Aug 30, 2012 | 10:32 GMT

4 mins read

Mexico City Targets a Cartel in Jalisco State


Gunmen established at least 26 roadblocks by setting hijacked vehicles on fire in the roadway Aug. 25-26 in various areas of Jalisco state, including Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta and Ciudad Guzman. The roadblocks apparently came in response to government operations targeting organized criminals in Guadalajara and Ciudad Guzman at the time. Federal officials said that during those operations they detained four lieutenants who worked directly with the leader of Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion in Ciudad Guzman. If true, this would temporarily reduce the group's ability to coordinate its operations in Jalisco. It would also provide Los Zetas, the group's principal rivals in Guadalajara, the opportunity to expand their efforts to seize control of territory, leading to increased conflict in those areas.

Several Mexican media outlets initially reported that federal authorities had detained Nemesio "El Mencho" Oseguera Cervantes, the top leader of the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion. Oseguera Cervantes apparently succeeded Erick "El 85" Valencia Salazar, who led the group before his arrest. Jalisco state authorities have since denied this, stating that the roadblocks in Guadalajara had covered his retreat, and it appears that Oseguera Cervantes has not, in fact, been detained.

Map of Jalisco, Mexico

Map of Jalisco, Mexico

The current incident paralleled the events surrounding the March 12 arrest of Valencia Salazar. When the Mexican military captured Valencia Salazar in Guadalajara on March 9, gunmen erected at least 16 roadblocks around the city. Typically, gunmen affiliated with organized criminal groups use roadblocks to create diversions or hinder military and law enforcement operations. The March and August events demonstrated the cartel's willingness to aggressively use this tactic and to coordinate operations throughout Guadalajara, causing significant disruptions citywide. The August roadblocks appear to have been coordinated across a much broader geographic area.

The Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion has rapidly increased its area of operations over the last year. It has served as a key ally of the Sinaloa Federation in Jalisco state, an important transportation hub for drug smuggling. The state capital of Guadalajara is an especially strategic location, and Los Zetas are ready to expand their operations there, despite its distance from their home turf on Mexico's east coast. The Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion has defended Guadalajara from such outside incursions for the Sinaloa Federation.

The arrest of the four lieutenants likely will not have a long-term impact on Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion's operational capabilities, since leaders can be replaced. However, arrests of prominent organized crime leaders can diminish a group's ability to coordinate operations in the short term, since new individuals are required to take on the responsibilities of fallen leaders. Given this dynamic, any weakening from disarray, even if temporary, would provide Los Zetas an opportunity to redouble their efforts to take control of a lucrative plaza, putting both the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Sinaloa Federation under pressure.

According to figures from Mexico's Executive Secretariat of the National System of Public Security, violence in Jalisco has increased since Valencia Salazar's arrest. Every month since March has seen more homicides than the months preceding March, indicating a push into the state by Los Zetas. On March 17, soon after Valencia Salazar's arrest, an executed man's corpse was hung from a bridge in Zapopan, a suburb of Guadalajara, along with a message addressed to Sinaloa Federation leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera and ostensibly signed by Los Zetas' top leader, Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales. Los Zetas have carried out further acts of violence in Guadalajara, such as a May 9 public display of 18 dead bodies near Guadalajara. While these acts do not establish that Los Zetas are making gains in the turf war, they suggest what could lie ahead if Los Zetas expand their efforts to control Guadalajara.

Los Zetas already operate in several areas of Jalisco state, including Guadalajara and nearby areas such as Magdalena. It was in Magdalena on Aug. 22 that Los Zetas gunmen engaged in a firefight with law enforcement, resulting in the death of five individuals, including Magdalena's municipal police chief.

It is unclear whether Los Zetas will, in fact, seek to take advantage of federal operations against the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion. Los Zetas have recently experienced setbacks in neighboring Zacatecas state, where prominent Zetas leader Ivan "El Taliban" Velazquez Caballero has recently splintered from the organization and appears to be fighting Trevino's organization. This recent internal conflict may distract Trevino and potentially detract from Los Zetas' focus on Guadalajara. Should Los Zetas decide to make a move in Jalisco, a violent response from the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Sinaloa Federation can be expected.

Following the firefight in Magdalena, Jalisco state Gov. Emilio Gonzalez Marquez confirmed Los Zetas' involvement and warned that they are seeking inroads to Jalisco. With an established presence in Jalisco state, Los Zetas would be capable of increasing operations to take control of areas within Guadalajara. Should this occur, violent acts affiliated with turf wars could further increase.

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