HomeNewsArrest of Leader Shows Mexico's Rojos May Be Increasing Presence in Michoacán

Arrest of Leader Shows Mexico's Rojos May Be Increasing Presence in Michoacán


The municipality of Tepalcatepec in Mexico's southern state of Michoacán has long been one of the country's most violent areas, with the CJNG fighting off a range of rivals. The arrest there of the leader of the Rojos, a gang heavily tied to the neighboring state of Guerrero, suggests that yet more criminal groups may be entering the fray.

On April 16, Mexican authorities tracked down and detained Juan Miguel N., alias “El Johnny,” a leader of the Rojos in Tepalcatepec, according to a Defense Ministry press release.

El Johnny was allegedly the group’s main international trafficker of “drugs from South America,” likely meaning cocaine, which he imported into Mexico for onward smuggling into the United States. He now faces extradition to the United States.

SEE ALSO: Military-Grade Weapons in Michoacán Put Mexican Forces on War Footing

In a subsequent press conference, Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, Mexico's undersecretary for security and public protection, confirmed that the Rojos are based “in Morelos, Guerrero, Puebla and the State of Mexico,” but did not address what El Johnny was doing in Michoacán.

Last month, InSight Crime reported on how the devastating conflict in Michoacán continues to escalate, with crime groups now successfully using roadside bombs and grenade launchers. The municipality of Tepalcatepec, where El Johnny was captured, has emerged as a staging ground for drone warfare.

InSight Crime Analysis

The arrest of a Rojos leader and apparent cocaine trafficker in the combat hotspot of Tepalcatepec is intriguing. The Rojos have traditionally been connected to the heroin trade, but may be looking for new means of criminal income as profits from this drug dwindle.

Moreover, Tepalcatepec is a key stronghold and drug trafficking route for the Cárteles Unidos (CU), a local criminal coalition formed to fight off the invasion of the state by the powerful Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG).

The Rojos have also fought the CJNG, working with the rival Sinaloa Cartel in the states of Morelos and Guerrero. The CU and Rojos may be natural allies against the CJNG as the CU also control access to Michoacán’s Pacific coast, where shipments of synthetic drugs and, to a lesser extent, cocaine arrive for northward transit towards the US.

SEE ALSO: The Next Generation of Criminal Groups Driving Violence in Mexico

El Johnny may have been in Tepalcatepec to do business with the Cárteles Unidos, likely negotiating the arrival and transit of cocaine shipments, possibly in return for support against the CJNG.

A move towards Michoacán and the cocaine trade would make sense for the Rojos. Since 2016, the group has faced increasing competition in Guerrero and has been deprived of stable access to their local port of Acapulco. Meanwhile, the increasing supply of fentanyl in Mexico has slashed demand for the heroin trade.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content


A new rule in the United States seeks to stem the flow of ghost guns, bought in parts online and…


Mexican authorities crushed 23 "narco-tanks," while 630 armored vehicles have been confiscated since 2018.


A boat that capsized off California’s shores carrying some 30 people who paid more than $15,000 each to be shuttled…

About InSight Crime


Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.


InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.


Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …


InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…


Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…