A series of photos taken in a Mexican town, that has been the focal point of major criminal engagements this year, reportedly shows members of the CJNG with faces uncovered for the first time.
First published by Mexican news agency Cuartoscuro, the photos show eight men, believed to belong to the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG), carrying high-caliber weaponry and standing in front of armored vehicles on a highway in Aguililla, a town in the western state of Michoacán.
While such shows of strength by the group are not uncommon, this is the first time that CJNG members have appeared with their faces plainly visible in high-quality images.
Both the vehicles and the men's bulletproof vests are stamped with the letters "CJNG" as well as “Fuerzas Especiales Mencho” (Mencho Special Forces) and “Delta,” referring to specific CJNG units fighting to wrest control of Aguililla from local groups.
Aguililla is currently the epicenter of fighting between the CJNG and an alliance of local criminal actors, known as Cárteles Unidos, in Michoacán. The area is a priority target for the CJNG due to its importance for the trafficking of heroin and synthetic drugs.
Violent clashes have upended life in Aguililla, with numerous residents fleeing due to common shootouts. Highways in and out of the area have been blocked off for months and even envoys from the Catholic Church have failed to secure a ceasefire. In early July, residents of Aguililla clashed with members of the Mexican Army, whom they accuse of not acting to resolve the issue.
InSight Crime Analysis
This does not appear to have been a careless act by the CJNG but the latest in an escalating series of stunts intended to show its strength and defy the Mexican State.
And the fact that these photos were taken in Aguililla - arguably the spot where the CJNG is currently facing the greatest resistance - also seems calculated. The group is inviting a response from its rivals, whether the Army or the Cárteles Unidos.
This fits a pattern of growing confidence within the CJNG as it has become the largest criminal actor or has established a strong influence in at least 25 of Mexico's 32 states, according to InSight Crime investigations.
In July 2020, around 80 CJNG members, wearing masks, military uniforms and posing with heavy weaponry and armored vehicles, posed for a video in a remote area between the states of Michoacán and Jalisco. At the time, Mexico's Defense Minister Luis Crescencio Sandoval stated that the men were part of an elite CJNG group and were seeking to threaten the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel (CSRL), its main rival in the central state of Guanajuato.
Then in September 2020, a video believed to have been filmed in the central state of Zacatecas showed CJNG members directly threatening Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo,” leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. The CJNG has been fighting the Sinaloa Cartel in Zacatecas with one recent clash in June killing 35 people.
“[These videos] have all the elements needed to send a very clear message: we are armed and we are unafraid," Karina García Reyes, a professor who specializes in studying criminal violence at the University of Bristol, told InSight Crime.
And Aguililla could yet see violent escalation after these videos. The CJNG has a long precedent of directly targeting top officials, such as the attempted murder of Mexico City's police chief, Omar García Harfuch, in June 2020.
The group has also been blamed for the murder of the former governor of Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval, last December.
“[The attack against García Harfuch] was another very clear message to the authorities: "We are armed to the teeth and we have what we need to face the government, so much so that we are going after this very high-profile person," said García Reyes.
*Tomás Michael contributed to this article