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.

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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.

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