Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Tijuana Cartel

Thursday, May 14, 2009 |

The Tijuana Cartel (Spanish: Cártel de Tijuana or Arellano-Félix Organization) is a Mexican drug cartel based in Tijuana, Baja California. The cartel has been described as "one of the biggest and most violent criminal groups in Mexico". The Tijuana Cartel was featured battling the rival Juárez Cartel in the 2000 motion picture Traffic.

BackgroundMiguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, the founder of the Guadalajara Cartel was arrested in 1989. While incarcerated, he remained one of Mexico's major traffickers, maintaining his organization via mobile phone until he was transferred to a new maximum security prison in the 1990s. At that point, his old organization broke up into two factions: the Tijuana Cartel led by his nephews, the Arellano Félix brothers, and the Sinaloa Cartel, run by former lieutenants Héctor Luis Palma Salazar and Joaquín Guzmán Loera El Chapo.

Currently, the majority of Mexico's smuggling routes are controlled by three key cartels: Gulf, Sinaloa and Tijuana —though Tijuana is the least powerful. The Tijuana cartel was further weakened in August 2006 when its chief, Javier Arellano Félix, was arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard on a boat off the coast of Baja California. Mexican army troops also were sent to Tijuana in January 2007 in an operation to restore order to the border city and root out corrupt police officers, who mostly were cooperating with the Tijuana cartel. As a result of these efforts, the Tijuana cartel is unable to project much power outside of its base in Tijuana.

Organization
The Arellano Félix family was initially composed of seven brothers and four sisters, who inherited the organization from Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo upon his incarceration in Mexico in 1989 for his complicity in the murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena. Although the subsequent brothers' arrest in the 1990s and 2000s are blows to the Arellano Felix cartel, it did not dismantle the organization which currently is led by the Arellano's nephew, Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano.

The Tijuana Cartel has infiltrated the Mexican law enforcement and judicial systems and is directly involved in street-level trafficking within the United States. This criminal organization is responsible for the transportation, importation, and distribution of multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana, as well as large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine.

The organization has a reputation for extreme violence. Ramón Arellano Félix ordered a hit which resulted in the mass murder of 18 people in Ensenada, Baja California, on September 17, 1998. Ramón was eventually killed in a gun battle with police at Mazatlán Sinaloa, on February 10, 2002.

The Arellano Félix family has seven brothers:

Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix (born 24 October 1949) - Captured and released
Benjamín Arellano Félix (born 3 December 1952) - Captured
Carlos Arellano Félix (born 20 August 1955) - is not currently wanted.
Eduardo Arellano Félix (born 11 October 1956), - Captured on October 26, 2008.
Ramón Eduardo Arellano Félix (born 31 August 1964) - Deceased, shot by police in 2002
Luis Fernando Arellano Félix (believed to be born 26 January 1966) is not currently wanted.
Francisco Javier Arellano Félix (born 11 December 1969) - Captured

They also have four sisters, where Alicia and Enedina are most active in the cartel's affairs. The family inherited the organization from Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo upon his incarceration. Eduardo Arellano Félix was captured by the Mexican Army after a shootout in Tijuana, Baja California, on October 26, 2008; he had been the last of the Arellano Félix brothers at large. According to a Mexican official, Enedina's son, Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano, has taken over the cartel's operations. His two top lieutenants are Armando Villareal Heredia and Edgardo Leyva Escandon.

Activities
The Tijuana cartel is present in at least 15 Mexican states with important areas of operation in Tijuana, Mexicali, Tecate, and Ensenada in Baja California, in parts of Sinaloa and Zacatecas. After the death in 1997 of the Juárez Cartel's Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the Tijuana Cartel attempted to gain a foothold in Sonora. The Oaxaca Cartel reportedly joined forces with the Tijuana Cartel in 2003.

Fourteen Mexican drug gang members were killed and eight others were injured in a gun battle in Tijuana near the U.S. border on Saturday, April 26, 2008 that was one of the bloodiest shootouts in the narco-war between the Tijuana Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel.

Captures and trial
In October 1997, a retired U.S. Air Force C-130A that was sold to the airline Aeropostal Cargo de México was seized by Mexican federal officials, who alleged that the aircraft had been used to haul drugs for the cartel up from Central and South America, as well as around the Mexican interior. Investigators had linked the airline's owner, Jesús Villegas Covallos, to Ramón Arellano Félix.

On August 14, 2006, Francisco Javier Arellano Félix was apprehended by the United States Coast Guard off the coast of Baja California Sur.

Current alliances
Since February 2010, the major cartels have aligned in two factions, one integrated by the Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Zetas and the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel; the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Cartel.

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