On February 22, 2014, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, was captured in his beachside house in Mazatlan by Mexican Marines. It was the culmination of a 13-year manhunt for the drug lord, and was praised as a major coup. A “big strike,”according to former Mexican President Calderon. El Chapo was the most wanted of all of Mexico’s organized crime leaders.
El Chapo’s capture was only one of several high-profile arrests conducted by Mexican authorities in 2014. The heads of the Juarez Cartel and the Beltran Leyva Organization were also taken down. Hopes were high that with the leadership taken down, the end of “Celebrity Capos,” that Mexican authorities could get down to the business of fighting crime instead of searching for cartel HVTs. But the situation wasn’t that simple, and has become even less so, made public by the “Missing 43” in September.
The fact is, cartels have been moving away from a hierarchical structure for some time. Even Sinaloa has been fracturing in recent years, as the Beltran Leyva Organization was once Sinaloa’s armed wing, much like Los Zetas was once the Gulf Cartel’s. The cartel structure in Mexico has gone from five major organizations in the late ’90s to over 80 in 2012. The fragmentation has continued ever since. Guerreros Unidos, the group responsible for killing the 43 Normalistas in Iguala (along with many others who haven’t made it to the front page), was once part of the Beltran Leyva organization.
The model that appears to be emerging is of a scattered, cellular structure (though there is still plenty of violence happening as several of these cells clash over “plazas,” or trafficking routes). This makes it harder for authorities to wipe out the problem, as the cells are discreet entities of their own, sometimes working together or against each other as the situation dictates. There is no hierarchy to roll up. Much like the jihadists in the Middle East, the cartels have become a hydra. Cut off one head, two more grow back.
This should not necessarily be viewed as being done deliberately. There is no overarching conspiracy to make the cartels unbeatable. It is a convergence of necessity, lessons learned, and, in fact, open rivalry and ambition, all contributing to a chaotic situation that threatens to further destabilize our southern neighbor.
Part of the fragmentation has occurred not so much because of pressure from security forces, but instead due to pressure from violent criminal rivals. As Insight Crime points out, the rivals to the Sinaloa empire required more and more armed force to deter or beat back, and in order to maintain that force, the field commanders had to be given more and more autonomy, until they eventually broke away to form the BLO. The BLO has since broken up as that autonomy spread to its various segments. The combination of that rivalry and the greater survivability of cellular, networked organizations, has led to the growing “hydra model” in Mexico.
The problem is also exacerbated by the fact that the security forces often have a hand in the very violence and criminal activity they are supposed to be fighting. The local police in Iguala took part in the murders of the Normalistas, as well as many of the other murders. The Iguala mayor is wanted for murder, and his wife has been jailed and charged with links to the cartels. President Pena-Nieto’s solution of federalizing the local police forces is not seen as a solution, either, considering that the federales are often perceived as being at least as corrupt as the local cops. In fact, there are accusations of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institutional), President Pena-Nieto’s party, being in bed with Servando Gomez Martinez, aka “La Tuta,” the head of the Caballeros Templarios. The jailing of the Michoacan Autodefensas has further reinforced this belief.
So, Mexico is faced with government corruption and collusion, and a growing fragmented, cellular hydra of organized crime that makes it all but impossible for those authorities who are interested in law and order to take them down by the traditional “kill-or-capture” method. The high hopes for the first months of 2015 are over, dashed by reality.
(Featured Image Courtesy: Notirivas.com)