Narco War in Chiapas

Chiapas is living through a war between criminal groups for control of drug trafficking, migrants and coca plantations on the border with Guatemala. The dispute will play a crucial role in the election of the new governor.

The first time that the existence of the drug trafficker “Güero Pulseras”, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel in Chiapas (a state located on the border between Mexico and Guatemala) was publicly mentioned, was exactly a year ago in this DW column.

I learned of his existence thanks to the timely citizen complaints filed with the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) and letters addressed to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a copy of which was sent to me and whose content I revealed in this column. They denounced the operations of “Güero Pulseras” in Frontera Comalapa under the orders of Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo”, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel (CS).

The criminal activities of the powerful organization, according to these complaints, have the protection of the Chiapas government headed by the MORENA member Rutilio Escandón, members of the Army and National Guard.

A year ago in those lettters it was warned that if the AMLO government and the FGR did not intervene to stop the CS in Chiapas, a war would break out.

Since that revelation until now, several media outlets in Mexico have paid attention to the operations of this criminal group on the southern border. That brewing war has broken out.

The population, with 75.5 percent living in poverty according to the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy (CONEVAL), is trapped in a war between various criminal organizations and the Sinaloa Cartel, without the government of AMLO nor Escandón taking forceful measures.

Its negligence is dangerous. Chiapas is one of the nine states where in 2024 there will be elections to elect the new governor, and there is no doubt that the dispute between criminal groups will affect the elections.

Who is Güero Pulseras?

Through an investigation supported by official documentation, the person nicknamed “Güero Pulseras” is identified as Jesús Esteban Machado Meza, originally from Culiacán, Sinaloa, born on November 20th, 1983.

One of his places of residence has been the La Convencion de Aguascalientes neighborhood, in Navolato, Sinaloa, and in the municipality of Costa Rica, Sinaloa, which is part of the domain of “El Mayo” Zambada.

For several decades, Chiapas has been a strategic area for the CS due to its proximity to Guatemala. It is one of the main trafficking points for cocaine from Central and South America and immigrants. It is also an important hydrocarbon theft point.

For years, the most visible head of the CS in the state was Gilberto Rivera Amarillas, alias “Tío Gil”, arrested in Guatemala in 2016 and extradited in 2017 to the United States at the request of the Eastern District Court in Columbia.

According to the criminal accusation against him, drug trafficking operations were carried out thanks to a well-oiled corruption machinery that involved authorities at all levels in Chiapas.

According to more detailed reports to which I have had access, “Tío Gil” had allegedly been invited to the state by Raciel López Salazar, who had worked for the Attorney General’s Office for many years, and to whom as subdelegate in Baja California he was related with the Arellano Félix cartel. Despite his dubious public record, he was appointed Attorney General of the state by Governor Juan Sabines Guerrero (2006-2012), coming from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).

During the “Tío Gil” era as a delegate of the Sinaloa Cartel he controlled the strip of Ocosingo, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Comitán and Frontera Comalapa, where he established a ‘little army’ to guard the border with Guatemala.

According to the reconstruction of events based on direct sources, there he would have had the support of the former municipal president of Comitán, the member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Eduardo Ramírez, now a senator of the republic and candidate for the governorship. And a chief named Jesús Alejo Orantes Ruiz, known as a sugarcane producer with a lot of political influence in the region, who was several times an independent candidate for the state governorship.

During several governments, his nephews Jordan Orantes Alegría and Francisco Javier Orantes Abadía have held key positions in the state. The first has long held the position of deputy state attorney and the second deputy secretary of public security. It is striking that they have remained in relevant positions for three six-year terms, although those who have governed belong to different political parties: Sabines of the PRD (2006-2012), Manuel Velasco, of the Green Ecologist Party (2012-2018) and Escandón, of MORENA ( 2018-2024).

In the complaint filed a year ago at the FGR, both officials are accused of protecting the CS.

Area controlled by crime

During Tío Gil’s era, he was flexible in coexisting with local criminal groups: the Chamula Cartel, Los Montoneros and El Maíz, made up of Guatemalans and Mexicans. Also the powerful criminal group of Guatemala: Los Huistas.

In March 2022, the United States government stated that Los Huistas “is the dominant criminal structure in the Guatemalan department of Huehuetenango (along the Guatemala-Mexico border).” Los Huistas smuggle deadly narcotics, including cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, from Guatemala through Mexico for distribution in several cities in the United States.

“Tío Gil” allowed everyone to operate as long as no one interfered with the operations of the CS. With the consent of “El Mayo” Zambada he was replaced by his son Ramón Gilberto Rivera, alias “El Junior”, who changed the rules of the game. He imposed a criminal ‘tax’ on all those groups that wanted to operate in the territory, of 40 percent of profits.

“El Junior” felt so powerful that he challenged “El Mayo” Zambada and warned him that this territory was no longer the Sinaloa Cartel, but a personal ‘heritage’, which forced Zambada to send “El Güero Pulseras” with the order to execute “El Junior”, who was murdered on June 7th, 2021 and thus Machado Meza became the new ‘ambassador’ of the CS in the state.

It is said that to regain control of the state, “El Mayo” allegedly co-opted the government of Escandón, who is a personal friend of AMLO and brother-in-law of former Secretary of the Interior, Adán Augusto Santiago, now “political coordinator” of Claudia Sheinbaum, who will be a candidate for MORENA in the presidential election.

According to military sources there would have been a payment of ten million dollars for the “turf.”

Comparing information to corroborate the statements of my informants, I obtained a SEDENA document dated June 2022 where it is stated: “In the State of Chiapas, the Pacific Cartel (Sinaloa Cartel) is the one that currently maintains the hegemony of the drug trafficking activities.

“Güero Pulseras” also wanted to impose quotas on regional criminal groups, arguing that the ‘turf’ belongs to “El Mayo”, which caused the insurrection of criminal groups in the area.

Lives in the air

Until October of last year, the media cited another character as part of the discord: Juan Manuel Valdovinos Mendoza, alias “El Señor de los Caballos”, a landowner from Chiapas, whom military reports had supposedly identified as part of Los Zetas. and/or Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

For months, I am informed, Valdovinos Mendoza has been outside of Chiapas, and his properties have been looted. Although “Güero Pulseras” achieved his goal, what he wants is to annihilate him.

The misgovernment and impunity that prevail in the southern area of Chiapas put the lives of 15 people in the air last June, with the kidnapping of the young Nayeli Cyrene Cinco Martínez and sixteen police officers from the Secretariat of Citizen Protection of Chiapas who were kidnapped in broad daylight on a busy highway.

According to the complaint presented to the FGR through a letter addressed to the National Prosecutor Alejandro Gertz Manero on June 27th, of which I have a copy and which has official seals, Nayeli was kidnapped by “Güero Pulseras.” The complaint was filed directly by a relative of hers whose identity I have corroborated, but to maintain her safety I reserve her name.

The document states that the young woman was taken from her home in the Santa Clara neighborhood of Tuxtla Gutiérrez, capital of Chiapas, by an armed group, on June 22nd around five in the afternoon. But when the family went to file a complaint with the State Prosecutor’s Office, “they failed to hear about this case,” states the complaint made to the FGR.

“There were several patrols from the state Secretariat of Public Security monitoring the operation and it is known that the Secretary of Public Security Gabriela Cepeda Soto and the Undersecretary Javier Orantes Abadía are the ones who provide protection to this criminal as well as the State Prosecutor’s Office headed by Olaf García…” states the complaint filed by Nayeli’s family.

The relatives asked the FGR to recover the videos recorded by the security cameras located in the area where Nayeli was kidnapped, as the SSP of Chiapas told them that they were turned off.

Freddy is the name of Nayeli’s romantic partner. He had worked with Valdovinos on his ranch. It is stated that “Güero Pulseras” kidnapped Nayeli to pressure Freddy to reveal the whereabouts of the so-called “Señor de los Caballos.”

According to Nayeli’s relatives, officials from the state public security secretary wanted to pressure them to withdraw the accusation against the leader of the CS in the state and against the Chiapas authorities.

On June 27th, an armed group kidnapped 14 state police officers, and then forced them to record a video in which they stated, “We ask the governor for his valuable intervention so that we can be with our families. Therefore, we demand the resignations of Francisco Orantes Abadía, Roberto Yair Hernández and Mr. Marco Antonio Burguete Ramos, from the Ministry of Public Security.” They also asked for the release of Nayeli.

The kidnapping of the police officers became a national issue. AMLO publcly requested her release and, in exchange, offered that the denounced officials would be investigated. Until now, the progress of these investigations or whether they are really being carried out is unknown.

According to the version of people related to the events, it was Orantes Abadía himself who spoke with those who took away the police and promised to intercede with “Güero Pulseras” to free Nayeli, who was ultimately released after suffering brutal violence.

Nayeli was taken to Comitán, headquarters of the CS criminal base. There MORENA also governs with Mario Guillén, who has been mayor on two occasions. The young woman was locked in a warehouse along with 80 other young women who were prisoners. According to an intelligence source, in that area Mexican women and immigrants are victims of trafficking, they suffer forced recruitment to be part of organized crime “or so that their troops – of organized crime – have women.”

The police officers were released, and it was AMLO, smiling, who days later announced the release of Nayeli without indicating that the crime was investigated or who had been responsible. The women who were imprisoned with her were not saved.

Although the FGR is required to follow the case because it involves organized crime, so far there have been no arrests.

Nayeli and her family were threatened not to continue with their complaints.

Border closure

AMLO and Escandón’s argument to minimize the situation is that the official crime rates in Chiapas are low compared to other states.

During the last few months I have seen videos and photographs of indescribable violence that attest to the war that exists in Chiapas. It is claimed that there have been clashes in the area for months, but each group collects its dead and does not report them. That is why they are not counted in state homicide statistics.

There is a ‘political’ request, there and in other states in the country, that instead of leaving people dead, it is better to make the victims disappear so that the violence of criminal groups does not affect the image of the federal or local government.

In an extreme situation due to the dispute between criminal groups over the territory, in September the criminal groups “El Maíz” and “Los Huistas” closed communities with blockades so that the federal government would pay attention.

The affected municipalities were Bella Vista, Frontera Comalapa, Villaflores, Chicomuselo and Motozintla. The state of siege lasted more than ten days, the population began to suffer shortages of food and fuel, without the government acting decisively, leaving it to the CS to take credit for breaking some blockades.

Coca cultivation in the region

According to the new intelligence information that I have, everything indicates that the dispute is not only about controlling the profitable border crossing for the trafficking of people and cocaine from South America.

The fight is also related to the control of coca leaf plantations that have been able to develop efficiently in greenhouses located in Chiapas with sufficient quality to produce cocaine.

If the existence of these plantations is confirmed and a significant productivity rate is reached, this would change the dynamics of the Mexican drug cartels, their power, violence and impact on the world.

There is precedent for the attempt to develop the coca leaf in the region. In 2014, the Mexican army made public the discovery of the country’s first coca field in Chiapas.

The war announced in this column a year ago is ongoing and could become even worse with the interference of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which I will talk about in my next article, describing the drug trafficking routes along the southern border.

Original article by Anabel Hernández at

Translated by Schools for Chiapas.

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