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

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Counterinsurgency, intelligence and Mexican criminal organizations

 "Redlogarythm" for BorderlandBeat

Disclaimer: the following article reflects just my personal opinion about a topic, the use of counterinsurgency and intelligence, that is highly subjected to different schools of though. Thus, readers shouldn´t try to refute undisputable truth but extract their own conclusions

A shot from the film The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) The use of counterinsurgency taken to the celluloid

Mexico´s current conflict cannot be labelled but as an armed conflict. Nevertheless it´s not a conflict fought in a formal way. Contrary to what happens in most armed conflicts, amid the Mexican tragedy we can´t see two differentiated sides but rather a very unstable network of armed actors that are constantly fighting between themselves as well as forging weak alliances of convenience that last just moths or a few years.

Another special characteristic of the Mexican conflict is the purpose or existential meaning of most of the armed criminal groups. While the Mexican State can act in the name of the classical monopoly of violence and with the scope of pacifying the country and defeating criminality, organized crime groups confronting the Federal Government and waging war one against the other do not conduct their violent activities for seeking some kind of political/social cause but mere profit. And although it´s true that certain criminal groups such as the original Familia Michoacana and the Knight Templars Cartel liked to act under the false assumptions of loosely social purposes, portraying themselves as some kind of popular force the truth is that these profiles where nothing more than mere alibis used for disguising their criminal actions.

Thus, we can conclude that the only objective that organized crime groups in Mexico seek when conducting their violent and non-violent actions is the obtention of profit. This profit can represent different assets such as money (when selling a ton of cocaine to US retailers), territory (when a group invades another´s area such as is happening right now in the State of Guanajuato with the turf between the CJNG and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel), sources of revenue (when a group targets a certain business owned by another entity such as oil-theft, drug retail distribution, etc)...

Another characteristic of the Mexican conflict is the use of violence by organized crime against the State. Contrary to the violence seen in countries such as Colombia or Perú, where the actions of armed groups against the State had the simple objective of challenging the Government´s monopoly of force presenting them as legitimate sources of political power, in Mexico violence against the State is reserved for occasions in which shows of strength must be showed in order to demonstrate that a certain group is powerful enough to challenge and beat the official Government. And because Mexican organized crime groups cannot act openly against the State fighting the SEDENA, SEMAR or different law enforcement corporations in open field, acting as formal armies, they must resort to insurgency tactics.

At the left, members of the Colombian Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército Popular (FARC-EP) guerrillas crossing a river. A the right, members of one of the factions of the Sinaloa Federation crossing a river. The only difference between both groups is the insignias in the berets.

An example of this would be the attack against Mexico City´s Secretary of Public Security, Oma García Harfuch, when he was ambushed in the heart of Lomas de Chapultepec on June 26th 2020 by a squad of CJNG enforcers using high caliber weapons. Why did CJNG target one of Mexico highest public security strategists? Obviously to spread a message: the tackling of CJNG´s operations in the States of Jalisco, Michoacán and Colima has its consequences. 

Aftermath of the 2020 ambush against Mexico City´s Public Security Secretary Omar García Harfuch. The event was interpreted as a direct message from CJNG to the Federal Government

Very high profile attacks have traditionally been used by organized crime to perform indirect statements aimed at national Governments: the killing of Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla in 1984 as a protest against extradition, the murdering of Pio La Torre by Cosa Nostra in 1982 was a consequence of passing the Rognoni-La Torre law making a crime to be a Mafia associate, the murder of Monsignor Gerardi in Guatemala City in 1998 was a message issued by Guatemalan criminal structures known as CIACS for the publishing of the Nunca Más Truth Commission Report, etc.

The case of Mexico isn´t different. When attacking a high-profile Government official or answering at a Federal-led offensive such as the Culiacanazo organized crime tries at the same time to defend itself from what it sees as attacks against its hegemony and issue a message for all to hear.

The body of Rodolfo Torre Cantú lays in the pavement of the road of Ciudad Victoria-Matamoros. The PRI Candidate for the State of Tamaulipas was killed on June 2010 by elements of the Gulf Cartel in what was interpreted as a message issued to the PRI leadership

Defining insurgency and counterinsurgency:

It´s not easy defining insurgency since it has been performed almost since the birth of modern cultures in multiple ways by thousands of actors. A good approach would be the definition used by R. Scott Moore when he states that an insurgency is a protracted violent conflict in which one or more groups seek to overthrow or fundamentally change the political or social order in a state or region through the use of sustained violence, subversion, social disruption, and political action. The paradox of applying this definition to the Mexican panorama is that Mexican criminal organizations do not seek to overthrow the political institutions but to co-opt them, making them their accomplices in the unlawful obtention of criminal rents.

This has differentiated the Mexican conflict from other similar tragedies such as the conflict between Colombian criminal organizations and the local Government during the 80s and 90s. During those years the Medellin Cartel and its affiliates chose to conduct selective terrorist actions such as the placement of car bombs or the murder of significant State representatives in order to stress its dominion over the whole country and modify the set of laws that enabled the extradition of its top leaders to US jails. In contrast, Mexican criminal groups have confronted the State forces by using a whole set of tactics and methods that cannot categorized but as insurgency actions. The carefully planned ambushes against SEMAR convoys in the hills of Michoacan, the training courses being taught at ranches in Nuevo Leon or Jalisco, the public relations campaigns waged by powerful cartels through the deployment of narco mantas and the distribution of toys among childres, etc. These events indicate that Mexican powerful organized criminal groups have adopted a purely insurgent strategy for expanding their influence and for their daily activity, a model radically different to the one used until the beginning of the XXIst century when Mexican criminal organizations acted violently but in a much more selective way.  Thus, we could easily label Mexican cartels as entities conducting a very violent kind of criminal insurgency.

Another singularity of the Mexican conflict is that contrary to most insurgencies Mexican criminal groups are not interested in fighting the State continuously but rather are constantly fighting among them. This means that a certain group which fights using tactics inherent to insurgency is going to fight another group which uses the same tactics. This leads to violent and direct clashes which can resemble sometimes real combats like those happening in full scale conflicts (such as the case of several African or Middle East countries) Nevertheless at the end of the day most of the clashes between Mexican criminal groups happen in the form of ambushes or sneak attacks performed selectively (machine gun attacks against drug retail businesses, bars, restaurants, car repair shops, massacres conducted in rural communities at night, etc) This leads us to the main assumption of this article: Mexican criminal organizations, when confronting rival groups must asses the conflict in a way that enables them to combat and defeat an irregular enemy. Thus, counterinsurgency becomes the most viable option since close combat can be most of the times counterproductive, noisy, and highly costly.

    Again, counterinsurgency as the method used for combatting an insurgency (either rural or urban) has been used since the origins of the great civilizations and cannot be easily defined. And again the definition of R. Scott Moore is paradigmatic: counterinsurgency is an integrated set of political, economic, social, and security measures intended to end and prevent the recurrence of armed violence, create and maintain stable political, economic, and social structures, and resolve the underlying causes of an insurgency in order to establish and sustain the conditions necessary for lasting stability.

Modern conflicts don´t resemble the form old wars used to take. Large armies fighting in extremely vast fronts are nothing more than images and texts reflected in history books. Modern conflicts are waged most of the times between formal and official armies and insurgent groups that use mostly religious or political goals as a legitimate cause for which resort to armed violence. Thus, conflicts such as those happening in Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or Burma have modelled the way conflicts are currently being fought. In other words, counterinsurgency has become a crucial discipline in military academies. It´s an extraordinarily complex subject which is in constant evolution so my intention is not to make a deep analysis of the matter but just to identify and analyze those aspects of counterinsurgency that appear to be used in the Mexican conflict.

A basic characteristic of counterinsurgency tactics is its division between strictly military operations and more subtle ways of action which include the gathering of intelligence, psychological warfare or social/economic actions undertaken for influencing the social basis on which insurgency finds its supporters.

Although it´s not easy to apply a strictly militaristic strategy such as counterinsurgency to the Mexican landscape, a country which is not fighting an officially declared war, it should be noted that Mexico´s case is very interesting because of the level of intelligence data managed by all the actors involved in the infighting. Thus, intelligence becomes the main element around which Criminal Counterinsurgency is applied. In my opinion this can be explained by the way criminal organizations do operate in Mexico.

A criminal organization, like any strictly political/religious insurgent group, must manage its affairs in the utmost secrecy. The identities of its membership, sources of supplies, infrastructure or political contacts must remain unknown for everyone since anonymity is the only way for grating the group´s survival. Thus, the obtention of that information is a priority for the organization´s rivals since that´s the only way they´ll be able to defeat it. For example, if the local CJNG cells located in the State of Guanajuato are able to discover CSRL´s financial operators in Celaya they would be able to eliminate them creating a revenue shortage for the surrounding CSRL´s operatives. Similarly, if a Los Aztecas cell is able to identify a business in Ciudad Juarez used as a meth retail distribution center by a rival organization, attacking the place and killing the people found in the spot would be a way for denying future clients to their rivals, who wouldn´t be able to sell meth locally due to the death threats against their buyers. The examples of intelligence data collected through counterinsurgency tactics and being used for attacking and damaging rival criminal organizations are almost endless and in my opinion are the cause for most of the daily violence that is destroying Mexico.

Thus, we can say that besides the pure militaristic actions undertaken by criminal groups in Mexico, the gathering of intelligence could easily be the most useful counterinsurgency tool used by organized crime. How does counterinsurgency intelligence work? How is it collected, analyzed, and used? Again, the answers are multiple and may vary depending on who we ask to, but an analysis of the classic American counterinsurgency manual will give us a great insight.

The pyramidal structure of Mexican criminal organizations:

In my opinion Mexican criminal networks are compartmentalized and pyramidal in their structure. Certainly, there are organizations resembling a more horizontal structure, but at the end of the day most Mexican criminal groups present quite similar structures: on the top we have one, two, or several leaders. These top bosses designate several lieutenants, their most trusted men, who oversee the creation of regional subsidiaries and the designation of regional leaders. These regional leaders create local criminal cells across all their area composed by trusted men being used as the organization´s violent spearhead. These local enforcement cells might recruit local petty criminals or street gangs as well as law abiding citizens for using them as halcones (watchers), informants, drug distributors, etc. Of course, we can enlarge this structural model by adding financial operators, corrupt law enforcement, affiliated politicians, etc. But in the end, this corpus has a pyramidal shape headed at the top by a few bunch of very powerful individuals and composed at the bottom by innumerable hundreds (sometimes thousands) of negligible and expendable employees.


Fractional approximation to what a Mexican medium-size criminal organization seems like. Note the natural pyramidal shape

If we want to tackle such an organization we cannot do so by attacking any person who enters in our radar as member of such entity because one of the characteristics of pyramidal organizations is the easiness with which a member is substituted without causing too much harm to the whole structure. Neither can we attack powerful members (local or regional leaders) because most of the times their identities are unknown even by their own associates. For example, we might know that a certain plaza has a boss but we ignore who this person is and so do the people buying meth or cocaine in the streets (they might know that they´re working for this or that organization, but do ignore who are the men directing it or know them just by an uncertain alias or nickname)

Thus, if we want to conduct a useful complete identification of the individuals managing a certain criminal group (either at a local, regional, or national level) we must start by identifying those at the bottom of the pyramid.

What we would have at our favor is that individuals at the bottom of the pyramid don´t act alone. They usually belong to a small cell or group of people directed by a leader/superior individual, conducting daily duties for the organization: street surveillance, selling drugs in a certain street/neighborhood, collecting extortion quotas, etc. If one of these individuals is captured, a properly performed interrogation session could provide the names of the people who he/she knows inside the street cell, including its leader. If the street leader is captured, he will reveal the identities of the people he gives money to, or the names of the people who give him instructions. We then center on capturing the members of this second layer of the group who will lead us to other people which will lead us to an even higher level. This process can be repeated several times, each time making the future objectives bigger in numbers and importance, until reaching a certain point at which we might be able to identify or capture a certain leader of the whole structure.

Of course, the obtention of information from captured rivals can be tricky and the use of physical force/pain or the threat of provoking them is a very useful tool. In other words, the use of torture is essential in most of the cases for the obtention of sensible information. In Mexico torture has been common since the times of the Aztecs (as in much of the world we must say) but it´s true that criminal organizations have carried it to another level by performing incredibly gruesome and savage practices against their captives. The presence of bruises, abrasions, skinning or amputated limbs in most of the cadavers that are found executed or in mass graves might reflect not the practice of brutal torture indiscriminately but the fact that most disappeared in Mexico, after being kidnapped, are taken to certain locations (safe houses, bodegas or abandoned facilities) where formal interrogations through the use of terrible torture are conducted in order to obtain information from the victims.

Members of CJNG´s Grupo Élite interrogating two alleged members of Guerreros Unidos working of Guerreros Unidos in the municipality of Silao, Guanajuato, June 2019. The use of extensive interrogation tactics to obtain information from rival prisoners is widespread

This bottom-assessment of a pyramidal organization was used extensively for the first time during the Algerian Independence war. During the 1950´s the nationalist FLN stablished several cells in the city of Algiers that started conducting widespread terrorist actions against policemen, public officials and French citizens. Thus, several Parachute divisions were deployed and started tackling the FLN urban structure following the same path. They first targeted the bottom of the pyramid, identifying street guerrilla collaborators, the people who smuggled weapons into the Kasbah or the individuals who could know something about the whereabouts of a certain insurgent. The brutal interrogation tactics used by the French parachutists enabled them to make a path through the FLN pyramidal structure destroying most of its urban infrastructure and cells and by the end of the Algerian War of Independence (that the FLN won in the countryside, not in the urban scenario) ended up with nearly 90% of the FLN´s urban cadres erased from the theatre of operations. The success of this counterinsurgency method was so great that it was used exactly in the same brutal and efficient way by the Argentinean and Guatemalan secret services during the 60s, 70s and 80s for destroying the local insurgent groups operating in urban areas. In both cases the insurgents were totally wiped out.

For a better understanding of this kind of counterinsurgency pyramidal method a review of the Italian-Algerian 1966 film The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo, which depicts extremely well how the pyramidal method was used by French paratroopers, is strongly recommended.

Until now we have analyzed the general framework of a generic method (the pyramid assessment) which can be used for attacking a rival group amid a direct confrontation. Nevertheless, this is not the only counterinsurgency tactic that might be used for tackling a rival criminal organization. Thus, it´s necessary to venture alternative counterinsurgency methods used by Mexican organized crime groups.

The three-steps intelligence approach: 

Let´s suppose that a criminal organization decides to invade the territory of a rival group. This decision implies that the aggressor is going to enter into a possibly unknown territory on which its rival has been stablished for a while, developing support networks, businesses, and affiliates all across the area. For example, although it had a local presence at least since 2013, in 2017 the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) started an aggressive offensive against the local criminal cells acting in the State of Guanajuato. This offensive quickly escalated into a full penetration of CJNG´s units into the territory which by the time had developed its own local organization, the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel lead by Jose Antonio Yepez Ortiz aka El Marro. In the last six years the CJNG has advanced into Guanajuato coopting territories and businesses previously owned by Marro´s organization. This has been possible only through the development of a sophisticated intelligence network.

We could divide the gathering of intelligence by an invasive organization into three phases of study: Basic, Estimative and Operational.

First, when arriving at a new location, the foreign organization might want to conduct a basic estimation of the local situation. Although this phase is optional since much of the time conflicts between Mexican criminal groups don´t happen abruptly and might be caused by events largely prolonged in time it´s a fact that criminal groups send outpost in the form of suburban columns or even travelling in incognito mode through commercial bus lines. Thus, this basic phase implies the gathering of general and crucial data such as main plazas, road networks, current state of affairs, main previous events, location of the most populated and anarchic areas where the rival organization might concentrate resources, etc. It can be conducted even before deploying troops. Google maps and other satellite GPS locators, for example, offer an excellent platform for conducting basic estimations about roads, towns and streets.

The second phase is called estimative and is conducted once the rival has been fully targeted. It implies an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the rival forces to start determining what the combat strategy will be. Thus, following our Guanajuato example we can conclude that when arriving at the State CJNG´s cells could have determine that CSRL´s main weakness was its dependency on oil-theft activities since they didn´t have the necessary contacts/infrastructure for conducting major drug smuggling activities. Also, they could have recalled that one of El Marro´s main advantages was the development of a deep and reliable network of supporters who would give him shelter and protection. Thus, a quick estimative analysis of the available data could have forced CJNG cells in Guanajuato to tackle key individuals in charge of extracting oil from Pemex pipelines and laundering El Marro´s money killing them through selective hits using mobile units like the so-called Grupo Elite (which might be several units acting under the same name)

The third step in the gathering of intelligence is called operational strategy. Once a certain course of action has been selected it´s time to take direct actions against specific individuals who have already been identified. Thus, the operational phase is the ultimate goal of a counterinsurgency intelligence campaign and can be divided into four different types of actions/measures: preventive, reactive, aggressive and remedial.

Types of operation actions:

    Preventive actions are undertaken to avoid future rival organizations activities in the area dominated by the group. For example, the recruitment of unemployed or young crooks by a criminal cell, providing them with a few pesos and a mobile phone is the way used for the creation of networks of halcones (watchers) A good surveillance network is one of the ways by which local groups can avoid foreign invasions by detecting and reporting almost instantly strangers around the area.

Reactive actions are a direct consequence of rival attacks on controlled areas. For example, if a group managing the theft of hydrocarbons in a certain area of Guanajuato detects rival clandestine intakes in the area, they might ambush the assailants for avoiding further rival activities.

Aggressive actions are specially aimed at the core of the rival organization. In other words, the purpose of aggressive actions is the decapitation of the rival organization leadership as well as the destruction of the rival´s morale. These are specific operations that require of great planning and that are designed for causing a great commotion in rival ranks. For example, on January 2020 a CJNG enforcement cell attacked a wedding ceremony at the town of Celaya in Guanajuato. During the gunfight the bride and the groom were both killed. A few hours later a CJNG text was published claiming that the objective had been Marro himself, which managed to escape letting his own sister (the bride) in the hands of the enforcers. This action wasn´t very damaging in terms of personnel for the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and it is still unknown if the bride was Marro´s sister, but if it is so the impact of such an action against El Marro´s family core has been enormous. Attacking the relatives of Guanajuato´s private lord in his own stronghold would mean that the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel cannot even protect his own top members from CJNG´s retaliation.

Another example of aggresive action, although not militaristic, would be the placing of narcomantas in strategic locations as well as the diffusion of a statement recorded on video, which are called narcocomunicados. Most of the times narcomantas are designed carefully, reflecting names, photos and data stressed in vivid colors. In most occasions the narcomantas or narcocomunicados are used as warning labels, indicating that the territory/area belongs to a certain group (so they may be classified as preventive rather than aggressive actions) But sometimes they are used for explaining the setting of a rivals´ corruption network among a local law enforcement group. On other occasions, for example, the narcomanta/narcocomunicado tries to stress who is the boss of a local unit and his lieutenants. The information being provided through these means is partial and can be false, but its purpose is to demonstrate that the issuer knows who their rivals are and how are they organized. It´s a clear sign of weakness that a criminal group cannot avoid rival penetration by keeping its structure anonymous. Thus, a narcomanta/narcocomunicado can be very effective causing a decrease in the rival´s morale, just like Psy-Ops do in real military scenarios (For a better understaing of the use of narcomantas in the context of the Guanajuato case I highly recommend the Small Wars Journal article Why tire repair workshops are the target of a wave of violence in Guanajuato)

Ultimately, remedial actions are aimed at changing the environment and conditions which cause the rival organization to take roots in a certain area. These remedial actions are very popular in the military counterinsurgency scenario and imply the use of social campaigns. For example, the US army personnel deployed in Afghanistan used organize gatherings with local elder councils or Jirgas when conducting operations in certain locations. They gathered the leaders of a town, interview them, and sometimes provide them with pamphlets, food, technology such as radios or mobile phones and medical supplies. It´s difficult to allocate these remedial actions in the context of Mexican organized crime because Mexican criminal groups do not seek any kind of social welfare. But what they do seek is social support. Thus, complicity, silence and impunity can be obtained by criminal groups through the use of social campaigns.

 In my opinion the best real example of remedial actions in the context of Mexico´s drug war would be the distribution of pantries which has become extremely popular due to the current Covid 19 situation. For example, during the first weeks of confinement we could see videos from several drug trafficking groups such as the CJNG, factions of the CDG or the Nueva Familia Michoacana delivering hundreds of bags filled with basic goods to dozens of people from poor urban and rural areas. When distributing the pantries, the masked men stressed very clearly who they were and why were they providing the people with basic goods: for the seek of social support.

A real life example of counterinsurgency intelligence applied to the Mexican                  scenario:

On the 23rd September 2019, a video appeared on social media. It depicted 26 heavily armed men wearing balaclavas and dark clothes. A hard and metallic voice could be heard behind the camera stating that they were people belonging to an individual identified as Comandante R10 who had already arrived to the State of Mexico and were going to initiate a social cleansing operation by killing extortionists, thieves kidnappers and the public officials supporting them. The voice in a very rude and clear tone goes on identifying five zones of the State of Mexico and designating the individuals in charge of the kidnapping, robbing and extortion rings operating in the areas. The translations of the narcocomunicado would be similar to this:

This message is for the people from the State of Mexico. We are Comandante R10´s people. We come here for cleaning the State of kidnappers, extortionists, thieves and the people from the Government who support them. We´ll start with Nicolas Romero Zone with the faggot of David, the Reyes Roa, El Mirra´s people, El Toche and the Asereje.

Atizapan Zone: with the faggot of Fernando, El Pelas, el 20, Kevin and Trompas

Tlane (Tlalnepantla) Zone: la Vibora, el Chopped, and the Serranos from Tenayo.

Frente Nacional Zone: Javier, el Ciro, Hector el Pollo, Ivan el Terrible, el Gordo, el Pato and the faggot of Omar.

Tutitlan Zone: el Araña and Mario.

Tultepec Zone: el Licenciado and the fucking kidnapper of Pancho.


I´m Comandante R10 and I´m gonna screw you all´´


What does this statement reveal? We still don´t know who Comandante R10 is. There are rumors about him being a member of the CJNG or the Nueva Familia Michoacana, but the truth is that he didn´t identified himself as member of a certain organization. The State of Mexico is a highly populated urban area where the main illicit businesses are kidnappings, armed robbery, extortion and retail drug distribution. Whoever Comandante R10 is he states that he has arrived to the State and has already identified the main criminal cells operating in the territory. This indicates that Comandante R10 and his people had already conducted some sort of intelligence gathering before confronting their rivals. In fact, the information is provided in a very analytical way: first the Zone and then the names and nicknames of the people managing illicit businesses there. 

Map of the State of Mexico. In red, the area affected by R10´s operational threath


Map of R10´s operational area with the rival criminal leaders and their zones of influence

The way the data is provided might suggest that the editing organization might have obtained intelligence information from law enforcement who at the end of the day spend 24 hours a day conducting surveillance and interrogatories and know better than anyone how the general panorama in a certain area is.

In fact, the flow of intelligence data between Mexican law enforcement (including the SEDENA and the SEMAR) has been a great problem and is behind the greatest failures and scandals of the conflict (remember the Garcia Luna case. Mexico´s top police officer busted for providing Sinaloa and the Beltran Leyvas with classified information)

It´s true that the people Comandante R10 threats to attack are mostly common thugs who run kidnapping and robbing operations in urban areas, not highly capacitated members of other big rival organizations. But still I think it´s worth noting how an enforcement cell has been able to gather and expose intelligence data with the intention intimidating its rivals and showing itself as a capable and powerful group.

We should ask ourselves how Mexican criminal organizations gather, manage and use intelligence through counterinsurgency tactics in their daily operations. It´s hard to believe that they use counterinsurgency tactics in the rationalized way being explained here. This text is just theory, but it seems realistic to assume that criminal cells do spend a lot of time gathering info and intelligence before acting in a certain way.

It would be interesting also to analyze how and when counterinsurgency tactics started being used by Mexican criminal organizations. Of course, it´s obvious that early criminal organizations such as the Guadalajara cartel, or the organizations of the 1990s did manage counterinsurgency and intelligence tactics, but not with the same degree of capacity and success. I think that the recruitment of professional military personnel during the late 90s and early 2000s is the reason behind the professionalization of Mexican organized crime, which adopted the means and methods used by their new employees. For example, we all know that the GAFES were specialized at counterinsurgency and in fact they were used for crushing the Zapatista uprising in 1994. The incorporation of Guatemalan, Colombian and Central American enforcers with military records might also have had something to do with it, but I think that´s secondary.

It would be interesting to ask ourselves if a good and deep analysis about counterinsurgency tactics being used by Mexican organized crime would help to prevent part of the violence since it would be easier to identify where and when a criminal group is going to hit next time. Who knows, maybe counterinsurgency is the future of the battle against Mexican cartels.


  1. Good article interesting take on everything.

  2. First off the bat, this is enlightening and illuminative on a very difficult and murky topic.

    My question is this. Are all cartels indeed pyramidical in structure? what about sinaloa, which is said to be organized loosely, with many cells allied, but not necessarily with the same commander at the pyramid?

    And what off family structure organizations. Do they also have pyramid structure?

    Thank you and happy wishes,


    1. Very good questions. Regarding the first one definitely no, not all Mexican criminal organizations are strictly pyramidal. In the case of small groups such as the street gangs operating in urban areas in Mexico City and Edomex (for example) they are quite horizontal, but there´s always a leadership, a lieutenant degree and a lower level of associates/collaborators. Regarding your question about the Sinaloa Federation, as you have said it is not a monolithic entity but rather a conglomerate of cells collaborating on a certain degree. But even each cell presents a pyramidal strucure, Los Chapitos, Mayo´s crew, la Gente del Cazador, Los Zalazar, etc (they all are pyramidal cells)
      Finally regarding family clans, the best example would be the CSRL. El Marro was at the top of the pyramid, and just after him his brothers, sisters, wive and lovers which helped him managing cash and watchmen networks, payment of salaries, laundering of money, etc. A family can be operated vertically. I recommend you this article regarding this last topic:

  3. Not all criminal organizations are ran the same. Jaliscas have one boss. The cds have 3 bosses at least with 3 organizations under the 3 bosses.

  4. Good stuff... someone could turn this in as a college thesis or something

  5. Cheers Redlogarythm. I have to say though that beginning the article with The Battle of Algiers and ending with a suggestion that the tactics in the film might be replicated successfully seemed a little strange to me, considering that film was a furious, impassioned response to those very tactics. You might be right about the ''professionalisation'' of the intelligence gathering- the state ran the protection rackets now run by organised crime, so now the specialists are essentially mercenaries, but I'm unsure what this knowledge can help a new approach. At times it sounded uncomfortably like a new vocabulary being framed around the same tired old methods of quadruple bluff that ends in civil war in the jungle.
    Btw I loved your article about the mining disputes in Guerrero.

    1. Thanks, your opinions are highly greeted. Maybe you can blame me for being cynical, but the tactics being criticized by the Battle of Algiers (a movie with which a empathize entirely) unfortunately history tells us about their success. The counterinsurgency tactics employed in Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia, Perú, Brazil, Uruguay, Algeria or South Africa tell us how useful torture is. It´s terrible but it still is truth. In Guatemala the use of the Argentinian strategy combined with the aid of Israely technology to monitorize intel made it possible to destroy some of the world´s best urban guerrillas (PGT Comil, EGP, ORPA, FAR, etc) In Argentina the Montoneros and the ERP (two groups that had tens of thousands of members) were entirely wiped out through a network of 365 clandestine concentration camps run by Navy and Army, etc...
      Regarding your vocabulary claim, I must admit that english is not my mother tongue and sometimes I do sound pedantic... But things are what they are.

      Thanks for your remarks, good criticism is always welcomed

    2. You're right, the tactics were copied and were ''succesfull', but only because the goal was limited and short sighted- Dictators responding to political movements that threatened them. Torture was accompanied by the slaughter of entire villages, disappearances, and those countries are still feeling the effects today. Those same regimes also copied Nazi methods, to the point of hiring men like Mengele to advise them on the ''Indiginous Question'' , and to help them keep a grip on power. All of those regimes failed, and a new generation has had to reckon with the sins of their parents. But the vocabulary thing, I wasn't talking about your English dude, I was only talking about the graph you used, that's all, cos I'm a pedantic fuck too. I'm looking forward to your next Guanajuato article.

    3. Agree. Also don´t forget to see the counterinsurgency strategy in broader terms. It as a method used by dictatorial regimes, yes, but taught by Americans in development of an American long-term international strategy to destroy any possibility of social reform. It was much more than a mere tactic used by military juntas

  6. Trinquier. "La guerre secrete" was/is the bedrock of modern counterinsurgency. One part that I believe is missing in your analysis is the penetration/corruption of government officials unseen in any other conflict prior.


Comments are moderated, refer to policy for more information.
Envía fotos, vídeos, notas, enlaces o información
Todo 100% Anónimo;