A drug cartel with a penchant for launching brazen attacks -- including a recent assassination attempt on Mexico City’s police chief – has now emerged as the most powerful criminal organization in Mexico following the fall of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, officials are warning.
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel, centered around the fentanyl and methamphetamines trades, has seized power and influence by killing more than 100 public servants in its home state, ranging from mayors to soldiers, local officials tell The Wall Street Journal.
“These people have the firepower and the money to challenge the Mexican state,” Renato Sales, one of Mexico’s former security commissioners, said in an interview with the newspaper. “The Jalisco New Generation Cartel is the most urgent threat to Mexico’s national security.”
Mexican intelligence officials attribute the cartel’s growing strength to its unity – as it has not been weakened by internal conflicts among members. Other cartels in Mexico also have come under siege internationally – most notably the Sinaloa Cartel, which “El Chapo” used to run before being imprisoned in the U.S.
The Wall Street Journal reports the Jalisco cartel killed a federal judge and his wife last month and Mexican authorities have intercepted their telephone calls to compile a list of who may be targeted next. Separately, the cartel is waging war against gangs in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato over control of a $3 billion market in stolen gasoline, the newspaper adds.
“This is an example of the challenge the Mexican state is being confronted with,” Enrique Alfaro, the governor of Jalisco – who is reported to be on the list – was quoted as telling local media. “What we are seeing is a threat to institutions.”
The Jalisco cartel is run by Nemesio Oseguera, whom the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has a $10 million reward out for information leading to his capture. Oseguera, a former Mexico police officer, once was jailed in the U.S. for distributing heroin and is now believed to be hiding somewhere in the mountains of Jalisco state, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Last year, the DEA labeled the Jalisco cartel “the most well-armed" in Mexico and said it is dealing its drugs in American cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.
Five years ago, the cartel blasted a Mexican Air Force helicopter out of the sky with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing eight soldiers and a policewoman in what was the first time ever that an organized crime group downed a military aircraft in the country, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Now, security analysts that spoke to The Wall Street Journal believe the cartel is launching attacks in response to recent setbacks it has suffered, like the February extradition of Oseguera’s son to the U.S. to face drug charges. The federal judge that had been killed in Colima state served in one of the cases against him.
In March, U.S. authorities arrested 600 people believed to be linked to the cartel north of the border, while in June, Mexico’s Finance Ministry froze nearly 2,000 bank accounts tied to their operations, according to The Wall Street Journal.
“I feel that the Jalisco cartel is on a crusade of vengeance for the injuries they feel they have suffered,” Eduardo Guerrero, a Mexican security analyst, told the newspaper. “We are at the beginning of a wave of massacres and assassinations of police and judicial officials. It’s part of a strategy to show strength to the government.”
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel is also putting Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a “conundrum,” says Falko Ernst, a security analyst with nonprofit International Crisis Group.
Lopez Obrador in the past has vowed to push back against cartel violence with a “hugs not bullets” strategy.
“If he acts boldly, he would be undermining his own rhetoric,” Ernst told The Wall Street Journal. “If he doesn’t act, the cartels would see it as a message of impunity.”