A recent series of deadly attacks across the Mexican states of Jalisco, Chihuahua, and Baja California was often interpreted, both in the press and by the government, as all having been connected. However, the causes for this outbreak in violence may not be so easy to understand.
Armed gunmen fighting off security forces. A settling of scores in prison. Blockades set up on major thoroughfares. Below, InSight Crime looks at the situation in each state as well as what could be behind these simultaneous outbursts of violence.
On August 9, Mexican forces clashed with a large group of presumed Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) members in Ixtlahuacán del Río, a town just north of Guadalajara, according to Mexican Defense Secretary Luis Crescencio Sandoval.
Mexican forces raided a meeting of CJNG members aiming to arrest two high-ranking leaders, Ricardo Ruiz Velazco, alias “Doble R,” and Gerardo González Ramírez, alias “El Apa.”
The subsequent clashes lasted for several hours, during which time CJNG members set up “narcobloqueos” — roadblocks built with burning cars — on roads surrounding the town in order to slow the arrival of additional security forces. Sandoval said that authorities captured six cartel members, one of whom died. Forty weapons and 10 grenades were seized, among other weaponry.
However, both Doble R and El Apa managed to avoid being captured.
Disturbances continued into the next day, with narcobloqueos set up as far afield as Guanajuato, where two trucks were stolen and their drivers murdered, Milenio reported. Up to 25 convenience stores were burned in the state over the two days, reported Proceso.
The northwestern state of Baja California was the next to witnesses widespread disturbances.
On the evening of August 12, armed men in Mexicali began setting up narcobloqueos across parts of the city, pulling drivers out of cars, and setting their vehicles alight, Zeta Tijuana reported. Similar attacks soon followed in Tijuana and Tecate. Authorities blamed the CJNG for the riots, although they stopped short of saying it was related to the events in Jalisco.
Tijuana’s mayor, Montserrat Caballero, responded with a video in which she directly addressed the city’s criminal groups. Controversially, she appeared to request that these groups only target “those who haven’t paid” and not the civilian population, seemingly acknowledging that gangs would continue extorting businesses.
At least 17 people have been arrested in relation to the violence in Tijuana, while a number of those allegedly involved have been transferred to Mexico City.
Fighting broke out at the CERESO 3 prison in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on the afternoon of August 11, when a group known as the Chapos were attacked by rivals from the Mexicles, according to Mexico’s Undersecretary for Public Security and Citizen Protection, Ricardo Mejía Berdeja. At least three prisoners were killed and 20 were injured in the violence. Members of the state police, Army, and National Guard were brought in to restore order the prison.
But that evening, Mexicles members, a faction associated with the Sinaloa Cartel, went on a rampage in Ciudad Juárez. At least 11 people were murdered seemingly at random on the city’s streets and multiple convenience stores were burned.
At least six people have so far been detained in relation to the disturbances. One man, who confessed to being a Mexicles member, said he was paid 15,000 pesos (around $750) to set a convenience store on fire, which led to the deaths of two women, news channel Televisa reported.
InSight Crime Analysis
Such breakouts of violence across different parts of the country are not usually in the interest of criminal organizations. Rather, these acts are usually a response from criminal groups when placed under major stress.
The most famous example of this in recent years came in October 2019, when Sinaloa Cartel gunmen took to the streets of the Sinaloa state capital, Culiacán. This was in response to Mexican authorities briefly detaining Ovidio Guzmán López, one son of former Sinaloa Cartel leader, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo.” Ovidio was released by authorities after cartel members laid siege on the city.
Another example was the shooting down of a military helicopter in 2015 by the CJNG, when five soldiers lost their lives. The helicopter was part of “Operation Jalisco,” mounted by authorities to capture CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alías “El Mencho.”
Yet more recently, the three states impacted saw very different forms of violence.
In Guadalajara and Guanajuato, narcobloqueos appear to have had a clear and effective purpose: slow the advance of security forces so that El Doble R and El Apa could flee. And it worked.
And while the violence in Tijuana may have been related to the botched raid in Jalisco, the city has its own criminal context. It acts as a key drug trafficking corridor along the US-Mexico border, but no one group has majority control.
David Shirk, the director of the Justice in Mexico program at the University of San Diego, pointed out that the violence in Tijuana occurred within a period of rising homicide rates and personnel changes made by the new local government.
It’s still unclear why these disturbances happened now. But increased violence suggests the city’s criminal landscape and related alliances are shifting.
“[The CJNG] have always been very focused on public messaging. It seems like they’re doing this in an effort to assert themselves. But that suggests they’re in a position where they feel they need to make a show of force, and real power comes from not having to use it,” said Shirk.
There has been little additional information about the reasons for the attack by the Mexicles on the Chapos. Both sides are reportedly allied to the Sinaloa Cartel, with the Chapos loyal to El Chapo’s sons, the Chapitos.
That the Mexicles were able to carry out the attack suggests shifting alliances and that some level of corruption was at work within the prison system. Local municipal forces have long been accused of and even arrested for corruption and collusion with criminal groups. One local journalist in Ciudad Juárez, who requested to remain anonymous, told InSight Crime that the Mexicles exert criminal governance over the prison system in Chihuahua and that the “Sinaloa Cartel controls the Juárez Valley through the Mexicles.”
Mexican newspaper Milenio reported that the violence in Juárez was ordered by Mexicles leader Ernesto Alfredo Piñón de la Cruz, alias “El Neto.” According to the newspaper, El Neto, who is serving time in CERESO 3, made the order in an attempt to avoid being transferred to a federal prison after participating in the attack on the Chapos.