Tijuana Drug Cartel is now in the Philippines (Filipinas)
Founding location Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico
Years active 1989–present
Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sinaloa, Jalisco.
California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington
Criminal activities Drug trafficking, money laundering, People smuggling, murder, arms trafficking, bribery
Allies Los Zetas, Juárez Cartel,Oaxaca Cartel
Rivals Sinaloa Cartel, Gulf Cartel
The Tijuana Cartel (Spanish: Cártel de Tijuana or Arellano-Félix Organization or Cártel Arellano Félix – CAF) is a Mexican drug cartel based in Tijuana. The cartel was described as “one of the biggest and most violent criminal groups in Mexico”.The Tijuana Cartel was featured battling the rival Juárez Cartel in the 2000 motion picture Traffic.
Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, the founder of the Guadalajara Cartel was arrested in 1989. While incarcerated, he remained one of Mexico’s major traffickers, maintaining his organization via mobile phone until he was transferred to a new maximum security prison in the 1990s. At that point, his old organization broke up into two factions: the Tijuana Cartel led by his nephews, the Arellano Félix brothers, and the Sinaloa Cartel, run by former lieutenants Héctor Luis Palma Salazar and Joaquín Guzmán Loera, a.k.a. El Chapo.
Currently, the majority of Mexico’s smuggling routes are controlled by three key cartels: Gulf, Sinaloa and Tijuana —though Tijuana is the least powerful. The Tijuana cartel was further weakened in August 2006 when its chief, Javier Arellano Félix, was arrested by the U.S. Coast Guard on a boat off the coast of Baja California. Mexican army troops also were sent to Tijuana in January 2007 in an operation to restore order to the border city and root out corrupt police officers, who mostly were cooperating with the Tijuana cartel. As a result of these efforts, the Tijuana cartel is unable to project much power outside of its base in Tijuana.Much of the violence that emerged in 2008 in Tijuana was a result of conflicts within the Tijuana cartel; on one side, the faction led by Teodoro García Simental (a.k.a. El Teo) favored kidnappings. The other faction, led by Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano (a.k.a. El Ingeniero), focused primarily on drug trafficking. The faction led by Sánchez Arellano demanded the reduction of the kidnappings in Tijuana, but his demands were rejected by García Simental, resulting in high levels of violence. Nonetheless, most of the victims in Tijuana were white-collar entrepreneurs, and the kidnappings were bringing “too much heat on organized crime” and disrupting the criminal enterprises and interests of the cartel. The Mexican federal government responded by implementing “Operation Tijuana,” a coordination carried out between the Mexican military and the municipal police forces in the area. To put down the violence, InSight Crime states that a pact was probably created between military officials and members of the Sánchez Arellano faction to eliminate Simental’s group.The U.S. authorities speculated through WikiLeaks in 2009 that Tijuana’s former police boss, Julián Leyzaola, had made agreements with Sánchez Arellano to bring relative peace in Tijuana.With the arrest of El Teo in January 2010, much of his faction was eliminated from the city of Tijuana; some of its remains went off and joined with the Sinaloa Cartel. But much of the efforts done between 2008 and 2010 in Tijuana would not have been possible without the coordination of local police forces and the Mexican military – and possibly with a cartel truce – to put down the violence.
The relative peace in the city of Tijuana in 2010–2012 has raised speculations of a possible agreement between the Tijuana Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel to maintain peace in the area. According to Mexican and U.S. authorities, most of Tijuana is under the dominance of the Sinaloa cartel, while Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano of the Tijuana cartel remains the “head of that puppet empire.” To be exact, experts told InSight Crime that the peace exists because Joaquín Guzmán Loera wants it that way, and argued that his organization—the Sinaloa Cartel—has spread too thin with its wars with Los Zetas and the Juárez Cartel that opening a third war would be inconvenient. The Tijuana cartel, however, has something their rivals do not have: a long-time family with business and political connections throughout the city. InSight Crime believes that this could explain why the Sinaloa cartel has left Sánchez Arellano as the figurehead, since it might be too costly for El Chapo financially and politically to make a final push. Moreover, the Tijuana cartel charges a toll (“piso”) on the Sinaloa cartel for trafficking drugs in their territory, which serves as an illustration of the Tijuana cartel’s continued hegemony as a local group. Despite the series of high-ranking arrests the cartel suffered throughout 2011–2012, its ability to maintain a highly centralized criminal infrastructure shows how difficult it is to uproot mafias who have long-established their presence in a community.