Drone Attack by CJNG on Aguililla Police Highlights Security Concerns

05/11/2021 (written by scortez) – On April 19, a group of police officers were attacked by drones rigged with explosives in the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacán. State authorities suspect that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) is behind the incident that left two police officers wounded. The drone attack comes as the Tierra Caliente has erupted in violence between CJNG and United Cartels (Cartéles Unidos), a drug trafficking organization with roots in Michoacán, for territorial dominance. Police officers were conducting an operation to clear several roadblocks set up by the CJNG outside the city when two drones rigged with explosives attacked the group. Two officers were injured and have since been released from the hospital. 

The assault was confirmed by the Secretary of Security of Michoacán (Secretaría de Seguridad de Michoacán). Authorities have yet to release further details into the drone attack, but they believe that the drones involved are nearly identical to two others found inside the vehicle of a CJNG member in August 2020. The drones seized in 2020 were filled with plastic explosives and ball bearings, designed to inflict severe damage upon impact. The head of the Secretary of Defense (Secretaría de Defensa, SEDENA), Luis Cresencio Sandoval, said that the CJNG has, in recent years, been using explosive drones in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Michoacán. He also minimized the severity of the attack and believes that the rigged explosives are not a pressing security issue. Although the Army approved $9.6 million in September 2020 to be spent on a national anti-drone system, indicating that SEDENA takes the cartel’s weaponization of drones more seriously than they publicly let on. 

This is not the first time CJNG has violently attacked authorities in the area. In 2019, 14 police officers were killed in an ambush in El Aguaje, a smaller town in the municipality, by CJNG members. The CJNG left handwritten messages that accused the officers of working for the United Cartels. Attacks against security forces have ramped up since the February 2020 extradition of Rubén Oseguera González, the son of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes aka “El Mencho”, to the United States. This attack marks a continued trend by the CJNG to target authorities without the fear of consequences.

CJNG painted across the wall of a bullet-riddled house in El Aguaje. Photo by: Jorge Carballo.

Battle for Aguililla

The municipality of Aguililla has recently become the center of conflict between CJNG and United Cartels. The Tierra Caliente region is an area long disputed by organized crime groups because of its opium cultivation and ownership of drug trafficking routes. The city of Aguililla also holds symbolic value to CJNG as it is the birthplace of “El Mencho.” On May 4, the cartel draped a banner underneath an Aguililla highway that issued a warning for United Cartels and declared that “El Mencho” is cementing his presence in the region.

One month prior, on April 1, eight decapitated bodies were found in the town of La Enramada. At the time, the State Attorney General of Michoacán (Fiscalía General del Estado de Michoacán, FGE) indicated that their killings were a result of a confrontation over territory between the CJNG and United Cartels. On April 15, the Governor of Michoacán, Silvano Aureoles, publicly acknowledged the state has been permanently in dispute between different criminal groups by stating, “There is a permanent threat from criminal groups from the Jalisco side and the confrontation between the groups that are operating or have been operating for a long time in the area of Buenavista, Tomatlán, Tepeque, and Aguililla,” (“La permanente amenaza de células delincuenciales del lado de Jalisco y la confrontación con las células que están operando o que operan desde hace mucho tiempo en la zona de Buenavista, Tomatlán y Tepeque y Aguililla.”). Many of the residents have been fleeing the city fearing that they would be caught in the crossfire.

As police continue to conduct operations to clear CJNG roadblocks that have completely cut off access to certain towns in the municipality, other areas remain under CJNG control. In the town of El Aguaje, the streets are marred with evidence of conflict that includes shell casings, walls riddled with bullets, and CJNG checkpoints. There is a state police presence in the town, but the dominant figure is the CJNG militant members blocking access to El Aguaje. They are dressed in camouflage uniforms with “CJNG” inscribed on their bulletproof vests and armed with high-caliber weapons.

Emerging Technologies Raise Questions about Security

At their disposal are tank-like vehicles and high-caliber weapons. Source: Newsflash.

CJNG’s Expanded Arsenal Raises Questions about Security

Since its inception in 2009, CJNG has been ascending to become one of the most powerful and militarized cartels in Mexico. CJNG has been previously known for its militancy and usage of military-grade assault weapons, but the drone bombing marks a significant escalation of the cartel’s use of sophisticated weapons. 

Recently in March 2021, CJNG showed off two modified armored trucks through the streets of Aguililla. The move was meant to send an intimidating signal to the rival cartel that they are fully equipped to engage in conflict. CJNG has been particularly adept to use technology to advance its strategies in the region. Dr. Robert J. Bunker, Director of Research and Analysis at C/O Futures, a security-focused consultancy firm based in Claremont College, CA, said, “This cartel is well on its way to institutionalizing the use of weaponized drones. None of the other cartels appear to be presently experimenting with the weaponization of these devices.” The accessibility to military-grade weapons has been made possible in part because of the high number of arms trafficked from the United States. In the last ten years, there has been an estimated 2.5 illegal firearms smuggled into Mexico.

For security forces, cartel violence remains a real threat to their lives, particularly from the CJNG. The growing militancy of the CJNG demonstrates a security risk for the authorities seeking to maintain order in the region. The 2020 Justice in Mexico Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico special report highlights that in 2019, CJNG claimed responsibility for 47 police homicides-the highest number of any cartel. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known as AMLO, faces a dilemma whether to crack down on the growing strength of the cartels or continue his “hugs not bullets” campaign promise meant to splinter cartel recruitment by focusing on social issues. Unlike his recent predecessors, AMLO so far has chosen not to take a heavy-handed approach to counter cartel violence with the exception of the 2018 establishment of National Guard (Guardia Nacional). While focused on social issues, the administration has yet to focus on cutting the supply of weapons from the United States and bolstering the protection of local authorities. Currently, local police officers remain a target for the cartels and as their strength and access to sophisticated weaponry grows, so, too, does the potential for such attacks. 

Sources

Linthicum, Kate. “14 police officers killed in an ambush in Mexico, testing president’s security strategy.” Los Angeles Times. October 14, 2019.

Serrano, Noé. “Ejército va por sistema antidrones de cárteles del narco.” El Universal. September 21, 2020.

Virgin, Yami. “DEA says cartels are arming themselves with military grade weapons coming from the US.” Fox San Antonio. February 9, 2021.

García, Jacobo. “El Cartel Jalisco exhibe su poder de fuego con dos tanques caseros por las calles de Michoacán.” El País. March 4, 2021.

“Enfrentamiento con el CJNG deja ocho muertos en Aguililla, Michoacán.”Animal Político. April 2, 2021. 

“Con drones disparan y lanzan granadas contra policías en Aguililla, Michoacán.” Animal Político. April 20, 2021.

“Mexico cartel used explosive drones to attack police.” BBC News. April 21, 2021.

Hambling, David. “Mexican Cartel Injures Police Officers With Drone Bomb Attack (UPDATE: Second Cartel Allegedly Using Weaponized Drones).” Forbes. April 22, 2021.

Belmont, José Antonio. “El Aguaje, pueblo fantasma azotado por criminales en Michoacán.” Milenio. April 23, 2021.

“2 to stand trial for making exploding drones in Mexico.” Associated Press. April 24, 2021.

“Advierte CJNG: se acabó violencia en Aguililla.” Reforma. May 4, 2021.

Violence Against Police in Guanajuato Highlights Complex Security Situation

04/21/21 (written by rramos) – Guanajuato’s state police force (Fuerzas de Seguridad Pública del Estado, FSPE) announced on April 5 that two of its officers were killed following a confrontation with armed civilians in the city of Irapuato. FSPE personnel were conducting patrols when they were suddenly ambushed by a group of armed men traveling in a pick-up truck that featured homemade armor plating. Milenio reported that after the attackers were repelled by the state police, investigators found multiple long guns and bulletproof vests with the logo of an unspecified criminal group at the scene. 

This latest assault comes on the heels of similar incidents in other parts of Guanajuato in recent weeks. In the city of Silao, to the northwest of Irapuato, a state police officer was kidnapped and later killed by armed civilians on March 31. Roughly a week and a half prior on March 20, the bodies of three agents from the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) were found inside an abandoned truck in the rural community of Campuzano, southeast of Guanajuato City. 

The state has been an epicenter of violence directed against police. According to the non-governmental organization Causa en Común, Guanajuato ended 2020 as the deadliest state in Mexico for law enforcement personnel, with the total number of slayings of police officers increasing 5% last year compared to the total seen in 2019. 

Current State of Play in Guanajuato’s Criminal Landscape

Frequent attacks against government security forces are one of the consequences of Guanajuato’s volatile security environment. Beginning roughly in 2017, a brutal conflict between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) and the locally-based Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima, CSRL) has consistently made Guanajuato one of Mexico’s most violent states. Authorities had hoped that the August 2020 capture of the CSRL’s high-profile leader, José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez Ortiz, would help quell the fighting, with Governor Diego Sinhue calling the arrest “a great step towards reclaiming peace” (author’s own translation). 

However, violence in Guanajuato has continued as the state’s organized crime landscape appears to have grown more complex after the capture of El Marro. In October 2020, Alfonso Durazo Montaño, then-federal security secretary, stated that infighting had erupted within the CSRL following El Marro’s detention, with various factions violently competing to assume leadership of the organization. In line with this assessment, various potential replacements have been identified in rapid succession since the arrest. These have included El Marro’s father and brother, a close associate named Adán “El Azul” Ochoa who was arrested after fleeing persecution by CJNG hitmen, and most recently, an operative known as “El Dalugas” captured in March 2021 who had previously been identified by state authorities as El Marro’s lead hitman.  

Meanwhile, the CJNG has been attempting to expand its presence across Guanajuato, presumably to take advantage of the CSRL’s weakened position. According to El Universal, however, the CJNG has remained unable to establish complete control over the state due to three concurrent turf wars. In particular, the CJNG’s expansion efforts in Guanajuato have met resistance in: 1) traditional CSRL strongholds in the southeast, such as Celaya and Los Apaseos, where CSRL operatives continue to enjoy deeply-rooted local support, 2) León, Guanajuato’s largest city, where a local-level gang known as Unión de León reportedly refused to ally with the CJNG, and 3) areas of southern Guanajuato near the border with Michoacán, where elements linked to Los Viagras criminal group (which has fought an extended struggle with the CJNG in Michoacán) are reportedly active and have allegedly provided support to the CSRL. 

Fighting in these areas of Guanajuato has continued to rage on in 2021. In the southeast, narcomantas (posters featuring messages written by criminal groups) discovered at the end of March point to continued CSRL opposition to the CJNG’s entry into cities like Celaya. David Saucedo, a security analyst, told Zona Franca in an interview that an ongoing rise in homicides in León has been due in part to the Unión de León’s ongoing resistance to CJNG incursions into the city. As for Guanajuato’s southern border with Michoacán, the Defense Ministry (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) announced on April 8 that it would be sending an additional 700 troops to towns like Uriangato and Moroleón in response to simultaneous clashes between various groups, including the CJNG and CSRL.

Positive Signs Raise Uncertainty

According to El Financiero, Guanajuato ended 2020 as the state with the greatest total number of homicides, the second consecutive year in which Guanajuato led the nation in that regard. However, the number of homicides in the state appeared to drop considerably in the first two months of 2021, falling from 815 in January and February of 2020 compared to only 596 in the same period this year. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was quick to attribute the reduction in homicides to the deployment of the National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN).

However, the reasons behind the decrease in homicides in 2021 so far may have more to do with the state of Guanajuato’s organized crime situation than any government policy. In a separate interview, Saucedo argued that the fall in homicides could be due to the CJNG slowly consolidating its grip on an increasing number of municipalities. This would not be the first time that the establishment of relative hegemony by one criminal group in a hard-hit area of Mexico resulted in a drop in violence. When homicide rates began to fall in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, around 2013 following the brutal Sinaloa Cartel-Juárez Cartel turf war, some analysts asserted that the improving situation was more likely due to the Sinaloa Cartel winning control of the city than any of the security strategies pursued by government authorities. Given the persistent instability that has characterized Guanajuato’s security situation, it may be premature to start celebrating the positive signs that have been seen in the early parts of 2021. 

Sources

Pachico, Elyssa. “Juarez Murder Rate Reaches 5-Year Low.” InSight Crime. January 4, 2013.

Heinle, Kimberly. “Attacks Against Police Highlight Violence in Guanajuato.” Justice in Mexico. December 25, 2019. 

González, Juan Manuel. “Los Viagras, el grupo criminal que protege al ‘Marro’ en Michoacán.” La Silla Rota. March 13, 2020. 

Calderón, Laura Y. “Organized Crime and Violence in Guanajuato.” Justice in Mexico. August 2020. 

García, Carlos. “Detienen a ‘El Marro’.”  La Jornada. August 2, 2020. 

Espino, Manuel. “Padre y hermano controlan cártel a la caída del ‘Marro’.” El Universal. August 3, 2020. 

Arrieta, Carlos. “Pese a captura, la guerra de ‘El Marro’ aún no termina.” El Universal. August 4, 2020. 

Pérez, Scarleth. “La Unión León, no se unió al CJNG; sin alianzas defienden la plaza.” La Silla Rota. August 31, 2020. 

Muñoz, Alma E. “Se divide el ‘cártel de Santa Rosa’, tras captura de ‘El Marro’: Durazo.” La Jornada. October 4, 2020. 

López Ponce, Jannet. “’El Azul’, el ‘rey’ del cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima que duró 72 días en el trono.” Milenio. October 26, 2020. 

Dittmar, Victoria. “Mexico Facing Predictable Bloody Fallout After El Marro’s Arrest.” InSight Crime. November 12, 2020. 

Morán Breña, Carmen. “El Walo, otro nombre para explicar la violencia en Guanajuato.” El País. December 5, 2020. 

Vela, David Saúl. “Guanajuato será, por segundo año al hilo, el líder en asesinatos.” El Financiero. December 22, 2020. 

Silva, Martha. “Guanajuato cierra el 2020 como el estado más peligroso para los policías: 83 fueron asesinados.” Sin Embargo. January 1, 2021. 

“Tres organizaciones criminales se disputan León: especialista.” Zona Franca. January 6, 2021. 

“La explicación de la baja de homicidios en Guanajuato: el CJNG estaría ganando la batalla al Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima.” InfoBae. February 27, 2021. 

“Así es la guerra en el Bajío del Cártel Jalisco.” El Universal. March 1, 2021. 

Guerrero Gutiérrez, Eduardo. “Todos unidos contra ‘El Mencho’.” El Financiero. March 1, 2021.

“Capturan a ‘El Dalugas’, líder del Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima.” Quinto Poder. March 17, 2020.

Luna, Óscar. “Asesinan a tres agentes de la  FGR en Guanajuato.” Reforma. March 20, 2021.

Torres, Bryam. “Bajan homicidios en Guanajuato; presume AMLO a Guardia Nacional.” AM. March 23, 2021. 

“Fuerzas de Seguridad Pública abaten a cinco hombres tras ataque a policía en Silao.” El Sol de México. March 31, 2021. 

Solís, Carolina. “Sigue la guerra entre el CSRL y CJNG en Celaya; amanecen cuerpos desmembrados en distintos puntos.” Debate. March 31, 2020. 

“Enfrentamiento armado entre policías y civiles deja 5 muertos en Irapuato.” Milenio. April 5, 2021. 

Espinosa, Véronica. “Enfrentamiento en Irapuato deja dos policías y tres presuntos sicarios muertos.” Proceso. April 5, 2021. 

Orozco, Mariana. “Enfrentamiento en Irapuato deja seis muertos entre ellos dos elementos de la FSPE de Guanajuato.” Debate. April 5, 2021. 

Ángel, Arturo. “Violencia crece en diez estados, pese a mayor despliegue de la Guardia Nacional.” Animal Político. April 7, 2021. 

Reyes, Óscar. “Llegan 700 militares más para Guanajuato.” El Sol del Bajío. April 8, 2021.

Daughter of “El Mencho” Pleads Guilty to Kingpin Act Violations

03/23/21 (written by rramos) – On March 12, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a press release stating that 34-year-old Jessica Johanna Oseguera González, the daughter of  Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) leader Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, pled guilty to criminal violations of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, a U.S. federal law commonly known as the Kingpin Act. According to the DOJ statement, Oseguera González pled guilty to “willfully engaging in financial dealings with Mexican companies” that had been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) for having “provided material support” to the CJNG’s drug trafficking activities. More specifically, court documents identified Oseguera González as an owner of two businesses that were formally identified by OFAC as “specially designated narcotics traffickers” for links to the CJNG, and as an “officer, director, or agent” of four other companies under OFAC sanctions. Two sushi restaurants, an advertising firm, and a tequila agency were among the six OFAC-designated entities with which Oseguera González “engaged in property transactions” and which were allegedly used to launder money for the CJNG. She is scheduled to be sentenced on June 11 and is facing up to 30 years in prison. 

Jessica Johanna, a dual U.S.-Mexican citizen who also uses the criminal alias “La Negra,” was arrested by U.S. authorities in February 2020 at a federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. She had been attempting to attend the trial of her brother, Rubén “El Menchito” Oseguera González, who had just been extradited from Mexico to face drug trafficking charges in the United States.

Photo: Los Angeles Times

El Mencho’s Inner Circle Under Pressure

As illustrated by the case of Jessica Johanna, the governments of Mexico and the United States have increasingly focused their attention on members of “El Mencho” Oseguera’s inner circle as part of the broader effort to locate the elusive cartel leader. 

As mentioned earlier, his son Rubén has been in U.S. custody since 2020 after losing a “long legal fight against extradition.” He is currently awaiting trial for charges of conspiring to distribute large quantities of cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as using a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking-related activities. A 2018 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) press release had identified Rubén as the CJNG’s “second in command” until his capture by Mexican officials in June 2015. 

Rosalinda González Valencia, widely reported to be the spouse of “El Mencho” and mother to both Rubén and Jessica Johanna, was arrested in May 2018 in Zapopan, Jalisco. Alfonso Navarrete Prida, Mexico’s then-interior minister, stated in a press conference following the arrest that González Valencia played a leading role in overseeing the CJNG’s financial operations. A month later, Rosalinda was formally accused in a Mexican court of “creating a network of 73 businesses” used to launder billions of pesos on behalf of the CJNG. In September 2018, however, she was released on bail after paying nearly 1.5 million pesos. 

Rosalinda’s brother, Abigael González Valencia, is another prominent member of El Mencho’s family that has been targeted by authorities. Abigael, known also as “El Cuini,” is assessed to be the leader of Los Cuinis organization, described by the DOJ as the CJNG’s “primary financial support network” responsible for conducting extensive money laundering operations. Abigael was arrested in Mexico in 2015, but since then has waged a prolonged legal battle that has continuously hampered ongoing attempts to extradite him to the United States. He remains incarcerated at El Altiplano federal prison in the State of Mexico even as other González Valencia siblings alleged to be members of the CJNG’s Los Cuinis support network have already been extradited or are awaiting extradition to face drug charges in the U.S.

Beyond his family, authorities have also been vigorously pursuing some of El Mencho’s closest associates within the CJNG. In early March 2021, OFAC sanctioned Juan Manuel “El Árabe” Abouzaid under the Kingpin Act for “his high-level role in facilitating drug shipments and money laundering” for the CJNG, with U.S. officials asserting he “[maintained] a close relationship with senior leaders of CJNG.” According to Univision, the DEA had identified Abouzaid in June 2020 as a high-ranking figure in the CJNG with ties to “El Mencho.” On March 9, just days after his OFAC designation, Abouzaid was arrested by Mexican federal agents, with the U.S. now reportedly seeking his extradition.

As the U.S. and Mexico continue to exert pressure on “El Mencho” Oseguera’s closest relatives and partners, he remains one of the most sought-after criminals in both countries. Both governments are offering substantial monetary awards (10 million dollars in the U.S. and 30 million pesos in Mexico) for information leading to his capture. With this in mind, it is likely that the systematic targeting of those closest to “El Mencho” is intended to obtain information on his whereabouts as well as on the inner workings of the CJNG. 

CJNG’s Continued Expansion

Nevertheless, the efforts of both the Mexican and U.S. governments to close in on “El Mencho” himself do not appear to be impeding the overall growth of the organization he leads. In its National Drug Threat Assessment released in March 2021, the DEA determined that the CJNG has seen a “rapid expansion” that has allowed the group to establish a “significant presence in 23 of the 32 Mexican states.” According to InSight Crime, the CJNG’s territorial advances within the past year have included “rapid gains in the states of Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Veracruz, and Mexico City.” In many of these areas, the CJNG appears to have nimbly exploited the fracturing or weakening of rival groups. In Guanajuato, the CJNG managed to win control of additional territories while its main adversary in the state, the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, was engulfed in internal disputes following the arrest of its leader José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez Ortiz in August 2020. Meanwhile in Veracruz, remnants of the once-powerful Zetas network have been unable to prevent the CJNG from “[asserting] control” over the port of Veracruz or operating in and around the port city of Coatzacoalcos. 

Another key aspect of the CJNG’s continued growth has been its ability to leverage alliances with other criminal groups, often local-level organizations or fragments of weakened larger cartels, particularly in strategically-located areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. Authorities in the northern state of Chihuahua reportedly detected a meeting between members of the CJNG and La Línea, an armed wing of the Juárez Cartel, in which the two groups agreed to join forces to combat the Sinaloa Cartel for control of the Ciudad Juárez trafficking corridor. A similar dynamic is reportedly unfolding in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, with some media reports suggesting that the CJNG has maintained an alliance with Los Metros, an offshoot of the Gulf Cartel.  

Given that the CJNG draws its strength from many factors, such as its strategic network of alliances, diversity in income sources, and advanced money laundering capabilities, it is far from guaranteed that its expansion will be halted even if “El Mencho” is captured in the future. 

Sources

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Ongoing Prison Clashes Underscore Growing Criminal Violence in Zacatecas

01/25/21 (written by rramos) — The latest outbreak of prison violence in Zacatecas continues to highlight the state’s emergence as a key epicenter of organized crime-related violence in Mexico. In the early morning hours of January 15, a riot erupted at the Cieneguillas Regional Center for Social Reinsertion, a prison located just west of Zacatecas City. Fighting between inmates took place in multiple locations throughout the facility, and lasted roughly two and a half hours. After security forces were deployed to restore order within the prison and the surrounding vicinity, authorities confirmed that at least one prison inmate had been killed, and six more had been injured.

This most recent incident of inmate violence at Cieneguillas prison is merely the latest in a string of violent clashes that have occurred over the past year. In an interview with La Jornada following the January 15 riot, Zacatecas Secretary of Public Security Arturo López Bazán described Cieneguillas as a “time bomb,” and recounted that the prison also suffered a three day-long riot from December 31, 2019 to January 2, 2020 in which 18 inmates were killed and 20 more were injured. López Bazán went on to point out that Cieneguillas was the site of five additional outbreaks of prison violence throughout the rest of 2020.

Cieneguillas prison in the central state of Zacatecas has been the site of frequent prison clashes throughout the past year. Photo: NTR Zacatecas.

Cieneguillas: A Reflection of Expanding Sinaloa Cartel-CJNG Competition

The increasing frequency of violent confrontations between prisoners at Cieneguillas comes at a time in which the organized crime situation in Zacatecas is evolving. As La Jornada reported, many of the inmates housed at Cieneguillas are prone to conflict because they belong to rival organized crime groups that compete in Zacatecas, most notably the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG). Both the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG are reported to be increasing their presence in Zacatecas, with media outlets pointing to numerous narcomantas and videos in which the two groups declare their presence in the state. Concurrently, the two cartels have been assessed to be behind a growing number of deadly clashes in various parts of Zacatecas, including a streak of armed confrontations in and around the city of Jerez throughout November and December 2020.        

In an interview with El Universal last year, Ismael Camberos Hernández, then-public security secretary, stated that Zacatecas had acquired strategic importance for drug trafficking organizations due to its centralized geographic location. In particular, organized crime groups are looking to gain control of two major highways that run through the state and that have become critical routes to transport drugs, including fentanyl, to the northern border with the United States. Camberos identified Federal Highway 54, which runs from the Pacific state of Colima (home to the massive port of Manzanillo) to the U.S. border in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, and Federal Highway 45, which links central Mexico to the U.S. border near Ciudad Juárez, as the coveted trafficking routes that have drawn some of the country’s largest criminal organizations to Zacatecas. Furthermore, Camberos testified before the Zacatecas legislature in June 2020 that while there are other organized crime groups operating in the state, such as the Northeast Cartel and Los Talibanes, the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel are the “main” criminal actors in Zacatecas. He even went on to testify that the CJNG had forged an alliance with Gulf Cartel-linked cells in Zacatecas in an attempt to ward off Sinaloa Cartel incursions coming into the state from neighboring Durango.

Zacatecas: Troubling Hotspot of Violence in Mexico

As a consequence of intensified organized crime competition in the state, Zacatecas is facing a dramatic surge in violence. According to Animal Político, data released by the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP) revealed that Zacatecas was the state that suffered the largest increase in homicides in 2020. The total number of reported homicides skyrocketed from 577 in the period from January to November 2019 to 945 during the same period in 2020, a 63.8% increase in one year. This upward trend is especially worrying for Zacatecas given that violence in Mexico at the national level, while still at extremely high levels, seemed to stagnate somewhat in 2020, with the total number of homicides seeing a minuscule decrease of 0.4% compared to the prior year. In a subsequent interview days after the January 15 riot, Secretary of Public Security López Bazán noted that as the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG have escalated their rivalry in the state, they no longer view the state merely as a transit zone used to transport drugs. Instead, these groups have expanded into other illicit activities, such as extortions and kidnappings, signaling the possibility that the state may face another year of heightened violence in 2021.

Sources

Mejía, Irma. “Zacatecas: Merodean cárteles por moda de fentanilo.” El Universal. February 3, 2020.

O’Reilly, Eimhin. “Fentanyl Trade Fuels Cartel Battle in Central Mexico.” InSight Crime. March 2, 2020.

“El CJNG irrumpe en Zacatecas; desafía a rivales y autoridades.” El Financiero. April 20, 2020.

“Cártel del Golfo se une al CJNG en Zacatecas para combatir al de Sinaloa.” Zacatecas Online. June 3, 2020.

Vergara, Rosalía. “El CJNG y el Cártel de Sinaloa se disputan a balazos la plaza de Jerez.” Proceso. December 25, 2020.

Angel, Arturo. “En 2020, la violencia en México se mantuvo en niveles récord; en 11 estados aumentaron asesinatos.” Animal Político. December 29, 2020.

López, Rocío. “Reportan motín en el penal de Cieneguillas, Zacatecas; hay un muerto y seis heridos.” Milenio. January 15, 2021.

Mejía, Irma. “Motín en penal de Cieneguillas, Zacatecas, deja un muerto y seis lesionados.” El Universal. January 15, 2021.

Valadez Rodríguez, Alfredo. “Un reo muerto y seis heridos en motín de penal de Cieneguillas.” La Jornada. January 15, 2021.

Valadez Rodríguez, Alfredo. “Zacatecas, atrapado en la guerra entre los dos principales cárteles.” La Jornada. January 18, 2021.“Tasa de homicidios sigue siendo alta en México pese a COVID.” San Diego Union-Tribune. January 20, 2021.

Former governor assassinated as CJNG continues asserting its power

12/28/20 (written by kheinle) – One of the most high-profile killings in recent years in Mexico occurred on December 18 when Aristóteles Sandoval was shot and killed in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. Sandoval was the former governor of the State of Jalisco from 2013 to 2018. He also served in a top post in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI) until he recently resigned in October 2020, though not without pledging to continue being involved.

Former Jalisco Governor Aristóteles Sandoval was murdered on December 18. Photo: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco

Sandoval was murdered in the early hours of December 18 in a restaurant bathroom around 1:30am while his security team waited outside. Following a shootout outside the restaurant as the suspect fled, Sandoval was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities released a warrant for the arrest of one suspect on December 23 with possible connections to the homicide. The day after, the Jalisco Attorney’s General Office (Fiscalía de Jalisco) announced they had a suspect in custody. Additionally, they had secured some potential critical evidence, including a digital video recording from the restaurant.

The CJNG’s Likely Involvement

Authorities suspect that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) was involved in Sandoval’s murder. As Reuters reports, CJNG came to power while Sandoval was in office, bringing with it a dramatic rise in violence and threat to public security. That violence has continued through 2020 with the CJNG being one of Mexico’s most publicly violent and dominant cartels, battling primarily with the notorious Sinaloa Cartel formerly headed by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. According to security analyst Eduardo Guerrero from Lantia Consultores, Sandoval’s assassination was likely a message for the current governor of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro. “The message is: give in or negotiate with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel,” said Guerrero, “or you will have the same fate as Sandoval.”

The State of Jalisco. Photo: Wikipedia.

Violence in Mexico

The CJNG’s presence is felt far outside of just its namesake state of Jalisco. In early December, for example, 19 people were killed in a fight that broke out in Jerez, Zacatecas between the CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel. A collaborative police/military sting a few days later led Zacatecas authorities to arrest 15 alleged CJNG members residing in a “narco-camp” in Jerez.

Violence in Mexico continues to soar. On December 18, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador gave updated statistics on the nation’s levels of crime and violence. Writes The New York Times, “More than 31,000 murders were recorded in Mexico this year as of November, the latest month for which government statistics are available, a figure roughly on pace with 2019.”

To read more about organized crime and violence in Mexico, check out Justice in Mexico’s annual reports here.

Sources:

Valadez Rodríguez, Alfredo. “Deja 19 muertos violencia en Zacatecas detienen a 15 miembros de CJNG.” La Jornada. December 9, 2020.

Bravo, Tomas. “Ex-governor of cartel-ravaged Mexican state gunned down in beach resort.” Reuters. December 18, 2020.

Lopez, Oscar. “An Ex-Governor Is Gunned Down, Punctuating a Deadly Year for Mexico.” The New York Times. December 18, 2020.

Rodríguez, Rey. “Giran órdenes de aprehensión por asesinato del exgobernador Aristóteles Sandoval.” CNN Español. December 23, 2020.

“Reporta fiscalía captura de persona y nueva evidencia en asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval | Video.” Aristegui Noticias. December 24, 2020.

Webpage. “Perfil: Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez.” Lantia Consultores. Last visited December 27, 2020.