Mexico's Jalisco Cartel is attempting to wrest control of Baja California Sur from the Sinaloa Cartel, according to a new report, a worrying sign of a nascent war between two of the country's most powerful drug trafficking organizations.
Baja California Sur witnessed 232 homicides between February 2014 and February 2016, an 80 percent increase from the 129 murders registered during the two previous years. The state capital, La Paz, has become the 15th most violent city in the country.
An investigative report by El Universal, citing experts and official sources, links the rise in homicides to territorial battles between the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels.
"A war broke out between cartels, and the state, muncipal and federal governments have been able to do absolutely nothing," said Víctor Martínez de Escobar, a businessman and former local representative.
One anonymous police official said the Jalisco Cartel is looking to capitalize on the January arrest of Sinaloa drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán by expanding its territorial presence in both Baja California Sur and Baja California.
The Jalisco Cartel "is wanting to enter La Paz, Ensenada and Tijuana; this all happened after they arrested El Chapo," the official said. "El Mencho once again wants to attack the plazas," the official added, using the alias for Jalisco boss Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes.
InSight Crime Analysis
One of the most important questions in Mexico's underworld right now is whether the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels are allied partners or rival competitors. Sinaloa represents the traditional dominant force, while Jalisco is the up-and-coming group that burst onto the national scene when its members killed 15 police officers last April. With the dismantling of numerous other cartels, they are arguably the two most prominent drug trafficking organizations left in Mexico.
SEE ALSO: Jalisco Cartel Profile
Although there have been indications that Jalisco and Sinaloa are working together, it appears their relationship is turning increasingly hostile. Earlier this year the Los Angeles Times reported that a recent murder spike in Tijuana coincided with a Jalisco Cartel push into the city, which at the time was thought to be Sinaloa-held territory. El Universal's new report suggests the conflict has now moved south into Baja California Sur.
Still, given the fragmented nature of Mexico's underworld it's possible that some factions of the cartels may be competing even while others are collaborating. The Sinaloa Cartel operates more as a federation than a single group with a vertical command structure, and individual cells have been known to fight among themselves for control of drug trafficking routes.