Elections and a criminal shakeup spark cartel violence
by PATRICK CORCORAN
A recent spike in violence in Juárez has security analysts seeking explanations for the increase and worrying about whether another cartel war can be avoided.
As previously reported by InSight Crime and other outlets, 2016 is on pace to be the deadliest year in Juarez since 2012, which marked the end of a years-long conflict between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juárez Cartel. According to Chihuahua state authorities, there were 96 murders in October alone, more than a fifth of the year’s total of 454 murders.
The total number of killings from this year has already surpassed that of the previous two years.
The increase in violence in Juarez has fed a larger spike throughout the northern state of Chihuahua. According to the National Public Security System, October was the most violent month of the year statewide. Chihuahua has already outstripped its murder total from 2015, and is also on pace to register the highest number of homicides since 2013.
2016 has also brought a return of spectacular, commando-style attacks to the border city, which lies adjacent to El Paso, Texas. The October massacre of seven people inside a hotel, which authorities later linked to a dispute between two criminal groups, called to mind many similar incidents from years past.
The most notorious case was the murder of 15 students confused for drug traffickers in January 2010, which sparked massive international outcry, but such mass murders were regular occurrences during the period.
InSight Crime analysis
There are a number of overlapping factors likely feeding the recent uptick in violence.
At the top of the list is the recent changeover in power in Chihuahua and Juárez — the ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party lost both the governorship and the mayoralty in June elections, defeated by the National Action Party at the state level and an independent candidate in Juárez.
As a result, the government-criminal relationships that have been in existence over the past six years — whether illicit collusion between the two sides or more benign patterns of interaction and mutual understanding — have been upset.
According to this theory, the recent spasms of violence are evidence of different groups jockeying for position under a new political order.
As reported by Sin Embargo, another factor stemming from the election was the fracture of the civil society that had served as a force for pacification as part of Todos Somos Juárez, the federal program implemented after the January 2010 student massacre.
Members of Juárez’s Mesa de Seguridad, a security dialogue led by business leaders and launched as part of Todos Somos Juárez, split over whether to endorse the governor-elect Javier Corral Jurado, as well as in their reaction to Juárez’s new public security secretary, Jorge González Nicolás.
Developments within the world of organized crime are also playing a role. The prior war in Juárez ended in a victory for the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, which in turn paved the way for the dramatic decline in violence. The famous capo’s arrest and expectations of his extradition has created a vacuum his rivals and heirs are eager to fill.
Similarly, Mexican officials have recently reported that Rafael Caro Quintero, the aging capo who was released after decades in prison in 2013, has moved into Juárez with an eye toward taking the city over.
While the city’s improvement remains a success, Juárez’s recent travails demonstrates the risks of achieving security through one criminal group’s hegemony.
If the basic underlying factors remain unchanged — U.S. demand for drugs supplied by Mexico, the city’s proximity to the border, and the poor quality of the public security institutions — then there is nothing to prevent a renewed wave of violence once the criminal hegemon weakens, which is an inevitable outcome in the fluid world of organized crime.
In other words, if Juárez’s peace depended entirely on Guzmán’s dominance of the national drug trade, its durability was always going to be in question.
The Mesa de Seguridad was an innovative and effective way to secure civil society’s participation in the city’s well-being, and the local police appears to have improved its performance in a number of aspects, but it is not clear that Juárez officials did enough to build institutions permanently capable of reducing the impact of a renewed war for the city.
While the latest stretch is worrying and points to the possibility of a sustained increase in violence, a total return to Juárez’s bloodshed of 2010 is highly unlikely. This is not the first time violence has ticked up in Juárez after the war, and in the past it is has subsequently subsided.
Moreover, extended battles of attrition between two major organizations are relatively rare in Mexico.