Ciudad Juarez, a major drug transshipment point just across the border from El Paso, Texas, is headed for another clash between cartels, a cartel enforcer told El Universal in a late-October interview.
Violence in Ciudad Juarez, and around the state of Chihuahua, has been rising steadily over the past few months, a trend that has been attributed in part to rival groups capitalizing on the perceived weakness of the Sinaloa cartel.
While cartel-related violence in Ciudad Juarez has eased — falling from nearly 1,500 homicides in 2011 to 269 in 2015, according to government statistics — it has never disappeared.
“What happened was they killed each other,” Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, a representative of the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission during the peak of the cartel fighting, told El Universal.
“So many people died … that part of the reduced violence was because of the extinction of [the cartels’] members, and who survived fled,” he went on.
According to Jorge, a mid-level boss within La Línea, the enforcement wing of the Juarez cartel (from which the Sinaloa cartel wrenched control of Ciudad Juarez between 2008 and 2012), drug-related violence has never left Ciudad Juarez.
“It is a lie that Juárez changed,” Jorge told El Universal.
“Absolutely nothing has changed, just the order was that we be more discreet, that we don’t shoot at people in the street, [because of that] there is a s—load of clandestine cemeteries,” he said. “Now one must burn them, bury them or throw them in the sewers.”
Jorge leads a cell of La Línea. He acts as a connection between the Juarez cartel and Barrio Azteca, a gang that started in Texas prisons in the late ’80s but has since spread to Chihuahua and has operated closely with the Juarez cartel since about 2000.
Jorge is in charge of recruitment — of people to carry drugs across the border, to sell drugs in the US, to buy cars to carry the drugs, and to supervise the arrival and distribution of drugs in the US. He’s also in charge of recruiting US Customs and Border Patrol agents and arranging the killings of adversaries and insubordinate members.
In Jorge’s telling, the rising violence and fighting to come is over who will dictate what kind of narcotics flow through Ciudad Juarez.
“The war is because [the Sinaloa cartel] wants [to sell] the crystal and we aren’t going to leave, there are orders to do whatever in order to not permit any of that,” he told El Universal.
The Sinaloa cartel is believed to be one of two major players in the crystal-meth and synthetic-drug market, shifting toward those products in response to changing habits among US drug consumers.
Sinaloa state, where the Sinaloa cartel is based, has seen a marked increase in the number of synthetic-drug labs shut down by authorities.
Jorge’s organization’s resistance to the growth of the crystal-meth trade appears to be a business issue more than anything else.
“The people that use the crystal only last three years and they die, we are killing people and that money is going to us, because that which they spend on crystal they can use on heroin,” he told El Universal.
Local officials have confirmed the link between meth and recent bloodshed in Chihuahua.
“Now the traffic and sale of [crystal meth] is what provokes the executions,” Jorge González Nicolás, Chihuahua state attorney general Jorge González Nicolás told a press conference in September, according to El Universal. “But [the killings] are between people who distribute this drug … this clash is not yet over.”
The fighting in and around Ciudad Juarez has also been attributed to the changing dynamics of Mexico’s narco underworld, specifically the apparent decline of the Sinaloa cartel in the wake of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s recapture this January and looming extradition.
Coupled with that, as noted by Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope, has been the resurgence of the Juarez cartel, which has reorganized and sought to expand its territory in recent months. Moreover, law enforcement in the area remains challenged and has not followed through with all of the reforms that were begun during the height of the earlier cartel violence.
According to Jorge, the fight over drug trafficking in Ciudad Juarez will not slack.
The killing up to now “is nothing,” he told El Universal.
“We have to finish them off from the root, have to kill them and let them know, send them a message,” he added, “because we don’t intend to leave any” Sinaloans operating in Ciudad Juarez.