On Jan. 14, Cesar Lorenzo Roque Flores, the suspected leader of a Los Aztecas cell, and seven other members of the gang were captured in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. Twelve firearms and approximately 7,000 rounds of ammunition were also seized. Operating predominantly in Juarez, El Paso and Mexican prisons, Los Aztecas have been functioning as the primary street gang for the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes cartel (VCF, also known as the Juarez cartel). Like most Latin American gangs, Los Aztecas are decentralized and are composed of various independently led cells known as "cliques." However, newly acquired information from Stratfor sources has sparked a reassessment of the relationship between Los Aztecas and the VCF.
In early 2011, Stratfor learned the VCF had been maintaining the loyalty of elements of Los Aztecas via financial means alone. In other words, contrary to popular belief at the time, the longtime alliance was not based on family ties or "shared enemies." Based on that information, with the Sinaloa cartel attempting to move into Juarez, Stratfor began watching the allegiance of the Los Aztecas cliques as an indicator of the VCF's strength. If elements of Los Aztecas shifted into neutrality or as a whole built an alliance with Sinaloa, it would mean the VCF had lost the resources to buy Los Aztecas' collective loyalty.
It now appears that cliques of Los Aztecas are divided regarding their cartel loyalties, and some of them may be working for the VCF, the Sinaloa cartel or both. At present, it is not possible to determine the extent to which Los Aztecas remain loyal to the VCF, but sources have indicated that some of the violence within Juarez over the last year was caused by Los Aztecas members fighting each other on behalf of one or the other cartels.
The leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, understands the value of intelligence operations. He directed Sinaloa operators to enter Juarez around 2004 to acquire the services of informants and operatives from among Los Aztecas. Eventually Los Aztecas cliques found themselves in a war with a much larger organization. This likely triggered infighting within Los Aztecas, particularly over the last year or two, between those who had aligned with Sinaloa and those who had rejected its offers.
According to media reports, the arrest of Roque Flores, the suspected Los Aztecas clique leader, followed from anonymous tips from Juarez citizens. The information likely came from a person or group that aimed to undermine its competition, not simply a concerned citizen -- most Juarez residents would know better than to speak to the authorities about what they witness. If so, this supports the notion that either Sinaloa or an element within Los Aztecas continues to work to erode the VCF's street force. For example, it is possible that Roque Flores refused to work for Sinaloa and thus was betrayed.
The broader implication is that the VCF, which was already weak and surrounded, has been losing the support of elements of Los Aztecas gradually for some time now. The VCF's control of Juarez is limited -- according to Stratfor sources, the cartel still holds the plazas that contain the three international bridges leading into El Paso, Texas, but its influence appears to be minimal beyond that -- and the fact that Carillo has been lying low (and possibly has gone into hiding) limits his own control of the cartel. What we were expecting to take another year or two appears to have been in progress for at least the latter half of 2011, bringing the elimination of the VCF cartel significantly closer than previously expected. As Sinaloa consolidates its control over Juarez, we can anticipate seeing the levels of violence continue to drop, similar to what they have done in Tijuana since Sinaloa assumed control of that city from the Arellano Felix Organization.