Homicides have soared in Mexico’s northwestern state of Sonora since the capture of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, suggesting that the usual bloody wrestle for control that takes place after a cartel leader's downfall is happening once again.
At least 28 people were killed between July 15 and July 19 in Sonora, according to a report from El Universal on July 20, following the arrest of drug lord, Rafael Caro Quintero. The former head of the Guadalajara Cartel and founder of the current Caborca Cartel, Caro Quintero had been one of the most-wanted men in the United States for years, due to his murder of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in 1985.
Much of the violence took place around the towns of Guaymas-Empalme, Cajeme, and Caborca, the latter being the home of the new group Caro Quintero helped create in 2017.
Violence here is far from new. The Caborca Cartel has been fighting off incursions by the Chapitos, a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel associated with the sons of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo", for several years. Caro Quintero was not the only major figure to fall recently in Sonora. In early July, the Mexican army arrested Francisco Torres Carranza, alias "Duranguillo," a high-ranking leader among the Chapitos in Sonora. He was detained along a highway near Caborca.
This region of western Sonora is crucial to drug trafficking as it sits along a major highway linking Sonora's capital, Hermosillo, to the US border, as well as easy access to the Gulf of California. Seizures of cocaine, fentanyl, and methamphetamine are commonplace.
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The violence in Sonora seems to be happening on multiple fronts and involves many of Mexico's most feared criminal groups. Yet, there is a sense the situation will only become harder for the Caborca Cartel.
First, the violence between the Chapitos and the Caborca Cartel may only be worsening since Caro Quintero's arrest. In the week before his arrest, 20 murders were registered in Sonora. In just five days after he was detained, the total reached 28, according to El Universal.
While the arrest of Carranza may have been a blow to the Chapitos in Sonora, there is no doubt the group can outnumber, outgun, and outspend the Caborca Cartel, given their broader power base.
SEE ALSO: Profile of the Chapitos
Second, the removal of Caro Quintero may leave the Caborca Cartel exposed by stripping away a lot of its official protection. "A large part of the police contacts, the circles of protection which the Caborca Cartel could rely on were directly tied to Caro Quintero. We will have to see how many of those local police chiefs and regional police commanders remain loyal or change sides [to the Chapitos]," Mexican security analyst, David Saucedo, told El Universal.
Third, the Caborca Cartel's list of allies may grow thin. As InSight Crime reported last January, the Caborca Cartel counted with the support of groups such as La Línea and remnants of the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) to stand up to the Sinaloa Cartel. According to El Universal, Caro Quintero may even have turned to the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) for support. Such groups may have been all too happy to help as the Caborca Cartel offered its services to store or transport drugs through its territory to other groups.
Now, with Caro Quintero out of the way, erstwhile allies may become competitors.