California’s Attorney General has released a new report, “Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Crime.” As the title suggests, the report discusses links between Californian criminal groups and criminal organizations from countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and, as we will discuss here, in Mexico.But the spillover of violence from the cartels might be as close as your back yard, as far as the report can tell.
It is common knowledge that Mexican criminal groups such as the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, which recently suffered thecapture of its leader “El Chapo,”have ties with criminals in the U.S. and throughout Latin America. Nevertheless, “Gangs Beyond Borders“does a great job of explaining how these unholy relations are currently morphing, which makes it even more difficult for security agencies to crack down on criminal entities in California.
The Morphing Relationship of Cartels and Gangs
The Sinaloa cartel has a significant presence in California, as it is responsible for the vast majority of “drug, weapons, and human trafficking across the California-Mexico border,” as the aforementioned study highlights. The report also addresses relations between Sinaloa and California gangs, such as the Hispanic Sureño street gang. By using the Sureños as proxies, Sinaloa has increased its presence into Northern California, particularly in San Jose, but also in areas such as Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Monterey and Kern.
It is important to note that Sinaloa is not the only, or first, Mexican cartel with a presence in California.Gangs Beyond Bordersexplains that La Familia Michoacana (LFM) used to have a strong presence as well, particularly regarding methamphetamine production in the state’s Central Valley. However, the LFM has lost much of its strength since the 2010 death of its leader, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, and the 2011 capture ofJose de Jesus “El Chango” Melendez,the cartel’s second in command.
How the presence of Mexican cartels has impacted, and will impact, crime rates in the near future in California is an obvious concern of the Attorney General’s report. In other words, how bad will the spillover effect of cartel violence in Mexico be for California?
The Californian Attorney General’s report hypothesizes that “this ever-increasing zone of influence has caused friction with existing regional gangs [in California] that had previously controlled trafficking routes, resulting in threats of violence, homicides, kidnappings, and extortion.”
There is another type of spillover effect: Mexican criminals are creating their own gangs in the U.S. One prime example is Jorge Rojas, who fled from Mexico to California where he founded Los Palillos (“The Toothpicks”) gang. Rojas has vast experience regarding criminal groups, as he is the brother of the late Victor Rojas, the leader of the also defunct Arellano-Felix Organization, another Mexican cartel.
Rojas and one of his lieutenants, Juan Francisco Estrada Gonzalez, wereconvicted this past Januaryon numerous accounts of murder and kidnapping in San Diego. Nevertheless, in March the jury announced that it was unable to decide whether both criminals deserved the death penalty.
While it is logical to fear a spillover of Mexican violence into California, it is important to note that there are differing views whether this could actually occur.
In contrast toGangs Beyond Bordersis a February 2013 study by theGovernment Accountability Officewhich argued that data shows that the average rate for both violent and property crimes had dropped in the Southwest border states. The renowned InSight Crime news website argues that this data means that the spillover fear is unfounded.
Criminals say Presente!
Spillover violence by Mexican cartels has affected other parts of the hemisphere, however. For example, a horrific massacre took place in May 2011: 27 people were executedin a cattle ranch in northern Guatemala, close to the border with Mexico. The Zetas cartel has been blamed for carrying out this attack.
Moreover, it is worth noting that other criminal networks across the hemisphere are increasing their ties with different international syndicates, not just from Mexico. For example, in 2013 Domenico Trimboli a high-profile leader of the ‘Ndrangheta (an Italian mafia-type criminal group in Calabria) was arrested in Colombia. The ‘Ndrangheta exports cocaine from Colombia to Europe.
Colombian cocaine also finds its way toGuinea Bissau, a nation in West Africa, which is widely considered one of the world’s foremost narco-states. From there the drugs are smuggled into Europe.
It is ironic that while governments and security agencies often have problems promoting cooperation amongst each other due to differences regarding political ideologies or jurisdictional concerns, cooperation between criminal entities tends to be flourishing.
The reportGangs Beyond Bordersserves as a powerful reminder of the growing and morphing inter-connectivity between Mexican cartels and Californian gangs. The report even explains relations between LFM and non-Hispanic gangs, such as the Aryan Brotherhood. In other words, the power of money can blur ethnic and cultural differences.
Finally, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto met withJeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Securitythis past March 20 in Mexico City. The Mexican media has reported that the two discussed economic agreements between both Washington and Mexico City and development of border communities. Hopefully, the security situation across the Mexico-California border was discussed in detail since, as the new report by California’s Attorney Generalexplains, this border area needs more attention by both governments.