A Mexican security official in the state of Baja California said the Familia Michoacana, once one of Mexico's strongest drug cartels, pays the rival Tijuana Cartel to use the border city of Tijuana as a staging point to transport drugs into the United States.
According to El Mexicano newspaper, Daniel de la Rosa Anaya, Baja California's security secretary, said the Familia had a "transitory" or temporary presence in Tijuana, using it only to move drugs to the United States.
De la Rosa made a distinction with the Sinaloa Cartel, which has been fighting with the Tijuana Cartel for control of the region, and which he said has a permanent presence in what remains one of the most important crossing points for drugs and migrants moving north, and guns and cash moving south.
The statement came on the heels of the Mexican army's capture in Tijuana of Rigoberto Andrande Renteria, alias "El Rigo," an allegeded Familia operative.
De la Rosa's comment presents a confusing picture of a place that remains very much in flux after a vicious battle within the Tijuana Cartel in which one of the group's top lieutenants, Eduardo Teodoro Garcia Simental, alias "El Teo" or "Tres Letras," defected to the Sinaloa Cartel. Garcia was captured in January 2010, but the Sinaloa Cartel remains strong in the area.
Authorities say the record siezure of 134 tons of marijuana last November belonged to Sinaloa leader, Ismael Zambada, alias "El Mayo." But the concentration of such a huge amount of drugs in what was two adjacent warehouses makes it seem as if Sinaloa does not have a commanding presence in a big enough part of the city to spread the load to various staging points.
Many analysts have surmised that the Tijuana Cartel is on the wane. However, this latest statement that the Familia is paying for the "rights" to move product through its territory, paints a very different picture.
The Familia is one of Mexico's most ruthless and sophisticated cartels. And while it is reeling after the death in December of its spiritual leader, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias "El Mas Loco," it remains a powerful player in the underworld.
Indeed, what is called in Mexico "derecho de piso," which roughly translates as the "right to rent," requires significant control of territory, including the ability to enforce the rules and prices one establishes for its competitors to use the corridor. It is also one of the ways traditional powerhouse cartels operating along the border with the United States have made money.
If Tijuana can collect from the Familia, it could be a sign that it is returning as a major player in the criminal underworld in Mexico.