A gruesome battle between two relatively unknown drug gangs over a municipality in Guerrero, Mexico has led to mysterious disappearances, an uptick in murders, and political assassinations, the consequences of the state’s ongoing criminal fragmentation.
Chilapa de Alvarez, a municipality in Guerrero and one of the most heavily guarded areas in Mexico, has recently seen the disappearance of between 16 and 30 people, reported the BBC.
In total, since the violence in Chilapa first erupted near the end of 2013, around 105 people have been murdered, giving the municipality a homicide rate of 54 per 100,000 residents, which is over four times higher than Mexico’s national average.
Although the violence appears to be chaotic, a narrative is beginning to emerge. After a local mayoral candidate was assassinated in early May, an unidentified armed group stormed the municipality, stating that it was going to take over police functions and boot out members of criminal group Los Rojos. But the crux of the violence, according to Guerrero expert and University of Alabama anthropologist Chris Kyle, is a brutal conflict between two relatively unknown drug gangs: Los Rojos and Los Ardillos.
The gangs are fighting over Chilapa due to the municipality’s strategic importance in the regional drug trade, Kyle told InSight Crime. Chilapa lies at the foothills of a mountainous region where opium poppies — used to produce heroin — thrive. Since the municipality has one of the only gas stations in the surrounding area, control over Chilapa means control over immensely profitable heroin production zones.
Even though authorities have focused their attention on Los Rojos, Kyle said Los Ardillos are actually the aggressors, and have coopted security forces into doing their dirty work by pursuing Los Rojos. The murdered mayoral candidate, according to Kyle, allegedly had ties to Los Rojos. And the federal, state, and local police stationed in the municipality, as well as the army, idly stood by while the armed group seeking to wrest the area from Los Rojos took over, reported the Los Angeles Times.
InSight Crime Analysis
The violence in Chilapa is indicative of a broader trend in Mexico: the splintering of the country’s traditional criminal organizations. After the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) began fragmenting in 2010, Guerrero’s criminal underworld was left with a power vacuum, according to a January 2015 report Kyle prepared for the Wilson Center (pdf). New groups emerged, like Los Rojos and Los Ardillos, and began fighting over former BLO territory.
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While the splintering of the BLO certainly led to increased in violence in Chilapa in 2010, according to Kyle the recent spike in violence started in late 2013, when Los Ardillos began directly challenging Los Rojos’ control of the area. In other parts of the state, a similar fragmentation has occurred. At least nine criminal groups currently operate in Guerrero, a big change from when the BLO almost entirely controlled the state in 2008, according to the Wilson Center report.