A relatively new drug cartel which emerged out of the chaos of Mexico’s ongoing drug war just pulled off the deadliest attack against members of the Mexican security forces in years.
On April 7, members of the Jalisco New Generation Drug Cartel (CJNG) ambushed a convoy of elite state police security officers en route to the city of Guadalajara. Fifteen police officers were killed in the assault and a further five were wounded.
The brazen attack was the single worst day of violence against uniformed security services in the two years that Enrique Pena Nieto has served as the president of Mexico, the AFP reports.
CJNG’s strike will make the organisation — which splintered from the powerful Sinaloa cartel 5 years ago — a focus of the government’s efforts and could even be perceived as an act of war against the state.
“The army, navy and police have dealt heavy blows against the Jalisco cartel and they are declaring war to the federal government, which is not common,” Raul Benitez Manaut, an expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told AFP.
In spite, or possibly because, of the CJNG’s willingness to attack military targets, the cartel has become the single fastest growing drug-trafficking organisation in Mexico. Based in the western state of Jalisco, the group has influence to the southeastern tip of Cancun and up to the border with Texas.
“It is spreading like a cancer in Mexico,” Mike Vigil, formerly of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told Global Post. “It’s the fastest expanding cartel and they could in the near future overtake the Sinaloa cartel as the most significant organised group in Mexico.”
The cartel even has the technical knowledge and ability to run its own armament workshops that allow the group to assemble their own AR-15 assault rifles.
Originally part of the Sinaloa Cartel, the CJNG splintered from the organisation in 2010 after the death of Sinaloa representative Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, Insight Crime reports. Coronel oversaw the Sinaloa’s operations in Jalisco and his death caused a power vacuum which the CJNG swiftly exploited.
According to Insight Crime, the CJNG’s meteoric rise to power since 2010 is due to a convergence of factors. The group’s origins within the Sinaloa offered them business opportunities and practical knowledge. And the relative stability of Jalisco state enabled the group to expand and consolidate without having to engage in costly turf battles to establish initial control. The relative weakness of cartels in neighbouring states also allowed the CJNG to expand outwards without much resistance.
The CJNG has also expanded successfully thanks to its past strategy of portraying themselves as a nationalistic paramilitary group aimed at defeating other cartels and bringing stability to the country.
In 2011, a faction of the CJNG called the Mata Zetas (Zeta Killers) carried out a mass execution of 35 people in Veracruz that the group claimed were members of the rival Los Zetas cartel. Two days later, an additional 11 bodies of Zetas that the CJNG were suspected to have executed were found around the city.
In a video posted online after the executions, members of Mata Zetas claimed that “our only objective is the Zetas cartel,” and that the Mata Zetas were “anonymous warriors, without faces, but proudly Mexican,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
The CJNG then took this self-created image as defenders of Mexico against the cartels a step further by battling against the rival Knights Templar and Familia Michoacan cartels in neighbouring Michoacan state. Both groups suffered massive setbacks after a series of popular uprisings by Mexican vigilantes drove the cartels out of multiple cities and towns throughout the state.
Some Mexican prosecutors have alleged that the vigilante groups were aligned with or at least received support from the CJNG. If true, it would demonstrate a shrewdness on the part of the CJNG on how to utilise public disaffection with rival cartels to further their own influence and power.
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