A recent article from the Associated Press indicated that the lull, or relative calm in Tijuana, came as a result of the Sinaloa cartel gaining control of the city, from the languishing remnants of the Arellano Felix dynasty. The article is not entirely untrue, or inaccurate, but beneath the surface is a complex and layered war for territory, and competition over retail drug sales, that contradicts the picture painted by the article.
At first glance the war would seem to be between cells loyal to Fernando Sanchez Arellano and cells loyal to the Sinaloa cartel, but the very structure of the cells and their leaders in Tijuana has changed, and this must first be examined, in order to understand the dynamics of the fighting in Tijuana.
For the last 18 months, Teodoro Garcia Simental, El Teo, and his soldiers had turned Tijuana and Baja California into a bloody war zone of gruesome mutilations and indiscriminate violence. Dozens of bodies were dumped and littered all over the city, burned, dismembered, castrated, baring mocking messages directed at Fernando Sanchez Arellano, 'El Ingeniero' the young Arellano nephew, who was fighting for control of the plaza he inherited from his uncles.
Seafood restaurants, nightclubs, and pool halls were left vacant, as gunmen executed patrons in broad day light, and buckets of human remains were left in front, warning the owners. El Teo, a longtime Arellano lieutenant had defected from the Arellano's, after Sanchez Arellano had ordered his lucrative kidnapping rings shut down. After a meeting to discuss terms went south, a bloody shootout followed, Sanchez Arellano had ordered Teo and his bodyguards dead, and Teo vanished from Baja, California and took refuge in Sinaloa that summer.
There are limited reports on the actual deal and terms discussed, but Teo came back to Tijuana that fall, with reinforcements from Sinaloa, and an agreement with Sinaloa cartel leaders, to transport their shipments and clean the plaza of Fernando Sanchez Arellano, and those who served him. Chaos and mayhem followed as the two cells battled for control, driving around Tijuana in convoys of luxury vehicles, taunting each other over radio frequencies.
In one recording the people of Ingeniero can be heard mocking the 'Teos', calling them tweakers and cowards. During the battle which lasted from September 2008 to January 2010, there were relative lulls in violence, and it was speculated, and later confirmed that the two men agreed to various truces and cease fires during the fight for Tijuana. Which suggested a mutual need to 'stop the bleeding', of both their men, and finances, as capos and valuable lieutenants were captured by the authorities, drug shipments seized, and the border tightened amid the frenzied violence. Wholesale prices on cocaine and marijuana skyrocketed across the border during this time period, climbing up to 24,000 a kilo.
Many speculated that Fernando Sanchez would be pushed out of his city, as banners calling him a mason and coward were posted up in Tijuana, but by the new year, 2010, neither Teo, nor Inge had fallen, though both had lost top leaders in their organizations.
The city seemed poised for more bloodshed. But, early one morning in mid January Federal Police raided a large house in an upscale La Paz neighborhood, and captured El Teo, overweight and wearing a red Nautica pul over he was paraded in front of the cameras, and sent to Mexico City. Sanchez Arellano gunmen, to push the remaining 'Teos' out, kidnapped the sister of Raydel Lopez Uriarte, 'El Muletas', a revered and feared leader of Teo's organization.
Because of pressure from authorities, or drawn out by the kidnapping, Lopez was captured, along with the younger brother of Teo, 'El Chiqluin'. Effectively removing the upper management, Los Teos were crippled. Cells existed, but were cuff off from leadership, as well as drugs and weapons supplies. Violence would continue in the city, but reign of El Teo, and his bloody style of violence was over.
Sometime in spring 2010, Alfredo Arteaga, 'El Achilles', loyal to the Sinaloa cartel negotiated with El Inge to bring peace to the plaza, agreed to have a non aggression pact regarding one another, and also to rid the city of the survivors, loyal to El Teo, including Hector Guarjdo Hernandez, 'El Guicho', and Jose Soto, 'El Tigre', and their cells. A relative clam followed, meaning executions continued, but without the mutilated bodies and hangings that were common.
This was also the beginning of the new strategy/organizational structure used by the Sinaloans, and agreed to by Sanchez Arellano, which is the cause of the violence today. Because of cell leaders and lieutenants, (ex. La Barbie, El Teo) gaining too much power and influence among the soldiers, in fact creating their own organizations, the two cartels had lost significant amounts of money, and time fighting these breakaway groups, and rebuilding after their removal, the newly implemented strategy was too prevent that.
Smaller groups of gunmen and workers, controlling smaller amounts of territory, blocks and streets instead of cities, smaller plazas, less responsibilities, less control, and less of a link to leadership. These men are drug addicts, small time dealers consolidated under the new order, or brought from Sinaloa, for the purpose of serving the cell leaders and killing rivals. Gang members from San Diego are brought down to assist in these activity's also.
Authorities allege there are at least 22 of these smaller cells operating in Tjuana at this time, the murders stem from territorial disputes over areas of influence, used for the extremely lucrative retail drug market in Tijuana, mainly crystal. The fight is no longer between Sanchez Arellano and Sinaloa, but between competing and rival cells loyal to Sinaloa, or that seemingly operate independently. La Familia and Knights Templar also operate in the city, manufacturing and selling crystal, though the rules of the agreement state they must pay taxes to operate, as well as on any shipments across the border.
Earlier this year, members of La Familia were murdered for kidnapping and not keeping up with financial obligations. The majority of murders are in the northwestern and Eastern areas of the city, where cells of El Tigre, and El Achilles, and his brother Rene Arteaga, La Rana, are fighting over territory. The assumption is, that the bosses in Sinaloa do not care about these disputes, and do not interfere, preferring to let the strongest one win, and irregardless of these skirmishes, their money keeps beings sent back to Sinaloa. It seems the strategy is effective, as none of the detainees, loyal to these cells, have received orders to kill from a top leader, always a third person. As a result, there are no arrest warrants for the known leaders of the groups.
Less is known about the status of Ingeniero's people, although they have divided and split their territory in the same manner as the Sinaloans, in the western area of Tijuana and Tecate, where they hold the most influence, Sinaloa keeping mostly to the east. Juan Sillas Rocha, aka 'El Ruedas', a high profile Arellano lieutenant, who is constantly at odds with the Sinaloans, as well as his own boss, has kept quiet this year, after his brother was arrested near Los Angeles in February 2011.
Late last year he engaged in a brief, but violent conflict with Achilles, which escalated the violence in Tijuana, from October 2010 thru November 2010. Reports on the 'Engineer', are vague, and practically nonexistent, his location speculated to be anywhere from Hawaii to Mazatlan, Sinaloa. The influence and existence of the cartels operating in Tijuana is plain to see in San Diego, as sweeping Federal indictments, and massive crackdowns fail to stop the flow of drugs north.
'Operation Luz Verde' in July 2010 captured 43 defendants loyal to CAF, while three similar operations this year picked up roughly 100 more, loyal to La Familia, and unnamed cartels, likely Sinaloa. One of these indictments targeted Iraqi/Chaldean organized crime operating in El Cajon, San Diego, supplying crystal, cocaine, heroin, crack cocaine, perscription drugs, Ectascy, as well as weapons, including hand grenades and IED's, in addition to assault rifles and handguns.
DEA, and other Federal authorities linked them, and 3,500 pounds of marijuana, to the Sinaloa cartel. Indictments and arrests aside, massive drug seizures continue in San Diego and surrounding areas, indicating a steady flow of drugs from Tijuana, and a working environment in the city, allowing for the shipments. Last week in Tijuana, a lone man was arrested with 232 kilograms of cocaine, confessing he served El Chapo Guzman.
Tourism was brought to it's knees in Tijuana, and the once busy and crowded streets of Avenida Revolucion are quiet, street vendors line up to try to make it through another day, of diminished revenue and decreased foot traffic in the areas. Taxis without occupants crowd the streets, aggressively pursuing costumers, others wait by the dozen at the pedestrian crossing into the city. Federal Police and soldiers patrol with masks and bulletproof vests and rifles thru the crime ridden areas of Zona Norte, the 'Red Light District', where street level dealers make small drug transactions in the open, and prostitutes ply their trade legally.
Elsewhere in the city, imported chemists and cooks produce crystal in clandestine labs in residential neighborhoods, cocaine and marijuana destined for the US is amassed in safe houses, and taken by tunnel or vehicle into the United States. Pre-paid cell phones chirp and orders of life and death are given by anonymous voices, known only by nicknames, kidnapping victims are guarded by teenagers in small houses or apartments.
Wanted posters of El Inge are posted around the city, blown by the wind across the streets, as were posters of his uncles before him. And men and women die in these neighborhoods, people who chose the life, and people who didn't.
Welcome To Tijuana
Sources: Zeta Tijuana, AFN Tijuana, Sign on San Diego.