U.S. raids against the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación won’t tear down El Mencho’s empire

29/03/2020
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09:36
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Reuters
U.S. raids against the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación won’t tear down El Mencho’s empire
The CJNG gained notoriety in 2015, when it brought down an army helicopter - Photo: Jorge Alberto Mendoza/EL UNIVERSAL

U.S. raids against the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación won’t tear down El Mencho’s empire

29/03/2020
09:36
Reuters
Mexico City
Drazen Jorgic, Mark Hosenball
-A +A
The bloody Mexican cartel is producing unprecedented volumes of synthetic drugs 

A major U.S.-led operation targeting Mexico’s fastest-growing drug cartel won’t halt the rise of the bloody Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and its leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho.”

Over the past decade, Oseguera, a 53-year-old former policeman, has led the CJNG’s advent as a criminal empire spanning five continents and a rival to the Sinaloa Cartel, once led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who is now incarcerated in a U.S. prison.

Oseguera is accused of flooding U.S. streets with synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and fentanyl, which cause tens of thousands of deaths every year. Therefore, El Mencho’s success has made him a prized target, with U.S. authorities placing a USD $10 million bounty on his head in 2018.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) stepped up the fight weeks ago, with its largest operation against the CJNG on U.S. soil, arresting over 600 people accused of being linked to the bloody Mexican Cartel.

Moreover, U.S. authorities also struck two major blows against Oseguera last month, arresting his daughter in Washington and extraditing his son from Mexico to the United States.

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“He’s one of our number one targets,” a senior DEA official told Reuters, citing soaring output from CJNG labs churning out heroin, methamphetamine, and fentanyl for the United States.

The DEA official, who asked not to be identified, said the agency estimates the CJNG produced about 106 metric tons of heroin in 2018, a four-fold rise from 2013, and was also making “pharmaceutical grade” methamphetamine pills in jungle labs.

The volumes were unprecedented in Mexico, the official said.

U.S. officials emphasized the success of the raids aimed at disrupting the CJNG, saying they also made “significant seizures of money and drugs.”

However, experts were skeptical, citing the scale of the CJNG’s organization and its base in Mexico, where the U.S. government estimates it is present in three-quarters of the states, built on violence and fear.

“It’s not going to have an impact,” said Mike Vigil, a former DEA chief of international operations. “It would be tantamount to closing down a few franchises of McDonald’s while the global chain continues to exist.”

Oseguera controls Jalisco

Oseguera’s ascent from a former foot soldier to one of Mexico’s most feared drug traffickers has been marked by business expertise and a willingness to use grisly violence meted out by CJNG henchmen, including beheadings.

The Mexican state has not been spared. The cartel has massacred security forces as recent as October 2019, when alleged CJNG gunmen ambushed and killed 14 police officers in the western state of Michoacán.

In 2015, as Mexican forces closed in on Oseguera, tipped-off CJNG henchmen downed a military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade to buy time for their leader to escape.

The CJNG’s expansion was helped by a balkanization of the cartels that followed the neutralization of drug traffickers over the past decade under the U.S.-backed “Kingpin” strategy employed by Mexico.

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President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in late 2018, vowing to adopt a less confrontational approach to tackling drug cartel violence by focusing on the root causes of crime: poverty and corruption.

But El Mencho’s turf wars with the Sinaloa Cartel have contributed to increasing levels of violence in Mexico. For example, murders hit an all-time high of 34,582 last year.

One senior Mexican security official said Oseguera was the most wanted organized crime leader in the country, along with his rival “El Marro,” whose smaller Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel is accused of industrial-scale fuel theft from pipelines, threatening the president’s goal of reviving state oil company Pemex.

Inside Jalisco, Oseguera has bought off hundreds of police to cover his back and operates with near-total impunity, according to Mexican and U.S. officials.

“He’s in an area where even Mexican authorities won’t go into,” said the senior DEA official. “(He) controls almost the entire state.”

Who is “El Mencho”?

Despite his reputation, Oseguera has kept a low profile and avoided the kind of media glare that washed over “El Chapo” Guzmán.

“He’s been careful and paranoid ... trying to stay off the radar,” said Falko Ernst, an International Crisis Group analyst.

He has also learned from the success of rivals, experts say.

Born in the rugged and impoverished Tierra Caliente region, famous for opium and marijuana plantations, Oseguera worked the fields as a boy with his avocado-farming family before joining the flood of young Mexicans into the United States in the 1980s.

He became involved in the heroin business and was arrested by police in the early 1990s. He spent three years in a U.S. prison before being deported, according to the DEA and analysts.

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Back in Mexico, El Mencho joined the police before enlisting with the Milenio Cartel, a branch of “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Sinaloa Cartel, eventually becoming a senior leader after stints as a sicario, or hitman.

“He received a Harvard-type education from some of the best cartel leaders,” said Vigil.

In 2009, Oseguera tried to take over the Milenio Cartel when its boss was killed in an army raid. When he was rejected, he struck out alone, declared war on Sinaloa, and founded a new cartel in alliance with Los Cuinis, a gang of money launderers, according to security analysts and local media.

That new cartel, the CJNG, would blend traditional Sinaloa-style drug trafficking with the ultra-violence of the Zetas Cartel, who used paramilitary tactics to diversify into criminal enterprises such as extortion and theft.

Jalisco combines both those models,” said cartel expert Ioan Grillo, author of the book “El Narco.” “(He has) a very potent organization and they will fight to protect him.”

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