Tribal Governor Blames Cartels for Exodus of Indigenous Population in Mexico

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The Tribal Governor of the Tohono O’odham in Sonora, Mexico, placed the blame for the mass exodus of the population from tribal lands south of the U.S. border on drug cartels.

Some communities on the Mexican side of the border no longer have Tohono O’odham, said Governor Jose Garcia to Arizona Public Media. Members of the tribe living across the border in Mexico say they have increasing concern that drug cartel activity is forcing people from their homes.

“I’ve known villages that have evacuated all the families because of that,” said Garcia.

The governor says the cartels are pushing out the indigenous population.

“There are some communities that no longer have O’odham there, and there are others that have almost no O’odham there. They have gone to other communities because of the cartels.”

The Tohono O’odham are native to the Sonoran Desert, primarily residing in Arizona and Mexico. The tribal lands consist of 2.8 million acres across both countries while also sharing 74 miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Due to its geographic location and proximity to the main highways leading to Phoenix, the Tohono O’odham Nation tribal lands on both sides of the border provide a prime location for Mexican cartels to exploit for drug and human smuggling. Well-established regional criminal gangs affiliated with the Sinaloa Federation Cartel control the border area and smuggling routes. Due to the rival factions within the Sinaloa Federation and the presence of “rip crews” working the routes, individual groups are forced to deploy a vast number of scouts to facilitate activities. These scouts are hired to reside for an extended period atop mountains or hills to guide marijuana or human payloads around law enforcement or “rip crews,” while communicating by cell phone or encrypted radios with foot guides and drivers. In order for scouts to remain in position for an extended period of time, they must be resupplied with food, water, cell phones/batteries, and camping equipment to provide continuous surveillance.

Local media reported on the February 2017 arrests of 11 members of a smuggling resupply team on Tohono O’odham Nation Tribal land by Homeland Security Investigations personnel. The 15-page indictment documented the logistics chain in great detail.

In September 2017, leaked U.S. government surveillance images exclusively obtained by Breitbart Texas depicted heavily armed Mexican cartel smugglers crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border into Arizona near the Huachuca Mountains.

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.) You can follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at