HomeNewsAnalysisMexico Government Report Points to Ongoing Criminal Fragmentation
ANALYSIS

Mexico Government Report Points to Ongoing Criminal Fragmentation

MEXICO / 15 APR 2015 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

A series of high-profile takedowns have ensured that the fragmentation of Mexico’s criminal groups has continued apace, with several of the largest groups now operating as little more than collections of allied cells rather than coherent organizations under a unified chain of command.

A recent article from Razon
, based on a confidential report from Mexico’s office of the Attorney General (known by its Spanish initials as the PGR), detailed the breakdown of some of Mexico’s most important criminal organizations: the Gulf Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas, the Beltran Leyva Organization, and the Familia Michoacana. These groups collectively control virtually the entire border region, as well as some of the most sought-after criminal real estate elsewhere in the nation, from key port cities to fertile production areas to key transport zones. 

They all emerged as large organizations whose public face was a single individual or small group of leaders. In other words, they were hierarchical. That perception may have been exaggerated; the degree of influence that a fugitive drug lord like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman could exercise over the inner-workings of a vast organization with countless moving parts was likely somewhat limited, and different figures within the organization likely enjoyed much autonomy. But the popular perception clearly reflected some version of reality, and internal rivalries between different wings of an organization were once quite rare.

The PGR report offers further evidence that this has changed. The large organizations have all been surpassed to some degree or another by the smaller cells of which they have long been made up. The difference today is that the cells are more autonomous, more geographically isolated, and less referential to any single leader. As a result, the old conceptualization of the cartel as a coherent nationwide organization with contacts around the globe is fading.

15-04-03-celulas

 

For instance, the PGR reports that the Gulf Cartel has reorganized into at least 12 different cells, the majority of which operate in Tamaulipas: Los Metros, Los Rojos, Grupo Lacoste, Grupo Dragones, Grupo Bravo, Grupo Pumas, Los M3, Los Fresitas, Los Sierra, Los Pantera, Los Ciclones, and Los Pelones. The pattern of a large number of splinter cells operating in overlapping territory is similar for the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, among others.

And they don’t always get along. The mere adoption of different monikers suggests a certain degree of distance that is in danger of spilling into open conflict. There have already been multiple examples of this. Los Metros and Los Rojos, to take but one example, were engaged in an ongoing dispute for leadership
of the Gulf Cartel in 2012 and 2013. Different elements of the Zetas have been fighting each other as far back as 2012 as well. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The upsurge of different factions makes organized crime violence harder to eradicate. Compared to the transnational organizations led by seemingly untouchable bosses, today’s gangs are less able to threaten the state and less endowed with impunity. However, the mere presence of a greater number of actors makes establishing a tacit set of operating norms that much harder, and increases the likelihood of violent rivalries. 

While the PGR document appears to be more explicit than prior government reporting on the issue, this is not a new phenomenon. InSight Crime and other analysts have been writing about the potential impact of the fracturing of Mexico’s traditional organizations for several years. It is now a basic fact of Mexico’s security climate, and there is no reason to expect the phenomenon to slow, much less reverse itself. 

SEE ALSO:More Mexico Organized Crime News

The fracturing is the product of a variety of different factors, the most important of which is continuing government pressure. As a result of a sustained push to arrest the generation of capos that has run Mexico’s underworld since the beginning of this millennium, dozens of the most prominent criminal leaders have dropped from the scene.

This evolution requires a new set of priorities from Mexico’s government. President Peña Nieto campaigned on a new approach to security, in which he would de-emphasize the importance of security to his overall agenda, and in which he would also downplay the kingpin strategy as a part of his security policy. And while Peña Nieto has largely lived up to the first promise, his team has been arguably as focused on taking down the biggest names in Mexican organized crime as were his predecessors. 

Under the current administration, the longtime leaders of the Zetas (Miguel Angel Treviño and Omar Treviño), the Sinaloa Cartel (Guzman), and the Knights Templar (Servando Gomez and Nazario Moreno Gonzalez) have been either arrested or killed. Even beyond those famous names, Peña Nieto’s administration compiled a list of 122 of the most wanted capos, and has set about capturing or killing all of them. As of March, only 30 remained
on the loose.

There are some simple reasons behind the sustained pursuit of kingpins; it is conceptually easy to grasp and to design; when it works, it is easy to sell to the public as a success; and after years of practice, the Mexican authorities have gotten quite good at it. 

However, in an era in which the Gulf Cartel is not a single organization but rather an amalgamation of 12 loosely aligned cells, targeting the biggest bad guy is of limited value from the standpoint of altering the reality on the ground. A Gulf Cartel led by 12 low-profile chieftains is a fundamentally different challenge than the monolith operating under the sole authority of Osiel Cardenas. The current model is just as able to generate bloodshed, but without a figurehead to serve as an obvious target, it’s not as easy for the government to weaken. 

The proper approach now is to foster the growth of capable, honest, and self-perpetuating institutions at the federal and local level. Of course, the institutions of primary importance are Mexico’s security agencies, but better police departments alone are not sufficient. More than ever before, Mexico’s security challenge is not one of overcoming singularly powerful enemies, but rather creating a social, economic and political framework capable of dealing with both the root causes and the immediate manifestations of organized crime.

Unfortunately, this is an easier task to describe than it is to complete.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

KNIGHTS TEMPLAR / 20 SEP 2012

Mexican criminal group the Knights Templar reportedly left a flower wreath with a note reading "RIP" dedicated to a city…

MEXICO / 3 JUL 2013

The White House's newly released 2013 National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy continues the Obama administration's shift towards training, institution building,…

MEXICO / 11 OCT 2018

Authorities in Mexico and the United States have yet to identify who is behind the construction of a recently dismantled…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…