Unsealed US indictments against top figures in the Jalisco Cartel signal the extent to which the group has gone virtually unhindered during the administration of Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, but the US spotlight may mean its best days are behind it.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) unveiled 15 indictments October 16 against members of the Jalisco Cartel -- New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG). It also doubled the reward against the cartel’s top leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho”, to $10 million.
SEE ALSO: Jalisco Cartel – New Generation Profile
Two of the DOJ indictments concern Diego Pineda Sánchez and Carlos Parra-Pedroza, a pair who laundered over $100 million in drug proceeds between 2011 and 2014 through a network of cash-for-gold schemes.
After first being arrested, the two men were reported to have been working for the Sinaloa Cartel, according to EFE. However, the DOJ now points to a CJNG connection, showing how the cartel was able to take over or at least overlap with its rival’s US networks.
In all, the DOJ listed 14 CJNG targets but just three are in US custody. Several more, including El Mencho’s son, Rubén Oseguera González, are in prison in Mexico and extradition requests have gone unfilled for years.
InSight Crime Analysis
This attention from Washington comes after a protracted period of government and judicial oversights in Mexico, which allowed the CJNG leadership to remain largely intact as authorities focused on other targets.
During Peña Nieto’s last annual government report in September, he proudly proclaimed that 110 of 122 alleged criminals, flagged as top priorities at the start of his six-year term, had been arrested or killed.
Of the 110, just two members of the CJNG were arrested and one killed, as opposed to 33 from the Zetas and 24 from the Sinaloa Cartel. What’s more, government actions appeared to play into the hands of the CJNG, decapitating its enemies and allowing its territory to grow unchecked.
There are multiple reasons for this lack of progress against the CJNG.
Dr. Javier Oliva Posada, a professor on security and defense at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said the Peña Nieto government was simply distracted.
“Joaquín Guzmán Loera attracted the focus of the media and police,” he said, referring to the former head of the Sinaloa Cartel, who is in a US jail awaiting trial on multiple charges.
He added that the CJNG maintained what he called “the old [cartel] structures,” avoiding local alliances that have endangered other large groups like Sinaloa.
“The fragmentation of its rivals also helped it,” he said.
Erubiel Tirado, coordinator of the National Security and Democracy program at the Ibero-American University in Mexico City, told InSight Crime that the government’s efforts against numerous cartels may have been counter-productive.
“The government's security plans are often fought on multiple fronts against several criminal organizations,” he said.
“This means they often lose efficiency once only one cartel is left standing,” he added.
Consequently, the CJNG has been able to conquer or take over domestic and foreign drug trafficking and money laundering networks put in place by the Sinaloa Cartel, from which it emerged in 2010.
Still, the winds may be turning. Last week, US Attorney-General Jeff Sessions referred to the CJNG as “Mexico’s most powerful drug cartel.”
US frustration at inefficiencies in the Mexican court system is also surfacing. The slowness of extradition proceedings and the release of CJNG members are hindering any concerted efforts to rein the group in. This was made clear when Erick Valencia Salazar, alias “El 85,” one of the original founders of the CJNG, was released in December 2017 due to alleged irregularities in his prosecution.
Matthew G. Donahue, the US Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) regional director for North and Central America, told the Associated Press that the United States is hoping for “the cooperation that we currently have with Mexico to be a little more efficient, a little bit more aggressive.”
The DOJ indictments are but one facet of the attack on the CJNG. Accompanied by a new task force in Chicago to crack down on the cartel’s financing and continued asset takedowns (see below), the CJNG is about to face more pressure than ever.
(Graphic c/o US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control)