Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano is dead, according to the Mexican Navy. If true, his death will precipitate a rise in criminal action across the country as Los Zetas rights itself from this crippling event. Cities such as Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Zacatecas, and perhaps even Guadalajara will all feel the fallout of one man’s removal from the Mexican criminal system. But Ciudad Juárez, once the most violent city in Mexico, will remain calm.
The infamous border town has gone through an emotional chain of events, dictated by the war for Juárez fought by the Sinaloa Federation and the Juárez Cartel. After a peak in October 2010, murders steadily began to drop. Currently, the murder rate remains at a relatively manageable level, compared to other Mexican cities, such as Acapulco, which continue to suffer abnormal levels of violence. We agree with our colleagues who conclude that the drop in murder is more due to the Sinaloa Federation’s victory over the plaza than the Mexican government’s strategy to quell the city’s criminal masses.
As we studied and then discussed in our Juárez Criminal Environment report, we observed that the decrescendo nature of the murder drop in Ciudad Juárez perfectly fit our definition of criminal inertia; we believe that the signature of a non-aggression pact between tier-one criminal organizations – likely in the Spring of 2010 – was not enough. It took months for the lower-order criminals, such as Los Mexicles at the tier-two level, and the Barrio 22 at the tier-three level, to finalize accommodations after months of warring over retail drug sales turf and run and gun work as contractors for either the Sinaloa Federation or the Juárez Cartel.
In October 2012, Ciudad Juárez has entered a new chapter. The hard-nosed top cop Julián Leyzaola reigns over the city’s police forces; social programs such as Todos Somos Juárez have demonstrated traction and promise; and, as perhaps the best indication of a peaceful future, one tier-one organization controls the city. The future of Ciudad Juárez under the Sinaloa Federation will likely be one of relative peace, punctuated by limited peaks of violence as Mexico’s second-to-last standing tier-one organization fights off would be aggressors as it establishes monopoly on new ground.
Former Juárez Cartel enforcers, La Linea, or maybe Los Aztecas, could try to make a run at El Chapo’s men in the border town, but we doubt that Los Zetas will push for an offensive. If anything, the organization’s leader, Miguel Treviño, will hunker down in Nuevo Laredo even as El Chapo’s men bear down on him from Ciudad Juárez in the north, just as they did in August 2005. The future of Los Zetas as a tier-one organization is at stake, but with the successful “sacking” of Ciudad Juárez, the Sinaloa Federation deepens its dominance in the Mexican criminal system, a posture that ironically presents Ciudad Juárez as a safe haven even as formerly safe cities of Mexico are threatened to burn.
Below is a summary of our key findings for the Ciudad Juárez Criminal Environment Report:
- Juarez presents a case study of “criminal inertia,” whereby larger criminal organizations initiate high-speed cycles of violence that, over time, diminish once tier-one organizations reach a resolution, and tier-two and tier-three organizations realize accommodation under the new environment at the city and neighborhood level.
- The Sinaloa Federation has unseated the Juárez Cartel as the dominant criminal organization in Ciudad Juárez (CJ).
- The Juárez Cartel has weakened to the point that it is no longer a transnational criminal organization but rather a second tier regional trafficking organization.
- With an average of ten murders a day in mid-2010, CJ reached a high-water mark that is unlikely to return, though we do not expect violent crime to fall below the 2007 rate of 301 murders a year.
- Tier-two gangs are weary and diminished in strength and number. The Sinaloa Federation will focus its energy and money on the business of trafficking, including narcotics production, transportation, money laundering and corruption of local authorities to cement its ongoing operational capacity in Chihuahua.