Californias Attorney General has released a new report, Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Crime. As the title suggests, the report discusses links between Californian criminal groups and criminal organizations from countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and, as we will discuss here, in Mexico.But the spillover of violence from the cartels might be as close as your back yard, as far as the report can tell.
It is common knowledge that Mexican criminal groups such as the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, which recently suffered the capture of its leader El Chapo, have ties with criminals in the U.S. and throughout Latin America. Nevertheless, “Gangs Beyond Borders“ does a great job of explaining how these unholy relations are currently morphing, which makes it even more difficult for security agencies to crack down on criminal entities in California.
The Morphing Relationship of Cartels and Gangs
The Sinaloa cartel has a significant presence in California, as it is responsible for the vast majority of drug, weapons, and human trafficking across the California-Mexico border, as the aforementioned study highlights. The report also addresses relations between Sinaloa and California gangs, such as the Hispanic Sureño street gang. By using the Sureños as proxies, Sinaloa has increased its presence into Northern California, particularly in San Jose, but also in areas such as Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, Monterey and Kern.
It is important to note that Sinaloa is not the only, or first, Mexican cartel with a presence in California. Gangs Beyond Borders explains that La Familia Michoacana (LFM) used to have a strong presence as well, particularly regarding methamphetamine production in the states Central Valley. However, the LFM has lost much of its strength since the 2010 death of its leader, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, and the 2011 capture of Jose de Jesus El Chango Melendez, the cartels second in command.
How the presence of Mexican cartels has impacted, and will impact, crime rates in the near future in California is an obvious concern of the Attorney Generals report. In other words, how bad will the spillover effect of cartel violence in Mexico be for California?
The Californian Attorney Generals report hypothesizes that this ever-increasing zone of influence has caused friction with existing regional gangs [in California] that had previously controlled trafficking routes, resulting in threats of violence, homicides, kidnappings, and extortion.
There is another type of spillover effect: Mexican criminals are creating their own gangs in the U.S. One prime example is Jorge Rojas, who fled from Mexico to California where he founded Los Palillos (The Toothpicks) gang. Rojas has vast experience regarding criminal groups, as he is the brother of the late Victor Rojas, the leader of the also defunct Arellano-Felix Organization, another Mexican cartel.
Rojas and one of his lieutenants, Juan Francisco Estrada Gonzalez, were convicted this past January on numerous accounts of murder and kidnapping in San Diego. Nevertheless, in March the jury announced that it was unable to decide whether both criminals deserved the death penalty.
While it is logical to fear a spillover of Mexican violence into California, it is important to note that there are differing views whether this could actually occur.
In contrast to Gangs Beyond Borders is a February 2013 study by the Government Accountability Office which argued that data shows that the average rate for both violent and property crimes had dropped in the Southwest border states. The renowned InSight Crime news website argues that this data means that the spillover fear is unfounded.