).

The Meza Flores group is a direct rival of the long-established and very powerful Sinaloa cartel. The Sinaloa cartel is headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, who has been on the run since escaping from the maximum security jail in Almoloya de Juárez, near Toluca, in 2001. According to Forbes Magazine, Guzman Loera is currently Mexico’s 10th richest individual, with assets of around one billion dollars.

Mexico’s “War on Drugs” in recent years has led to a fragmentation of the major cartels. Some experts claim that as many as 80 distinct groups are now involved in drug production and trafficking. Many of these groups are small and highly localized, but this fragmentation has increased the incidence of turf wars between rival groups. These turf wars have caused extreme levels of violence in some parts of the country. Once one side is firmly in control, the violence drops.

The current federal administration has said that some 70,000 people died in Mexico between 2006 and 2012 as a result of the activities of organized crime. Recent press reports such as Jalisco: La invasión de Los Templarios claim that one on-going boundary war is along the state boundary between Michoacán and Jalisco. This conflict is between the Michoacán-based Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios, LCT) and the Jalisco-based New Generation cartel (CJNG).

The LCT is comprised largely of former members of  La Familia Michoacana (LFM), a group which is now almost defunct. Other members of LFM joined the Zetas, the Sinaloa cartel’s arch enemy. The CJNG started out as enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel.

Violence linked to this particular turf war has occurred in numerous municipalities including Jilotlán de los Dolores, Pihuamo, Mazamitla, San José de Gracia, La Barca, Atotonilco, Ayotlán, Tizapán el Alto, Tuxcueca, Jocotepec and Chapala (all in Jalisco), as well as Briseñas, Yurécuaro, Sahuayo, Marcos Castellanos, La Piedad, Zamora, Cotija de La Paz, Tepalcatepec, Los Reyes, Peribán and Apatzingán (all in Michaocán).

This is not the only turf war currently underway in Mexico. For example, further north, another recent hot spot has erupted along the Durango-Coahuila border, especially in the La Laguna area centered on the city of Torreón.

Related posts:

Using Google to map areas influenced by drug cartel activity

 Mexico's geography in the Press  Comments Off on Using Google to map areas influenced by drug cartel activity
Nov 282012
 

The area of influence of each individual drug cartel in Mexico is far from fixed. As cartels fight each other (and government forces) to control their markets, the cartels’ areas of influence expand and contract. This inevitably means that conventional maps of drug cartel “territories” are only a snapshot, each valid only for a limited time. Territories change so rapidly that it is seemingly impossible to keep up.

Two Harvard graduate students have now shown how Google can be used to derive maps of cartel influence. In How and where do criminals operate? Using Google to track Mexican drug trafficking organizations, Viridiana Ríos and Michele Coscia use an algorithm called MOGO (Making Order Using Google As an Oracle) and show how Google data can be processed into maps and graphs.

The method is a much faster, and lower-cost alternative to the sophisticated intelligence and research techniques employed by private security consultants and research institutes.The new approach suggests that different drug groups operate in quite different ways.

Coscia & Ríos, Figure 8: Changing pattern of Juárez cartel

Coscia & Ríos, Figure 8: Changing pattern of Juárez cartel

The spatial patterns related to the activity of each cartel show distinctive peculiarities. For instance, the longer-established cartels, including the Juárez cartel (see graphic) and Sinaloa cartel, “have a tendency towards being not competitive, being most of the time the first to operate in a particular territory. They operate in a large number of municipalities but also have a high turn over.”

Coscia & Ríos, Figure 9: Changing pattern of Zetas

Coscia & Ríos, Figure 9: Changing pattern of Zetas

On the other hand, newer groups such as the Zetas  (see maps) are “Expansionary competitive”, being both highly competitive and very willing to explore new territories.”In other words, they not only try to invade others’ territories but also are the first to colonize new markets and to operate in areas where drug tracking organizations had never been present before.” By mid-2012, the Zetas operated in 324 municipalities. They were adding “an average of 38.87 new municipalities every year”. However, they also “abandon an average of 22 municipalities per year, lasting an average of only 2.86 years in each one of them.”

These findings appear to lend support to the view that, even in the worst-hit areas, the violence related to cartel activities does not last indefinitely. Indeed, the latest homicide figures from Ciudad Juárez and many other northern border areas show a significant improvement from a year or two ago. Hopefully, the new administration will continue to make progress in tackling the violence. According to press reports, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose six year term as President starts 1 December, will focus his public security policies on reducing Mexico’s homicide rate, as well as reducing the rates of kidnapping and extortion.

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