EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – As Mexico enters a presidential election cycle, there are no indications the drug violence that is claiming tens of thousands of lives every year is going to stop, according to a Virginia-based international security firm.

In fact, the violence could get worse in 2024 due to escalating conflicts between rival criminal organizations and fissures inside that country’s largest drug cartel.

“We don’t see any reason the violence will not continue to grow as AMLO (Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador) continues to deploy the military and plays whack-a-mole with these different groups,” said Michael Ballard, director of intelligence for Global Guardian. “You can arrest as many people as you want but there’s always someone who wants to take their place – maybe the ones who give them up in the first place. There is a lot of backstabbing down there.”

Treason is endemic in the drug trade, even among old friends and inside families. Ballard and others say the Sinaloa cartel’s designated caretaker Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada is now at war with the “Chapitos,” or Little Chapos, the sons of long-time friend and jailed cartel cofounder Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

“We are going to continue to see these two groups fight until there is a winner. There is so much valuable territory, so many connections to the producers in (South America) that they are going to keep fighting for access to those drugs, to traffic them into the United States,” Ballard said. “And you don’t really have ceasefires in Mexico.”

If Guzman’s sons overcome their former mentor, will they even share power among themselves?

“Even with the Chapitos it’s hard to tell where they stand because they have four, five brothers … are they going to lead equally, or will one want to take the reins and are the others willing to be lieutenants in that operation?” Ballard said. “I think the fighting is going to continue and it’s going to be concentrated in Western (Mexico) and border states where we have seen the violence historically.”

Sinaloa cartel employing public relations, trading resources with Chinese gangs

The Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels are flooding American cities with fentanyl, which last year contributed to many of the more than 100,000 overdose deaths in the country, the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration told a House subcommittee this summer.

But on Oct. 2, a total of 11 banner signs appeared overnight in the state of Sinaloa, blaming the news media for spreading “misinformation” regarding the Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa cartel trafficking in fentanyl.

The Chapitos stated in the signs that “it is strictly prohibited to sell, fabricate or transport the substance known as fentanyl, including the sale of chemical products for its manufacture.” The signs also warned for violators to be “ready for the consequences.”

The Baja California-based Arellano-Felix cartel purportedly hung banners in Tijuana saying they were joining the Chapitos faction of the Sinaloa cartel in banning the production of fentanyl. (Courtesy Baja California State Attorney General’s Office)

And this week, the Baja California-based Arellano-Felix cartel purportedly hung banners in Tijuana saying, “We share the ideals of our friends, the Chapitos, in totally eradicating the production of fentanyl.” The Arellano-Felix gang said whoever doesn’t follow the mandate “will have his head chopped off.”

However, the news portal Proceso reported the Chapitos made a similar assertion last May. The fentanyl has continued to flow into the United States since May, CBP monthly seizure data shows.

Troy A. Miller, the acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was at the San Ysidro Port of Entry on Thursday. He was asked if he believed the cartels’ pledge to stop trafficking fentanyl. “I put no stock in it,” he told Border Report.

Ballard said the banner sign campaign likely is meant to defuse the pressure for the Mexican government to make good on its vow to the United States to cooperate in slowing the flow of fentanyl north.

“There does seem to be some public pressure they need to stay within the bounds of what is tolerable when it comes to some of the drugs they continue to traffic,” he said.

The Sinaloa cartel and other transnational criminal organizations not only know the power of public relations but also the value of international trade. According to Ballard, the major Mexican drug cartels are now targeting mining operations in Mexico to ship stolen ore to China in exchange for precursor chemicals to manufacture fentanyl.

“There is a nexus that exists between the cartels in Southwestern Mexico who are illegally mining or extorting mining companies… they are taking (metals) to the ports, shipping them off to China as cheap raw materials and metals,” Ballard said. “So, you have the cartels and the triads and other organized criminal groups in China that say, ‘I got what you need, you got some of what I need, let’s trade.’ There’s a little bit of that going on.”

An increasingly unsafe world for travelers, investors

Global Guardian this week released its 2024 Global Risk Map assessment to assist businesspeople and travelers in planning how to stay safe or safeguard their interests abroad.

Obvious safety risks exist in war zones like Ukraine, Israel and the Gaza Strip, while Taiwan and China at times appear to be a ticking time bomb with the potential to disrupt the world’s economies. But for most Americans, the proximity and boldness of bad actors in Mexico are a more immediate concern.

Tourist resorts like Acapulco have recorded a spate of recent drug-related killings. And now the two cartels are at war along the Mexico-Guatemala border.

Mexican news media late last month reported multiple shootouts, highway closures, a growing list of missing persons and residents of rural communities packing their belongings and moving elsewhere. On Sept. 23, El Universal and La Jornada reported that shootings and a show of force were reported simultaneously in Camalapa, El Maiz, Ciudad Cuauhtemoc and San Gregorio Chamic.

Those are areas where not only drugs from South America are transported into Mexico for distribution into the U.S., but also profitable corridors for the smuggling of economic migrants and would-be asylum seekers in the United States, security experts say.

“We have seen more and more evidence of the Jalisco and Sinaloa folks being seen in Guatemala and Central America and Colombia. They’re operating there, maybe not controlling things directly but as these cartels get bigger, they want to become more vertical. They want to control and own more of the process, from growing to manufacturing, refining, shipping and selling (these drugs) and getting the cash back,” Ballard told Border Report.

The Mexican cartels are extending their tentacles to Central and South American countries “that are poorer than Mexico,” Ballard said. That means law enforcement resources there are limited, public servants aren’t well-paid, and the drug traffickers can come in offering wads of cash or a bullet to the head, he said.

(Border Report San Diego correspondent Salvador Rivera contributed to this report.)