The discovery of a previously unknown military-style patch identifying a specialized drone warfare unit within Mexico's CJNG highlights the range of meanings and symbolism these emblems can carry.
While patches are not universally used among Mexican criminal groups, one of their early adopters were the Zetas, a brutal criminal group whose founders were deserters from an elite Mexican army unit. Beginning as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo - CDG), the Zetas soon turned on their allies in the early 2000s and began expanding nationwide, with their iconography heavily inspired from their military roots.
Their logo made their territorial origins clear, with the Zetas "Z" next to a map of Mexico and of Tamaulipas, their home state.
Patches and symbols used by military forces also became more commonplace among criminal groups after 2012 when then-President Felipe Calderón sent the Mexican army to directly confront the cartels, driving up Mexico's body count and the use of wartime rhetoric. These insignias became a way to promote internal structure and identity, help specific units to coalesce, or promote loyalty to specific leaders.
The CJNG's Drone Operators
In April 2023, a patch belonging to a specialized drone unit of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) named Drone Operators (Operadores Droneros) was identified for the first time. As one of Mexico's most brutal cartels, the CJNG have become pioneers in the use of drones to instill terror, especially in the western states of Michoacán and Guerrero. The group first used drones to drop explosives onto enemies in 2020, and recent reports suggest the CJNG has provided training to their temporary allies, La Familia Michoacana, in how to carry out similar attacks.
El Mencho's Special Forces
The CJNG has also used patches as emblems to promote loyalty to their talismanic leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho." This patch for the Mencho Special Forces (Fuerzas Especiales Mencho) is allegedly used by the gunmen who are charged with the personal protection of the CJNG leader. Based in rural Jalisco, this group has been allegedly responsible for some of the cartel's most infamous attacks, including the downing of a 2015 military helicopter. The use of El Mencho's name and face has remained constant among CJNG propaganda, despite him not having appeared in public for years and widespread rumors of his death.
The Lord of Roosters
In the same vein, the symbol of a rooster is prominently featured in several CJNG patches and emblems. This refers to another of El Mencho's nicknames, the "Lord of the Roosters" (El señor de los gallos). El Mencho reportedly has a strong affinity for cockfighting, which remains popular in rural parts of Mexico, including his birthplace state of Michoacán and current residence of Jalisco.
Yet another CJNG emblem, which heavily resembles that of the Mencho Special Forces, is that of Grupo X, one of the cartel's strongest armed wings. According to Mexican media reports, Grupo X operates in the state of Michoacán and was created to confront rival groups such as the Cárteles Unidos and the Correa. Authorities first became aware of its existence in May 2021, after discovering an abandoned vehicle displaying this emblem.
Ratón Special Forces
Ovidio Guzmán López is the son of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias "El Chapo," and one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel faction known as the Chapitos. There are competing stories about why he acquired the nickname The Rat (El Ratón), including his stature or an affinity for animals. While the nickname may not seem flattering, Ovidio appears to have embraced it: Chapitos members loyal to him wore a patch bearing a cartoon mouse. This patch became well known in July 2022 after the arrest of 14 Chapitos members in Mexico City.
La Kena 19
While the CJNG and Sinaloa Cartel have most commonly used military patches, they are not the only ones. The CDG have also regularly made use of them in northeastern Mexico. One of their leaders, José Alberto García Vilano, alias "La Kena" o “Ciclón 19," designed a particularly elaborate patch. It bore a scorpion, referring to the Scorpions faction of the CDG, as well as a phoenix and an eagle. It also featured the number 19 in Roman numerals, XIX, referring to La Kena's number within the CDG's Cyclones faction, which he led.