Representatives of Mexico’s Jalisco Cartel have spoken out on behalf of their shadowy leader to demand that residents of a town in the hotly contested Tierra Caliente region help them drive a rival from the area, raising questions about the group's motives for doing so.
In the video published on September 10, a masked man sitting at a table flanked by heavily-armed men in military-style uniforms bearing the letters of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación -- CJNG) addresses the citizens of Tepalcatepec in Michoacán state on behalf of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” Borderland Beat reported.
“We want to clarify on behalf of Mr. Mencho and his cartel, which is the CJNG," the man explains. "This fight is not against the citizens of Tepalcatepec, but it is with El Abuelo and his cartel. If you want this war to end, take El Abuelo and his cartel out of Tepalcatepec."
The video comes after the CJNG moved into western Michoacán from its home base across the border in Jalisco, igniting a conflict between the CJNG and the so-called Cartel del Abuelo, which is lead by Juan José Farias Álvarez, alias “El Abuelo.” An hours-long firefight between the two groups on August 30, which forced businesses and schools to shut down, left nine dead and 11 others wounded.
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The CJNG’s declaration of war came weeks earlier in a video published on August 13, in which more than a dozen members of the organization vowed to drive El Abuelo and his group from Tepalcatepec.
“We are going to fight against El Abuelo and anyone who raises a weapon in favor of him,” the members said.
El Abuelo -- who is no stranger to Mexico’s criminal landscape -- appeared in 2013 as the leader of a self-defense group battling to oust the Knights Templar in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán, according to Milenio.
Michoacán has been wracked by organized crime-related violence recently. On August 8, authorities located 19 bodies -- some dismembered, others with gunshot wounds -- around different parts of Uruapan as part of an apparent feud between the CJNG and Viagras.
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The motives behind Oseguera Cervantes' efforts to enter Tepalcatepec and push out El Abuelo appear to be multifaceted: It’s a personal matter for the CJNG leader, and it would also help further the group's criminal interests.
Tepalcatepec sits along a strategic drug trafficking route. To the southeast, the Pacific coast town of Acapulco in Guerrero state and the Port of Lázaro Cárdenas in Michoacán are of extreme importance. Precursor chemicals and drugs arrive there before transiting north through Michoacán and into Guadalajara, after which the drugs are moved on to the United States.
There is a strong incentive for the CJNG to control this route, given its expanding role in the synthetic drug trade, especially regarding fentanyl, which has outstripped the demand for heroin, previously a big earner for the CJNG.
There are also other profits to be made in Michoacán. Organized crime groups in the state have long exploited the billion-dollar avocado business there, extorting and demanding protection payments from business owners and farmers involved in the trade. The state is the world leader in the fruit's production and supplies some 80 percent of US imports, according to government data.
The incursion is also a personal matter for Oseguera Cervantes.
The CJNG leader is a native of Michoacán. Before he rose to prominence in the CJNG, El Mencho was a member of a faction of the Milenio Cartel allied with the Sinaloa Cartel that operated in the state.
But the Familia Michoacana eventually rose in power and ousted the Milenio Cartel and the Zetas from Michoacán, removing El Mencho. Now atop the CJNG, Oseguera Cervantes seems to think it’s time for his return, despite the fact that El Abuelo’s group allegedly worked alongside him and the CJNG as part of a broader campaign to push out the Knights Templar around 2013, according to Milenio.
“He’s [El Mencho] back to claim the throne, which he deems his birthright of sorts as a michoacano. It’s a question of honor and also personal revenge,” according to Falko Ernst, senior analyst for Mexico at the International Crisis Group.
Even with El Mencho's superior financing, manpower, weaponry, and political connections, the CJNG winning the battle for Tepalcatepec is far from a sure thing.
Groups like El Abuelo’s have crucial information on safe houses, escape routes and enemy operatives, giving them a strategic advantage, Ernst said. His group already has the loyalty of residents, which is critical to gathering intel and makes the CJNG’s potential takeover evermore difficult.
“These groups are deeply entrenched, and the community doesn’t have an interest in accepting the CJNG and El Mencho,” according to Ernst.
What’s more, local security forces likely aren’t keen on seeing sustained warfare brought by the CJNG in Tepalcatepec.
Victory for the CJNG seems far off for now. A prolonged conflict featuring more bloodshed is the most likely scenario for Michoacán, as El Mencho and his crew attempt to oust anyone who resists them.