After four years of reduced-cartel violence, the turf wars that plagued Tijuana, Mexico through 2010 are reemerging, as existing players, Sinaloa and Arellano-Felix Brothers/Tijuana Cartels, and upstart, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, seek to control trafficking routes into the multi-billion-dollar a year US illicit drug market.
The recent re-arrest of “El Chapo” Guzman, the face of the Sinaloa Cartel, has given rival cartels the opportunity to expand their Tijuana plazas and increase their market share by littering the disputed trafficking routes with mutilated or headless bodies.
Narco-traffickers have also left banners on overpasses warning their rivals to steer clear. As a result, the Baja California Attorney General’s Office told the San Diego Union Tribune that 71 homicides were reported in Tijuana last month.
“Nueva Generación is the new player in town that is trying to gain control of the Tijuana plaza,” Gary Hill, assistant special agent in charge of the US Drug Enforcement Administration told the Tribune.
“As far as a visible head of Grupo Jalisco Nueva Generación, we don’t have one,” Daniel de la Rosa, Baja California’s public safety secretary said. “You don’t see the presence of their operators, their hit men, criminal logistics. The only thing that we’ve detected is smuggling, and the protection of their loads heading to the United States, and the importing of cash and weapons from the United States.”
Law enforcement said the group is establishing its presence by recruiting former Arellano Félix members and encouraging Sinaloa cartel members to join the new group. The highly lucrative trafficking route has younger, brasher drug cartel members settling in and fighting for the lucrative west coast plazas.
The Sinaloa and Arellano Félix cartels remain the chief operators in Tijuana, according to Miguel Guerrero, head of investigations for the Tijuana prosecutor’s office. “We’re seeing a clash between tiny groups, sub-factions of different gangs, even rivalries within the Sinaloa cartel,” he said. “It has become harder to cross drugs into the US so that drug stays here in the border city of Tijuana.”
The consequence of beefed up border security is rising drug dependence in Tijuana, including the highly addictive methamphetamine.
When asked if he believes in the legalization of drugs, former Juarez, and Tijuana Police Chief Julian Leyzaola said: “That’s a tough question, but no. Drug traffickers have created so much violence in Mexico. The Drug trade is responsible for breaking up families, corrupting police and local governments, not to mention the devastating violence. Legalization won’t stop these problems and I think it will only generate more addiction and leave a bigger trail of blood.” Leyzaola, who is considering a run for Tijuana Mayor, concluded that the road to prosperity in Mexico must come from hard work and respect for the rule of law. The difficult job of reforming Tijuana’s government won’t be easy, but if Mr. Leyzaola’s past experience of improving security by firing large numbers of corrupt cops in Mexico’s most violent cities is any indicator then Tijuana should be in safe hands.
Meanwhile, the drug trade has been adapting and evolving to meet the changing global demand for decades.
After spending three years in Mexico, Central and South America, Narconomics author Tom Wainwright was surprised to learn that drug cartels use business models that are similar to big-box stores like Wal-Mart. “For instance, they have exclusive relationships with their ‘suppliers’ (the farmers who grow the coca plants) that allow the cartels to keep the price of cocaine stable even when crop production is disrupted. The theory is that the cartels in the area have what economists call a ‘monopsony,’ [which is] like a monopoly on buying in the area,” Wainwright said.
He explains that Narconomics could be considered a business manual for drug lords, but it could also be a blueprint for defeating them. Wainwright offered governments fighting cartels and illicit drugs some advice. “The choice that I think we face isn’t really a choice between a world without drugs and a world with drugs. I think the choice we face really is between a world where drugs are controlled by governments and prescribed by pharmacists and doctors, and a world where they’re dealt by the mafia, and given that choice, I think the former sounds more appealing.”
In Mexico, the concept of the rule of law as embodied in the US Constitution has been completely eviscerated by the predominance of the narco-state over the government and the people. The narco-state is not a threat to the rule of law – it is the law. But the popularity of an anti-cartel politician like Police Chief Julian Leyzaola, who has risked his life through eight assassinations attempts to fight cartel corruption, suggests that the rule of law may be clawing its way back from the abyss of cartel violence.