2019 cartel analysis- dynamics and fragmentation

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2019 cartel analysis- dynamics and fragmentation

Note: while this info is obviously somewhat dated, it remains relevant (for the most part) and hopefully anyone who reads finds something new and interesting.

On the link, there are updated cartel maps of influence, I know that I have seen said maps on main page in the last year but for those who missed those posts, check it out. Cheers B.B. followers and contributors, be well and stay safe!

Tracking Mexico’s cartels in 2019: turf war clashes will rage on
As cartel balkanization continues, so will their expansion into criminal activity unrelated to narcotics

By Scott Stewart
Published on Friday, February 8, 2019
Stratfor editor’s note: Since 2006, Stratfor has produced an annual cartel report chronicling the dynamics of the organizations that make up the complex mosaic of organized crime in Mexico. When we began, the landscape was much simpler, with only a handful of major cartel groups. But as we noted in 2013, the long process of balkanization — or splintering — of the groups has made it difficult to analyze them the way we used to.

Indeed, many of the organizations we had been tracking, such as the Gulf Cartel, imploded and fragmented into several smaller, often competing factions. Because of this fracturing, we changed our analysis in 2013 to focus on the clusters of smaller groups that emanate from three main geographic areas: Sinaloa state, Tamaulipas state and the Tierra Caliente region.

Surprisingly little has changed over the past year in terms of cartel dynamics. Various leaders and lieutenants have been arrested or killed, and additional splintering has continued for some already fractured groups, but by and large, 2018 was characterized by a stasis in the conflict zones of the assorted factions.

In the past, periods of stasis often entailed that cartel groups were staying within their areas of control and that violence would be lower. However, in the current period, large and bloody struggles are continuing unresolved, and cartel groups remain locked in nasty turf wars. This environment means that most of these clashes will rage on well into 2019.

This violence has been reflected in the murder statistics, as the homicide figure for 2018 hit 33,341 — far surpassing the 2017 tally of 29,168.

areas of cartel influence
While Mexico’s homicide rate of about 27 per 100,000 people is higher than that of the United States (which is expected to come in at about five per 100,000 people for 2018), it is still considerably lower than the rates for other countries in the region, including El Salvador (about 82 per 100,000), Honduras (about 56 per 100,000) and Jamaica (about 47 per 100,000).

As for drug smuggling, synthetics such as methamphetamine and fentanyl continued to impact cartel dynamics heavily in 2018. The huge profits that can be reaped from manufacturing synthetic drugs dwarf those of traditional drugs. Trafficking cocaine has long been a lucrative criminal enterprise for Mexican criminals, but they must purchase the drug from Andean producers. By making methamphetamine themselves, however, they can reap the lion’s share of the profits.

Opium poppies are another profitable criminal enterprise in Mexico, whose heroin now accounts for more than 90% of the U.S. market for the drug. However, raising poppies and processing opium gum into heroin costs more and takes longer than producing fentanyl. The synthetic opioid is more profitable than heroin, which explains why criminals have been passing fentanyl off as heroin.

Record levels of poppy planting and the low cost of fentanyl have led to a collapse in the price of opium gum. With Colombian coca production also running at historically high levels, Mexican cartels are likely to continue to traffic a wide variety of drugs to meet U.S. and domestic demand.

But drug trafficking is not the only criminal activity that Mexico’s organized crime cartels engage in. The fracturing of the formerly powerful cartels has led not only to a record number of murders but also to heavily armed cartel gunmen becoming involved in a host of other criminal enterprises, from kidnapping and extortion to the theft of cargo and fuel.

It is no coincidence that the pilfering of cargo and fuel have reached historically high levels as balkanization blossomed over the past half-decade.

Tierra Caliente-based organized crime
Last year’s forecast highlighted the powerful Valencia smuggling family as the driving force behind the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). This fact has not been lost on the Mexican and U.S. governments or their allies, who have continued to target the family.

Despite efforts to cripple the group by going after its finance and logistics apparatus (the Valencia family), the CJNG has shown no signs of running short on cash or suffering any disruption in its operations due to the arrests of high-ranking members.

Indeed, it remains the most aggressive cartel in Mexico, and its efforts to expand its area of control are largely responsible for the persistent wave of violence racking Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Guanajuato and Mexico City.

But the past year also revealed some emerging problems in the CJNG camp. Nueva Plaza, a splinter group of former members led by Carlos “El Cholo” Enrique Sánchez, has begun to contest the CJNG for control of Guadalajara. The violence has resulted in significant bloodshed, including the high-profile murders of three art students who were mistaken for cartel members.

Due to their aggressive nature, the CJNG and its leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes (aka “El Mencho”), remain at the top of the priority target list for U.S. and Mexican authorities.

tierra caliente cartel influence
However, the Mexican government will have to be careful what it wishes for. Past operations to decapitate cartels such as the Guadalajara Cartel, the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas and La Familia Michoacana have led to fracturing and greater violence.

Sinaloa-based organized crime
The Sinaloa cartel weathered 2018 in pretty good shape — especially considering that one of its senior leaders, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, has been on trial in a Manhattan court for more than two months.

Guzmán did not plead guilty and cooperate with the U.S. government, meaning that he is likely to spend the rest of his life in an American prison with no hope of escape. The witnesses called to testify against him have shed a great deal of light upon the logistics of the cartel’s drug trafficking.

While the trial continues in New York, the work of operating a multinational logistics and manufacturing business continues in Sinaloa. Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Guzmán’s sons, Ivan Archivaldo and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, who are often referred to as Los Chapitos, have fended off several internal challenges to assume control of the lucrative illegal corporation that is the Sinaloa Cartel.

They have also been able to hold their own against the incursions of the CJNG in places such as Tijuana and Juárez, and their successful resistance is in fact a big reason for the current stasis in the battle lines.

sinaloa cartel influence
Both organizations have the resources to continue fighting for those cities through their local proxies for the foreseeable future. A significant crisis could weaken either and lead to victory for the other side. But until that happens, Tijuana and Juárez are likely to remain bloody.

Tamaulipas-based organized crime
An array of Gulf Cartel fragments is continuing to battle for primacy in Tamaulipas. José Alfredo Cárdenas, aka “The Accountant,” has been able to consolidate control over the drug-smuggling corridor, known as a plaza, in Matamoros. He has also sent some of his forces to help his local ally in Reynosa, but they have been unable to take total control there.

Despite heavy losses, including several leaders, the faction of Los Metros continues to oppose Cárdenas. Some rumors hint that it is being kept alive through CJNG support, which would signal that group’s entry into yet another struggle for control of a border plaza.

At Nuevo Laredo, the Northeast Cartel (CDN) is the remnant of the Los Zetas cartel that controls that important crossing — the busiest point of entry along the border and the one that leads directly up the Interstate Highway 35 corridor.

The CDN is led by Juan Gerardo Trevino Chavez, also known as “El Huevo;” he is a member of the old-school Trevino smuggling clan, which has a long history in Nuevo Laredo — and in the Los Zetas cartel. The CDN is locked in a vicious fight against another Los Zetas remnant, the Zetas Vieja Escuela (ZVE) — the “Old School Zetas” — that is playing out across the state, but particularly in Ciudad Victoria.

tamaulipas cartel influence
For 2019, it appears that there is little hope that Cárdenas will be able to impose any sort of pax mafiosa over Tamaulipas state and the wider region. Even if he and his allies are able to finally take control of Reynosa in 2019, they will still face significant hurdles from other Gulf Cartel and Zetas remnants in the region.

Cartel violence in Mexico has affected almost every part of the country, including areas that are considered generally safe, such as upscale neighborhoods and tourist resorts and zones. Indeed, many cartel leaders live in upscale homes or apartment buildings, and this increases the risk of violence being dragged into such areas when rivals target them for assassination or when authorities go to arrest them.

Most of the violence has been cartel on cartel or government on cartel, but with the cartels using automatic weapons and military ordnance, such as grenades and anti-tank weapons, bystanders are at considerable risk of injury or death.

And as the cartel balkanization continues, so will their expansion into criminal activity unrelated to narcotics, such as extortion, kidnapping and cargo and fuel theft. In light of these various risks, it is important for companies and organizations operating in Mexico to pay careful attention to shifts in cartel dynamics.

Travelers and expatriates in Mexico should practice the appropriate level of situational awareness, even in areas considered to be generally safe. They should also be prepared to act if they are caught in a violent incident, and they should carry an emergency kit to treat themselves or others who may be injured.

Tracking Mexico’s cartels in 2019 is republished with permission from Stratfor Worldview, a geopolitical intelligence platform. The writer is vice-president of tactical analysis at Stratfor.

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Report: Mexican cartels flooding border with meth, fentanyl
Criminal groups turn to syntethic drugs as their "cash cow"; Sinaloa and Jalisco engage in fight by proxy for control of Mexico
by: Julian Resendiz
Posted: Feb 10, 2020 / 05:24 PM PST / Updated: Feb 10, 2020 / 05:24 PM PST

CBP officers at Progreso International Bridge seized packages containing 131 pounds of methamphetamine and 18 pounds of heroin hidden within a 1997 Ford F-150 pickup. The narcotics had a combined value of approximately $3,040,647. (Courtesy CBP)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Synthetic drugs such as meth and fentanyl have become the Mexican cartels’ cash cow, funding internal territorial wars and flooding North American consumer markets, experts and law-enforcement sources say.

Production and smuggling is at historic highs; so much so that supply is outstripping demand in the United States and forcing criminal organizations to open new markets, according to a new report by Stratfor, an Austin-based geopolitical security group that monitors drug cartel activity.

For the United States, this means continued vigilance at the border, investment in new technologies and a constant state of alert in communities where lethal drug overdoses have shot up in recent years.

For Mexico, this means daily bloodshed and despair over the growing number of addicts in border cities like Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana, fueled by the sale of whatever drugs the cartels are unable to smuggle into the U.S.

“We have seen increases in synthetic drugs, particularly crystal meth. The increment is such that crystal is now on par with marijuana,” says Jorge Nava, the Juarez-based Deputy Attorney General for the border state of Chihuahua.

Selling drugs has become a high-risk activity in Mexico. Between 80% to 90% of the 1,497 homicides recorded in Juarez last year were drug-related, Nava said. And, lately, so is consuming the drugs. Two men and two women who allegedly gathered to consume crystal meth were shot to death on Sunday. A week earlier five people were shot in the back of a home business where authorities also found traces of meth.

In El Paso, seizures are up, particularly at border crossings.

“The legalization of marijuana and the current opioid crisis in the United States has resulted in the market for these narcotics to significantly increase,” said Erik P. Breitzke, acting special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in El Paso.

According to anaylists at Stratfor, many criminal organizations in Mexico have hit high gear on the production of methanphetamines and fentanyl because of high profit margins.

Growing marijuana means maintaing control of large swaths of land and paying farm hands. It takes months to grow the plants and fields are subject to army raids or, more commonly, bad weather. Altough cocaine is surging again due to bumper crops in South America’s Andes mountains, according to the 2019 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment, the Mexican groups are only a middleman in the distribution.

Producing meth or fentanyl is cheap by comparison, particularly with Asian suppliers selling methylamine to the Mexican cartels, a substance which is neither as expensive nor controlled as is the pseudoephedrine used to “cook” meth in the United States. according to Stratfor.

The results can be seen in the 2019 Threat Assessment: 15 of the 23 DEA field divisions reported an increase in the availability of fentanyl in 2018, compared to the previous year. Overdose deaths leveled at around 68,000 in the two previous years, but fentanyl was the cause in nearly half of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

No end in sight for drug violence in Mexico

The number of drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico has been increasing since the downfall of dominant groups like the Tijuana and Juarez cartels. What followed was a process that Statfor calls the “Balkanization” of Mexico, or the rise of smaller regional groups either independent or propped up by major organization.

Taking a look at Stratfor’s 2020 tracking map compared to the 2019 assessment, it’s clear only two major drug cartels remain and that one of them is making an aggressive play to expand its territory.

Whereas in early 2019 the Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG) controlled western Mexico and had influence in the south and in Veracruz, today it appears to control the lower half of Mexico and is fighting for control of Tijuana, Juarez, Monterrey and the North-Central corridor leading to areas previously held by the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel — these last two facing an offensive by a Tamaulipas state government bent on re-establishing the rule of law after a decade of mayhem.

According to Statfor, this regional fighting that led to a record number of killings in 2019 shows no sign of relenting.

This map shows areas of cartel influence in Mexico as of January 2019. (graphic courtesy Stratfor)
“The forces that shaped the violence in 2019 were much the same as those in 2018, and as 2020 dawns, the regions are mired in bloody cartel conflicts that show no sign of resolution,” their January 2020 report states.

This map shows areas of cartel influence in Mexico as of January 2020. (graphic courtesy Stratfor)
And rather than go at each other with everything they have, the two major cartels are fighting by proxy, supplying guns, money and in some cases men to local groups cooperating with them.

“This dynamic has been at work in cities such as Tijuana and Juarez for several years, as local proxies supported by the Sinaloa cartel and the CJNG remain in bitterly contested battles for control,” the report states.

And just as the government of Tamaulipas finally appears to be getting the upper hand over the Cartel del Noreste (CDN, formerly the Zetas) and the Gulf Cartel, Jalisco’s CJNG is supporting a new group, Los Metros, in Reynosa, according to Stratfor.

Likewise, just at the CJNG maintains a crushing offensive against what’s left of groups like La Familia Michoacán (LFM) and others in Western Mexico for control of land where opium poppies (which are used to make heroin), the Sinaloa cartel is funding a breakaway group called Nueva Plaza Guadalajara, to hound the CJNG. Sinaloa is also reportedly funding anti-CJNG forces in Michoacán and Guerrero, according to Stratfor.

Jalisco’s push for control of the North-Central Mexico network of highways to the border has caused major population displacement. The thousands of Mexicans who arrived in Juarez and other border cities in September intent on requesting asylum in the United States were coming from towns in Guerrero and Michoacán that the CJNG was trying to control or from the states where it was trying to take over the highways, as Border Report previously documented.

And a new threat is emerging from the cartels. As they look for new ways to make money, Mexican criminal groups are turning to the theft of commercial trucks. So far, cargo thefts have been setting records in Mexico City and its surrounding areas, but there are signs this problem could expand northward.

“Cargo theft has clearly become a larger threat in the Guadalajara and Monterrey areas and along the routes that lead from those industrial centers to the border,” the report says.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.