Uncertainty remains in the border city of Juarez as organized crime leaders seek to rearrange their crews following the recent capture of one of the bosses of a cell aligned with the armed wing of the Juarez Cartel.
Earlier this month, Mexican authorities arrested Rene Gerardo “El 300” Santana Garza, the leader of Los Aztecas. The cell is considered to be one of the most violent within La Linea, the armed wing of the Juarez Cartel. Santana Garza is directly linked by authorities to the murder of a state police officer earlier this month.
According to Chihuahua state authorities, Santana Garza oversaw 250 Los Aztecas members who would carry out executions, kidnappings, extortion, and control the drug trade for La Linea. Los Aztecas, once known as Barrio Azteca, formed in 1986 in an El Paso prison. They are a mixed gang of Mexican-Americans and illegal aliens from Mexico. They are extremely violent and are very active in the prison system in Mexico as well.
Santana Garza’s capture comes at a time when La Linea has been openly fighting with cells from the Sinaloa Cartel such as Gente Nueva and other rogue elements. It remains unclear if the power vacuum within Los Aztecas could result in even more violence in Chihuahua.
The man known as “El 300” has been directly linked to the murder of state cop Mariano Contreras Rivera, local news outlets reported. Law enforcement officials believe that the motive for the hit was revenge for a police operation outside of Ciudad Juarez–that resulted in the arrest of seven members of La Linea. During the operation targeting La Lina members, authorities killed one of the cartel gunmen during an intense shootout.
After the operation, a team cartel assassins, commonly referred to as sicarios, covertly followed Contrera Rivera to Ciudad Juarez where they began to plan the ambush. According to a local news outlet, the night prior to the hit, the sicarios used a radio to send direct threats over a police frequency to a state commander and the officers who took part in the operation. When they carried out the hit, the sicarios parked in front of Contrera Rivera’s residence and slashed the tires of his vehicle. When the cop went out to check on his car, the sicarios, dressed as sanitation workers, came out and fired 100 rounds, killing him instantly. On September 7, one day after Contrera’s murder, gunmen also carried out attempted hits on two other cops as they were eating breakfast at a local restaurant. The police were able to fight off the attack. The two victims and a restaurant worker sustained wounds from La Linea’s revenge.
Robert Arce is a retired Phoenix Police detective with extensive experience working Mexican organized crime and street gangs. Arce has worked in the Balkans, Iraq, Haiti, and recently completed a three-year assignment in Monterrey, Mexico, working out of the Consulate for the United States Department of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program, where he was the Regional Program Manager for Northeast Mexico (Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas.)