A Southern Pulse report on the Mexico city of Guadalajara provides the framework to better understand both present events -- such as the series of roadblocks in Jalisco state this past weekend that sparked concerns of a return to bloody times of 2011 -- and the future.
The report, published in early August (and available here), sees the greater area of Guadalajara as a microcosm of the rest of the country where various "tiers" of criminal organizations ally to control this important financial and residential hub.
On the top tier sits the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas criminal group. The two are large, international criminal organizations that operate on a national level and use other groups to do do their bidding in places like Guadalajara. A third national tier one organization, the Knights Templar, are a wild card in the area, but Southern Pulse believes they will align with the Sinaloa Cartel.
In Guadalajara, the second tier groups are the Milenio Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG), two groups that have what Southern Pulse calls a "regional" presence. A third second tier group, the Resistencia, has been greatly debilitated, the report adds, and seems to be fading from view. The CJNG works closely with the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Milenio group have aligned themselves with the Zetas, Southern Pulse says.
The third tier groups are local gangs. They may operate in the most violent and crime-ridden neighborhoods, but Southern Pulse does not see them working in concert with the other two tiers as it does in other Mexican cities, namely Monterrey, Acapulco and Cuidad Juarez.
Between them, these multiple tiers are responsible for the wave of violence that wracked this city in 2011. The violence has abated in 2012, in part, Southern Pulse explains, because of an increased security forces presence around the Pan American Games in May of this year.
But the state is still an important symbolic and operational battleground, as evidenced by a mass body dump in May, in which 18 mutilated corpses were left in two abandoned cars. The massacre, which apparently included civilians without any apparent connection to criminal activities, was part of the Zetas' response to a similar body dump in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.
InSight Crime Analysis
The weekend's blockades offer a glimpse into this multi-tiered criminal world. The attacks occurred throughout the state in seemingly strategic points to distract authorities so a powerful CJNG leader could escape their grasp.
The operation was coordinated, surgical, and without bloodshed. And as the Southern Pulse report noted, this relatively limited use of violence is what sets Jalisco apart from other states in Mexico where top tier and second tier criminal groups are battling. In comparison to other states where this multi-tiered battle for control was taking place, Jalisco has lower homicide levels. (See Mexican government statistics in pdf here.)
The report's most valuable contribution is the way it carefully depicts the criminal world. The tier system makes sense and seems to play out on the ground level. The authors argue, in line with Southern Pulse's earlier predictions, that these lower tiers represent the future of criminal groups in Mexico, which they call "super-empowered" gangs.
Still, it remains to be seen whether these "super-empowered" street gangs will "eclipse" the Sinaloa Cartel and Zetas by 2014, as Southern Pulse says. What seems just as likely is a slow integration of pieces of these smaller organizations into the traditional structures and the emergence of a few more "regional" groups, some of whom graduate to tier one.
What's more, the report suffers from myopia, as many observors of Mexico's violence often do. Analysts get lost in the larger, headline grabbing battles rather than obtaining the answer to the elusive question about the relationship between the overall violence and petty crime.
This report suggests that there is some relationship but offers little to substantiate this aside from the rising general crime levels, including car theft and extortion. These crime levels are what worry ordinary citizens and determining this relationship could go a long way towards giving authorities a more strategically sound way forward.