Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” is the leader and founder of the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), and the man responsible for overseeing the once upstart criminal faction’s transition into one of Mexico’s most formidable cartels. In the process, he has become one of Mexico’s most wanted.
El Mencho is from the Tierra Caliente region of the western state of Michoacán. According to an April 2015 press release from the US Treasury Department, he has been significantly involved in drug trafficking activities since the 1990s. In 1994, the US District Court for the Northern District of California sentenced him to three years in prison for conspiracy to distribute heroin. Following his release, he returned to Mexico, where he served as a police officer in Cabo Corrientes and Tomatlán in the state of Jalisco. In time, however, he would leave the police to continue his drug trafficking activities and join the Milenio Cartel.
After first working in the assassin network that protected Armando Valencia Cornelio, alias “El Maradona,” El Mencho went on to join a Milenio Cartel bloc allied with Sinaloa Cartel capo Ignacio Coronel Villarreal, alias “Nacho Coronel.” This group moved drugs, managed finances, and acted as enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel in the states of Jalisco and Colima.
By 2010, however, following the death of Nacho Coronel and capture of Milenio Cartel leader Óscar Orlando Nava Valencia, alias “El Lobo,” the Milenio Cartel had split into two factions: “Los Torcidos” and “La Resistencia.” These two divisions engaged in a battle for control over drug trafficking in Jalisco, with Los Torcidos evolving into the present-day CJNG with El Mencho as their leader.
Under El Mencho, the CJNG began expanding and consolidating its control over drug trafficking in Jalisco and surrounding states, taking on rival cartels the Zetas and Knights Templar. In August 2012, despite initial reports that he had been captured, El Mencho escaped an operation carried out by Mexican security forces against the CJNG in Guadalajara. In order to impede the work of the police and allow members time to flee, the cartel created dozens of roadblocks, setting fire to vehicles on key roads throughout the city.
El Mencho has continued to elude authorities, despite the CJNG’s increasing strength — and aggressive and violent tactics — resulting in increased attention and pressure from security forces.
His lack of personal appearances has also led to increasing rumors that he may have died. In February 2022, reports in the Mexican press suggested El Mencho had been killed in a shootout between the CJNG and some rivals.
While there has been no evidence about this theory, it is known El Mencho has had health problems. In July 2020, he reportedly built a medical facility in rural Jalisco where he could be treated for a long-term kidney problem. Another rumor, which enemies of the CJNG have written on narcomantas, stated that El Mencho had died of kidney failure at a hospital in Guadalajara.
Uncertainty about his health status has begun to affect the group. The Mezcales, a splinter faction of the CJNG in Colima, publicly ended their allegiance to the larger cartel in early 2022, claiming that El Mencho had died. The Mexican government has investigated these claims but has not found compelling information either way.
As head of the CJNG, El Mencho directs the group’s drug trafficking operations through the states of Jalisco, Colima and Guanajuato, where the cartel is a major player in the methamphetamine trade.
El Mencho is also thought to have ordered several assassinations of Mexican politicians. In March 2013, a suspect in the murder of Jalisco’s Tourism Secretary Jesús Gallegos Álvarez said El Mencho had authorized the hit based on the suspicion that the official was working for the Knights Templar. The CJNG is also believed to be behind the September 2014 assassination of Congressman Gabriel Gómez Michel. While the motive was unclear, Michel was the former mayor of El Grullo, a CJNG stronghold in Jalisco state where El Mencho reportedly moves around freely.
The CJNG has established a presence in 28 Mexican states, including Mexico City, with its base of operations in Jalisco and Colima.
The cartel uses Pacific routes to move drugs, importing cocaine from Colombia and fentanyl from China through the port of Manzanillo in Colima. He has contacts in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and throughout Central America and the United States.
El Mencho reportedly has his personal base of operations around the municipality of El Grullo and other remote parts of Jalisco. Given that he has been off the radar for years, it is unknown to what extent he maintains direct control over CJNG operations across Mexico, although his name and photograph are frequently used by CJNG members nationwide.
Allies and Enemies
A crucial ally for the CJNG has been the Cuinis, a family clan led by Abigael Gonzalez Valencia, the brother of El Mencho’s wife, Rosalinda. The Cuinis set up operations across Latin America to help launder the CJNG’s colossal profits, including in Argentina and Uruguay. However, since being indicted by the US in 2015, most of the Gonzalez Valencia family have been arrested. The Cuinis have largely ceased to exist as an independent unit and it is believed most of their remaining financial schemes have been absorbed into the CJNG.
The CJNG’s principal enemies were originally the Zetas and Knights Templar, with the latter beginning a series of wars involving the CJNG in Michoacán. El Mencho was crucial in these early days of the CJNG and was responsible for much of its early strategic expansion.
But as the group expanded its control of much of Mexico’s criminal landscape, its list of enemies grew. Its principal enemy now is the Sinaloa Cartel, for which it contests control of cocaine and fentanyl trafficking routes across much of central and northern Mexico. Battles between the two have claimed hundreds of lives, if not more, with new hotspots of violence regularly breaking out. In 2021 and 2022, the central state of Zacatecas seems to have become the latest epicenter of Sinaloa-CJNG violence as the two seek to expand their control of fentanyl trafficking. The two have even battled as far away as the Riviera Maya on the Caribbean coast, where drug trafficking and extortion of the tourism industry have been increasing.
However, it is involved in a patchwork of regional feuds, including the Northeast Cartel (Cartel del Noreste – CDN) in Tamaulipas, the Old School Zetas (Zetas Vieja Escuela) in Veracruz, and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel in Guanajuato, although the power of this latter rival has largely been crushed.
While videos and messages released by the CJNG have often stated that troops were acting in El Mencho’s name, it is unknown to what extent the leader was directing these moves.
Most bitterly, the group is involved in a hellish series of conflicts in the southwestern state of Michoacán. The state contains the all-important port of Lázaro Cárdenas, as well as being a crucial area for drug production and trafficking, and offering other criminal economies such as avocado production and extortion. This has made it a priority target for the CJNG as well as the state being the birthplace of El Mencho. However, unlike the rest of Mexico, it has not been unable to impose its criminal will as it has run into well-organized, well-entrenched local groups determined to keep it out.
The main opposition is made up of Cárteles Unidos (United Cartels – CU), a coalition of criminal gangs, including the Cartel de Tepalcatepec and the Viagras. This battle has not seen any side come out as the winner but has shut down parts of Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente, especially the municipality of Aguililla. Thousands have fled the fighting, with Mexican authorities periodically sending in large forces to regain a semblance of control.
The conflict in Michoacán has a far more personal tone for El Mencho. Born in Aguililla, reclaiming that town may be of direct interest to him. Furthermore, the leader of the Cartel de Tepalcatepec, Juan José Farías Álvarez, alias “El Abuelo,” used to be a CJNG ally before turning his coat. This seems to have made bringing him down a personal mission for El Mencho.
In terms of allies, the CJNG does not seem to keep many for long. The CJNG once allegedly worked closely with the Sinaloa Cartel, now their sworn enemies. El Mencho’s son, Rubén Oseguera González, alias “El Menchito,” was reportedly an ally of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán, alias “El Chapo.” In January 2014, however, El Menchito was captured in Guadalajara. Soon after, the alliance fractured as the CJNG became a rival able to contest the Sinaloa Cartel’s dominance.
The group has also been willing to make temporary alliances to expand its geographic reach, including in Baja California with the remnants of the Tijuana Cartel, which rebranded itself as the Tijuana Cartel New Generation (Cartel de Tijuana Nueva Generación). In Ciudad Juárez, a key border crossing into the US, the group was supposedly bolstered by an alliance with the New Juárez Cartel (Nuevo Cartel de Juárez) but this does not appear to have helped it establish itself in the city.
The CJNG has become Mexico’s most high-profile criminal group, taking over territory and numerous criminal economies, including the trafficking of cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and fentanyl. It also has strong revenue from extortion, avocado production, cigarette trafficking, and human smuggling.
While it remains bogged down in plenty of feuds across the country, there is little sense its expansion will soon be stopped. However, if confirmed, the death of the CJNG’s talismanic leader, El Mencho, could begin a slow process of fragmentation, which has brought down plenty of the CJNG’s predecessors.
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