Arrest is nail in coffin of Arellano cartel, expert says

Meanwhile, the Sinaloa cartel picking up steam

TIJUANA – The capture of the principal lieutenant of the leader of the Arellano Félix cartel could mean the end of that criminal organization and the expansion of the Sinaloa cartel, a leading specialist said.

It's a defining moment for Baja California, whose battle against drug trafficking is seen as a model across Mexico, he said.

Víctor Clark, who has studied the drug phenomenon on the border for more than two decades, said the detention over the weekend of Juan Francisco Sillas Rocha bolsters the criminal group led by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.

"It's a blow that's very important for the Sinaloa cartel ," he said of the arrest.

"They did away with an inconvenience. They practically left them to control all the drug trafficking activities in the city."

The specialist said he believes that it will be easier for the authorities to arrest the leader of the Arellanos, Fernando Sánchez Arellano, although "The Engineer," as he's known, has people who are loyal to him and protect him.

Mexico's Attorney General's Office (known as the PGR) confirmed Monday that military and civilian authorities had detained Sillas, 34, in Tijuana on Saturday after he allegedly shot two people on one of the main thoroughfares on the east side.

The unidentified victims were taken to General Hospital, where they are in grave condition, authorities said.

Shortly after being captured, Sillas was flown to the Mexico City facilities of the federal unit that investigates organized crime, known as Siedo.

He's accused of committing multiple murders on orders of Sánchez Arellano, and of waging a war against a cell led by Teodoro "El Teo" García Simental, who was protected by the Sinaloa cartel, and who was arrested in January of 2010.

That war produced the most violent years in the city's history.

The state Attorney General's Office recorded a total of 2,327 murders in the period of 2008 to 2010 in Tijuana, with some victims mutilated and displayed in public places, and more than 100 kidnappings, as well as gun battles on busy streets.

Clark, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights, said that that war between the two criminal groups is continuing this year, though at a lower level.

State authorities had recorded 405 murders in Tijuana through Oct. 19, around 80 per cent related to street-level drug dealing, by their estimation.

"Sillas's apprehension, in the circumstances that it occurred, could be the result of police investigative work, a coincidence, the result of the DEA's intelligence work or even the result of information the Sinaloa group leaked to the authorities to finally establish itself as a criminal organization in Tijuana," Clark said.

For months, authorities have pronounced publicly that drug cartels no longer control the region. Instead, they said, criminal groups working independently sell the drugs and ship them to the United States.

However, the large seizures of drugs and the discovery of a vast marijuana field in recent months show the cartels still have a strong presence in region.

Clark says it's possible that if the Sinaloa cartel absolutely controls drug sales in Tijuana and their transportation to the United States, the violence at the border will decrease.

"The Sinaloa cartel has a business-like approach; they use violence as a last resort," he added. "If no other group challenges it for control of the region, we'll get what we have now, an apparent peace."

Omar.millan@sandiegored.com

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