Bloodier Sonora drug wars feared
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
For years, drug cartels have battled over the best routes to bring Americans drugs. This year, that violence has become bloodier in Sonora's neighboring states as two Sinaloan drug lords together battle cartels in eastern and western Mexico.
Now, recent flash points of violence in Nogales, Sonora, indicate the battles are moving into that state, U.S. law enforcement officials said.
Meanwhile the underlying reason for the violence - Americans' penchant for illegal drugs - hasn't diminished. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seizure data show even more drugs are flowing into Arizona.
Still, some officials insist Sonora's violence will not rise.
"I can tell you that will absolutely not happen," said Luis Iribe, assistant director of tourism in Sonora. "Sonora continues to be a safe destination."
But at the same time, officials are worried enough that Gov. Eduardo Bours Castelo has asked for a meeting of all Mexican border state governors and the military to see what the states need to do to keep the situation under control.
The violence in Sonora is not nearly as great as in places such as Sinaloa, home state of the drug lords caught up in the border-long turf war. According to a Thursday report from the DEA, drug-related executions total 127 this year, primarily in states such as Baja California, Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.
"If the government is able to control the most conflictive areas, it's very likely the violence will pour into Sonora. The narco is already there, and Sonora is ideally positioned for that," said Jorge Chabat, an organized crime expert at Mexico City's Center for Economic Research.
That's because Sonora's border is controlled by small families that "rent" border access to the drug lords responsible for moving loads through Sonora, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, said Tom Hayden, an intelligence supervisor with Arizona HIDTA - High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area - the federal intelligence-gathering agency that tracks cartels and loads moving across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The United States has responded to the ongoing drug war with a State Department travel warning for the entire northern Mexico border. The violence across from Texas and California is being played out on a smaller, regional level along Arizona's border, experts say.
The Sinaloa-based drug lords who already manage Sonora have joined in a loose collaborative now battling for control of the Texas and California drug routes into the United States.
"There is more cooperation in Sonora," Hayden said, but the real fight is trying to pull up the other trafficking groups.
Basically, the cartels to the east, the Gulf Cartel, and to the west, the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix Organization, are on the defense against the collaborative efforts of Guzmán Loera and Zambada Garcia. That collaboration itself has managed alliances with small Sonoran border families that "broker" their areas to Guzmán Loera and Zambada Garcia, Hayden said.
"Chapo and Mayo have banded together, but where they're at is another type of fighting," Hayden said.
According to the DEA report, at least 12 men were executed in three gunfights Tuesday alone in Sinaloa. In one of the shootings, four men were found next to an armored Lincoln Navigator with Mexico City plates. Inside, Mexican federal agents found bulletproof vests and four AK-47s. They recovered more than 100 spent shell casings in the area, the report stated.
By contrast, two significant drug traffickers were slain in Nogales, Sonora, this month, including an accused Sinaloan hit man Feb. 12 in his prison cell and a reputed drug kingpin, Luis Enrique López Martinez, the next day. López Martinez was wanted in the United States on a 21-count indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson for helping move 2 tons of cocaine through Nogales, Ariz.
The prison hit on Cristian Eduardo Chaidez Angulo, the suspected shooter of an Agua Prieta man identified by the DEA as a leader of the Juarez Cartel, was of particular concern to the Sonoran government, which last week issued a statement calling the prison situation a "red light" despite the doubling of the prison staff since Bours took office nearly two years ago.
As a result of those killings, and the dozens in neighboring Chihuahua and Baja California, Bours has asked for a meeting with the military, the Mexican Federal Attorney General's Office and the governors of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Baja California and Durango, the focus being an increase in law enforcement should Sonora become the epicenter of an escalating drug war.
"Now, there's some concern that as they've got the Sonora-Arizona corridor locked up, you're not seeing much problems there, but in the Yuma and Naco areas, we see them trying to seize turf from the Arellano-Felix Organization and the Carrillo Fuentes organization there," Hayden said. "We'll see some violence closer to those areas as Zambada and Chapo try to control those areas."
The violence also will shift because of the pressure President Vicente Fox is putting on drug cartels, said Phil Jordan, former director of the El Paso Intelligence Center, which tracks cross-border drug and people movement. Not that Fox had a choice, Jordan noted: "He's the first president to keep his word that he would battle the drug situation."
For the moment, there's been no shortage of U.S. visitors to Israel Sandoval Osorio's pharmacy in Nogales, though. "And thank God for that," he said. He's had as many customers as he did the same time last year.
Vicki Francis, a Tucson resident waiting for her friends outside a curio shop on Sunday, said that she's never felt exposed to danger in Nogales and there's nothing to worry about.
"As long as you're not in the drug business, you shouldn't," she said.
Some people, such as Jake Lang, visiting Nogales from Phoenix, believe the media are hyping the State Department's travel warning.
"You can get shot in a bar in Phoenix, too," he said.
But officials predict the turf wars will change the landscape of who controls the border.
Eventually, Chabat said, the violence in northern Mexico will come to a boil between the warring cartels and Fox's efforts to stop them.
"There will be a breaking point," he said. "We're going to be facing this for years to come. For as long as Americans want drugs."
● Contact Michael Marizco at 573-4213 or at email@example.com.
So my family was in town for Thanksgiving last week and they really wanted to walk into Nogales Mexico and see what a border town was like. I try and make it down there a few times a year to buy gifts and whatnot. This time something occurred to me as I walked across the border. In giant letters before you walk into Mexico a sign reads that you are absolutely prohibited from bringing in Guns or Ammunition into Mexico. Essentially they have a gun ban. Then I thought to myself. Wow, this band did nothing but increase the amount of violence from the cartels. Would a band in the US have the exact same affect? The criminals ignore the signs while the legal citizens try and abide by the laws. Way to go fun ban... results in a record number of murders!