The Tijuana Cartel (Spanish: Cártel de Tijuana) or Arellano-Félix Organization (Spanish: Cártel Arellano Félix - CAF) is a Mexican drug cartel based in Tijuana. The cartel once was described as "one of the biggest and most violent criminal groups in Mexico."[4] However, since the 2006 Sinaloa Cartel incursion in Baja California and the fall of the Arellano-Félix brothers, the Tijuana Cartel had been reduced to a few cells. In 2016, the organization has become known as Cartel Tijuana Nueva Generación (New Generation Tijuana Cartel) and has begun to aligin itself under the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, along with Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) to create an anti-Sinaloa alliance, in which the Jalisco New Generation Cartel heads, creating a possible powershift in Mexico. [5]


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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[8] 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.[10] 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.[8]

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.[11] 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."[11] 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.[11] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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 cartels who have long-established their presence in a community.[12]


The Arellano Félix family was initially composed of seven brothers and four sisters, who inherited the organization from Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo upon his incarceration in Mexico in 1989 for his complicity in the murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique Camarena. The brothers' death and arrests during the 2000s did impact the Arellano Felix cartel, however they did not dismantle the organization. Today the group is led by the Arellano's nephew, Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano.[13][14]

The Tijuana Cartel has infiltrated the Mexican law enforcement and judicial systems and is directly involved in street-level trafficking within the United States. This criminal organization is responsible for the transportation, importation, and distribution of multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana, as well as large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine.[15]

The organization has a reputation for extreme violence. Ramón Arellano Félix ordered a hit which resulted in the mass murder of 18 people in Ensenada, Baja California, on September 17, 1998. Ramón was eventually killed in a gun battle with police at Mazatlán Sinaloa, on February 10, 2002.

The Arellano Félix family has seven brothers:

They also have four sisters, of which Alicia and Enedina are most active in the cartel's affairs.

Eduardo Arellano Félix was captured by the Mexican Army after a shootout in Tijuana, Baja California, on October 26, 2008;[13] he had been the last of the Arellano Félix brothers at large. Enedina's son, Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano, took over the cartel's operations.[19] His two top lieutenants were Armando Villareal Heredia[20] and Edgardo Leyva Escandon.[21] Fernando Sanchez Arellano was arrested by Mexican police in June 2014[22] Leyva remains at large and Villareal was captured in July 2011.[23]

On November 5, 2011, Mexican troops arrested cartel lieutenant Francisco Sillas Rocha,[24] who was reported to the cartel's number two leader,[24] and some of his close associates.[24] Experts argued that Rocha's arrest put the Tijuana Cartel "on the ropes,"[25] though some differed on whether or not the arrest put "the final nail in the coffin" for the Tijuana Cartel.[25]


The Tijuana cartel is present in at least 15 Mexican states with important areas of operation in Tijuana, Mexicali, Tecate, and Ensenada in Baja California, in parts of Sinaloa[26] and Zacatecas. After the death in 1997 of the Juárez Cartel's Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the Tijuana Cartel attempted to gain a foothold in Sonora.[4] The Oaxaca Cartel reportedly joined forces with the Tijuana Cartel in 2003.

Fourteen Mexican drug gang members were killed and eight others were injured in a gun battle in Tijuana near the U.S. border on Saturday, April 26, 2008 that was one of the bloodiest shootouts in the narco-war between the Tijuana Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel. On December 1, 2011, William R. Sherman, acting special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's office in San Diego, announced that the cartel had been annihilated and the Sinaloa Cartel now controlled a large number of the drug routes the Tijuana Cartel once had.[27] On December 12, 2011, Tijuana Police Chief Alberto Capella Ibarra also announced that captured cartel lieutenant Francisco Sillas Rocha had confessed that the Tijuana Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel had formed a truce and that the Tijuana Cartel was seeking to merge with the Sinaloa Cartel[28] After Benjamin Arellano-Felix pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy to launder money on January 4, 2012, it was accepted that the Tijuana Cartel had greatly lost influence.[17] It was also reported that the cartel had lost their former Tijuana hotbed to the Sinaloa Cartel.[17] The clan of the Arellano Felix continues, although diminished after the capture of their leaders.

Captures and trial

In October 1997, a retired U.S. Air Force C-130A that was sold to the airline Aeropostal Cargo de México was seized by Mexican federal officials, who alleged that the aircraft had been used to haul drugs for the cartel up from Central and South America, as well as around the Mexican interior. Investigators had linked the airline's owner, Jesús Villegas Covallos, to Ramón Arellano Félix.[4]

On August 14, 2006, Francisco Javier Arellano Félix was apprehended by the United States Coast Guard off the coast of Baja California Sur. On November 5, 2007, Francisco was sentenced to life in prison, at ADX Florence, after pleading guilty in September 2007 to running a criminal enterprise and laundering money.[29][30]

Benjamin Arellano Felix, who was arrested on March 9, 2002 by the Mexican Army in the state of Puebla, Mexico,[31] was extradited to the United States in April 29, 2011 to face charges of trafficking cocaine into California.[32] He later pleaded guilty to racketeering and conspiracy to launder money, and was sentenced to 25 years in jail on April 2, 2012.[33] Once that is served, he will be sent back to Mexico to finish another 22 years for a conviction there.[34]

On August 31, 2012, Eduardo Arellano Felix was extradited to the United States to face trial for racketeering, money laundering and narcotics trafficking charges in the Southern District of California.[35] He pleaded guilty to money laundering and is serving 15 years.

Los Palillos

Los Palillos ("The Toothpicks") was a group operating within Tijuana Cartel, who worked as the armed wing of the Tijuana Cartel in the United States, for the control of the criminal activities in the United States specially California and Nevada.[36][37]

They were a criminal organization that operatated from San Diego to Los Angeles and other California and Nevada cities. To avoid constant confrontations with the police and police interest reducing his wealth Ramon Arellano Felix began bribing almost any official possible.[citation needed] Ramon received money from members of the criminal group and local criminals to "kick up" money from their illegal activities such as kidnapping and contract killing take the half of the money and give it to the Tijuana Cartel to launderning it. That was way the Arellano Felix brothers operation include other clans in Tijuana and Los Angeles.[37][38]

Presence in Colombia

The Tijuana Cartel is believed to have ties with the FARC a Colombia guerrilla group that also has ties with some other Mexican drug Cartels. In 1990's, the Tijuana Cartel concluded that expanding their market opportunities in Colombia, in exchange drug for weapons. Then in the 2000s they formed an alliance with the Cali Cartel and Norte del Valle Cartel to have new allies for the cocaine business.[39]

Current status and new generation

The Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano new generation organization of the cartel is believed to be one of the newest leaders in it to begin shipping cocaine from Colombia, particularly from Los Rastrojos and Other Colombian dealers. The cartel was involved in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana in Baja California area. Operating out in Tijuana, the cartel is now believed to make other activities such as Kidnapping, People smuggling and Bribery from a network of cells of local members. The Tijuana border region where the drugs are stored prior to shipment. The Tijuana Cartel has lost power but is growing more alliances in foreign countries.[37][40] The current leader of the New Tijuana Cartel is Alberto "El Piloto" Arellano, the son of Ramon Arellano Felix

In popular culture

There are several Mexican-folk (norteño) ballads (narco-corridos) that narrates the Tijuana cartel exploits.

A fictional "Tijuana cartel" headed by a character named Obregon was featured battling a fictional "Juarez cartel" in the 2000 motion picture Traffic.

Portrayed as the Avendanos brothers in Univisions Netflix series "El Chapo."

See also


  1. ^ Martínez, Julieta (6 January 2012). "El cártel de los Arellano Félix continúa: PGJE". El Universal. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  2. ^ McCAUL, MICHAEL T. "Athe Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border" (PDF). HOUSE COMMITTEE ON HOMELAND SECURITY. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 September 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  3. ^ ROEBUCK, JEREMY (March 9, 2010). "Violence the result of fractured arrangement between Zetas and Gulf Cartel, authorities say". The Brownsville Herald. Retrieved 2010-03-12. 
  4. ^ a b c Steller, Tim (15 April 1998). "Mexican drug runners may have used C-130 from Arizona". The Arizona Daily Star. Archived at California State University Northridge. Archived from the original on 2008-01-03. Retrieved 2007-09-26. 
  5. ^ "Expert Says Weakened Sinaloa Cartel Under Attack by Rivals". 10 October 2016. 
  6. ^ Longmire 2011, p. 144.
  7. ^ Burton, Fred (May 2, 2007). "Mexico: The Price of Peace in the Cartel Wars". The Stratfor Global Intelligence. Retrieved 2009-08-16. 
  8. ^ a b c d Nathan, Jones (24 May 2012). "Tijuana's New Calm Shows Benefits of Local Policing in Mexico". InSight Crime. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  9. ^ Marosi, Richard (3 May 2008). "Diagnosis: irony". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  10. ^ Petrich, Blanche (16 March 2011). "Leyzaola pactó con los rivales de El Teo". La Jornada (in Spanish). Retrieved 26 May 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c d Dudley, Steven (3 May 2011). "Who Controls Tijuana?". InSight Crime. Retrieved 24 April 2012. 
  12. ^ a b Jones, Nathan (20 June 2012). "Tijuana Cartel Survives, Despite Decade-Long Onslaught". InSight Crime. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  13. ^ a b "Mexico seizes top drugs suspect". BBC News. October 26, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  14. ^ Luis Ramirez Vazquez Archived 2010-02-06 at the Wayback Machine.
  15. ^ "History of DEA Operations - DEA History" (PDF). U.S. DEA. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-08-23. 
  16. ^ Alzaga, Ignacio (18 October 2013). "Asesinan a Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix en Los Cabos". Milenio (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 20 October 2013. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  17. ^ a b c Childress, Sarah (January 7, 2012). "Which cartel is king in Mexico?". Global Post. Tucson Sentinel. Retrieved 2012-02-11. 
  18. ^ "The Business - Arellano-Felix Cartel - Drug Wars - FRONTLINE - PBS". www.pbs.org. 
  19. ^ "Mexican Drug Cartels: Government Progress and Growing Violence". STRATFOR Global Intelligence. December 11, 2008. Archived from the original on January 20, 2012. Retrieved 2009-08-25. 
  20. ^ Marosi, Rich (July 23, 2010). "U.S. charges top leaders of Tijuana-based drug cartel". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-09-17. 
  21. ^ Longmire, Sylvia (2010). "DTO 101: The Arellano Felix Organization". Border Violence Analysis. Retrieved 2010-09-06. 
  22. ^ Mexican drug cartel boss Luis Fernando Sanchez Arellano nabbed - CBC, 24 June 2014
  23. ^ "Mexico captures US-born Tijuana drug lieutenant (July 11, 2011)". 
  24. ^ a b c EFE (November 7, 2011). "Mexican troops arrest Tijuana drug cartel boss". Fox News Latino. Retrieved 2011-11-10. 
  25. ^ a b Jones, Nathan; Cooper, Stacey (November 16, 2011). "Tijuana's Uneasy Peace May Endure Despite Arrests". InSight Crime. Retrieved 2011-12-18. 
  26. ^ Cook, Colleen W., ed. (October 16, 2007). "Mexico's Drug Cartels (CRs Report for Congress)" (PDF). Congressional Research Service: 4. 
  27. ^ Marosi, Rich (December 1, 2011). "Latest drug tunnel, pot seizures may reflect rise of Sinaloa cartel". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-12-13. 
  28. ^ Jones, Nathan. "Captured Tijuana Cartel Boss Confirms Sinaloa Truce". Insight Crime. Retrieved December 13, 2011. 
  29. ^ "Mexican drug lord gets life in prison". Archived from the original on January 23, 2008. 
  30. ^ "Mexican Drug Lord Gets Life In Prison - CBS News". CBS News. 
  31. ^ "DEA CONFIRMS CAPTURE OF BENJAMIN ARELLANO-FELIX". U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. March 9, 2002. Retrieved 2012-09-14. 
  32. ^ Fieser, Ezra (4 May 2011). "Mexico home to record 1,400 drug-related deaths in April". Infosur Hoy. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-14. 
  33. ^ Gilani, Nadia (5 January 2012). "Mexican drug lord who smuggled tons of cocaine into the U.S. and dissolved enemies in vats of caustic soda gets 25 years in jail in plea bargain". Mail Online. London. Retrieved 2012-09-14. 
  34. ^ "Which cartel is king in Mexico?". 
  35. ^ "Eduardo Arellano-Felix Extradited from Mexico to the United States to Face Charges". www.justice.gov. 
  36. ^ Webster, Michael (May 23, 2008). "Mexican officials warn Americans to stay away". Los Angeles Independent Media Center. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  37. ^ a b c CORCHADO, ALFREDO (March 13, 2004). "Sources: U.S. informant oversaw killings". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  38. ^ Conroy, Bill (December 6, 2008). "Juarez murders shine light on an emerging 'Cartel in California'". NarcoSphere. Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  39. ^ "Sources: La Historia de Los Arellano Felix". Reprotajes Especiales. March 2002. Archived from the original on 2013-01-30. 
  40. ^ "Tijuana new Generation of Cartel 'New Tijuana Cartel'". NarcoSphere. December 6, 2008. 


Further reading