Law enforcement launches coordinated attempt to re-capture "El Güero Chompas"
By Vicente Calderón and Amy Isackson
Tijuana, March 6, 2013
Tijuana’s leaders have been celebrating a significant decline in violent crime in recent years. But, in recent weeks, the city has seen a spike in homicides – more than 90 so far this year – and investigators say that the release of an accused drug gang leader, who has gained new power with his freedom, is, in part, to blame.
Baja California authorities say that Jose Luis Mendoza Uriarte, nicknamed “El Güero Chompas”, detained in Tijuana at the end of 2011 and released on December 6, 2012, has returned to the criminal group, or “cell”, that he belonged to prior to his arrest and has taken over its leadership. They’re now investigating his ties to approximately two-dozen homicides.
“Unfortunately, he was freed and it is his criminal gang that’s responsible for various homicides in Tijuana recently,” said one law enforcement official with an agency in Tijuana that combats organized crime. The investigator asked to remain anonymous because he’s not authorized to speak to the press.
Harkening back to the drug violence that gripped Tijuana a few years ago, but has since dissipated, some of the most recent drug gang killings have returned to well-transited public places. Two victims were recently gunned down in Tijuana’s busy downtown, something that hasn’t happened lately. Authorities have not linked the killings to “El Güero Chompas’” cell, but haven’t ruled it out.
One man was shot while driving on a crowded street at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, just blocks from City Hall. The killers pulled up next to him, opened fire and sped away, leaving police with few clues. In another incident, 27-year-old Chula Vista resident José Ricardo García Vázquez, was knocked off while gassing up his Subaru, with California license plates, at 10 in the morning at the southern end of Tijuana’s famed tourist strip Avenida Revolución.
The two killings don’t appear to be random murders, because of the style in which they were carried out.
In the case of García Vázquez, Tijuanapress.com learned from state investigators that he fled Tijuana for the safety of Chula Vista, at the height of Tijuana’s historic violence a few years ago. Investigators said García Vázquez feared for his life south of the border, due to his alleged connections to members of organized crime. But, authorities aren’t sure why gunmen targeted him now.
García Vázquez’s rap sheet in Tijuana includes only minor infractions from approximately four years ago. State investigators have also said the gun used to kill him was tied to three other murders.
Tijuana’s police chief, Alberto Capella, said the recent killings in Tijuana’s downtown do not signal that criminals once again feel free to act with impunity. “If they felt that confident when committing criminal acts, they’d travel around the city in heavily armed convoys, like they used to. There’d be kidnappings and other kinds of situations. But, we’re not seeing that,” Capella assured, during an event to give prizes to Tijuana policeman who resisted the temptation to accept bribes. “We will not let criminals use the city as their battlefield again.” Since 2008, police have increased their presence in Tijuana’s tourist areas to create so-called safe zones.
Authorities believe that Mendoza Uriarte, “El Güero Chompas”, and his once drug cell boss, and now underling, Octavio Leal Uriarte, or “El Chapito”, are cousins of Raydel López Uriarte, nicknamed "El Muletas" or “Crutches”, once one of the border region’s most-feared criminals.
“El Muletas” and drug gang leader Teodoro Garcia Simental, “El Teo”, are responsible for the bloodiest period in Tijuana’s history, from 2008 through 2010, when they tried to wrest control of the key drug trafficking territory from the Arellano Felix Cartel. They were arrested in La Paz, Baja California Sur in 2010.
After their capture, authorities believe that Mendoza Uriarte, “El Güero Chompas”, and Leal Uriarte, “El Chapito”, took over and formed their own criminal group. Although it is not as powerful as their cousin’s, the cell controls street sales of drugs in a wide swath of Tijuana and is tied to Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel. “It is a criminal cell that traffics drugs. Some of the members’ aliases include: ‘El Kiko’, ‘El Toño’, and ‘El Facket’. They work for ‘El Chapito’ who works for ‘El Güero Chompas’,” says Jorge Aguirre, with Baja California’s Anti-Organized Crime Unit. Aguirre says the cell is locked in a bloody battle with a rival drug trafficking group, but that’s also comes under the Sinaloa Cartel’s umbrella.
Little is known about Mendoza Uriarte. State investigators say he is from Sinaloa and likes cocaine. They say he’s responsible for the brutal 2012 attack that claimed five lives, including a San Ysidro Middle School eight-grader, who’s family was visiting Tijuana’s Tres de Octubre neighborhood to celebrate a relative’s birthday. Investigators say “El Güero Chompas” ordered the hit from jail, during a conjugal visit, to settle a score with another drug dealer, the brother of a former Tijuana police officer.
“El Güero Chompas” has been memorialized in a “narcocorrido”, or folk ballad, by the musical group “Los Elegantes de Tijuana”. The song, which has more than 6,500 views on YouTube, celebrates “El Güero Chompas’s” criminal activity saying: “He makes his own laws, and has a talented mind for the mob. He’s nicknamed ‘El Güero Chompas’. The government is his enemy….No one crosses him and lives.”
This year’s total of more than 90 killings in Tijuana marks a 54 percent increase in homicides, over the last two months of 2012. Police Chief Capella says historically, the murder rate surges in January, when criminals get back to work after breaking for Christmas and New Year’s. However, the homicide total so far this year represents a 27 percent increase over the first two months of last year and this February’s body count was double last year’s.
Overall, murders in Tijuana have declined, peaking in 2008 with a total of 831 and dropping to 366 in 2012, according to the Baja California’s Attorney General’s office.
Rommel Moreno, Baja California’s Attorney General, blames street drug sales, or “narcomenudeo”, for 80 percent of killings since early 2012. “Now it is about controlling not the cities, or the big urban areas, but control of the streets, specific zones, the parks,” Moreno explained, earlier this month, as reporters peppered him with questions about the recent wave of violence.
According to details in state law enforcement press releases, the pattern of many of the drug gang murders is tit-for-tat retaliation. In addition to rivals killing each other over territory, gang members’ internal turf battles and collections of past due drug debts have also claimed lives.
Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante has dismissed the recent increase in murders as poor bookkeeping. He says state authorities’ monthly homicide tallies are inflated. Bustamante also criticized the media for its close focus on crime that he says makes it seem as though crime is a more serious problem that it really is. “We can’t prevent every crime,” said Bustamante. He added, “Tijuana is the city in Mexico with the least amount of problems.” In fact, both high-ranking U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials repeatedly laud Tijuana as a model for combatting organized crime.
After his arrest by Baja California’s State Preventative Police in 2011, Mendoza Uriarte was turned over to federal authorities to face organized crime and weapons charges. It is not clear why, but the case was dismissed. State authorities then took custody to press homicide charges. Those charges were dropped due to a legal technicality. According to Aguirre, with Baja California’s Anti-Organized Crime Unit, the state is appealing the decision. On December 6, 2012, Mendoza Uriarte was freed from prison.
Tijuana Municipal Police arrested one of “El Güero Chompas’s” gang members, a former policeman, last weekend. He was carrying a knife and three cell phones. He told reporters that he’d never seen “El Güero Chompas”, because the boss gave him his marching orders over the phone.