Guerrero, which now leads Mexico in drug violence

The southern Mexican state of Guerrero had the country’s highest number of murders linked to organized crime last month, knocking border state Chihuahua off the top spot for the first time in more than four years.

Guerrero saw 159 killings related to organized crime in September, according to Milenio’s count, compared to 149 in Chihuahua.

Chihuahua had ranked first in drug killings since May 2008, according to the newspaper, and September was the least violent month the state has seen since that year.

InSight Crime Analysis

Guerrero's rise to head the list of organized crime-related killings is part of a nationwide shift in the patterns of drug violence, with murders dropping in traditional hotspots, like along the US border, and becoming dispersed more widely across the country.

Chihuahua has been the epicenter of Mexico’s drug conflict in recent years, with border city Juarez the most violent place in the country, as the Sinaloa Cartel fought the Juarez Cartel for control. It has seen a dramatic fall in killings from more than 3,000 murders in 2010, to less than 700 in the first six months of this year. The security improvement has come amid ambitious government social programs, and the consolidation of power on the part of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Guerrero, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. For over a decade before 2010, it saw an average of just over 1,000 murders per year, which doubled to over 2,100 killings in 2011.

The handover from Chihuahua to Guerrero also illustrates the rise across Mexico of small, localized gangs which have split off from the big cartels as their leaders are captured or killed.

Guerrero is disputed by a several of these splinter groups, including the Guerreros Unidos, a relatively recent arrival which has been blamed for a number of mass killings in the state. The criminal career of its leader, Cleotilde Toribio Renteria alias “El Tilde,” who was captured in July, is representative of the process of splintering of the big cartels, as InSight Crime has reported. He worked for “La Barbie” of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), but when La Barbie was captured he moved over to the Independent Cartel of Acapulco, and then La Barredora, before forming the Guerreros Unidos.

However, Guerrero could be in line for a security improvement. In October 2011 the government launched Operation Safe Guerrero, which follows similar lines as Todos Somos Juarez, one of the programs credited with Juarez's relative peace.