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Report sheds light on Guadalajara’s criminal underworld

September 6, 2012

Downtown Guadalajara, San Juan de Dios and Central Zapopan are “current or potential hotspots” for inter-gang violence, but the metropolitan area will remain in “relative calm” due to its low strategic value, according to a detailed report on the various drug gangs that operate at different levels in and around the city.

“Guadalajara Criminal Environment August 2012” is a 22-page study by Southern Pulse, an investigative organization founded in 2004 by journalist and author Samuel Logan, with a focus on security, politics, energy, and business in Latin America.

The report identifies Mexico’s two most powerful cartels, the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas, as the only “tier-one” trans-national criminal organizations operating in Guadalajara and Jalisco. Although fierce rivals, both “are content with a non-confrontational coexistence in the GMA (Guadalajara metropolitan area),” the report posits.

The Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas are respectively allied with “tier-two” regional drug-trafficking organizations, the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Milenio Cartel. These cartels often work as intermediaries, carrying out contracted work for their larger partners.

Below them in the narco food chain are a number of small “tier-three” gangs which deal in petty crimes such as theft, extortion, prostitution and street-level drug deals. Of these, the report identifies Wathside, Florencia 13 and Los Once/La Bajada Loca as the city’s three most notable gangs, operating respectively in the Libertad, Santa Cecilia and El Suaz neighborhooods.

The report suggests that the Milenio Cartel, acting at the behest of Los Zetas, was responsible for the 26 bodies dumped beside the Millennium Arches last November, as well as the 18 dismembered corpses left just off the Chapala highway in May.

The massacres were a sign of the westward expansion that has brought Los Zetas into the Sinaloa Federation’s territory. Over the past year or so, Los Zetas have been moving from Zacatecas through Jalisco and toward Colima and the port of Manzanillo, a major entry-point for narcotics.

Allying themselves with the Milenio Cartel has enabled Los Zetas to establish “a comfortable beachhead in Guadalajara, and through control of routes in the state of Jalisco, east of the city, the criminal organization has patched together a logistics strategy to operate in the state.”

The report suggests that Los Zetas are weaker than the Sinaloa Federation; and the alliance with Milenio allows the former to operate in Jalisco without being drawn into an open conflict that it would likely lose and would “most certainly draw resources from its current concerns in Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.”

Virtually all of the Sinaloa Federation’s work in Guadalajara has been carried out by the CJNG in recent years, yet shortly after the report’s publication, the Mexican military announced a split between the two, with the latter organization having been severely weakened by a string of recent arrests.

Southern Pulse investigators believe the Sinaloa Federation is open to an alliance with the Knights Templar, another tier-two organization which until now has operated primarily in Michoacan and Guanajuato. If there has been a split, the Knights Templar could soon move into Jalisco to take over the work the CJNG was doing.

The Sinaloa Federation is apparently willing to tolerate low-profile Zetas activity in Guadalajara due to the relatively low value of the plaza. While Jalisco is considered strategically important, key smuggling routes bypass Guadalajara, meaning control of the city is not overly important. For this reason, the state capital has not experienced the same level of violence as other major cities such as Monterrey and Acapulco.

Both the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas prefer to operate in smaller rural towns that form the smuggling route along Jalisco’s eastern borders. They also enjoy greater impunity in these areas where there is a weaker police and military presence than in Guadalajara.

As a result, Guadalajara enjoys relative calm, which in turn, limits the growth of tier-three and tier-two street gangs, the report notes. However, the city is by no means free of organized crime.

Tier-one and two organizations operate mostly in Tlajomulco and the areas around the Chapala highway and the Guadalajara airport, while tier-three gangs are mostly responsible for petty crime in downtown Guadalajara and high crime rates in Tonala and the Cerro de Santa Maria and Cerro del Cuatro hills of Tlaquepaque.

Most of the neighborhoods listed in the report as “current or potential hotspots” are in peripheral areas of the city far from where tourists or expat residents would venture. Yet downtown Guadalajara and San Juan de Dios also make the list, as well as Comercial Abastos, which is home to a major wholesale market.

“Although central Zapopan itself offers some of the safest areas in the GMA, the area along the Northern Periférico, including the colonias of El Vigia, Tabachines, Constitucion, and Villa de Guadalupe have seen some of the clearest confrontations between the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas,” the report states.

Even some of the more central areas of Zapopan are considered “a special case because cartel leaders and their lawyers, accountants, and other associates reside there, making it a special target for both rivals and police action.”

When Guadalajara is hit by large-scale disturbances, such as the narco-blockades in August and March, it is generally a reaction to such police action and a preventative measure against further arrests.

To download the Southern Pulse report visit

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2012 18:45

    Great article, once again! I can’t get the Southern Pulse website to let me register so that I can download the report. Do you happen to have a PDF copy?

    Clayton Szczech Experience Tequila Our Website | Facebook | Twitter 503-841-1739 (US) +52-33-3455-2612 (Mxico)

  2. September 6, 2012 18:48

    Thanks Clayton. No problem, I’ll email you the pdf!

  3. Hector Lara permalink
    October 19, 2012 09:50

    Greetings. Great article. I can not either download the pdf. Could you send me a copy, please?

  4. October 19, 2012 21:43

    Sure I’ve just sent it to you.

    • sandy permalink
      October 24, 2013 00:51

      Hi Duncan, I am searching articles over street gangs in Mexico and yours it’s very useful. I’d like to read the complet report but I can´t download it. Could you send me a copy too? Thanks

  5. Hector Lara permalink
    October 27, 2012 13:57

    Thank you very much. You are awesome!

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