Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tijuana violence slows as one cartel takes control

By Lizbeth Diaz

Mexico's famously seedy border city of Tijuana is enjoying a lull in drug murders as the country's most powerful cartel gains the upper hand over its rivals.

While other parts of Mexico are hit by an increase in drugs violence, the beheadings and massacres familiar a few years ago are now rare in Tijuana, a key battleground on one of the most lucrative drug smuggling corridors to the United States.

Nightclubs and restaurants that shut down during a peak in violence in 2008 have cautiously begun to reopen their doors over the last year and officials say investment is picking up.

Long one of Mexico's most vibrant border cities, lying just across from San Diego, Tijuana is home not just to sleazy bars and brothels but also to a cutting edge electronic music scene and internationally renowned contemporary artists.

Much of that changed, however, when battles between rival drug gangs sparked daytime shootouts and many brutal murders.

Residents remember how one day more than a dozen corpses were dumped opposite a school. Another day brought the capture of the "stew maker," who dissolved hundreds of bodies in acid to hide evidence of murders committed by his gang.

"I'm still worried about the violence, but it's nothing like as horrible it was," said the elderly owner of an elegant Japanese cafe on a lively strip of gourmet restaurants.

"Before you had to zigzag around the city to avoid getting kidnapped, which is what happened to several people I know," she said over the din of teenagers enjoying a birthday party in downtown Tijuana. "It's a different Tijuana now."

So far in 2011, there have been 349 homicides in Tijuana, way down from the peaks of 820 in 2010 and 844 in 2008.

Mexico's government claims credit for the improvements after flooding the state of Baja California with police and soldiers in 2009 and helping to dismantle the once-dominant Arellano Felix cartel by capturing several of its leaders.

"Until recently Tijuana suffered extreme violence, but commitment from the local police, the governor, has led to a drastic drop," President Felipe Calderon said last week.

He says Tijuana is an example of the way forward, even as violence has mushroomed in other areas in the country, including the once-safe industrial city of Monterrey, hit by a dramatic surge in killings over the past two years.

Suspected cartel members torched an up-market Monterrey casino in late August, killing 52 people in one of the worst atrocities of the drugs war.


Tijuana's recovery is a rare bright spot for the government but analysts say there is a more subtle reality -- the decline of the Arellano Felix gang has allowed the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's strongest, to move in and take control.

With a clear winner emerging from a turf war, violence has slowed, but the drugs trade is still flourishing here.

"The drugs continue flowing, without a doubt. What has diminished is violence between criminal groups," said Edgardo Buscaglia, an security expert at Mexico's ITAM university.

"Organized crime continues, not only drug trafficking but extortion, kidnapping, human smuggling and gun running. But it's under a consolidated group (Sinaloa)."

Calderon has staked his reputation on an army-led crackdown against the drug cartels but the conflict has claimed 42,000 lives since he took office in late 2006 and the bloodshed is hitting support for his conservative National Action Party, or PAN, ahead of the next presidential election in July 2012.

His campaign upset the balance of power, triggering a series of turf wars. A troubling truth is that the violence tends to ease when one cartel establishes control in an area.

Calderon insists, though, that all organized crime groups will be hit with the same force and has vowed to continue the squeeze on gangs until he leaves office in late 2012.

Better security in Tijuana has given hope to investors like Juan Pablo Arroyuelo, who is spending $50 million building upscale villas next to wineries in Ensenada south of the city.

"Right now the violence is under control. Baja California is not at all what it used to be like in recent years. That is giving us confidence to invest," said Arroyuelo.


The head of the Sinaloa cartel is Mexico's most wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, and analysts say he has managed to keep the peace in Tijuana by allying with local crime bosses, all the while keeping drugs streaming steadily north.

Several sophisticated tunnels used for moving drugs under the U.S. border were discovered here this year.

Security experts believe the Sinaloa gang was behind them, as well as one of the largest marijuana fields in Mexico's history found farther south in Baja California in July.

For years, the Arellano Felix family ran Tijuana, using gruesome torture and executions to defend its territory.

Now most of the original leaders are dead or in jail, leaving just a nephew, Luis Fernando Sanchez Arellano, known as "The Engineer." He fought off a challenge from the group's top enforcer, Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental, that led to the bloody battle to dominate the city in recent years.

Sanchez Arellano finally engineered a truce with Guzman and his henchmen that gave him an advantage over his rival.

Garcia Simental was then arrested last year and the Sinaloa cartel's illegal drugs now pass through Arellano's territory for a fee, a U.S. official in Mexico said.

"A deal was struck (that) allows both organizations to operate independently and includes a non-aggression pact, securing for the Sinaloa Federation its long-awaited access to the lucrative port of entry into the United States," U.S. intelligence firm Stratfor said in a report earlier this year.

As drugs pass through Tijuana unabated, the number of local addicts is growing. They gather by the dozens in a rancid sewage canal called "El Bordo" near the U.S. port of entry.

"There are a bunch like me," said local dealer Juan while shooting heroin into his neck. "We are all like zombies."

Addicts like Juan, and a series of violent attacks on rehab centers, remind officials the fight for Tijuana is not over.

"We are on the right path," Baja California state Governor Jose Osuna told business leaders and government officials in August. "(But) it's clear the battle is not won."


  1. Seems pretty accurate. I think the right decision was made, if that in fact was a decision, to not fight for Tijuana, to come to an agreement.

    There is still some fighting though, which I think stems from independents not wanting to pay plaza, or generally causing problems.

    Yesterday, a trailer was ambushed on the road from Rosarito/Ensenada by a convoy of gunmen, the trailer contained either up to 70 kilo's of meth or cocaine. So, violence is still there, but nothing like years of 2008-2010.

  2. Calderon "Tijuana is a prime example of how the government (and the CDS) can reduce violence in a border city. CD Juarez you are next". Calderon is such a joke, did anyone get to see that wiki that talks about the Mexican Army involvement in CD Juarez and how it is not doing anything other than watching the CDS and the CDJ go at it?

  3. How does the Sinaloa cartel control Tijuana,if they pay the Arellano Felix cartel a fee?..I dont know im not that convinced,I think CAF still runs TJ


  5. @1:58 pm

    Man, i hate admitting this, because i hate el chapo but let the sinaloa cartel take over. They seem to have the natural instincts in cleaning up a plaza once they've taken over. Better them than the tijuana cartel.

    I just want this F' war to end!

    @ ovemex

    Always looking forward to reading your reports. You da' man.

  6. So is el tigre and el guicho not with cds cause last I herad they took el teos operations

  7. Recaptured of 'EL GUICHO'
    The federal Public Security Secretariat reported that on Monday, September 5, elements of the Federal Police recaptured in Zapopan, Jalisco Hector Guajardo Eduardo Medina Hernández and Victor Hernandez, alias "El Guicho."
    This person had escaped last July 27 at a hospital in Mexico City where he was seated. Intelligence reports indicate that Guajardo Hernandez started his criminal activities as a member of the Arellano Felix drug cartel and later joined the group headed by Teodoro Garcia Simental, known as "El Teo". After the arrest of Garcia Simental, Hector Eduardo Guajardo became the leader of the criminal organization in the state of Baja California to serve the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo Guzman.

  8. Yep, with the Sinaloas support from Calderon, they have turned down the violence! See!!!! The plan is working!!!

  9. Spare me the Sinaloa propaganda. Damn y'all are gullible. If there weren't a Sinaloa Cartel, there would be 40,000 Mexicans still living, and you and I could be vacationing there right now. All we are seeing now is some very powerful criminal organizations laying low and maintaining until 2012. At that point they will flex their muscle and take full control of what is theirs. You might not want to be hanging on Chapo's nuts then.

    3:09 PM...You know nothing about what you are trying to give an opinion on. All the northern plaza's were peaceful until 2007 when Calderon and Chapo made their pack and poured gas all over those plazas. All those 2 know is greed. But we shouldn't forget, Chapo is pretty good at double crossing his partners and snitching everyone out too. But that's ok because the snake that Calderon is, Chapo will be the final laugh.


  11. @ 1:26

    I think CAF pays piso to CDS not the other way around

  12. I just hope the Zeta's all die off soon then that way less innocents will get hurt but I do stress LESS innocents because the Sinaloa and Gulf cartel are still guilty of killing innocents but seems the Zeta's enjoy doing it and do it a hell of a lot more.

  13. What a bunch of weenies!

    I just want the violence to stop. Let's go back to the old ways. Whine, whine, whine. Now you narcos stop that. You be nice narcos like before. Keep dreaming. Times have changed and there is no turning back.

    The criminals are not going to stop unless you stop them or they have taken everything you have - and I mean everything!

    @3:52 if you have a shred of proof that Calderon is in bed with CDS let's have it. And don't start quoting Anabel Hernandez 'cause that ain't proof.

  14. Plus the zetas are way overrated. They are just a bunch of scattered street thugs. Los zetas believe in quantity than quality. They don't even own a border city plaza. That's why they are involved in every type of criminality from extorting casinos to smuggling drugs from guatemala to local drug deals to even pirated dvd's but as far as smuggling drugs to the U.S., it's the other cartels who dominate out of country sales. If the mexican government tried a lil' harder, they would get lazca and z40, because it's been rumored that they still reside in mexico, and destroy them. Destroy z1 all the way to z100. Get all those z bastards! Then watch the rest of them run away like roaches.

    Let the sinaloa cartel take over, even though my heart is with juarez, it seems like the CDS is the one cartel that knows how to run a plaza properly once they've taken control and Tijuana is a perfect example of this.

  15. @ ajulio...Zetas own Nuevo Laredo and that is a big plaza feeding San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. They also have Padres Negros and other key areas along the Rio Grande. The Juarez Cartel has always run Juarez tough, but when it was only them, you knew where you stood. CDS has caused most of the crap there. The Juarez Cartel is too old and experienced with way to many powerful people to just bow out and let El Chapo take the plaza. It would never happen. Do you think the people of Juarez should just open the door and let all that money fly through to Sinaloa. Come on. Those bad boys are in Juarez to stay and it is time for Chapo to move on and he knows it. TJ lost a lot of its leadership therefore lots of its power. That is how CDS got a strong hold there. I have said all along, the Juarez boys are a different bred.

    @ 4:42 PM You are correct. It is time for old school to step up and negotiate. I just don't know if it will happen before or after the election.

    5:56 PM...Damn son, open your eyes. I don't need to waste my time drawing a picture for you do I? Germany and Japan fought against the US in WW II but I am not too sure I could find proof they were working together. Most politicians, especially presidents don't leave evidence of conspiring with criminals laying around but if I find any, I will send it to your to satisfy your curiosity.

    We are all wanting peace for Mexico. Handing Mexico to El Chapo on a silver Platter is not the way. There are way to many very big players all over for this to occur and I am still confused as to why so many think it would be better. It is propaganda at it's finest. I'm not buying it.

  16. Sinaloa didn't like 'take the reigns' in Tijuana, and everything calmed down, this is the beginning of revisionist history. No one REALLY knows, but Fernando Sanchez and CDS came to an agreement, a non aggression pact, and a working accord to profit from sending drugs north, and splitting up retail drug sales. Maybe it's more then than that, maybe less. But, CDS did not come to town like a John Wayne western and start cleaning up.

    It's a case of businessmen working things out on their own, and it very likely could have gone the other way. What was Tijuana like before 2008? It was fine, El Teo was what heated everything up. You can't lay that on Arellano Felix.

    And ajulio, Zeta's have Nuevo Laredo.

  17. @ J...You are right about TJ and man I wish they would put egos aside and do the same in other plazas. I am not sure why people think that all the mansions need to be in Sinaloa and nothing but shacks for the rest of Mexico. It's not going to happen.

  18. Why are people so F'n stupid? Always swallowing what ever Chapo is serving with out even chewing! Ignorance is what got Mexico in this mess to begin with...

  19. Tijuana belongs to Arellanos. Sinaloa pays piso. That’s what Arrellanos always’s all business! They will let anybody work in their territory for a fee. Sicarios, kidnappings, extortions or anything else that will heat up la plaza from other cartels are not allowed. Sinaloa decided to pact with Arellanos and focus on a personal battle like in Juarez and southern states that Zetas want to rule that are routes for drugs, weapons, drugs and even worst kidnappings and extortions. Not even ice cream vendors are safe from extortions. Calderon or El PAN has played a major role in Sinaloa’s strength…no doubt.
    Cartels are not just drug trafficking organizations…they are Transnational Criminal Organizations because they have lost respect for hard working people, children and women by victimizing them through indiscriminate shout outs, kidnapping of wealthy and poor business people, teachers or anybody that they can extort for money.
    All Cartel head leaders need to be killed…they are responsible for all the atrocities committed by their members. I don’t think one is better that the other. “Gobierno y Criminales alinien a su gente y se acabara esta porqueria”…ya que en el negocio de las drogas nunca se acabara por los viciosos de todo el mundo y hasta el de Mexico!

  20. It's just a matter of time before, El Cheko, Gonzalo, El M1 y los Antrax march into TJ and take over. If anything is true about what they say about El MZ y Chapo being at odds with each other; that's going to be battle over TJ.

  21. Cds aint shit with out calderon let that fool step down and ger kill by The Michoacan Cartel ( LCT ) or the zetas plus cds was lossing the war too the zetas till they ask la familia michoacana for help and after that the goverment cuz they can handle thede own stuff zetas may be bitches but they get down unlike the sinaloas cartel they snitch n get the goverment to kill for them is it wasent for ether La familia michoacana know as LCT or the goverment they would of been gonne by now zetas gonna take over ther sinaloa once calderon is out and calderon getting kill for betraiting his own ppl and hometown cartel

  22. 2:52AM, I hadn't contemplated that, but I really hope you're wrong. If that ever happens, it's going to be CAF allying themselves with one of those two sides, whomever they choose to support, it will turn ugly.

  23. "So far in 2011, there have been 349 homicides in Tijuana, way down from the peaks of 820 in 2010 and 844 in 2008."

    Half of year gone and 349 homicides. My math says homicides are not very much lower this year than 2010. It is lower but I wouldn't put up business there yet. Too soon to say anything.

  24. @ajulio...Los Zetas are thick as flies in Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. These are big money cities with booming economies. They are much more organized than you think. They have been operating in those cities for a number of years. They have the Texas border for at least 200 miles and trust this, it is no mans land but theirs. They are organized in South America and have been for years with strong street gang support. They have routes from Southern Mexico all the way to the US that go unabated. They may be as organized and sophisticated than anybody. All I am seeing is their small time town plaza leaders getting busted with a few guns and a few pounds. I despise the Zetas, for sure. They are ruthless, have no consideration for the working class or women and children, and kidnapping and extortion are used to pay salaries so that drug money is used for the top and to get stronger. Do not underestimate this group as being lost with no plan and no focus. If that were the case, they would be gone by now but they continue to grow very fast. Many are ex-military and they do have strong military ties. In there key areas, they seem to have strong police and political support too. I am not sure they fear anyone.

  25. @3:54
    do you really think CT can take on CDS... im assuming you must be from michoacan but really that doesnt matter... CTs are really not a real force to really take on anybody right now, they can even control their own state... If sinaloa wanted they could take them out in a second, but their busy fighting important plazas...

    In the other hand CAF still controls TJ and they tax anybody that works in their territory.. El Inge is all about businees and everyone knows a war is very costly so he and chapo made the right move. But im very sure if sinaloa tries to over run them and take them out of TJ CAF will fight a brutal war...(like jaurez)

  26. You know, All I see is people saying, TJ belong to this, Laredo belong to that... blah blah blah!!!

    People, get you head out your arsess!!! TJ, Laredo, Juarez, Michoacan, etc, etc, belong to the people of mexico, not to the cartels. All cartels are evils and this shit need to stop. But it will continue, as long as people keep thinking that the cartels own something.

  27. @9:09 you must be joking, thinking CAF is no longer a big player. CAF and there leader inge are very weak and yes the CT are way more powerful than CAF, stratfor has even said they were the least powerful in the game while LFM/LCT has a heavy grip in Michoacan and Guerrero and parts of Jalisco

  28. Tijuana is still belongs to el caf I think chapo dosent want any more war cause it seems like he having trouble with los Z . I also heard that el fantasma is in TJ that Vato is crazy mofo.
    What happen to macho pireto is he still with chapo and mayo

  29. El Macho Prieto is still with El Mayo since he went out of his way to have a corrido(Escolta De Guerra Sigo Con La Misma Bandera) made to make sure everyone knows that he's still with El Mayo y El Chapo.

  30. @ Luciferkilla
    Na u must be joking. Beltran Leyva control Guerrero and sinaloa and Nachos people still control Jalisco. And saying CAF is weaker than CT... CTs can't compare to CAF their not at their level.. CTs are a joke of a cartel.. TJ is the most lucrative plaza that generates billions.. who ever controls that has the money... CTs are more into extortion and kidnapping to make money.. they don't have a good money maker like CAF does....

  31. @7:48 so that's the best you can do? "Most politicians are crooked..."

    Don't look down your nose at me SON. You talk a lot of bad shit but you know nothing. Keep blowing that hot air.

    You waste your time on BB so why not draw us a picture smart guy. Make us understand 'cause we're so dumb we need pictures.

  32. I don't know why we have to go into Michoacan vs Tijuana, I don't know what purpose it serves, but I will say that LFM/Caballeros pay taxes to operate in Tijuana, and when they get out of line, or don't pay, violate agreements, they usually are killed. There is a whole story documenting this from BB, under February of this year.

  33. That was well said J Tijuana is definately more important then Michioacan when it comes to drug trafficking.Michioacan is very important when it comes to meth production but its not by the border like Tijuana.I wonder what information allowed the mexican goverment to conclude that the Tijuana cartel is allied with Beltran Leyvas Zetas and Cartel de Juarez???,,,when they have a working agreement with the Sinaloa Cartel, bitter rivals of BL,Z,CDJ.

  34. I agree why create a CAF vs CT confrontation. But i will say my opinion. CT is stronger than CAF, need to be blind to no see that. CAF has border, CAF has more time working, CAF is bussines does not need violence etc.etc.

    CT has more operational and fiancial capacity than CAF, eso a quedado demostrado muchas veces. CT/LFM has crippled several municipalities in Michoacan and has been battling the federal forces for days in over a ocacion, anyone remember the coordinated attack on Federal HQ's in Michoacan in 2008 or 09?.

    I know people will say CAF does not need to do that, no need for violence, but the question here is they can? they had the capacity to do that and survive like CT? cause you can do and get your ass wipped out. well i think not.

    Getting back to TJ, i thing both CAF and CDS work without payin anything to eachother, people say CDS pay to CAF, STRATFOR say CAF pay to CDS i say nadie paga plaza a nadie. CT are the only ones who pay, and pay to both CAF and CDS, remember what happened at begining of year people from LFM getting kill by el Fantasma for not paying plaza to Aquiles.

    Getting to a war possibility in TJ...well, let's get real, Ingeniero could not even get El Teo out from Tijuana, i don't think he got a chance agains El Mayo, in any case i give him a year of resitance, and my expectations are high. Nevertheless, Zetas,BL and VCF won't let fall Tijuana in El Mayo's hands, i guess they will offer help to CAF and as result will have un desmadre in Tijuana where none has full control like Juarez, Mazatlan, Monterrey etc. where the two Cartels do what they want, showing an obvious lack of control of the ''dominant group'' in the city. No one want's that.

  35. @4:06 you said it perfectly but CAF never regulated LFM Sinaloa asked Nazarios people about the violaters and Michoacan responded witth them being renegades

  36. Nazario responded from his grave? A lot of those instances happened in early 2011.


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