For more than a decade, in the Sierra Tarahumara, —a mountainous area that crosses the state of Chihuahua—, the Rarámuri indigenous people and other communities have suffered the scourges of organized crime, specifically due to the fight between the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels, who illegal logging, poppy cultivation, land dispossession and illegal mining are disputed.
Although the state of Chihuahua has long been a center of drug production, in recent years organized crime groups have diversified their activities, managing to venture into crimes such as illegal logging, which in recent years has endangered members of indigenous communities and environmental defenders in remote areas, such as the Sierra Tarahumara, specifically the Rarámuri population, who have been victims of displacement and murder.
In the Sierra Tarahumara, the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua converge, and it is one of the main regions for the production of marijuana and poppy in Mexico, in addition to being one of the main drug corridors destined for the United States, which explains the battle for territory between criminal groups.
And it is that the two main local criminal organizations that dispute that corridor, work for two large cartels: the La Línea group (Juarez Cartel), and the Gente Nueva group, (Sinaloa Cartel).
While in the Sierra Tarahumara the battle is taking place between a group linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, known as Los Salazar, who have a base of operations in the state of Sonora, and the faction of the Juárez Cartel, known as La Línea, who at entering the state of Chihuahua began to clash strongly in recent years.
However, despite still having ties to the Juárez Cartel, La Línea is increasingly seen as a more independent actor, which could be a fact that hinders power dynamics in the region.
While another group that recently emerged to challenge the Juarez Cartel’s control along the border is the New Juarez Cartel, the group reportedly allied with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) to help them enter the area. However, La Línea of the Juárez Cartel and Los Salazar, of the Sinaloa Cartel, seem to maintain a greater affluence in the area, according to an analysis by the InSight Crime consultancy.
The Sinaloa Cartel has great control over marijuana and poppy crops in the so-called Golden Triangle, which includes the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua. The authorities themselves have recognized that the violence in the municipalities south of Chihuahua, that is, the Sierra Tarahumara area, tends to be caused by the Sinaloa Cartel against the civilian population.
The monopoly of the Sinaloa Cartel in the area is in the hands of Noriel Portillo, alias el Chueco, suspected of the murder of Jesuit priests and a tourist guide in the Tarahumara region of the municipality of Urique.
Since 2018, he was identified by the local government as the main suspect for the murder of tourists and the disappearance of residents and activists.
Chihuahua, one of the largest states in Mexico, has some 25,000 hectares of forest, made up mostly of the type of pine that is harvested in large quantities in the country, and half of those forested areas are found in the Sierra Tarahumara, a mountain range in the southwest of the state, where a large indigenous community lives.
In addition to having a climate and conditions conducive to the large-scale cultivation of opium poppy and marijuana.
This is how illicit timber trafficking is one of the main concerns of many of the indigenous communities of the Sierra Tarahumara, according to a survey carried out by the State Commission for Indigenous Peoples (COEPI) in February 2018.
The municipalities most affected by illegal logging in Chihuahua are located in the south and west of the state: Maguarichi, Guerrero, Uruachi, Ocampo and Madera, as well as Guadalupe y Calvo and Bocoyna, according to the US Criminal Investigation Agency. Those areas are also some of the most violent.
They send 250 soldiers
They give 5 million pesos for the whereabouts of Chueco
After the murder of two Jesuit priests, a tourist guide and the kidnapping of two residents of Cerocahui, municipality of Urique, in the Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua, all at the hands of José Noriel Portillo Gil, alias el Chueco, local authorities announced a special operation to find the whereabouts of the criminal leader that includes 250 elements of the Army and a reward of 5 million pesos to whoever gives information on his whereabouts.
The prosecutor of Chihuahua, Roberto Javier Fierro Duarte, said that the kidnapping of two residents of Cerocahui is related to a baseball game in which a team sponsored by the criminal leader, belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel, was defeated.
On the other hand, the prosecutor confirmed that yesterday afternoon the bodies of the Jesuit priests and the tour guide were found in a place known as Pitorreal.
Also, this Wednesday, Pope Francis lamented the death of the Jesuits: “How many murders in Mexico!” he said.