Tijuana Cartel Boss to Serve 25 Years in US Prison

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The sentencing of a former Tijuana Cartel kingpin to 25 years in a US prison has prompted the director of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to proclaim that the organization has met its end, but this may be premature.

On Monday a US federal court sentenced Benjamin Arellano Felix (pictured) to 25 years in prison, and ordered him to turn over $100 million in criminal proceeds. Once he has served his time in the US, Arellano will be deported to Mexico to complete a 22-year sentence that he began there in 2007, effectively ensuring that he will spend the rest of his life in prison.

DEA Director Michele M. Leonhart stated that the sentencing represented a victory for her agency and President Felipe Calderon, and meant the “demise” of the Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO). Arellano was extradited to the US last April to face charges of extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking, and pleaded guilty in January as part of a deal that guaranteed him a maximum sentence of 25 years.

InSight Crime Analysis

The imprisonment of Arellano Felix, one of the founding members of the Tijuana Cartel, is an important milestone in the weakening of the cartel. However, it does not necessarily mean the end for the organization, which has survived the arrest of two other major leaders, an internal split, and a 20-year conflict with the Sinaloa Cartel.

Since Arellano Felix’s arrest in 2002, his strategic control over the Tijuana Cartel’s operations has decreased. His nephew, Fernando Sanchez Arellano, also known as “El Ingeniero,” has taken over the running of the organization. According to a statement by a Tijuana Cartel lieutenant captured in November, the cartel has recovered strength since the internal power struggle between forces loyal to Sanchez Arellano and those following rival Teodoro Garcia Simental, “El Teo,” in 2009. Sanchez Arellano now commands twice the number of drug trafficking cells that he did at the time of the split, and the group may have established a non-aggression agreement with the Sinaloa Cartel, its former rival.

Arellano Felix joins a small number of Mexican kingpins who have been sentenced to time in a US prison. His conviction represents an achievement for authorities, serving as a warning to other cartel heads that they may also be extradited to the US, where it will be much more difficult to continue their criminal careers.

Trial of Rogue Tijuana Gang Raises Question of Violence Spilling Over to San Diego

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The San Diego trial of two gang members once linked to the Tijuana Cartel is a reminder that Mexican groups have long used the city as a base. However, this group was arguably in the unusual position of finding it safer to operate on US rather than Mexican soil.

The two defendants, Jose Olivera Beritan and David Valencia, are charged with involvement in several kidnapping and murder cases in San Diego in 2007. The two men were members of a Mexican gang, the Palillos, which once worked for the Tijuana Cartel (also known as the Arellano Felix Organization). But after the gang leader’s brother was killed by the Tijuana command, the Palillos relocated to San Diego circa 2003. They used their knowledge of the Tijuana Cartel’s US network to kidnap members who were living in the US. The gang also targeted drug dealers, businessmen, and police.

While active in San Diego, the Palillos used several tactics commonly deployed by gangs across the border. They wore police uniforms when they kidnapped their victims. After collecting the ransom money, they did not always set the hostages free. In at least two cases, the captives were killed and their bodies dissolved in acid. The Palillos are so associated with this practice that the head of Baja California’s Association for the Disappeared recently called for the FBI to investigate whether as many 20 people missing in Tijuana were killed and had their remains destroyed by the Palillos in the US.

San Diego law enforcement cracked down on the organization in 2009, issuing charges against 17 members. Some of them fled to Mexico, but at least two were recaptured and extradited back to the US. Beritan and Valencia are the first of the suspected Palillo gang members to go on trial, in a case which has been cited by the FBI as an example of Mexico’s drug violence spilling over the border.

But other prominent cases of spillover violence between Tijuana and San Diego involve violence moving southwards rather than north. In the 1990s, the cartel recruited members of San Diego street gang Barrio Logan, also known as Calle 30, as mercenaries. The recruits received combat training and plenty of cash, and in return tortured, kidnapped, and killed on the cartel’s behalf. Barrio Logan was reportedly behind the 1993 killing of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo in 1993. In 1997, a Mexican judge charged seven Barrio Logan members with the attempted assassination of Jesus Blancornelas, the publisher of Tijuana-based investigative magazine Zeta.

A 2011 report by Zeta magazine suggested that such recruitment campaigns are not a thing of the past. The piece argued that a former member of the Tijuana Cartel, now working for rival organization the Sinaloa Cartel, has enlisted members of Barrio Logan to cleanse the city of rival drug trafficking cells. One of those Barrio Logan recruits reportedly included Armando Perez, whom the magazine describes as one of San Diego’s “most wanted” criminals, after he killed his wife in San Diego City College in 2010.

The Zeta report suggests that the faction of the Tijuana Cartel allied with the Sinaloans sought to recruit US gang members, as a way of gaining an edge during Tijuana’s cartel wars. This is a reminder that while it would be easy to label the ongoing Palillos trial as a clear example of Mexico’s violence “spilling over” the border, such violence has apparently moved in both directions.

It’s worth noting that the Palillos shifted their operations to the US under very specific circumstances: they were in the unusual position of finding it safer to operate on US soil rather than Mexican. They could avoid their enemies, and act on their grudge against the Tijuana Cartel’s leadership, targeting victims who were unwilling and unable to go to the police. The group were able to prosper in San Diego in large part by exploiting their knowledge of the Tijuana Cartel’s network. The Palillos are, arguably, a unique phenomenon, rather than being indicative of an overall trend of spillover violence.

The more realistic risk is not that Mexican gangs will pack up and move to the US, as happened in the Palillos’ case, but that criminal organizations like the Tijuana Cartel will deepen their collaboration with US street gangs, using them to move, protect, and distribute drug shipments. The city of San Diego has as many as 81 street gangs, according to a report by local radio station KPBS. The extent to which the Tijuana Cartel is currently working with such gangs is currently unclear. But when discussing the risk of spillover violence, the deepening of business links between Mexico’s cartels and US street gangs is a far more likely prospect than that of Mexican gangs choosing to relocate north of the border. Any gang that did so would probably eventually face a fate similar to the Palillos.

Former Tijuana Cartel Head Pleas Guilty in U.S. Court

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A former leader of the Tijuana Cartel, and one of the most powerful drug barons ever prosecuted in the United States, has pleaded guilty to racketeering and money laundering charges in a San Diego court.

Benjamin Arellano Felix accepted the charges against him as part of a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. According to the Associated Press, U.S. officials agreed to dismiss other charges against him that, if convicted, could have resulted in a sentence of up to 140 years in prison. As it stands, Arellano Felix will likely be given 25 years when he is sentenced on April 2nd.

Arellano’s sentence is relatively light for the charges against him, especially when compared to the sentences received by his former deputies. His younger brother Francisco, who was captured by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2006, was sentenced to life in prison in a San Diego court in 2007. Another lieutenant of his, Jesus Labra Aviles, received a 40-year sentence in 2010.

InSight Crime Analysis

Benjamin Arellano Felix’s guilty plea is a testament to how far he has fallen since the late 1990s, when Mexican officials considered him one of the top drug lords in the country.

Back then, the Tijuana Cartel was a major player in Mexico’s criminal underworld. He and his brother Ramon Felix Arellano inherited the Tijuana Cartel from their uncle, the legendary Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, alias “el Padrino.” Shortly thereafter, Ramon ordered the death of a close associate of the Sinaloa Cartel’s Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” sparking a conflict that lasted for more than 15 years.

However, an aggressive campaign by law enforcement beginning in the early 2000s significantly weakened the Tijuana Cartel, and since 2009 it appears to have agreed to a truce with their rivals. The Sinaloans, in comparison, have taken off. Along with the notoriously violent Zetas, they are considered one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.

Captured Tijuana Cartel Boss Confirms Sinaloa Truce

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Since his arrest, Tijuana Cartel lieutenant “El Ruedas” has handed over a treasure trove of information about the group’s operations and relationship with the Sinaloa Cartel.

New Tijuana police chief Alberto Capella Ibarra called a meeting with press and business leaders shortly after Juan Francisco Sillas Rocha, alias “El Ruedas,” was arrested. He announced that, according to the criminal boss, Capella had broken longstanding agreements between the police and criminal groups. As El Mexicano reports, Capella claimed Sillas said “Things changed when you arrived, you broke the agreements.” The implications of this, if true, are serious.

It is not the first time that claims have surfaced about the existence of pacts between the police and the AFO. Julian Leyzaola took over the Tijuana Police Department in 2010, at the height of the war between cells loyal to Eduardo Teodoro Garcia Simental, “El Teo,” and those loyal to Fernando Sanchez Arellano, “El Ingeniero.” It was widely speculated that he cut a deal with the AFO forces loyal to Sanchez Arellano to wipe out the Garcia Simental cells, which were responsible for widespread kidnappings in the city. Some analysts have suggested that, with state forces separated from the drug trade, there will be no mediator to enforce agreements between criminal groups. This could result in conflict between the trafficking groups present in the plaza including the AFO, the Sinaloa Cartel and remnants of the Familia Michoacana.

In his statement to prosecutors, as reported by Zeta magazine, Sillas painted a picture of a rapidly regenerating AFO. He claimed that Sanchez Arellano, leader of the AFO, now commands 11 cells dedicated to trafficking drugs in Tijuana and abroad, up from only five during the conflict with Garcia Simental, and named cartel logistics operators who organize trafficking from Guadalajara to Cancun. This suggests that the AFO has moved from an enforcer-oriented group to a more sophisticated trafficking organization. The story of “El M4” is most illustrative of the process. El M4 led a group of assassins or enforcers who were wiped out during the conflict with Garcia Simental, but today he focuses exclusively on drug trafficking.

Sillas pointed to the AFO’s ability to maintain a firm grip on drug distribution contacts throughout California, but especially in the north of the state depite its supposedly weakened state. This fits with InSight Crime’s analyses of the situation.

Sillas also confirmed what InSight Crime has suggested about the nature of the relationship between the Tijuana Cartel (also known as the Arellano Felix Organization – AFO) and the Sinaloa Cartel, claiming that the two work side-by-side in the Tijuana plaza without violence. He said that the trafficking networks are autonomous, but have come to a non-aggression pact.

The AFO also has an advantage in any competition with the Sinaloa Cartel in the Tijuana plaza; unity. The Sinaloa cells in Tijuana operate independently and sometimes in competition with each other, according to the statements of “El Tomate,” a Sinaloa Cartel recruit and former Garcia Simental lieutenant. The Sinaloa Cartel learned a lesson about compartmentalizing operations following the defection of some of their chief trafficking and intelligence lieutenants to the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) in 2008. The bloody struggle between the BLO and the Sinaloa Cartel seemingly left a deep impression upon Joaquin Guzman, “El Chapo,” and Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias “El Mayo.” Since then, the Sinaloa Cartel has reportedly maintained cells in Tijuana that operate peacefully, but in competition with each other, to prevent the total loss of the plaza. This means that while the AFO may not be as large, or even as profitable as the Sinaloa cells in the area, they have the advantage of unity.

Ruedas also gave an insight into the inner workings of the AFO following a chaotic period. He described lieutenants like “El Turbo” who switched back and forth the between the AFO and Garcia groups until settling with the surviving AFO. He acknowledged the strength of Sinaloa lieutenants in Tijuana like “La Rana” and “El Aquiles” but, again, portrayed the AFO as stronger than most analysts have previously believed.

The AFO has become a low-profile trafficking organization since its internecine conflict, which ended in 2010. It has proven capable of regenerating rapidly, but if the statements of police chief Capella are to be believed it has lost its relationship with the municipal police. The Sinaloa Cartel, which is in conflict with the BLO, the Juarez Cartel and the Zetas throughout the country, appears keen to minimize problems in Tijuana. By the time the Sinaloa Cartel is done with those conflicts the AFO may be a fully regenerated cartel.

*Nathan Jones is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Baker Institute of Public Policy focusing on drug policy.

Tijuana’s Uneasy Peace may Endure, Despite Arrests

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A high-ranking Tijuana Cartel lieutenant was arrested last week, sparking commentary that the trafficking organization is on the ropes. Not so fast; experts have said this since 2002, but the group has proved resilient.

Juan Francisco Sillas Rocha, “El Ruedas,” was arrested on Friday in Tijuana after he attempted to kill a cartel defector. The man survived, fleeing the hospital after treatment, and Sillas was arrested by police.

Some have hailed this as the final “nail in the coffin” for the Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO). Sillas was an important enforcer lieutenant during the group’s internecine conflict from 2008-2010. He was known as a violent, hot-tempered leader who fought against break-away cells led by Teodoro Garcia Simental, alias “El Teo.”

However, Sillas’ importance in the AFO in recent years may not have been as great as some media have portrayed it. The post-2010 Tijuana reality has been a truce between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Arellano Felix Organization led by Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias “El Ingeniero.” According to Zeta Magazine, Sillas was involved in the kidnapping of three relatives of Sinaloa lieutenant Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias “El Mayo,” in October 2010. This may have caused the AFO to shun Sillas in order keep the peace, although it is possible that they faked his exclusion in order prevent a conflagration with the Sinaloa Cartel.

Sillas’ brother was also arrested earlier this year in Palmdale California in an alleged murder-for-hire plot ordered by Sillas himself from Mexico. This indicates that Sillas’ international capability had already been limited by law enforcement efforts.

The question remains: Will Sillas’ arrest upset the organized crime balance of power in Tijuana?

The Nature of the Tijuana Truce

Explaining the decrease in violence in Tijuana since 2009 is not straightforward. In broad strokes, the general consensus among analysts is that the Sinaloa Cartel and the AFO have reached a truce after the elimination of cells led by Teodoro Garcia Simental “El Teo” arrested in January 2010.

Three versions of what that truce might look like have emerged from interviews carried out by InSight Crime over the last year. The first scenario is that the Sinaloa Cartel, desiring a peaceful business environment, pays the AFO a tax to operate in the plaza. In the second scenario the AFO pays the Sinaloa Cartel to operate in the area, while the third describes the Tijuana region as an open plaza, not controlled by any one group. Given the low levels of violence, scenario three appears least likely; an arrangement between traffickers must be keeping the killings under control. Scenario two is plausible, but most experts lean toward scenario one, that the AFO charges the Sinaloa Cartel to operate, despite the AFO’s supposedly weakened state.

See chart, left, using data from the Mexican Secretaria de Seguridad Publica.tijuana murders

A Rivalry?

A recent FBI gang report listed the AFO and Sinaloa Cartel as rivals. This is puzzling because it is at odds with the prevailing narrative explaining the relatively low levels of violence in the Tijuana corridor as a result of a truce/non-aggression pact between the groups, if not outright cooperation. Why the various law enforcement agencies involved in compiling this report categorized Sinaloa-AFO relations as a rivalry is not clear, given the success of the non-aggression pact apparently functioning in the area. They may have based their judgement on the long historical animosity between the two cartels, and the risk that they could engage in all-out conflict, plunging Tijuana into Ciudad Juarez-style violence, if the pact breaks down.

The Future of the AFO

The Sillas arrest does not appear to be important enough to upset the balance of power and undermine the truce seemingly in place in the region, but only time will tell. While many have predicted the demise of the AFO, its future may be less stark.

Assuming no major conflagration between the Sinaloa Cartel and the AFO, the AFO is likely to continue its activities as a low profile trafficking organization with deep ties to U.S. street and prison gangs. These long term relationships of trust with U.S. prison gangs like La Eme (some associates of which have referred to the Sinaloa Cartel as too “ruthless”) could provide AFO members with a long term niche. In this scenario, AFO members would not be wiped out in conflict with the Sinaloa Cartel, but could instead be slowly absorbed by the rival group, making themselves useful through their trafficking contacts.

*Stacey Cooper recently graduated from the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies at the University of San Diego with a Master’s Degree in Peace and Justice Studies, and is currently working at USD as a research assistant. Nathan Jones is a University of California, Irvine, PhD in political science, IGCC dissertation fellow, and an adjunct instructor of international relations at the University of San Diego.

Ex-Tijuana Major Wins Another Round Against Mexican Justice

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A Mexican court has confirmed the release of the former mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon, after rejecting an appeal by prosecutors to overturn his acquittal on weapons charges.

Hank was arrested by the Mexican army on June 4 along with 10 of his bodyguards. He faced charges of illegally possessing 88 guns and more than 9,000 rounds of ammunition, which were found in his home.

However, Federal Court Judge Alejandro Rodriguez Escobar on Thursday upheld a June 13 ruling to release Hank along with his 10 co-defendants, citing a lack of evidence to prosecute them for possession of illegal firearms.

He also ruled in agreement with an earlier decision that the raid at Hank’s home was conducted without a warrant, making any evidence gathered inadmissible.

The Federal Judicial Council noted several inconsistencies regarding the circumstances, times, distances and locations given by the military regarding the arrest of Hank and his bodyguards.

A failed attempt was made by prosecutors to hold Hank in relation to his possible involvement in the 2009 killing of his son’s ex-girlfriend, and authorities will continue to investigate his involvement in the crime.

Hank, a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI), is one of Mexico’s richest men and owner of a sports betting company. He has long been accused of having close links with the Tijuana Cartel, although the allegations remain unproven. His release came as a significant setback for President Felipe Calderon’s fight against organised crime.

Why Extraditing Mexico Drug Traffickers Could Strengthen US Gangs

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Mexico‘s current unprecedented level of cooperation in extraditing organized crime suspects to the U.S. is good news in the short term, but could build stronger ties between U.S. prison gangs and Mexican drug cartels.

Extradition of its citizens to the U.S. is a touchy subject in Mexico, whose history is filled with incidents of U.S. invasion and perceived and real economic encroachment. But in its modern fight against organized crime and the resulting desire for U.S. military aid, Mexico has proven more willing to extradite citizens wanted for drug trafficking to its northern neighbor. The country has sent more than 150 suspects to stand trial in the U.S. since 2005, according to the U.S. Embassy. The Mexican government has even said that extradition is key to “institutionalizing the rule of law,” part of its four-pillar strategy against organized crime.

Extradition provides an advantage for Mexico in its war on drugs: cartel leaders extradited to the U.S. cannot continue to run operations in their home country. One example is Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, former leader of the Gulf Cartel. He was arrested in Mexico 2003, but was not extradited until January 2007. This prevented him from mediating conflicts between his group and its armed branch, the Zetas. Cracks soon began to show, and it was only a matter of time before the two factions split and went to war. We are now seeing the effects of that fracture in the once peaceful industrial city of Monterrey. Other major traffickers have continued to run their business from behind bars in Mexico, including Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” the head of the Sinaloa Cartel. He ran trafficking operations from his well appointed federal prison cell and was even able to escape in 2001.

One drug cartel recently hit hard by the new willingness to extradite Mexicans is the Arellano Felix Organization, also known as the Tijuana Cartel. Recently extradited members serving time in the U.S. include the cartel’s former financial chief Jesus Labra Aviles, alias “El Chuy;” former strategic head Javier Arellano Felix, alias “El Tigrillo;” former Tijuana operational commander Tijuana Ismael Higuera-Guerrero, alias “El Mayel;” and Manuel Ivanovich Zambrano Flores, alias “El Jimmy,” who headed a key money laundering cell, among many others named in the “Luz Verde” indictment of 43 members and employees of the group. These are just some of the many AFO members serving time in U.S. prisons.

Former California law enforcement officer and gang expert Felix Aguirre told InSight Crime that Arellano-Felix members incarcerated in California jails will likely form alliances with Mexican prison gang La Eme, exchanging contacts and information for protection in the foreign prison. “Regardless of how powerful these cartel members were on the outside, they are absolutely nothing in California’s prisons without [La Eme],” explained Aguirre.

Some predict that Mexican inmates could even form their own gangs in U.S. jails. Gang expert Al Valdez, a former Orange County prosecutor, told InSight Crime, “These are transnational criminals who will attempt to and probably succeed in maintaining contact with their counterparts in Mexico and may establish a new prison gang with U.S. connections.”

The significance of this increased contact between Mexican cartels and prison gangs like La Eme and Nuestra Familia is that, through these new supply connections, California and the rest of the United States could see a long term increase in the supply of drugs coming from Mexico and Central America. The connections will likely overlap so that even if the “choke-point strategies” of U.S. law enforcement are successful in arresting those individuals who serve as the links between Mexican cartels and U.S. gangs, the criminal networks will simply shift to other points of contact.

(Image, above: Members of LA-based gang La Florencia)

Cartel Lieutenant’s Capture Could Bring Tijuana a Step Closer to War

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The arrest of Armando Villareal Heredia, alias “El Gordo,” is a blow to the weakened Tijuana Cartel that could increase the likelihood of conflict with the Sinaloa Cartel in the region.

According to a 2010 U.S. indictment, Armando Villareal Heredia was a top-ranking lieutenant of the group, reporting to organization boss Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias “El Ingeniero.” He operated from Guadalajara and was in charge of logistics for drug shipments from Mexico’s Pacific coast to the border region of Baja California. Villareal Heredia was arrested on July 9, and is likely to face extradition to the United States given that he is a U.S. citizen, born in San Diego.

At 33 years of age, Villareal Heredia represented the “new generation” of Tijuana Cartel leadership as depicted on a DEA wanted poster released in 2009. The group, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization, was referred to in the indictment as the Fernando Sanchez Organization or (FSO). This allowed federal prosecutors to claim victory over the AFO, whose first generation of leadership is now largely behind bars. The new generation of leaders has followed a much lower profile business model which attempts to avoid drawing attention through the excessive or public use of violence.

Villareal Heredia gave instructions to Mario Escamilla, a San Diego gang “underboss” who organized courier drug trafficking and assassination operations for the capo operating from “Zapopan/Guadalajara” Jalisco. The indictment cites Villarreal for a number of crimes, including the theft of 50 pounds of methamphetamine being transported on a bus in Mexico. The indictment also refers to conversations, intercepted by the U.S. government, in which he apparently arranged the cross-border transport of small quantities of methamphetamine. The most damning charges against Villareal Heredia involve conversations between him and a government informant, in which he ordered the informant to kill an FSO member in the United States, who had “disrespected” the “Señores in Tijuana,” (the FSO leadership).

Armando Villareal Heredia “communicated directly” with FSO boss Fernando Sanchez Arellano, according to the indictment, and thus his capture will be a significant blow to the group. It is another in a long string of arrests of top level FSO leadership which could weaken the cartel’s control over the lucrative Tijuana “plaza,” or drug trafficking territory.

It’s not clear how far the group currently controls the Tijuana plaza, as InSight Crime has set out in previous investigations. The FSO has had an acrimonious relationship with Sinaloa Cartel’s head Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” since the Tijuana-based group became independent traffickers in the early 1990s. But with the arrest of the first generation of leadership of the AFO, the two groups have achieved some form of rapprochement. What is known about the new relationship is that the Sinaloa Cartel and the FSO have achieved a level of peace which has avoided the large scale homicides and widespread kidnappings seen in the civil war within the Tijuana Cartel from 2008-2010, when lieutenant Eduardo Teodoro Garcia Simental, alias “El Teo,” broke off from the group. Garcia Simental formed an alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel in 2008, but this had broken down by 2010. Since his arrest in January 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel has preferred peace with its rival.

It is not known for certain how the balance of power now stands between the two groups, though some observers believe Sinaloa currently holds the upper hand. The Familia Michoacana is also a major presence in Tijuana, which they use to traffic methamphetamine, but is not considered a major controller of the plaza and likely pays “piso,” or taxes, to the FSO. Now that the Familia has split and many members have followed Servando Gomez, alias “La Tuta,” into his offshoot group the Cabelleros Templarios, the Familia’s current status in Tijuana is not clear.

It should also be noted that the Arellano Felix brothers of the first generation, (now all dead or arrested) hailed from Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state. Their connections in their home region may have provided a salve and an opportunity to build bridges with the Sinaloa Cartel leaders. The Sinaloa Cartel is also deeply involved in a conflict for Ciudad Juarez with the Juarez Cartel, also known as the Vicente Carillo Fuentes Organization, and its armed branch La Linea. The Sinaloa Cartel may prefer to avoid conflict on other fronts as long as this struggle continues.

InSight Crime’s interviews with Tijuana businessmen, who wished to remain anonymous due to security concerns, indicate that the fear in Tijuana is that if the Sinaloa Cartel continues to increase in power and the FSO continues to decline, at some point Sinaloa will attempt to eradicate its weaker rival, causing violence to surge in the city. The arrest of Villareal Heredia is another blow to the FSO that could help make that scenario a reality. However, the Sinaloa are unlikely to try to strike a death blow against the FSO so long as they remains embroiled in conflict in Juarez. Thus, Juarez’s loss may be Tijuana’s gain.

Mexico Finds Biggest Ever Marijuana Farm

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The Mexican Army found a 120-hectare plot used for growing marijuana in north Mexico, the largest such plantation ever discovered in the country.

The plantation, equivalent to almost 300 acres, was found near Rosario, a small town in Baja California, roughly 225 miles south of the border, on Thursday.

A spokesman said that the marijuana crops were camouflaged and interspersed with tomatoes plants, to make it harder to discover.

The largest marijuana farm previously discovered was a 105-hectare plot of land in southern Chihuahua, which authorities found in 2005.

Six people were arrested in the recent operation, but officials estimated that up to 50 people likely worked at the illicit farm. They provided no information about who owned the farm, but the Sinaloa Cartel and the remnants of the Tijuana Cartel (also known as the Arellano Felix Organization) both operate in the region.

Baja California has earned much attention for marijuana production in recent months, particularly with the seizure of 134 tons of the drug in Tijuana in late 2010.