Crime & Justice

Sonora becomes a battleground for Mexico’s cartels

By Daniel Sanchez

Hermosillo, Mexico, Feb 23 (EFE).- The mayhem arising from a struggle between cartels for control over drug trafficking is spreading terror among residents of Sonora, a state on Mexico’s border with the United States.

On the night of Feb. 15, gunmen with the Los Chapitos gang traveling in dozens of armor-plated SUVs rolled into the city of Caborca and remained for more than six hours, killing two people and abducting five others who were later released unharmed.

Despite the presence in the area of an army garrison and a National Guard detachment, no authorities confronted the invaders, and President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Wednesday that the five youths who were briefly taken captive have declined to give statements to police.

Until recently, Caborca, a vast municipality that extends from the coast of the Sea of Cortez to the border with Arizona, was the territory of a group led by Rodrigo Paez.

Paez is the nephew of Rafael Caro Quintero, who spent 28 years in prison for allegedly murdering an agent of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and is thought to have returned to crime since his release.

The organization challenging Paez is known as Los Chapitos because it is headed by three sons of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, now serving a life sentence in the US.

“The Caborca thing appears to have been an exhibition of the power of the power of the criminal groups that suggests two possibilities: a de facto surrender of the state and municipal authority; or a conspiracy, a permission, which authorities may have given illegally,” Juan Carlos Montero, a professor at Monterrey Tec who specializes in public safety policy, told Efe Wednesday.

Following the Feb. 15 siege, authorities in Caborca and the neighboring municipality of Pitiquito instituted a 10:00 pm curfew, but most residents choose to remain indoors after sunset.

Outside the urban core, Caborca comprises large expanses of the Sonoran desert punctuated by outcroppings of rock.

The combination of the size and topography makes the municipality difficult to monitor for both Mexican and US law enforcement, which adds to Caborca’s attractiveness for organized crime.

“It seems to me that the policy of the government of Mexico – and in this case of (Sonora) Gov. Alfonso Durazo – has been to avoid confrontation to avert massacres. That leads to a vacuum of authority,” Montero said.

During a press conference Tuesday, Durazo said that the assault on Caborca came days after the Mexican navy seized three tons of cocaine and arrested six people for allegedly trying to smuggle the drugs into the US via the Sonoran desert.

“We speculate that one of the possible routes for that shipment of drugs was the beaches of Caborca to the border with the United States,” the governor said, calling the cocaine seizure “a fundamental piece to understand many events.”

Responding to the violence, Durazo announced plans to build barracks in Caborca for 500 army troops and 100 National Guard members.

After the two deadliest years in Mexican history, homicides declined slightly in 2021 to 33,308. Sonora, with a population of around 3 million, accounted for 2,354 of those killings. EFE ds/dr

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