Mexico's Marines said they had shot and killed a major leader of the Beltrán Leyva Organization, an illustration that state security forces are having an impact on the power struggle among drug trafficking titans in the country.
In a statement on their official Twitter account, Mexico's Secretariat of Marine Forces (Secretaría de Marina – SEMAR) announced that Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, alias "H2," was killed in a shootout on February 9, 2017, in the city of Tepic in the Mexican state of Nayarit, along with seven other alleged suspects.
Hoy en un enfrentamiento entre delincuentes y Fuerzas Federales fue abatido Juan Francisco N. con 7 cómplices más.
— SEMAR México (@SEMAR_mx) 10 de febrero de 2017
Patrón was the leader of the powerful Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), a drug trafficking syndicate established in Mexico's Sinaloa state and known to operate across large swaths of the country.
The BLO was long an ally to the Sinaloa Cartel, but the two split in 2008, following the arrest of a top BLO leader, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva.
More recently, authorities had arrested a number of BLO members, culminating with the capture of Héctor "El H" Beltrán Leyva in 2014, one of the group's founders and at the time the top leader of the organization.
H2 had allegedly replaced El H at the group's helm, but the BLO's near constant fight with the Sinaloa Cartel had taken its toll. In December 2016, authorities captured Alfredo Beltrán Guzmán, the son of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva and another of the group's leaders.
Part of the fighting that led to the death of H2 was captured on video and seemed to show authorities firing from a helicopter in powerful succession. (See video below)
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The death of H2 is a sign that the fighting between and among Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) has an important and, often overlooked, third actor: security forces.
The Marines, in particular, have played a major role in the fight among the DTOs, and at times, it seems to have become personal between SEMAR and the BLO.
In December 2009, SEMAR killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva after a four-hour shootout. The Marines at the scene then laid money on top of his corpse and took photographs, which were widely circulated in the media. (Photos of a bloodied H2 bear an eerie resemblance to those of Arturo Beltrán Leyva.) The BLO, in conjunction with their allies from the Zetas criminal organization, retaliated by assassinating the family of a SEMAR soldier who participated in the strike.
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El Chapo was extradited to the United States in January 2017, which is what many suppose precipitated the current fighting within the Sinaloa Cartel. It's not clear if the death of H2 is an outgrowth of this battle, but the Sinaloa Cartel -- and in particular El Chapo -- has long been known for its ability to provide timely information about their rivals to the authorities.
SEMAR is not the only part of the security forces that may be shifting the balance of power in the underworld. The army and the police are also significant players.
In the embattled city of Juarez, for instance, the federal police played a determinant role in creating the conditions in which the Sinaloa Cartel could take over that important trafficking corridor.
In the battle for the state of Sinaloa -- the birthplace of many of these large criminal groups -- the army is a significant actor and one that the BLO has allegedly tried to co-opt in the past.
It's impossible to know if any of this plays a role in who targets who, but in September, alleged members of the Sinaloa Cartel ambushed a military convoy just outside of the state capital, Culiacán, killing five soldiers.