The Guerreros Unidos are a splinter group of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) based in central Mexico. The group is dedicated mainly to extortion and kidnapping, but also sends drugs to the United States. The Guerreros Unidos are characterized by their aggressive tactics and use of extreme violence, which have attracted the attention of security forces and threatened the group's long-term survival.
The Guerreros Unidos are one of at least seven BLO splinter groups that formed following the death of BLO leader Arturo Beltran Leyva in 2009. The group was founded by Mario Casarrubias Salgado, alias “El Sapo Guapo,” who served as part of the BLO security team, and Cleotilde Toribio Renteria alias “El Tilde,” who was a member of the hit squad of BLO operative Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “La Barbie,” along with several former BLO bodyguards.
The Guerreros Unidos made their first public appearance in December 2011, when the group claimed responsibility for a triple homicide in the state of Morelos. Over the following year, the Guerreros Unidos carried out several high-profile attacks, including a string of attacks on bars in Morelos that left five dead and 15 wounded. In December 2012, the group also sent hitmen disguised as doctors to kill the leader of rival BLO splinter group Los Rojos while he was recovering from another assassination attempt in a hospital in Mexico City.
As fighting between the Guerreros Unidos and rival groups including Los Rojos led to spikes in violence in the states of Morelos and Guerrero, however, security forces began to target the criminal organization. Founder El Tilde was arrested in Mexico City in July 2012, and El Sapo Guapo was captured in April 2014 in the state of Mexico (Edomex), later dying after contracting COVID-19 in the Altiplano prison in July 2021.
Twenty-two alleged Guerreros Unidos members were killed in a battle with the Mexican army in June 2014, in an incident in which the military has been accused of human rights abuses.
A September 2014 attack on student protesters in Iguala, Guerrero, which has been attributed to the Guerreros Unidos, intensified security operations against the group. According to Mexican authorities, local police detained 43 students and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos, who—according to the official narrative—proceeded to murder the students and burn their bodies in what would eventually become known as the Ayotzinapa Massacre.
The disappearance of the students prompted the federal government to launch additional operations against the group, which led to the capture of El Sapo Guapo's brother Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, alias “El Chino,” along with other high-level operatives. One alleged leader, Benjamin Mondragon Pereda, alias “El Benjamon,” shot himself in October 2014 after he was surrounded by the police.
In October 2014, Jonathan Osorio and Patricio Reyes Landa, presumed members of Guerreros Unidos, admitted their involvement in the Ayotzinapa Massacre to federal law enforcement. According to statements made by both men, they received the students from the Iguala and Cocula police forces and then executed and burned all the bodies. In a text message received by then leader Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado from someone known only by the alias “El Gil,” it’s confirmed that the students’ bodies were burned and dumped in a river.
While the admission and the text seemed enough to connect the event to the Guerreros Unidos and made Osorio and Reyes Landa the guilty party, the federal government claimed that further investigations failed to corroborate the story and forced law enforcement to release Osorio and Reyes Landa.
In 2018, newly inaugurated President Andrés Manuel López Obrador used his first decree to establish a truth commission to uncover the events that led to the Ayotzinapa Massacre. Since the establishment of the truth commission, dozens of arrest warrants have been issued for government officials and law enforcement authorities who were found to be involved in the massacre. However, only a few members of Guerreros Unidos have so far been prosecuted in relation to the massacre.
Mexico's Attorney General's Office stated in 2015 that Guerreros Unidos had a hierarchical leadership structure, with members receiving orders directly from their superiors. However, the group has gone through a series of leaders since mid-2012, and it remains unclear if a single person has taken control after El Sapo Guapo’s arrest and death. Nowadays, it appears that the group may have a decentralized structure with several leaders.
For example, Mexican officials have identified “El Chino” as one of the group’s leaders, as well as Salomón Pineda Villa, alias “El Molón”, the former brother-in-law of the former mayor of Iguala. An alleged Guerreros Unidos operative referred to only as “El Chucky” o “El Choky” has also been identified as a potential leader. In early July 2021, Moisés Brito, alias “El Bandam”, was killed in a shootout in Morelos. Press reports also identified him as one of the leaders of the organization.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Guerreros Unidos is currently an important player in the production and trafficking of heroin in the state of Guerrero. Additionally, the group also operates in the states of Morelos and Estado de México, where it is mainly involved in extortion and kidnapping.
Allies and Enemies
The Guerreros Unidos' main enemy is Los Rojos, who the organization has been fighting for control of drug trafficking routes (a rivalry that may have motivated the Iguala student massacre). The Guerreros Unidos have also fought against the Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar cartels. The Mexican guerrilla group the Insurgent People's Revolutionary Army (ERPI) also declared themselves enemies of the Guerreros Unidos following the disappearance of the 43 students.
According to the DEA, Guerreros Unidos is currently working with the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG), with whom they have partnered with to control drug routes and have access to distribution networks in the United States.
The Guerreros Unidos' violent tactics and use of kidnapping as a source of revenue have made them a target of both national and state security forces. The group has lost several leaders and dozens of members as a result of security operations.
On the other hand, the attacks against the student protesters in Iguala have revealed the group's extensive ties to local officials. The capture of an alleged Guerreros Unidos financial chief in October 2014, for example, revealed that the group allegedly spent close to $45,000 a month to pay off local police in the municipality of Iguala alone. These local ties could make it more difficult for Mexican authorities to target the group.