The Guerreros Unidos are a splinter group of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) based in central Mexico. The group is dedicated mainly to extortion and kidnapping, but also traffics drugs to the United States. The Guerreros Unidos are characterized by their aggressive tactics and use of extreme violence, which have attracted the attention of security forces and threatened the group’s long-term survival.
The Guerreros Unidos are one of at least seven BLO splinter groups that formed following the death of BLO leader Arturo Beltran Leyva in 2009. The group was founded by Mario Casarrubias Salgado, alias “El Sapo Guapo,” who served as part of the BLO security team, and Cleotilde Toribio Renteria alias “El Tilde,” who was a member of the hit squad of BLO operative Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “La Barbie,” along with several former BLO body guards.
The Guerreros Unidos made their first public appearance in December 2011, when the group claimed responsibility for a triple homicide in the state of Morelos. Over the following year, the Guerreros Unidos carried out several high-profile attacks, including a string of attacks on bars in Morelos that left five dead and 15 wounded. The group also sent hitmen disguised as doctors to kill the leader of rival BLO splinter group Los Rojos while he was recovering from another assassination attempt in a hospital in Mexico City.
Guerreros Unidos Factbox
As fighting between the Guerreros Unidos and rival groups including Los Rojos led to spikes in violence in the states of Morelos and Guerrero, however, security forces began to target the criminal organization. Founder El Tilde was arrested in Mexico City in July 2012, and El Sapo Guapo was captured in April 2014 in the state of Mexico (Edomex). Twenty-two alleged Guerreros Unidos members were killed in a battle with the Mexican army in June 2014, in an incident in which the military has been accused of human rights abuses.
A September 2014 attack on student protesters in Iguala, Guerrero, which has been attributed to the Guerreros Unidos, intensified security operations against the group. According to Mexican authorities, local police detained 43 students and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos, who — according to the official narrative — proceeded to murder the students and burn their bodies.
The disappearance of the students prompted the federal government to launch additional operations against the group, which led to the capture of El Sapo Guapo’s brother Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, alias “El Chino,” along with other high-level operatives. One alleged leader, Benjamin Mondragon Pereda, alias “El Benjamon,” shot himself in October 2014 after he was surrounded by the police.
Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office has stated that the Guerreros Unidos have a hierarchical leadership structure, with members receiving orders directly from their superiors. However, the Guerreros Unidos have gone through a series of leaders since mid-2012, and it remains unclear who has taken control of the group following El Sapo Guapo’s arrest.
Mexican officials have identified “El Chino” as one of the group’s leaders, as well as Salomon Pineda Villa, alias “El Molon,” the brother-in-law of the former mayor of Iguala. An alleged Guerreros Unidos operative referred to only as “El Chucky” or “El Choky” has also been identified as a potential leader. In addition, El Sapo Guapo and El Chino have two other brothers who may be part of the group’s leadership. In February 2015, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, the wife of the former mayor of Iguala, was identified as a leader of the group.
The Guerreros Unidos operate principally in the states of Guerrero, Morelos, and Edomex, although there have also been reports that they have a presence in the city of Merida in the Yucatan and in the state of Queretaro.
Allies and Enemies
The Guerreros Unidos’ main enemy is Los Rojos, who the organization has been fighting for control of drug trafficking routes (a rivalry that may have motivated the Iguala student massacre). The Guerreros Unidos have also fought against the Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar cartels. The Mexican guerrilla group the Insurgent People’s Revolutionary Army (ERPI) also declared themselves enemies of the Guerreros Unidos following the disappearance of the 43 students.
The Guerreros Unidos allegedly have an alliance with a local gang called Los Peques, which operates in Guerrero.
The Guerreros Unidos’ violent tactics and use of kidnapping as a source of revenue have made them a target of both national and state security forces. In 2014, the group lost several leaders and dozens of members as a result of security operations, blows the organization may not be able to recover from.
On the other hand, the attacks against the student protesters in Iguala have revealed the group’s extensive ties to local officials. The capture of an alleged Guerreros Unidos financial chief in October 2014, for example, revealed that the group allegedly spent close to $45,000 a month to pay off local police in the municipality of Iguala alone. These local ties could make it more difficult for Mexican authorities to target the group.