The ongoing aggression of Mexico's Jalisco Cartel - New Generation suggests the government's message to cartels to keep violence down or be dismantled is yet to sink in for the many of the next generation of up and coming criminal organizations.
Five years ago the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG) was a non-entity. Now it is the target of a major federal security operation in Jalisco as one of the most prominent engines of violence in western Mexico. According to at least one analysis, it has become the most dangerous drug trafficking organization in the country.
While there is room for debate on this last point, there is no doubt the group has risen rapidly since emerging out of the embers of the organization controlled by former Sinaloa Cartel boss Ignacio Coronel, who died in a shootout with the Federal Police in 2010. It has been an overtly aggressive organization since the outset, when it announced its existence with videos threatening their local rivals, first the Resistance, and later the Knights Templar,
More recently, the CJNG has taken advantage of the geographic and public relations vacuum left by the decline of the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Knights Templar -- organizations that have all seen their leadership decimated by arrests and shootouts with Mexican authorities. While it may not be the most powerful organization in Mexico, it is one of the few that seems to be at the front end of its narrative arc.
The group has been linked to notorious crimes in Jalisco and neighboring states over the past five years, most recently the August murder of a Jalisco mayor and the ambush that left 15 state police officers dead in April, crimes that have called to mind the methods of the old Jalisco Cartel of Sinaloa godfather Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo. The CJNG has also employed tactics that are disruptive and harmful to the society at large, such as extortion and blockades of popular thoroughfares.
SEE ALSO: CJNG Profile
The CJNG’s activities have provoked a furious government response, particularly the federal government’s Operation Jalisco. The government’s prioritization of the group appears to have been a factor in the shootout in a Michoacan ranch last month in which 42 alleged members of the CJNG were killed by government authorities -- who in turn suffered just one casualty. The group responded with promises of vengeance against government officials.
InSight Crime Analysis
The CJNG’s path is reflective of the broader evolution in the Mexican government’s approach to security policy, both its successes and its failures. The fact that there is space for the CJNG to emerge in one of the most strategically valuable corridors in Mexico is a testament to the success of security agencies, especially at the federal level, in tracking down capos and weakening the existing underworld powers. During the past five years, the organization has exploited the downfall of figures like the Sinaloa Cartel's Joaquin “el Chapo” Guzman, the Knights Templar's Servando "la Tuta" Gomez, and Miguel Angel Treviño and Heriberto Lazcano of the Zetas.
In some ways, this represents the successful completion of one of the Peña Nieto administration’s foremost security goals: to lower the profile of Mexican organized crime in the international and national media. Whether or not this is a worthy goal is arguable, but there is little question that CJNG’s activities do not occupy the attention of media outlets like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal the way the gang’s forerunners did. If this truly is the most dangerous gang in modern Mexico, it is, from a public relations perspective, a pale imitation of past groups to have earned that label.
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Furthermore, though members of the group have been arrested as far away as the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz, the CJNG has been more content to consolidate its control over its native region, largely rejecting the expansionist tendencies that made the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas such destabilizing forces.
But notwithstanding its lower profile, the gang remains a significant force for ill, and has helped spur a years-long wave of violence across Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Through four months of 2015, Jalisco was on pace for nearly 900 murders this year, nearly double the number in 2009, the year before Coronel’s death.
The CJNG, then, displays something of a dichotomy: its low profile relative to past groups labeled Mexico’s most dangerous and its lack of interest in national territorial expansion contrasting with a consistent willingness to engage in mass violence.
In theory, the targeting of kingpins should have incentivized a less provocative approach to organized crime, one that studiously avoids the kind of actions that could spark a federal security operation aimed at a single gang. But the case of the CJNG shows that the implicit message that the government would seek to send to criminal groups with the constant takedowns of its most violent members -- that is, adopt a defensive approach to the business or you will be destroyed -- is not being heard, at least not by the CJNG.
There are any number of reasons why this altered approach has not yet manifested itself: maybe the signaling from the government has been inconsistent and crude, or the evolution is ongoing but too slow to be clearly visible just yet, or perhaps criminal gangs operate according to incentives that are largely incoherent and impossible to divine from outside and are immune to the standard calculations of rational interest.
Whatever the reason, the inability to force gangs to absorb this lesson limits the impact of government successes and helps maintain Mexico's bloodshed at unacceptable levels.