Tijuana Cartel Leader Arrest Could Mean End of Drug Empire

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Authorities in Mexico have captured the leader of the debilitated Tijuana Cartel, removing what will likely prove the last of Arellano Felix clan with the ability to control a large portion of the Tijuana drug corridor, but not the networks that move the drugs.

The Mexican military arrested Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias “El Ingeniero” in the northern border city of Tijuana on June 23, reported Excelsior.

Sanchez, the nephew of the Arellano Felix brothers that founded the Tijuana Cartel, is wanted in Mexico on organized crime, drugs and weapons charges, and in the United States for drug trafficking.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization after the five brothers that dominated the organization, is one of Mexico’s oldest criminal organizations.

For nearly two decades it controlled the passage of drugs on the Tijuana border and into California, and collected “piso” — a criminal tax — on illegal activities in the region from Tijuana to Mexicali.

SEE ALSO: El Ingeniero Profile

The organization began to crumble after it lost one leader after another between 2002 and 2008, leading to fragmentation as factions broke away to stake their own claim to the region’s underworld.

Sensing weakness and opportunity, outside criminal groups moved in, brokering alliances with the rival factions. Sanchez made a pact with the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), while his rivals struck a deal with the Sinaloa Cartel, leading to a criminal conflict that saw Tijuana become one of the most violent cities in Mexico.

The killing began to tail off in 2010, leading to speculation that Sanchez had struck a deal with the Sinaloans, allowing him to remain in place but operating as a subordinate.

However, the security forces continued to chip away at the organization, arresting and extraditing numerous high level operatives.

The arrest of Sanchez, who maintained a low profile compared to his more illustrious predecessors, may mark the end of the Arellano Felix criminal dynasty, but it is unlikely to create serious upheavals in the Tijuana underworld.

The Sinaloa Cartel was widely believed to be the power behind Sanchez’s throne, and they will likely step in to oversee the region’s criminal networks.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profiles

As in much of the country, those networks may have answered to Sanchez but are mostly horizontally organized and largely decentralized, so are unlikely to be seriously disrupted by such a change in leadership.

The “decapitation” of criminal organizations can often lead to violence as rivals compete to fill the vacuum. However, with the Sinaloa Cartel acting as the guarantor of the local underworld, the city should avoid a bloody war of succession.

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