Reputed Sinaloa drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, accompanied by an army of sicarios (hit men), strolled into Juárez one day claiming the city’s lucrative smuggling corridor as his own, so the rumor goes.
Whether true or not, Juárez and other parts of the state of Chihuahua have become ground zero in a battle over drug-trafficking routes that have been under the control of the Carrillo Fuentes drug organization for more than a decade.
The violence, which has included kidnappings, car-to-car shootings on boulevards and victims pelted by machine guns in broad daylight, has left hundreds dead and has Juarenses looking over their shoulders as they try to go about their daily lives.
What sparked the bloodshed in Juárez is unclear, but somehow agreements between the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels apparently crumbled, leading to fighting among smaller organizations.
It is difficult to gauge the size of each of the drug-trafficking organizations, although it is clear that the estimated $10 billion in drug money and weapons that flows into Mexico from the United States each year supplies traffickers with enough money to corrupt authorities and to buy weapons, equipment and technology.
The animosity between Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel and “La Linea,” as the Juárez cartel is also known, is evident as the death toll mounts, including several corpses recently found with threatening notes aimed at Guzman’s associates.
“This will happen to those who keep supporting El Chapo. From La Linea and those who follow it,” stated a note found next to two men slain in the Loma Blanca area outside of Juárez.
A high-ranking U.S. anti-narcotics official has said that to survive the recent upheaval, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes allied himself with reputed drug trafficker Heriberto “Lazca” Lazcano, one of three leaders of the Gulf cartel.
Juárez is only one battleground in a war taking place across Mexico as narco-gangs battle each other during an unprecedented crackdown by the military and federal forces.
You have the president of Mexico who is doing something no other president has done before, he has basically declared war on the cartels.
While Calderón has made his intentions clear, so have the cartels.
Hit lists naming police officers are commonly found in Juárez which is experiencing a rash of gangland-type shootings.
Mexico and anti-narcotics experts said the conflict has three fronts:
- Intra-cartel: Internal struggles and the elimination of “traitors” within an organization.
- Inter-cartel: Fighting between different organizations.
- Government vs. cartels: The military and law enforcement’s fight against drug organizations.
The foundation of the current war in Mexico is a drug-trafficking problem, which grew in size, sophistication and ruthlessness over decades, all while being funded by the multibillion-dollar U.S. drug market.
Former Mexican presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Ernesto Zedillo allowed this problem to get worse and worse and allowed these cartels to get more sophisticated and powerful over time. The number one problem in Mexico today is corruption.
Corruption has allowed drug traffickers to elude authorities, and when some cartel leaders have been sent to prison, their stays have been short.
Some say that the recent violence may be an indication that the tide is turning against the cartels.
At a border governors conference in Mexico City last week, Calderón asked that the U.S. do its part in the fight against organized crime and illegal gun trafficking.
“It is fundamental everyone comprehend that the narco-trafficking problem, which is the origin and the principal cause of the violence on the border, is fundamentally due to one clear fact: The American drug market is the largest market in the world,” Calderón said.
“It is a problem whose origin is the American consumer, but there are those who pretend that Mexico should confront and resolve it alone,” Calderón said in Spanish. “The battle in Mexico daily costs the lives of Mexican police; nevertheless, the majority of the consumers are Americans.”