I was recently reading a story in the L.A. Times by Daniel Hernandez about the 31 deaths and 15 decapitations in Acapulco in the last week, and how three different cartels were battling for control of the city. I honestly thought it was only two, so you can imagine my surprise when I saw some of the unfamiliar details Hernandez quoted from a story in Mexico's Proceso magazine. I quickly familiarized myself with what was going on (and I've since found clearer sources than the Proceso story), and thought I'd take the opportunity to provide my readers with a very brief overview of which cartels are fighting each other and where.
Let's start with the most complex situation (in my opinion) right now, and that's Acapulco. Over the last couple of years, the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) under the local command of Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villareal had been fighting with La Familia Michoacana (LFM) for control of drug deliveries into and trafficking out of the resort city. That got completely messed up with La Barbie's arrest and the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva. Hector Beltrán Leyva, who took over the BLO after Arturo's death, wanted to distance himself from La Barbie (who was breaking off anyway), so he renamed his faction of the old BLO to the Cartel Pacífico del Sur (CPS), or South Pacific Cartel - also known as "El H" or "La Empresa." In April of last year, graffiti started showing up all over the state of Guerrero with the initials "CPS," and La Barbie's breakaway faction was bearing the brunt of many CPS-initiated murders of hitmen in the area.
Now, the 15 headless corpses that were recently found in Acapulco reportedly had a note attached implying that the Sinaloa Federation's Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera ordered the killings. So here's where it gets ugly. According to Stratfor's Scott Stewart, the CPS has aligned itself with Los Zetas (and old friend of the BLO) against the Federation and LFM. I always thought Acapulco was a BLO/LFM problem, and to an extent I was right; the old BLO is just under the new name of CPS, and La Barbie's faction seems to no longer be a player. But now it looks like El Chapo may be stoking the fire in Guerrero, and that doesn't bode well for residents or tourists in the city.
Moving to Tijuana, things are actually relatively quiet there - for now. Although the AFO emerged victorious after breakaway faction leader Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental was arrested, AFO leader Fernando "El Ingeniero" Sanchez Arellano seems to have entered into an agreement of sorts with the Federation (El Teo's employer after he defected) to move drugs through Tijuana. This explains the relative calm in the city, but we'll see how long that lasts.
Of course, the hottest spot in Mexico has been Ciudad Juárez for a few years now, but the way cartel dynamics are changing there, it may not last the next couple of years. The Federation and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization (VCFO) have been fighting for control of this most lucrative corridor, although the VCFO has been backed into a corner there recently, and most of the drugs being moved through Juárez belong to the Federation. Some of the local politicians say the majority of the violence stems from gangs fighting for control of the local drug trade, but I don't buy into that.
Moving east into Tamaulipas, the shrinking Gulf cartel (or CDG, for Cartel del Golfo) are fighting with their former enforcers, Los Zetas, for control of routes along the east Texas border and transshipment cities like Monterrey. The border cities of Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros have been hit particularly hard by fights between these two DTOs, and the wealthy enclave of Monterrey is still reeling from the bloody transformation of their city.
There are other hot spots scattered throughout Mexico where the DTOs are fighting each other, so the violence is not just limited to these areas. You'll hear bad news out of places like Michoacán, Morelia, San Luís Potosí, Durango, and others. This is just meant to give you a general idea of who is fighting where and over what.