The hideous levels of violence plaguing Zacatecas, exemplified by ten bodies abandoned in a van outside the governor’s office, are the result of an ongoing campaign by major cartels. But such acts could soon be replicated anywhere in the country.
On January 6, a man was caught running from a grey Mazda van parked haphazardly outside the governor’s office and next to a huge Christmas tree in Zacatecas, the capital of the state of the same name in northern Mexico. Authorities found ten dead bodies inside the vehicle.
According to Mexican press reports citing sources within the Zacatecas Attorney General’s Office, the suspect was linked to the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG), Mexico’s most dangerous criminal group.
In a statement on social media, Zacatecas Governor David Monreal claimed that this act was in response to Operation Zacatecas 2, a major security plan that has seen thousands of police and army personnel deployed in the state since November. This was deemed a national priority as from November 2020 to November 2021, homicides rose by 52.2 percent in the state.
The operation was announced a week after ten bodies, bearing signs of torture, were found hanging from a road bridge in Cuauhtémoc, a city in the south of the state.
According to Monreal, Operation Zacatecas 2 has already been successful in reducing violent crime. That is hard to prove as acts of shocking violence have continued.
On December 24, eleven bodies were found in two separate locations in the town of Fresnillo in the center of the state. After the macabre discovery on January 6, at least six more bodies were found in the state capital on January 7.
In the last few years, Zacatecas has become hotly contested criminal real estate as cartels have established laboratories to manufacture fentanyl there and fought to control convenient drug trafficking routes toward the US border.
While the CJNG and its rival, the Sinaloa Cartel, are the strongest groups in the state, the Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo – CDG) and two Zetas splinter groups, the Old School Zetas (Zetas Vieja Escuela) and the Talibanes are also present, according to Zacatecas’ then-secretary of public security in February 2020.
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It’s becoming a grisly game of whac-a-mole. Every time the CJNG enters new territory, the pattern of carnage is renewed.
In 2019, it was the central state of Guanajuato that saw its homicide rate skyrocket due to a war between the CJNG and the local Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel over control of lucrative oil theft. Brides were shot dead at their weddings, remains were left on bridges, even dogs were tortured and killed.
In 2021, a different state and different criminal economy: Zacatecas and fentanyl. According to Ismael Camberos Hernández, the former secretary of public security, the state is an ideal location for criminals to seek to take control. In an interview with El Universal, he explained that in 2019, the Sinaloa Cartel strengthened its presence across much of the state, to control drug routes going north and fentanyl production labs in the center and south.
But in April 2020, the CJNG invaded in force. On April 12, narcomantas (messages from drug cartels) appeared in 17 municipalities at the same time, all claiming that “From today, the state of Zacatecas is represented by the CJNG.”
Since then, the homicide number, which had been creeping up for several years, has exploded. Acts of butchery also.
Zacatecas has become the latest victim in the CJNG’s grisly war as it battles the Sinaloa Cartel for synthetic drug production. Before that, the CJNG was fighting the CSRL for control of oil theft in Guanajuato. And the Cárteles Unidos to shake down avocado growers in Michoacán. And the Sinaloa Cartel again to extort the tourism sector in Quintana Roo. And the Northeast Cartel to secure US border crossings in Tamaulipas.
And where next?