As we head into the fourth year of this phase of the drug war, here's where things stand:
Tijuana is being taken over by Chapo's people. There were 444 homicides in the city in 2008, mostly between Chapo's guns and the remnants of the Arellano Felix organization. Chapo and El Mayo Zambada have wanted Tijuana for decades, now's their chance. I don't doubt they'll take it by the end of the year.
Ciudad Juarez: In the entire state of Chihuahua, there were 3250 drug-related killings last year. Most of this is Chapo vs. Carrillo Fuentes. According to sources in Juarez, Chapo's people are basically now just operating as paramilitary squads, executing anyone they find affiliated with the Juarez organization. There is also a lot of (unsubstantiated) talk in the border city that Chapo has made a deal with the army in Juarez, helping the soldiers root out the Carrillo Fuentes organization.
Given that Carrillo Fuentes' group is now just basically hundreds of gangs who can be bought for any price (Chapo is buying them, for a start) I give this one until mid-year to sort itself out. I think it will remain bloody, but I think Chapo will end up with market share up there. Let's see if they catch Carrillo Fuentes or his right hand man, José Luis Ledezma (El JL); if they do, that'll be the giveaway.
Another possible outcome in Juarez: Chapo's people broker a deal with Carrillo Fuentes to keep him there as a figurehead, and move in that way. They've kinda done it before, through deals brokered by Juan José Esparragoza Moreno (El Azul), one of Chapo's top advisers. Wouldn't be surprised to see that sort of arrangement.
Culiacan: 932 death in 2008. Not too bad I guess, considering the mess Chapo and the Beltran Leyvas have made of their 30-year friendship. Residents of Culiacan were warned not to go out on New Year's Eve due to fears of violence, as police commanders are being killed and narcomantas are going up all over the place. The respected news weekly Rio Doce proclaimed that "El Barbas lost the war" after Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed, and I think they're right. But even though there is already a losing side, the war hasn't ended. Unlike in Juarez, where sicarios and smugglers operate more like mercenaries, in Sinaloa there are loyalties. These will play out until the death. Expect more killings this year, and perhaps a few more Beltran Leyvas killed or captured.
Guerrero: 672 killings, much of it Beltran Leyva vs. Chapo bloodshed. I think it'll be ugly down there for a while.
Michoacan: 356 dead in 2008. That's 10 percent of La Familia, if they were members. That organization, which according to some officials is the biggest threat to Mexico right now, will be buried by the end of 2010. I predict Calderon will hold up the fall of La Familia as his "mission accomplished" (perhaps toned down a bit). However: rumor has it that Chapo has actually taken control of Michoacan again, through a deal with the leaders of La Familia. He never broke his contacts in Michoacan, so this stands to reason.
In Tamaulipas, all is calm. Which means the Zetas and Gulf are completely dominant again.
I do wonder when the turf war over the Mexico City's airport will begin. It was largely controlled by the Beltran Leyvas and El Mayo Zambada's brother, who was captured. Surely Chapo must want it for himself now? A bag was found the other day, loaded with 11 tons of cocaine. It had come in on a flight from Peru; I bet the guy who was supposed to pick it up is shitting himself right now.