A series of killings of top members of the Sinaloa-based Guasave Cartel suggests that one of Mexico’s most important emerging groups may be mired in a period of internal strife.
As Riodoce reported, three prominent members of the Guasave Cartel, as the organization headed by Fausto Isidro “Chapo Isidro” Meza Flores is sometimes called, have been murdered around Guasave, Sinaloa, in recent weeks. Local officials believe these murders reflect the onset of an internal fight among different factions.
The killings started in mid-August, when the body of Federico Rosas Rojo, a police officer apparently working for Isidro’s group, was found in a coastal neighborhood of Guasave. In early September, a prominent local rancher affiliated with the group, Manuel Guadalupe Silva Medina, was murdered in the nearby municipality of Adolfo Ruiz Cortines. Days later, at Silva Medina’s funeral, another member of the group, Carlos Martin Robles Blanco, was shot dead by a commando unit.
According to official sources consulted by Riodoce, this group of recently murdered individuals includes the boss of the Adolfo Ruiz Cortines plaza, though they did not identify which of the murdered men this was. In any event, the killing of a plaza boss makes this a significant development and suggests that there is substantial internal friction.
The officials did not reveal the cause of the split, and their conclusions appeared to be based largely on speculation. However, despite the fact that the Guasave Cartel has powerful enemies, there are reasons to doubt the theory that the killings represent an offensive from an outside adversary.
The three most recent murders were targeted killings in which bystanders were conspicuously avoided. Robles Blanco’s body was riddled with more than 70 bullets, but no one else at the funeral was harmed. Silva Medina was shot in front of his son, whom his killers allowed to escape. Such precision suggests an internal split, in which a few select targets are being rooted out; a rival gang launching attacks on an enemy will typically show less concern about collateral damage.
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The trio of deaths is the latest in a rash of high-profile incidents involving the Guasave Cartel, also known as the Mazatlecos. The arrest of Sinaloa Cartel capo Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the rumored death of his ally Juan Jose “El Azul” Esparragoza has left Meza Flores, who was placed on the US Treasury kingpin list in January 2013, as one of the more powerful kingpins on Mexico’s Pacific coast. His new prominence has provoked greater attention from the Mexican government as well; in August federal officials touted the death of 12 gunmen allegedly working for Meza Flores and promised to redouble efforts to hunt down their boss.
The Guasave Cartel’s emergence is part of a broader reshaping of Mexico’s criminal landscape, in which the two major protagonists of the last decade — the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel — have lost much of their leadership and presumably their power as well. This has led to outbreaks of fighting in certain regions, such as Baja California Sur, where the dominance of the Sinaloa Cartel previously went untested.
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Meza Flores could become a major part of this new landscape. He has a useful array of allies in the Zetas and the Beltran Leyva Organization. He also has experience of successfully fending off the Sinaloa Cartel in its own stomping grounds: over the last several years, he has carved out a dominion over much of northern Sinaloa, from coastal Guasave to the mountains of the Golden Triangle. As InSight Crime has noted, the Sinaloa Cartel’s inability to operate in Guasave dates back at least to 2011, when banners taunting Guzman appeared in the city. This suggests a tight, united organization, notwithstanding the recent reports.
The outcome of this internal struggle will help determine Meza Flores’ position in the Mexican criminal landscape. If the reprisals are limited and short-lived, and if they result in the removal of disloyal or ineffective subordinates, the Guasave Cartel could come out strengthened.
But that is a big if. Internal strife is typically a sign of a gang’s weakness and an impediment to its growth. It can be especially dangerous in the context of government pressure, as one faction may hand its rivals over to the authorities. And for the Guasave Cartel, because its operational presence is limited to a relatively small area, any conflicts that threaten the group’s control over its hometown are especially dangerous.