Archive for the ‘The Cartels’ Category

Sinaloa Cartel

August 1, 2012 Leave a comment

The Sinaloa Cartel, often described as the largest and most powerful drug trafficking organization in the Western Hemisphere, is an alliance of some of Mexico’s top capos. 

The coalition’s members operate in concert to protect themselves, relying on connections at the highest levels and corrupting portions of the federal police and military to maintain the upper hand against its rivals.

The state of Sinaloa has long been a center for contraband in Mexico, as well as a home for marijuana and poppy cultivation. Nearly all of the trafficking organizations in Mexico have their origins in the region. They were, in essence, a small group of farming families that lived in rural parts of the state. In the 1960s and 1970s, they moved from the contraband trade into drugs, particularly marijuana. One of the first to traffic marijuana in bulk was Pedro Aviles, who later brought his friend’s son, Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” into the business.

Guzman implemented an ambitious plan. This began with a meeting Guzman organized in Monterrey with, among others, Ismael Zambada, alias “El Mayo,” Arturo Beltran Leyva and Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul.” The four men are more than trafficking partners, they are of the same blood: cousins by marriage, brothers in law, or otherwise connected via the small communities they come from, which is why their group is often referred to as the “alianza de sangre” (blood alliance).

Together they planned the death in 2004 of Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes, who was one of the heads of the Juarez Cartel. The group of traffickers, who authorities used to call the “Federation,” now operates in 17 Mexican States, numerous cities in the United States, and from Guatemala to Argentina. By some estimates, it operates in as many as 50 countries.

Categories: The Cartels


November 6, 2011 Leave a comment

The Zetas, once the military wing of the Gulf Cartel, are now among one of the most violent groups in MexicoThe Zetas started out as an enforcer gang for the Gulf Cartel, taking their name from the radio code used for top-level officers in the Mexican army. 

Not only are they highly organized, but their use of brutality and shock tactics — petrol bombs, beheadings, and roadblocks — has led the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to describe them as perhaps “the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and violent of these paramilitary enforcement groups.” 

In terms of technology, the Zetas are known to favour AR-15 assault rifles, grenade launchers and even use helicopters. In terms of sophistication, thanks to their widespread intelligence networks encompassing individuals from street vendors to federal commanders, the group is able to launch full-scale attacks against police stations and prisons seemingly at will. And in terms of shock-and-awe violence, the Zetas are perhaps unmatched.

In 1997, 31 members of the Mexican Army’s elite Airborne Special Forces Group (Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales – GAFES) defected and 
began working as hired assassins, bodyguards and drug runners for the Gulf Cartel and their leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen. The original leader of the armed group, Lieutenant Arturo Guzman Decenas, alias “Z1,” was killed in 2002.

The Zetas now operate in a series of isolated, semi-independent cells, stretching from the Gulf coast down to Central America, with their stronghold the corridor stretching from Nuevo Laredo to Monterrey, Nuevo Leon. Many of the original 31 members have been killed off, but what the thousands of new recruits may lack in Special Forces training, they make up for in brutality and shock tactics. Sub-groups within the Zetas include a wing dedicated to arms trafficking, known as the “mañosos,” youths who provide street intelligence, known as “halcones” and “ventanas,” and “officers” who coordinate kidnappings and killings with sophisticated communications technology, known as “la direccion.”

The sophistication and brutality of the original Zetas forced other drug cartels in Mexico to react and form their own paramilitary wings, as was the case with Familia Michoacana, which also received training from the Zetas. The Zetas appear particularly unafraid to launch bold attacks 
against the state, or to engage in war-like firefights with the security forces. This has made them one of the principal threats to the Mexican government, which is currently struggling to establish its authority in the various zones where the Zetas operate. 

The Zetas are currently working alongside the Beltran Leyva Organization, and have also established alliances across the hemisphere, including possibly with the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, with Maximiliano Bonilla, alias “Valenciano,” from the Oficina de Envigado in Colombia, and U.S. gangs based in the Southwest, especially Texas.

But unlike other cartels, the Zetas do not buy their alliances so much as they terrorize their enemies. They torture victims, string up bodies, 
and slaughter indiscriminately, as was the case in August 2010, when 72 illegal migrants were killed by Zetas and dumped in a hole in Tamaulipas; or the assassination of a mayor that same month; or the assassination of a gubernatorial candidate in June. For now, the Zetas are not as well known for bribing government officials into cooperation. Rather than building up alliances, the Zetas prefer to take military-style control of territory, keeping it through sheer force. Intimidation seems to be their preferred tactic.

It might not be an exaggeration to say the Zetas are among the most vicious drug cartels ever to emerge. Not only have they been able to 
establish drug-trafficking routes through Guatemala and Nicaragua into Mexico, but recent reports indicate that they may have also coopted a 
cocaine trafficking route into Europe via Venezuela and West Africa, representing yet another lucrative market for the organization. 

The Zetas have long been better equipped and better trained than their rival cartels. And anxieties have long existed that the Zetas may in fact be better equipped than the police and military forces, deployed to stop the group’s expansion. Indeed, their only true rivals may be the Sinaloa Cartel, who has formed a strategic alliance with their old bosses, the Gulf Cartel, and the Familia, in an effort to slow the rise of this powerful organization.

Categories: The Cartels

Juarez Cartel

September 1, 2011 Leave a comment

The Juarez Cartel is responsible for smuggling tons of narcotics from Mexico into the U.S.throughout its long and turbulent history, and the group’s intense rivalry with the Sinaloa Cartel helped turn Juarez into one of the most violent places in the world. 

Despite recent news reports about its decline, the Juarez Cartel remains one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Mexico and the region. To push back its main rival, the Sinaloa Cartel, it has turned to its former rivals in the Beltran Leyva Organization and the Zetas. It has also sought more direct contact with the drug sources in Colombia, namely with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Since its beginnings, the cartel has focused on drug trafficking, but has expanded into other criminal activities such as human trafficking,
kidnapping, local drug distribution and extortion. Based in the city of Juarez in the state of Chihuahua, northern Mexico, the Juarez Cartel is also known as the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization (VCFO), after its leader.

The Juarez Cartel has a large and longstanding transportation, storage and security operation throughout the country. It counts on its ability to co-opt local and state law enforcement, especially the judicial or ministerial police (detectives) and the municipal forces. It has long collected a tax for letting groups use its “plaza,” or drug trafficking corridor, and relied on alliances to operate nationwide. 

But the new modus operandi in the country, that of using small, more sophisticated armies to control swaths of territory, has made it hard for 
this group to compete. While its two main gangs, La Linea and the Aztecas, are formidable, they have had difficulty keeping pace with their 
competitors that work for the Sinaloa Cartel. La Linea, which does the street-level enforcement, has been particularly hard hit.

The Juarez Cartel has also created the Linces, a group made up by approximately 80 deserters from the Army’s Special Forces, who are in charge of protecting cartel members and transporting drugs. 

Drug trafficking is carried out by establishing two main fronts on both sides of the frontier. La Linea and the Linces control transport to the U.S.-Mexican border and the other gang, the Aztecas, manages the U.S. side, with operations in El Paso, Dallas and Austin. In Mexico, the cartel operates in nearly 21 state.

Categories: The Cartels

Beltran Leyva Brothers

April 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Led by the Beltran Leyva brothers, this Mexican drug trafficking organization worked with the Sinaloa Cartel before it seceded in 2008, managing the groups’s hitmen networks and controlling the state of Sonora and the lucrative port of entry in Acapulco. 

After a series of arrests and deaths at the hands of rivals and government authorities, the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), once one of Mexico’s bloodiest and most powerful criminal organizations, is gravely weakened. It is currently run by Hector Beltran Leyva, alias “El H,” the middle sibling. 

The arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva, alias “El Mochomo,” in 2008 sparked a battle with the Sinaloa Cartel, and the group’s precipitous fall. By most accounts, the Beltran Leyva brothers began working in their home state of Sinaloa with small-time poppy growers. Often called “gomeros,” for the sticky paste that comes from the plant before it is processed into heroin, the Sinaloa region was and remains the heart of the poppy culture. The brothers later rose with the Sinaloans, who built nationwide organizations. Among these was Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who employed them as hitmen and transporters. Alias “El Señor de los Cielos,” Carrillo Fuentes ran the powerful Juarez Cartel, which had established drug trafficking routes stretching south to Colombia and north into the United States.

It was not until a 2005 report by Mexican intelligence described them as the “Three Horsemen” (Los Tres Caballeros) that the BLO garnered widespread attention. A local journalist used the report as the basis for a story about the brothers. The report gave important clues as to how the gang operated: using connections in local government and the security forces, they would move large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and later meth-amphetamine in small airplanes, stash it in safe houses, and then ship it north over the porous Arizona border. 

Their financial wing, led by Hector, would buy off high and low level security and politicians throughout the country to replicate this model. Their multiple security wings ensured their associates either complied with their orders, or faced death.

The BLO are allied now with the Zetas, the former armed wing of the Gulf Cartel. The two organizations complement each other well. The Zetas have their power base on the eastern U.S.-Mexico border and operate along the Caribbean coast through Central America. The BLO has its power base in the west, in Guerrero, Morelos and the State of Mexico. Combined, they have some of the more sophisticated and well-equipped paramilitaries in Mexico. 

However, there are also obvious negatives. The two are allied for practical rather than ideological or family reasons. Their bond comes from their common enemy: the Sinaloa Cartel.

Categories: The Cartels

The Familia Michoacana

January 14, 2011 Leave a comment

At the height of its power, the Familia Michoacana’s brutal tactics, strong base of operations and pseudo-religious ideology made it a formidable operation and a point of fascination for outsiders. 

However, the group has suffered a series of heavy blows, most notably the death of leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias “El Chayo,” in December 2010, and is now thought to have been largely supplanted by a splinter group known as the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar). 

The Gulf Cartel is one of the oldest and most powerful of Mexico’s criminal groups but has lost territory and influence in recent years to its rivals, including its former enforcer wing, the Zetas. The Gulf Cartel’s origins can be traced to 1984, when Juan Garcia Abrego assumed control of his uncle’s drug trafficking business, then a relatively small-time marijuana and heroin operation. 

García Abrego brokered a deal with the Cali Cartel, the Colombian mega-structure that was looking for new entry routes into the United States’ market after facing a clampdown on their Caribbean routes by U.S. law enforcement. It was an agreement that, from the business side, proved irresistible both for the Cali Cartel’s leaders, the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, and for the Mexicans: Garcia Abrego would handle cocaine shipments via the Mexican border, taking on all the risks, as well as much as 50 percent of the profits.

But it took Garcia Abrego’s heir, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, to develop the Gulf Cartel’s military wing in ways never envisioned either in Cali or in Medellin. Cardenas recruited at least 31 former soldiers of Mexico’s Special Forces to act as security enforcers, for at least three times their previous pay. They were expert sharpshooters, were trained in weapons inaccessible to most of their drug-trafficking rivals, capable of rapid deployment operations in almost any environment.

The cartel’s center of operations is in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, with its most important operational bases in Matamoros, 
Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. 

These areas are critical from an operational and a financial standpoint. 

The cartel makes a substantial amount of money simply charging others for passage through the area. Other key northern cities include Monterrey, in Nuevo Leon, where the cartel has been locked into a increasingly intense struggle for control against the Zetas since the split early 2010.

Categories: The Cartels

Tijuana Cartel

November 25, 2010 Leave a comment

The Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization, is based in one of the most strategically important border towns in Mexico, and continues to export drugs even after being weakened by a brutal internal war in 2009 after the arrest or assassination of various members of the Arellano Felix clan, the cartel is now headed by Fernando Sanchez Arellano, a nephew of the Arellano Felix brothers who once bloodied Mexico and southern California with their brutish and authoritarian style. With the powerful Sinaloa Cartel moving into Tijuana in force, Sanchez Arellano is struggling to keep a grip on this lucrative drug and human trafficking corridor.

Like most of the drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, the Tijuana Cartel traces its origins to Sinaloa state. Its founding members were 
Sinaloans who worked closely with the legendary Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo. 

Despite its name, the Guadalajara Cartel is from Sinaloa. Its members left their homeland during a military offensive in the region in the late 1970s that included mass arrests and a crop fumigation campaign. Amidst the offensive, police shot and killed Aviles, but a younger generation, including an upstart Sinaloan named Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” quickly took his place. After working for years with Felix Gallardo, Guzman would form the Sinaloa Cartel.

An indictment in the San Diego District Court unsealed in July 2010 painted a picture of a sophisticated organization very much in business, with contacts in the Mexican police and government, including control over the liaison between the Baja California Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. government. According to reports, Sanchez Arellano’s mother, Enedina, runs the money side of the business. It also says the group’s extortion and kidnapping rackets are flourishing under the watch of the new boss. The “Enterprise,” as U.S. authorities called it in the indictment, has a multi-layered organization that insulates its leadership from legal prosecution. 

Categories: The Cartels