Fernando “El Ingeniero” Sánchez Arellano, head of the once-powerful Arellano Félix Organization (a.k.a. the Tijuana cartel) has been captured, according to both US law enforcement and Mexican government sources. As of 9:00pm Pacific time on June 23, this information had not been confirmed by Mexico’s Attorney General’s office, but unnamed US agents were confident the information was accurate. The Mexican military authority, known as SEDENA, is expected to confirm the reports in the next few hours.
Unnamed Mexican authorities told media outlet ZETA Tijuana that Sánchez was captured by elements of the Mexican army. One of two unnamed US law enforcement agents told The San Diego Union-Tribune that Sánchez was arrested while cheering on Mexico during the country’s World Cup game against Croatia, wearing a team shirt and with his face painted with the team’s colors.
Sánchez, whose nickname means “The Engineer,” was captured at a time when his drug cartel’s presence and influence had been significantly diminished from its heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Arellano Félix Organization, or AFO, was one of the major drug trafficking organizations that resulted from the division of the Guadalajara cartel’s empire in 1987, two years before legendary kingpin Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo was arrested. The AFO was historically run by seven brothers, all of which have been arrested or killed, the most recent being the capture of Eduardo Arellano Félix in October 2008. Of the four Arellano Félix sisters, two are quite active in the cartel’s affairs, including Sánchez’s mother Enedina.
The cartel is responsible for the smuggling of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamine into the United States, and has a reputation for extreme violence. After a bloody war between 2008-2010 with the Sinaloa Federation, at the time run by now-incarcerated Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, many drug war observers believed the end was near for the AFO. However, the decimated cartel managed to work out an arrangement with the Federation to continue moving drugs through Tijuana into southern California, where it maintains a tight grip on local Hispanic gangs in San Diego County.
With Sánchez being the last male member of the family who has exerted a significant amount of control over the organization, it remains to be seen if his mother Enedina will quickly take control, or if violence will ensue as part of an internal power grab or external territorial challenge from the neighboring Federation.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about history, activities, and evolution of Mexico’s drug cartels in her new book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.