HomeNewsAnalysisMorelos, Mexico's Latest Hotspot for Fragmented Criminal Showdowns

Morelos, Mexico's Latest Hotspot for Fragmented Criminal Showdowns


Mexico's controversial National Guard has been deployed to some of the country’s most violent states, but the southern state of Morelos is becoming the focal point of an ongoing battle between warring criminal factions.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has deployed units of the 60,000-strong National Guard to the eight states accounting for half of the country’s homicides: Guanajuato, Mexico State, Jalisco, Mexico City, Guerrero, Veracruz, Michoacán and Morelos, El Universal reported.

So far this year, Guanajuato has been Mexico’s most violent state with 1,237 homicides recorded, according to data from the Executive Secretariat for Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública – SNSP). This is largely the result of fighting between the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) and the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel over criminal economies like oil theft.

However, fighting between a major organized crime player and four other rival groups further to the south in Morelos is increasingly becoming a concern for authorities.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Currently the CJNG, Los Rojos, La Familia Michoacana, Los Tlahuicas and Los Mayas are disputing control of Morelos' capital Cuernavaca, as well as in the municipalities of Jiutepec, Emiliano Zapata, Cuautla, Puente de Ixtla, Yautepec, Jojutla and Xochitepec, according to state security chief José Antonio Ortiz Guarneros, La Jornada reported.

The CJNG is vying with the Sinaloa Cartel to be Mexico’s most formidable criminal group. The Familia Michoacana, on the other hand, is far from its glory days but appears to have managed to stick around despite the pillaging of its ranks. Los Rojos is a group that splintered off of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), while Los Tlahuicas is a well-armed local group in Morelos. It's unclear, however, where Los Mayas emerged from.

At least 30 homicides, according to La Jornada, were recorded in the month of May as a result of battles between these competing groups. The most brazen act of violence came when a hired hitman opened fired and killed two local business leaders in broad daylight in downtown Cuernavaca on May 8.

Through the first quarter of 2019, Morelos’ homicide rate of 12 per 100,000 people was among the highest across the entire country, sitting behind only Guanajuato, Chihuahua, Baja California and Colima, according to statistics from the watchdog agency Semáforo Delictivo. Out of all of Mexico’s states, Morelos had the highest rate of high-impact crimes such as homicide, kidnapping and extortion during this period, Semáforo Delictivo found.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is not the first time that the state of Morelos has been at the heart of deadly disputes between warring organized crime groups, which have grown increasingly fragmented over the years.

But while some of the criminal actors have changed, the fighting and the reasons behind it largely have not. Back in 2012, it was the Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) -- also a splinter group of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) founded by two former operatives -- the Familia Michoacana and Los Rojos that were using extreme violence to muster the strength needed to exert total control over the state.

Morelos is an important criminal territory due to it being a major drug trafficking through point. From Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero -- long a hub of poppy cultivation, among other drug production -- drug loads move north to Morelos before being transported west via a main highway towards the Pacific coast and the once-adored beach resort town of Acapulco, which is home to a major port essential for such trafficking.

SEE ALSO: Fragmentation: The Violent Tailspin of Mexico’s Dominant Cartels

However, Morelos wasn’t always so violent. The late Juárez Cartel drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes operated freely in Morelos during the 1990s thanks in no small part to corrupt politicians and police officers that helped ensure his protection. The Sinaloa Cartel’s multimillion-dollar profits also allowed them to buy similar protection that afforded capos like Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul,” the opportunity to operate there and live comfortably.

But criminal power structures in Mexico today aren’t so clear. Allegiances change regularly amid increased fragmentation, although bloodshed has remained steady. The CJNG is arguably the best positioned to secure total control over Morelos today, given its size and reach. But the splintered nature of the country’s criminal landscape suggests that as groups fall, other more violent ones will surely form.

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.


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.

Was this content helpful?

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


Related Content

MÉXICO / 25 MAR 2022

According to the Mexican president, the recent arrest of the alleged leader of the Northeast Cartel followed by a major…


Seizures of illegally harvested octopus off Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula are shedding light on how corruption in a coastal community facilitates…

FEATURED / 28 APR 2021

The deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl has displaced heroin as the leading driver of the ongoing opioid crisis in the United…

About InSight Crime


Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…


Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…


World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…


InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…


Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…