The Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) is a criminal group that has evolved as a result of killings, captures and rifts in older cartels. It is known for its aggressive use of violence and its public relations campaigns. Despite the capture of certain top leaders, it is now Mexico’s foremost criminal threat and appears set to continue expanding.
The CJNG emerged after former Sinaloa Cartel capo Ignacio Coronel, alias “Nacho,” was killed by Mexican security forces in July 2010. Prior to his death, Coronel gave orders to Óscar Orlando Nava Valencia, alias “El Lobo,” the leader of the Milenio Cartel. This criminal group moved drug shipments and managed finances for the Sinaloa Cartel, operating primarily in the states of Jalisco and Colima, and later extending into Michoacán and Mexico City.
By the time of Nacho Coronel’s death, El Lobo had been captured and the Milenio Cartel had suffered internal divisions, splitting into two factions: “La Resistencia” and another faction referred to as the “Torcidos” (“The Twisted Ones”), because La Resistencia accused them of giving up El Lobo to the authorities.
In the power vacuum that followed Nacho’s death, these two groups fought for control of drug trafficking in Jalisco. The Torcidos became what is now the CJNG, emerging as the successors to the Sinaloan capo’s network in the region.
Nemesio Oseguera Ramos, alias “El Mencho,” is considered the leader and founder of the CJNG, and his original top operators were Erick Valencia, alias “El 85,” and Martin Arzola Ortega, alias “El 53.” All of these men were former Milenio Cartel members.
The group has been associated with the use of extreme violence. In the period following the emergence of the CJNG, homicides, forced disappearances and the discoveries of mass graves spiked in Jalisco. The cartel also made it one of its early missions to battle the Zetas drug trafficking organization in Veracruz state, under the name “Matazetas,” or “Zetas Killers,” which, depending on the source, is described as either another name for the CJNG or a special cell of the group responsible for assassinations. The group claimed authorship of a 2011 massacre of 35 people in Veracruz, and a month later security forces recovered the corpses of around 30 apparent victims of the group.
In April 2015, the CJNG killed 15 Mexican police officers during an ambush in Jalisco state, one of the single deadliest attacks on security forces in recent Mexican history. The group was also blamed for an attack in March 2015 that killed five federal police. Additionally, Mexican officials have previously indicated that the group possesses highly sophisticated armament, including machine guns and grenade launchers were used to conduct the March 2015 attack. In May 2015, the group continued its deadly streak, shooting down a military helicopter on May 1 and launching a wave of violence across Jalisco.
The CJNG has also been involved in high-profile attacks against public officials. In May 2018, the group tried to assassinate Luis Carlos Nájera, former security secretary of Jalisco and in June 2020, it made a bold attempt to kill Omar García Harfuch, Mexico City’s public security secretary. That same month, a judge in the western state of Colima, who had tried various cases against members of the cartel, was killed along with his wife.
The CJNG has also been known to appeal to the Mexican citizenry with idealistic propaganda, invoking solidarity and promising to rid its areas of operation of other crime syndicates, such as the Zetas and the Knights Templar in the past.
The group has continued such outwardly “altruistic” actions in strategic areas during the coronavirus pandemic. In June 2020, for example, the group distributed toys to children in communities in Veracruz where it is fighting splinter groups from Los Zetas. And members of the CJNG also delivered boxes of goods in various parts of the country, including Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city.
The CJNG is currently led by Nemesio Oseguera Ramos, alias “El Mencho.” For information leading to his arrest, the US has offered a reward of $10 million, one of the highest bounties ever offered. Mexico has offered its own reward of 30 million pesos ($1.6 million).
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has also identified other senior figures such as Erick Valencia Salazar, alias “El 85,” who faces a reward of $5 million for his capture, Ulises Mora Tapia, José Manuel Abouzaid El Bayeh and Alfredo Galindo Salazar.
The group has expanded rapidly, and the CJNG now has some sort of presence in every part of Mexico, except Sinaloa and the Golden Triangle of heroin production.
However, the CJNG does not necessarily control every area it is present in. It is truly the dominant criminal actor in Jalisco, Nayarit and Colima, at the port of Lázaro Cárdenas in Michoacán, in the eastern state of Veracruz and in the oil-rich central region of Guanajuato, Puebla, Querétaro and Hidalgo.
It is also strong, although facing stern rivalries, in strategic areas such as the border cities of Tijuana and Juárez, Tierra Caliente – the area which covers parts of Michoacán, Guerrero and the State of Mexico –, and the Riviera Maya.
The group has shown it may be focusing on entering the capital, after a brazen attack against Mexico City’s public security secretary in June 2020.
Internationally, the cartel has contacts in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, the US, Central America, Canada, Australia, China and Southeast Asia, which help it control large parts of marijuana, cocaine and synthetic drug trafficking in Mexico.
Allies and Enemies
The CJNG’s longest ally were Los Cuinis, led by Abigael González Valencia, the brother-in-law of El Mencho. However, the precise nature of this relationship has never been fully clarified as some reports described Los Cuinis as the financial arm of the CJNG, while others viewed it as a separate, if associated, organization. And with the arrest of many of the leaders of the González Valencia, the power and influence of Los Cuinis appears to have waned dramatically.
While it is possible the CJNG once maintained an alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel, today, the two are fierce enemies across large parts of Mexico. The CJNG has also not hesitated to go after top leaders within the Sinaloa Cartel. In August 2016, two of the sons of Sinaloa Cartel leader, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” were briefly kidnapped by the CJNG,
Besides Sinaloa, the CJNG is facing a number of smaller, localized rivals, a result of the fragmentation which has broken up many of Mexico’s larger criminal groups.
Some of these smaller gangs have also allied themselves with the CJNG. In Tijuana, for example, it has joined forces with remnants of the now-defunct Tijuana Cartel to create the Tijuana Cartel New Generation (Cartel Tijuana Nueva Generación). And in Ciudad Juárez, reports have emerged that the CJNG is making strides in the city through an alliance with a faction of the Juárez Cartel.
In the central state of Guanjuato, the group has been embroiled in a bloody war with the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (Cartel de Santa Rosa de Lima – CSRL), led by José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, alias “El Marro,” since 2017. This battle has revolved around control of oil theft in the state and led to Guanajuato becoming the most violent state in Mexico. In recent months, the CJNG appears to have taken a decisive advantage over the CSRL, whose control has dwindled to a few municipalitiies.
On the Atlantic Coast, the CJNG has moved into Veracruz, where it has faced the Old School Zetas (Zetas Vieja Escuela), a splinter group of Los Zetas, and a dissident faction of the Gulf Cartel, known as Grupo Sombra. In April 2019, the CJNG massacred 14 people in the municipality of Minatitlán, a stronghold of the Zetas Vieja Escuela.
One of its oldest enemies was the Knights Templar although this group has now fragmented into several smaller organizations. The largest of these splinter groups is Los Viagras, which has established itself as a force to be reckoned with in Tierra Caliente and has frequently clashed with the CJNG.
There have also been reports of alliances between the CJNG and a number of vigilante groups, known as “autodefensas,” in the region, including that the CJNG had provided high-caliber weaponry to these groups. However, the CJNG has also consistently battled the Cartel del Abuelo, a group local to Michoacán which began as an autodefensa.
Finally, while the CJNG has succeeded in remaining united where other groups have fragmented, it has not been immune to internal divisions. The main one came in 2017, when a group calling itself the Nueva Plaza Cartel, broke off after an alleged dispute over an assassination order. While the Nueva Plaza Cartel has not been able to really threaten the CJNG inside their base of operations, Guadalajara, it maintains a measure of control over some areas to the west and southwest of the city.
The fragmentation process of numerous criminal groups in Mexico has allowed the CJNG – which has maintained its hierarchy and discipline relatively intact – to continue gaining power in recent years.
The biggest hit it took was the dismantling of Los Cuinis, a group run by the González Valencia family which acted as the CJNG’s financial and money laundering arm. Many of the leaders of Los Cuinis have now been arrested, likely ending much of the group’s influence.
And the children of El Mencho have also been targeted. His son, Rubén Oseguera Gonzáez, alias “El Menchito”, was extradited to the United States in February 2020 while his daughter, Jessica Johanna Oseguera, was detained that same month and is currently awaiting trial.
On another front, Mexican authorities have gone after its finances. In June 2020, around 2,000 bank accounts linked to the group were frozen and a number of front companies used to launder money in Jalisco, Quintana Roo and Mexico City were shut down.
Despite these blows, the CJNG’s operations have appeared to remain intact and it has continued its expansion.
The decline of some its major rivals, such as the CSRL or Los Zetas Vieja Escuela could allow the CJNG even greater room to maneuver in key criminal economies.