JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — The COVID-19 pandemic has barely slowed down the violence in this border city, where 195 people have been murdered in the past two months.

The bloodshed has spiked the past few days with the arrest of leaders of a gang known as La Empresa. Two police officers and nine gang members died in gun battles following the arrests of Jose Dolores Villegas Soto, a.k.a. “El Iraki,” or “The Iraqi,” and other prominent members of the group only identified by the nicknames “Uncle” and “Goofy.”

Other police officers’ homes have been shot at.

Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Augusto Peniche this week told a newspaper that authorities are now after the new leader of La Empresa, the group he believes ordered 14 attacks on police in Juarez. The attacks were carried out by the Aztecas, one of the street gangs it controls.

Peniche only identified the suspect as “El Nomo,” or “The Gnome.” Reliable sources in Juarez say the man is Omar Alejandro G.S., the brother of jailed former La Empresa and Aztecas leader Gerardo Santana Garza, or Gerardo Garza Santana, a.k.a. “300.”

Gerardo Santana Garza, a.k.a.. 300, a jailed leader of The Aztecas and La Empresa drug gang. (file photo courtesy State of Chihuahua)

Mike Tapia, a sociologist and author of “Gangs in the El Paso-Juarez Borderland,” said six or seven gangs are mostly to blame for the current violence in Juarez.

Some of the gangs, like Barrio Azteca and Mexicles, actually originated in the U.S. prison system. As they were deported they found a place in Mexican drug cartels and later developed a new generation of much more violent followers.

“Things had calmed down in 2016 and 2017, but they started to pick up in 2018. Last year was very, very violent, and 2020 is shaping up the same,” Tapia said.

The warring gangs are either affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel or the local La Linea drug trafficking organization. The bloodshed stems from efforts to control drug-staging areas into the United States, Juarez’s growing consumer market or results from internal strife.

Author and scholar Mike Tapia

“A lot of the violence is because of the splintering. Things are decentralized. Groups are reforming. Allies aren’t allies anymore and enemies are working together on occasion,” Tapia said.

That’s the case with La Empresa, a fairly recent construct made up of a faction of the Aztecas, defectors from Sinaloa’s Mexicles and possibly funded by La Linea.

Peniche told El Diario the violent realignment of the past couple of years has left La Linea and Aztecas in control of 70 percent of the drug trade in Juarez today. La Linea is also winning the war against Sinaloa in the Chihuahua countryside.

“La Linea is more management. They’re higher up in the chain. Other groups operate on a street level,” Tapia said.

La Linea includes well-armed, highly trained police officers originally recruited by the Carrillo Fuentes family, he said. It may also include “legitimate” business people and corrupt cops, Peniche said.

“I have no doubt that, at the basic levels, traitors exist. People who sell information, that tips off regarding operations, who disclose investigations,” Peniche told El Diario. He added that some officers who “took money” and didn’t deliver have been targeted or threatened by the gangs.

Border Report reached this week reached out to Peniche’s office. His spokesman Carlos Huerta would only say the attorney general had been quoted accurately by the Mexican press.

Tapia said much mystery still surrounds the border drug trade. “There’s always the underlying question about what is real. Who are the victims? Are they involved? Why were they attacked?”

Meantime, the Chihuahua state police on Friday set up security checkpoints around the police station, which was shot up last week after the arrest of “The Iraqi.”

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.