Reports that the head of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation constructed a hospital, both for himself and local residents, is a concrete example of Mexico's criminal groups investing in real infrastructure to garner the support of local communities.
On July 27, El Universal reported that Mexican authorities had located a hospital in the Jalisco state community of El Alcíhuatl allegedly built by Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) boss Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho."
The hospital was primarily constructed so that Oseguera Cervantes, who is believed to suffer from kidney disease, could receive treatment without putting himself at risk of capture by authorities. However, local residents and members of El Mencho’s security team are reportedly also allowed to use the hospital’s services.
SEE ALSO: Jalisco Cartel News and Profile
The CJNG has consistently made headlines this summer with several unprecedented displays of force.
The Mexican government has accused them of carrying out the June 26 assassination attempt against Omar García Harfuch, Mexico City’s public security secretary, which killed two bodyguards and a passerby.
Then, in mid-July, a video surfaced of an apparently massive CJNG convoy of armored vehicles, featuring at least 80 men carrying 75 high-powered weapons, according to El Universal. In the video, the cartel members can be heard shouting their declarations of loyalty to El Mencho.
As InSight Crime reported in an extensive profile of the CJNG in June, the cartel still struggles to consolidate power in several key locations, including northern Mexico, Tierra Caliente and the Mexico City area.
InSight Crime Analysis
There have been a number of historic examples of criminal groups in Mexico providing essential goods to local communities, especially during the recent coronavirus pandemic. But building actual infrastructure such as schools or hospitals is rarer, while not unknown.
Those which have done so usually acted to fulfill specific community needs.
"La Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar built a number of schools which were needed in Tierra Caliente, Guerrero," Oscar Balderas, a Mexican journalist specialized in organized crime, told InSight Crime.
"And in the eastern state of Veracruz, orange growers had long asked the government to build better roads so they could sell their produce more easily. The government never did, so the Zetas built a lot of the roads which connect Veracruz and Tamaulipas, especially between Tuxpan and Tampico," he added.
Former Sinaloa Cartel leader, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo," cultivated a reputation as a celebrity, especially among rural communities in Sinaloa. But in a 2015 investigation, the Associated Press could not find any physical infrastructure built by Guzmán Loera for the benefit of local communities in Sinaloa.
“I don’t see a single building producing jobs, a single piece of public works, a soccer field, a sewer, a school, water systems, a clinic or hospital, not a single one that you can say was built by drug traffickers or their money,” Mario Valenzuela, then-mayor of Badiraguato, where El Chapo was born, told the press agency.
Instead, his celebrity status appears to be more based on his prestige as a drug trafficker and his repeated prison escapes.
"Why do people admire him [El Chapo]? Because he's a living legend. He's like Al Capone, like Lucky Luciano, like Tony Soprano, like Scarface. He's like a television character, except he's alive, he's real," Adrián Cabrera, a journalist in Culiacán, Sinaloa, told Milenio.
SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profile
Despite the CJNG's penchant for high-profile acts, El Mencho has not sought such a cult of personality. Even before he became one of the most-wanted criminals in Mexico and the United States, Oseguera Cervantes almost never appeared in public.
It is no surprise he chose to build his hospital in El Alcíhuatl, a town in the middle of the CJNG's heartland and where he clearly feels safe. This is despite the fact that the hospital is located just 50 kilometers from Villa Purificación, a major CJNG stronghold where members shot down a Mexican military helicopter in 2015 during a failed attempt to capture El Mencho.