Designated as one of the most dangerous criminal organizations in the world, it mixes propaganda capacity with a level of aggressiveness that reaches even high-ranking officials.
Wrapped in a spiral of violence that begins to seem eternal, Mexico regularly discusses which criminal network dominates the criminal map and what differentiates it from its predecessors. In recent years, the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, CJNG, has starred in the discussion, sometimes due to reports from United States Government agencies, others through videos with propaganda of its latest arms acquisitions, and even also due to attacks against high-ranking officials. case of the chief of police of Mexico City.
Designated as one of the “most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world” by the United States Government, the blows of that country’s agencies against it have been a constant for a couple of years. In March 2020, the anti-drug agency, DEA, detained more than 600 members of its network. In February, the Justice Department obtained the extradition of Rubén Oseguera, El Menchito, son of the organization’s leader, Nemesio Oseguera, El Mencho. Also in Mexico, they have tried to stop their expansion, many times through the Ministry of Finance, whose Financial Intelligence Unit has announced several times the freezing of hundreds of bank accounts.
It is not clear what effect these blows have had on the criminal network. There are few regions where its acronym does not appear in the criminal equation, giving the feeling that its expansion is growing and unstoppable, feeding the idea that the Government lacks the tools to confront it. This has happened in the State of Michoacán in recent months, where allied groups – federated? Collaborators? – They maintain a struggle with a network of local mafias, Carteles Unidos, for control of a strip of land hundreds of kilometers between the mountains and the coast. Criminal groups fight, the CJNG advances and the population remains captive to the inaction of the administrations.
Uncertainty surrounds the CJNG. Experts and academics consulted by EL PAÍS point out that it is difficult to account for the size of the criminal group, its form, or the scope of its political protection networks. Romain Le Cour, the coordinator of the Mexico and Central America Program at Noria Research, says: “They have something very interesting, the CJNG brand. Sometimes they impose their presence with very strong blows of violence. Others make conquest by integration: you are from a small group and you are looking for the possibility of using the CJNG brand as support. That does not mean that you are under the direct order of El Mencho, far from it. Hence the distorting mirror effect, or stain of the CJNG. They give the impression of being in a thousand places for this opening of franchises, like McDonald’s ”, he adds.
In the same way, it is difficult to understand their strategy, if there is such a thing. Focused on the production of synthetic drugs and their transfer to the United States, their aggressive attitude is surprising, often focused on accumulating territory. “It is peculiar that they choose this confrontational profile because in the end, the production of synthetic drugs does not require territoriality,” says Carlos Flores, professor and researcher at the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology, CIESAS.
Originally from the states of Jalisco and Michoacán, the CJNG occupies the media space once occupied by Los Zetas or the Sinaloa Cartel. Its leader, El Mencho, is a former Michoacan trafficker who organized the remnants of the forces that had supported Ignacio Coronel until his death in 2010. Close to El Chapo Guzmán, Coronel had acted as a link between the Sinaloa cartel and criminal groups from Michoacán and Jalisco for years. After its disappearance, and faced with the push of new mafias such as La Familia Michoacana or Los Zetas, the CJNG emerged as a counter-power that little by little took over spaces and markets.
Differences with the previous ones
“The big difference with other organizations is their paramilitarized profile,” says Flores, one of the few academics who has tried to analyze the criminal group’s activities. “The preceding organizations did not necessarily have this profile. Of course, they could resort to violence, but not like now. In this respect, they resemble Los Zetas. But then, one thing that differentiates them from Los Zetas is that the CJNG doesn’t seem so extractive with respect to the population, ”he adds, referring to extortion. “They try to convince the people in the towns they are trying to occupy that they are not against them.”
This is what the CJNG has done in Aguililla, Michoacán, the last symbolic scene of its battles. Nestled in the mountains, the municipality has seen how a faction of the criminal network has advanced from the surrounding mountain areas and the neighboring municipalities of Jalisco to the municipal seat, progress that continues towards the Tierra Caliente region. In May, the CJNG put up a banner in the town square. It read: “People of Aguililla, the subjugation they lived in is over, the threats, extortion and other things that a free people do not have to suffer.”
Propaganda permeates the actions of the CJNG. Salvador Maldonado, a doctor in anthropology and a student of organized crime in the region, points out that “the CJNG, like the Knights Templar or La Familia Michoacana before, launch images to build legitimacy and a social base. In Michoacán, that need to build a social base exists. Without that social base, they cannot dominate. In other words, they do not propose unilateral domination, because without a social base they do not resist ”. Thus, it is not only about winning, it is also about convincing.
Criminal groups in Mexico have been managing more or less conscious communication strategies for a long time. The CJNG has pioneered many of them. In the context of their battles to settle in various regions of the center of the country, in the case of Michoacán, but also in Guanajuato, Morelos or even Mexico City, propaganda videos have been a constant. One released last year drew special attention for the audacity of its authors and protagonists. In the images, recorded in a supposedly rural area of Jalisco, dozens of armed men, dressed in camouflage clothing and high-powered rifles, pose in front of as many trucks, artisan tanks and armored vehicles, shouting “Pure Mr. Mencho!”
Scottish academic Trevor Stack, from the University of Aberdeen, has spent half his career studying the relationships between organized crime and its social and political context in Michoacán and southern Jalisco. Stack has focused on the case of Zamora, one of the largest cities in Michoacán, near the border with Jalisco. The academic remembers an incursion of the CJNG in the locality a couple of years ago, one of those parades recorded on video, which are later disseminated on networks. “I was doing some research and it seemed like an act of desperation,” he says. “There were several criminal groups in the area at that time, each one trying to arrange with the government, to do their business,” he adds. “In the end, organized crime is organized in the sense that it is organized around institutions. Many times they are different armed groups,
An aggressiveness that confuses
The CJNG’s relationship with political power is enigmatic. His confrontational spirit does not help to unravel the logic of his actions. In June of last year, a cell of the network attacked the chief of police of Mexico City, Omar García Harfuch. A commando armed to the teeth ambushed his truck in the capital, shooting at him more than 400 times. The chief of police survived. It had not been three hours since the attack when he posted a message on his Twitter account, pointing to the CJNG. “He was very clear that El Mencho was behind the attack,” said Harfuch in an interview with EL PAÍS a few months ago.
Before reaching the capital’s police, Harfuch had commanded operations against the CJNG in the Federal Police and the prosecution service. Thus, the attack could respond to past or present insults. In any case, what drew attention was the audacity of the hit men, capable of attacking Harfuch in one of the most heavily guarded neighborhoods in the capital, with embassy headquarters and residences for officials and diplomats.
The same happened a few months ago, with the former governor of Jalisco, the PRI Aristóteles Sandoval, murdered in a bar in the beach resort of Puerto Vallarta. As with Harfuch, the authorities pointed to the CJNG, which had previously attacked members of its government. “Most criminal organizations did not tend to target public figures, beyond municipal presidents or local deputies,” says Carlos Flores, from CIESAS. “But this structure shows the capacity and the disposition. It is an alarm signal about its possibilities of generating political instability ”, he adds.
In addition to generating terror and focusing the discussion on the capacities of the State to confront the CJNG, these types of attacks confuse the objectives of the criminal network. Why face like this? Do they lack all kinds of contact with the state? Flores rehearses: “It is difficult to speak of a criminal group completely isolated from the state that confronts it. Organizations linked to drug trafficking have not grown autonomously, as they have done in other countries, in the case of Colombia. In Mexico, you see symbiosis of origin. And although we see these attitudes of the CJNG, that symbiosis exists