Guadalajara: Cartels vie for control of the city
By Dialogo April 16, 2012
GUADALAJARA, Mexico – María Carillo Ledezma thought the explosion she heard from her downtown construction company office on the afternoon of March 9 was from the oven at a nearby restaurant.
But when she looked out her window, she saw a bus on fire.
She thought passengers were inside, so she called for an ambulance, but it was too late for Moisés Corona López, the driver who burned to death.
When she tried to approach the vehicle, a coworker stopped her.
“They heard gunshots,” the coworker yelled.
That’s when Ledezma, 37, realized she wasn’t witnessing an accident.
She was watching a ruthless gang trying to bring the Guadalajara metropolitan area to a standstill.
Fearing for their lives, Ledezma and her coworkers spent five hours hiding in the offices furthest from the street. They didn’t know what was happening – or when it would end.
Ledezma’s supervisors told them to spend the night. It was too risky to wander into the street, they warned, yet some decided to go home, while others, including Ledezma, stayed until morning.
“I told my mom I was fine, I made the sign of the cross and I was there until it was over,” she said.
The street outside Ledezma’s office was the site of one of 26 street blockades created citywide by members of the Nueva Generación cartel in response to the arrest hours earlier of the gang’s alleged leader, Erick Valencia Salazar, known as “El 85,” by Mexico’s National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA).
Jalisco authorities detained 16 suspects in connection with these narco-blockades. Four of the suspects were declared innocent and released, but proceedings against the other 12 are underway.
In total, criminals set fire to 25 vehicles in the March incident, said Emilio González Márquez, the governor of the state of Jalisco where Guadalajara is located. The blockades were aimed at “spreading panic and chaos among the civilian population.”
But what happened last month highlights a much larger problem, as there are at least six cartels vying for control of the city: Nueva Generación, Sinaloa, La Resistencia, Los Caballeros Templarios, La Familia and Los Zetas, in addition to groups connected with the notorious Beltrán Leyva brothers, said Dante Jaime Haro Reyes, a lawyer and professor at the University of Guadalajara.
The Nueva Generación’s narco-blockades were a natural reaction in response to being dealt a blow by law enforcement, Haro Reyes said, especially after the fall of Ignacio Coronel Villareal, one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, who died in 2010 during an army operation. The death of Villareal, who was in control of the cartel’s Guadalajara operations, unleashed a wave of violence by Sinaloa members.
“Removing Ignacio Coronel Villareal set off a series of internal disputes, which led to the fragmentation of these cartels, with former allies and partners, for reasons of individual interest or vendettas, launching their own operations,” Haro Reyes said. “That’s the problem: They’re starting to seek out alliances with cartels at the national level.”
Haro Reyes said it’s not enough for law enforcement to apprehend a cartel’s leader, as it often causes the criminal group to divide into smaller cells.
“It’s very important first to do away with the ringleaders, which is fine, but then you have to dismantle the entire operation,” he said.
Haro Reyes said the city’s geographic location, close to the Pacific Ocean, makes it a hotbed for criminal activity.
“It is obviously a place that will continue to be contested,” he added.
Drug addiction is one of the main causes of the recent spike in violence in the drug trade, González Márquez said.
“These criminal organizations want to stay on the offensive, which is their nature, and we have to combat them,” he told reporters. “But we also need to build a different society so these groups don’t exist. Obviously, as long as someone is taking drugs, regardless of how illegal they might be, there’s going to be someone who wants to sell them. So, together with our police work, we have to focus on the issues of social order and family order to reverse this situation.”
Five days after the blockades, Nueva Generación members used public spaces throughout the city to hang sheets filled with apologies for their actions and Corona López’s death.
Citizens against criminals
Guadalajara has returned to a semblance of normalcy following the narco-blockades. But for its 4.4 million citizens, the horror of that day has shed light on what it’s like to live under the constant threat of cartels.
“In large parts of the city, it seems that everything is fine,” said Silvia del Socorro Fernández, 29, who avoided the March 9 narco-blockades because she left work early. “But in other parts, it’s practically frozen – there’s nobody out in the streets.”
Rebeca Merino, a local citizen activist, said it’s imperative residents continue to congregate in public spaces to show they’re not living in fear.
“We have to show that we’re not afraid, even if we are, because if we take one step back and give [cartels and organized crime groups] a little bit of our city, they’ll keep taking more and more,” she said. “Guadalajara belongs to the honest people who live here, not to the criminals.”