Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

Arrest Could Be Gamechanger In Tijuana Drug Cartel War

Man who orchestrated much of the violence in Arellano Felix cartel arrested -- what does this mean for violence in Baja?
GUESTVictor Clark, Director of the Binational Center for Human Rights in Tijuana and a lecturer in the Latin American Studies Department at San Diego State University.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. An arrest made by Mexican authorities over the weekend could be a gauge-changer in the on going drug cartel war in Tijuana. Juan Francisco Sillas Rocha, a man who orchestrated much of the violence of the Arellano Felix drug cartel is in custody. Now some say, the way is cleared for another cartel to take over. And ironically, that may lead to less violence in Baja. Victor Clark is the director of the national is it center for human rights in Tijuana. And a lecturer at San Diego state university. Welcome to the show. CLARK: Thank you for the invitation. Good afternoon. CAVANAUGH: Good afternoon. Can you tell us about Sillas Rocha and what he did for the cartel? CLARK: Well, he became well known at the end of 1999 when his name was released as a sequence of a battle between the members of the cartel of Fernando Arellano, and their enemies. Is this when his name became known in the under world and among police. And he became the arm, the violent part of the cartel. He was in charge of kidnapping, killing people. And to be honest, according to an informal source that we have, or that we consult, it seemed that he doesn't seem to place an important role in aren't months as a sequence of his violent personality and drug addiction. He was so violent that it seemed that he became even a problem for his own group. CAVANAUGH: I see. CLARK: So I don't think that his arrest -- he was working also with together with his father who seems to be less violent and seems to be the one who is going to occupy the empty space left by this man. But according to our sources he doesn't seem to be that important as the media have shown, or the authorities portray him as a very important operator of the web. The group of the Fernando Sanchez Arellano CAVANAUGH: Right. I want to talk a lot bit about what's left of the Arellano Felix cartel. But first, with Sillas Rocha, he was arrested after a shooting? CLARK: He was arrested this Friday in the afternoon. He was -- he shot a couple who also were members -- well, a woman, and this was a man, who was a member of the drug trafficking activity group. And he tried to kill these men. And when he tried to kill him, there were a group of municipal police who followed his car. And then come the army and the state police. That's how he was arrested. He was arrested with three other men. And immediately, the next day, sent to Mexico City CAVANAUGH: Now, even though perhaps his own drug addiction and his own over-the-top violence had made him less attractive to the Arellano Felix cartel recently. He's described by authorities as being responsible for some of the most violent years in Tijuana's history. Would you tell us about those bad days and perhaps his -- what he is alleged to have done? CLARK: In 2009, he was responsible of the violence against another drug cartel. And in this battle it’s proving an extremely violent scenario in Tijuana. Officially, he's accused of nine murders and two kidnaps, and also of organized crime. Those are the accusations against him. And also there is an order of extradition from American authorities. So -- but surely, he killed more people. Officially, he's accused of nine homicides, and two kidnaps in our city. But he's responsible for many murders since 2009. That is the year when he became well known in the under world and among police CAVANAUGH: Now, we keep hearing about arrests being made of the key members of the afteriano Felix drug cartel. Who was in charge of that cartel right now? And how strong is it? CLARK: Well, we don't use anymore the word cartel of the Arellano brothers or Arellano brothers cartel because now they are under new generations. Fernando Sanchez Arellano is the son of one of the sisters of the Arellano brothers. The ones who founded this drug cartel in Tijuana. So now this group is under new direction. Fernando Sanchez Arellano they named the engineer. He's a young man, as far as I know. He went to a university. And this is a new generation of drug lords in our country. And in specific Tijuana, the drug cartel of the Arellano brothers, what is left now under the direction of Fernando Sanchez Arellano, and this organization with this new leadership, they have lost practically the control of the drug activity in Tijuana. And now, Tijuana is under the control of the cartel of Sinaloa. The cartel of Sinaloa began to slowly, and without noticing, arrived to Baja California probably about ten years ago, initially controlling the routes of drugs that cross from Mexicali to the U.S. and slowly they moved to Tijuana. But the characteristic of the cartel of Sinaloa is that it seems that they use violence -- only when this is a necessity, according to the one we have, and according to sources. That's why suddenly violence diminished in Tijuana as a sequence of an agreement between these two groups. The Sinaloa cartel, and the Grupo Sanchez Arellano. They came to an agreement to work -- not together, but to work the business of drugs in Tijuana, but at the end in this moment, the group of Sanchez Arellano, they are in their minimum expression. CAVANAUGH: Let me stop you from time to time, Victor, if I may. I want to let everyone know that I'm speaking with Victor Clark, director of the bi-national center for human rights in Tijuana, and a lecturer in the Latin American studies captain of San Diego state university. I just have to ask you where you're calling from? We're hearing a baby crying and lots of conversations going on. Where are you? CLARK: I'm in Tijuana, the bi-national association for human rights right here in Tijuana. And actually, I'm here in my office at this moment, with a meeting with the district police after the interview. But there is a group of them, of police at my office. And a group of leaders of the transgendered community in Tijuana, and we're defending their human rights in Tijuana CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you something. When we heard about this arrest of CS Rocha, I was wondering if anything Tijuana's new police chief, Alberta paya, had to do with this. CLARK: When this man, CS Rocha tried to kill an enemy, the security, the director of public security in Tijuana, and his burden guards,s they were coming from Mexicali, returning from Mexicali to Tijuana, and they hear in their radios about this incident, and. So they went to try the vehicle of CS Rocha, and they found him and called the military and state police who all together followed the vehicle of CS Rocha, and finally arrested him. That's how it happened, this arrest of CS Rocha. CAVANAUGH: Now, just recently, authorities in Tijuana have said drug cartels no longer control the region. Do you agree with that? CLARK: No, there are -- there are two opinions. Those among the police who say that there are no anymore drug cartels in Tijuana. There are only small groups that work as free-lance, that work for the cartel of Sinaloa or for the groupo Sanchez arrieno. But I don't share that perspective. My vision and my information tell me that there is already the Sinaloa cartel who is controlling all the activities of drugs in Tijuana. Not only drugs to the U.S. but also in Tijuana. But it is important to notice that it's not only Tijuana, it's part of the peninsula of Baja California. The whole peninsula is an isolated land that works as an actual corridor for drugs to the U.S. side. So it's not only Tijuana, it's the rest of the peninsula or part of the peninsula. And it is from my perspective the cartel of Sinaloa, the ones that are controlling drugs in other parts of our state CAVANAUGH: You say the Sinaloa cartel only uses violence when it thinks it has to. In other words, the kind of rampant violence that we have seen playing Baja California in recent years may decrease, if it's only the Sinaloa cartel in control? CLARK: Well, violence in Tijuana has decreased in the last two years as a consequence of the agreement between these two groups, the sina hoea cartel, are and the Sanchez Arellano organization. As a consequence of the agreement among them, they reduced violence to its minimum expression. We don't see or you don't hear of violence in the northern part of our city as years ago. You don't hear of scandals and murders as it happened two years ago. What happened is that violence was marginalized to the popular areas of Tijuana, to the east of Tijuana. Until yesterday, the number of people being killed as part of vendettas among the organized crime is around 400 people. And probably we are going to end in year with around 500. And that is a lot of people. But those people are a small piece of people who are selling drugs on the streets, and whose murders doesn't happen on the northern part of our city where the financial and political elite, they have the residential areas and also there are places where they go to get fun, and restaurants and movies, and theatres and all those things CAVANAUGH: Right. So what is it like living and working in Tijuana these days? CLARK: Well, as I mentioned, violence has diminished. We don't have these more scandals and violence as in the past. You don't see anymore on the streets a group of vehicles that belong to a drug cartel on the streets. You don't see those scenarios anymore. And violence is now as I explained on the streets of our city on popular neighborhoods where workers live. And -- but those of us who live on the other part, on the northern part, it's like any other cosmopolitan city in the world. And we have the part of that is more safe, and myself, I have a body guard but that's because of what happened recently. But we do our daily life normally. We have night life and bar. A lot of people returned, and young people at night, many of them stopped going to bars years ago CAVANAUGH: But Victor, you have a body guard why? CLARK: Because in we announced in the 90s, the relation of the government with the cartel of Sanchez or the Arellano brothers. But this happened in the 90s. CAVANAUGH: I see. But you still have the bodyguards. CLARK: Yes, of course. I used to have six. But now I have one. CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay. My last question to you, Victor, is this arrest -- and this sort of negotiated agreement between what's left of the Arellano drug cartel, and the Sinaloa cartel, is this having a fallout on any of the cartel wars in any other part of Mexico? CLARK: No. CAVANAUGH: No. So it's just Tijuana and Baja? CLARK: Yes. You see, because also two years ago, this violence attracted the attention of everybody. And it became an uncomfortable scenario for these groups and affected their businesses. So reducing violence to its minimum expression, they can continue with their business more openly because they don't attract the attention of all the media. And also getting information in Tijuana of what police are behind them. So they are very I would say intelligent in the sense that they follow more the route of like a businessman, reducing violence to its minimum expression. Only applying violence when there is a necessity. But also I have to say that we see two kinds of wars. The wars that we see on the streets of our city, it is those that are on the media. And the other war that is invisible for society, those who are linked to the financial and political activities. And those people are not killing themselves on the streets. . The people who are killing on the streets are the chief laborer force hired by these people. But the other ones, the politicians, and those who are linked to the financial activities, those who are laundering money, those who really enjoyed the money that comes from the drug trafficking activity, among them, there is also a kind of war. But not with guns and machine guns. It's a war in the political and financial scenario. So we have these two levels of wars. Those on the streets, those who kill themselves on the streets, the chief laborer force. CAVANAUGH: And the people who are raking in the profits. CLARK: That is the real power of those groups CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with human rights director, and lecturer Victor Clark, and Victor,in that you've been following this story for such a long time. Thank you for speaking with us today. CLARK: Maureen, thank you very much. Bye.

An arrest made by Mexican authorities over the weekend could be a gamechanger in the ongoing drug cartel war in Tijuana.

Juan Francisco Sillas Rocha, who orchestrated much of the violence of the Arellano Felix drug cartel, is in custody.

Now, some in Tijuana say the way is clear for a rival drug cartel to take over, and that may lead to less violence in Baja California.