Homicides rose in Tijuana during January

Homicides in Mexico's Baja California nearly doubled during January 2016 when compared to the same month last year, raising speculation the Jalisco Cartel is seeking to exert control over the state's lucrative drug routes into the United States.

According to data (pdf) from Mexico's National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública - SNSP), January saw 1,534 murders nationwide, an increase of 7.42 percent over January 2015. The most notable increase was in Baja California with 99 murders, compared to 52 in January 2015. The northern border city of Tijuana accounted for 71 of last month's murders in Baja California.

Several officials have attributed Tijuana's increased violence to the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco - Nueva Generación - CJNG), reported the Los Angeles Times. The CJNG "is the new player in town that is trying to gain control of the Tijuana plaza" said Gary Hill, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) office in San Diego.

However, Daniel de la Rosa, Baja California's public safety secretary, asserted the CJNG does not have a strong physical presence in the state. Rather, he suggests the criminal organization is focused on forging alliances with members of the Tijuana underworld in a challenge to the Sinaloa Cartel, considered to be the city's dominant drug trafficking group.

InSight Crime Analysis

The criminal landscape in Tijuana may be more complex than what appears to be, on its surface, a battle for supremacy between competing drug networks. A recent report suggests corrupt Tijuana police are also seeking to exert control over the city's criminal activities.

Such a possibility suggests a similar situation to that seen in another Mexican border city, Ciudad Juárez. There, police acted as the guarantors of the city's underworld, providing physical protection and immunity from prosecution to chosen groups.

As such, if Tijuana is indeed headed towards a turf war, whichever group wins the police may win control of the city's underworld.

Drug trafficking organizations have long valued Tijuana because of its importance as a drug transit hub along the US-Mexico border. Recent murder statistics being linked to a possible power play by CJNG in Tijuana lead to concern the city could revert back to the highly volatile conditions it experienced in the recent past.

In 2008, a turf war between the Arellano Félix organization (also known at the Tijuana Cartel), which controlled Tijuana at the time, and the Sinaloa Cartel erupted. By 2010 the city's murder rate had risen to 57 per 100,000 citizens, but then dropped significantly once the Sinaloa Cartel emerged victorious and allegedly instituted an open plaza system whereby gangs could pay a fee to operate in the city.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Jalisco Cartel

The CJNG gained notoriety last year after a series of assaults on Mexican military and law enforcement, and previous reports have varied on whether the CJNG and Sinaloa Cartel cooperate or compete for power.