Mexico: A Cartel's Rise and Inevitable Fall

3 MINS READJun 27, 2015 | 13:00 GMT
Mexico: A Cartel's Rise and Inevitable Fall
(STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Soldiers escort Jose Serna Padilla, an alleged member of the Mexico's Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, after his arrest in 2012.

Earlier this year, the Mexican government vowed to dismantle the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, one of Mexico's most powerful crime syndicates. Eventually, the government's efforts will destroy the cartel, and smaller autonomous networks will emerge from its wake. But it is unclear when cracks will begin to appear. For the time being, the cartel will remain the fastest-expanding crime group in Mexico. In 2015, it has been consolidating control in Baja California state, fighting in San Luis Potosi state and beginning to expand into Zacatecas state.

This expansion reflects the gradual breakdown of organized crime in Sinaloa and Tamaulipas states since 2010 that has made way for the spread of groups from the rural region known as Tierra Caliente, including the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, into other parts of Mexico. As with all organized crime networks facing persistent law enforcement pressure, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion is doomed to one day decentralize. More broadly, however, its current expansion will cement the status and influence across Mexico of criminal groups that originated in the Tierra Caliente region.

In Baja California state, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) has allied with crime groups derived from the Arellano Felix Organization (also known as the Tijuana cartel or the Cartel de Arellano Felix) to seize control of the Tijuana plaza, the Tijuana-based investigative journal Zeta reported June 15. The CJNG and other organized crime groups from Tierra Caliente are not new to Tijuana, as they have long operated in the border city under the control of Sinaloa-based groups. The CJNG itself has maintained a presence in Tijuana since beginning its rapid expansion as an independent organization in 2012. If the report is accurate, the cartel is apparently seeking to end the dominance that Sinaloan groups have had around Tijuana since at least the 1980s.

Meanwhile, in San Luis Potosi state, the CJNG appears to be attempting to wrest control of towns from several other drug trafficking operations: the Velazquez network (also known as Los Talibanes or the Gulf cartel) and possibly Los Zetas. The cartel's expansion into the state makes sense. Controlling the highways and population centers in the towns would facilitate its trafficking activities to the United States, particularly through areas of northeastern Mexico such as Monterrey.


The CJNG is also operating in Zacatecas state, near the border with Jalisco, 11th Military Zone Cmdr. Gen. Antelmo Rojas Yanez said June 19. Though there is no indication that the cartel has yet expanded into the cities of Zacatecas, Guadalupe or Fresnillo, the state's main population centers, the group will likely try to do so. The two main groups operating in those locations, the Velazquez network and Los Zetas, have been weakened over the past year by frequent and successful federal troop operations. As in San Luis Potosi state, dominance of Zacatecas provides control over trafficking routes running north to the United States. The value of these routes was demonstrated by Mexican officials' estimation that Los Zetas earned roughly $1.3 million per month from its activities in Zacatecas when the state was uncontested.

Prior to 2010, most crime groups that emerged from Tierra Caliente worked as subsidiaries of powerful Sinaloa- and Tamaulipas-based syndicates such as the Gulf cartel and the Sinaloa Federation. The CJNG, in fact, originates from the organization led by a Sinaloa Federation lieutenant, Ignacio "El Nacho" Coronel Villarreal, who was killed by federal troops in July 2010. After continuous infighting and years of aggressive pursuit by the military and law enforcement, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas groups began to lose control of organized crime in Tierra Caliente, leading to the expansion of independent groups such as La Familia Michoacana, the Knights Templar and the CJNG itself. Though La Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar are now shadows of their former selves, their expansion left a lasting presence of Tierra Caliente-based criminal elements in Guanajuato, Mexico and Queretaro states, as well as in most regions in southern Mexico. And though the CJNG, still the most powerful and cohesive Tierra Caliente group, will eventually face a defeat at the hands of federal troops, Tierra Caliente organized crime will have a lasting presence wherever the CJNG expands before it is dismantled.

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