CJNG Cartel Terror on Both Sides of the Border

CJNG drug cartel is one of the biggest and most violent organised crime groups active in Mexico as well as across the border in the United States.

This Grey Dynamics article examines different aspects of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), ranging from the ways they function in the US, as well as the issues they face within Mexico and within their ranks.

CJNG cartel


This Grey Dynamics article examines different aspects of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), ranging from the ways they function in the US, as well as the issues they face within Mexico and within their ranks.

Key Judgements

KJ-1. The CJNG is highly likely insured against raids, arrests, or law-enforcement efforts. Indicators of corruption within the Mexican government likely suggest that the CJNG at the minimum enjoys a sphere of protection. The nature of corruption along with its history in Mexico suggests the CJNG has and will continue to have capability to traffic within US territory.

KJ-2. It is highly likely the CJNG will continue to market their drugs in rural communities across the US, specifically communities struck hard by the US opiate the methamphetamine epidemics. CJNGinfiltration of those markets is one of their key business strategies.

KJ-3. It is likely that as CJNG will be met with rival opposition as they seek to take over as the premier TNO in Mexico. This will likely be shown at the border with disputes between CJNG and rival cartels over key US border crossings used in trafficking operations.

Mexican Corruption as the MOAF – Mother of All Factors

Corruption in Mexico has highly likely formed an informal network of law-enforcement officials and policymakers which allow cartel activities to flourish. Former defence secretary Salvador Cienfuegos was arrested on corruption charges for aiding the H-2 cell of the Beltran-Leyva Organisation, and former secretary of public security Genaro García Luna was arrested in December 2019 for aiding the Sinaloa Cartel. The CJNG specifically bribed Roberto Castañeda, former governor of Nayarit along with former Nayarit Attorney general Isidro Avelár.

In the case of Cienfuegos, according to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), he connected cartel members with an informal network of corrupt officials. The different levels of government of officials involved in corruption, particularly Cienfuegos, make it likely that the CJNG, similar to organisations in the past, enjoys a significant level of aids both in the transport of narcotics to the US and in the systematic protection of the organisation in Mexico. The release of Cienfuegos in exchange for El Mudo, head of La Linea Cartel and responsible for 6 deaths. Success in seizing narcotic shipments or in arrests will likely have short term effects on the organisation’s capability to traffic narcotics across the US border. SEDENA diverted $156 million to bogus companies from 2013-2019 with no member of the executive committee who approved of the sales being charged.

CJNG: Méxican Big Pharma, Américas Curse

Border security and the bilateral war against Mexican Transnational Organizations (TNOs) is a prominent issue in the US, both from a law enforcement perspective, and also a political one (big surprise there…) The past four years of the Trump administration has included harsh political rhetoric levied towards the Mexican government’s inability to curb the activity of TCOs like the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), and its failure to assist US Homeland Security organizations their efforts to impede the steady stream of drugs flowing across the border. Politics aside, the CJNG has capitalized on America’s illicit drug problem, and have begun to carve out a niche market in some unexpected places.

According to the 2019 DEA National Drug Threat Assessment, CJNG “is one of the most powerful and fastest-growing cartels in Mexico and the United States”. According to that same report, the group uses smuggling routes along corridors in Tijuana, Juarez, and Nuevo Laredo. The US domestically speaking, CJNG is known to have distribution hubs in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York, and has infiltrated markets (primarily heroin) in Chicago, Denver, El Paso, Oklahoma City, and some unlikely places akin to rural Virginia, Nebraska, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

CJNG has an attraction to the US opiate epidemic, and for good reason. That epidemic, which is affecting the US Midwest in disproportionate amounts, is a prime drug market for their product. A basic universal principle of drug markets is capitalizing on the constant cycle of supply and demand. Having a customer base for a highly addictive drug, such as heroin, means you will have a constant stream of income. CJNG takes advantage of the issues within rural US communities for this reason.

For example, there is an investigative story in the Courier Journal that takes an in-depth look into the CJNGoperating in a few of these communities. This article focuses on the small towns of Axton and Winchester, Virginia – two locations where there has been CJNG linked drug activity. Using those towns as an example, the common modius operandi is for the group to pick up shipments of drugs from the larger distribution hubs, like Los Angeles or Chicago, and then ferry them into rural communities via interstate freeways and highways.

Members (or allies) of the group will blend into these communities and essentially live a double life to avoid detection. Race and ethnicity are not a factor as well, and CJNG often uses unsuspecting local dealers to sell their products. Organizational linked violence is uncommon, and it is likely it will continue to be so, due to the nature of their business model. Committing acts of violence in the way that they do across the border in Mexico is unhelpful for CJNGs goals, the primary one being profit revenue.  The same goes for caution in the potency of their product to avoid excessive customer fatalities, as noted in this Grey Dynamics article.  

Border Insecurity

Like other TNOs, CJNG has an appreciation of the US-Mexico border. Along the just under 3218Km span of the border, there are never-ending labyrinths of smuggling tunnels and corridors. Within border towns like Tijuana (borders California) Juarez, and Nuevo Laredo (both border Texas), it is highly likely there is a constant presence of CJNGoperatives, as well as corrupt government and law enforcement officials who assist their freedom of movement across the US side of the border.  

Grey Wolves: Turkey’s Shadow Network

Domestically speaking in Mexico, CJNG is known to have a presence in at least 22 states, with an ever-expanding territory in tandem with their continued growth as an organization. Cartel territory historically ebbs and flows but having a presence on the US-Mexico border is a must-have for any organization looking to make money off the US market, as the CJNG does. Mexican TNOs use drug trafficking routes for human trafficking as well.

Cjng cartel
  • Mexican Border

As mentioned earlier, the main areas of CJNG activity on the Mexican side of the border are Tijuana, Juarez, and Nuevo Laredo. In this case, “presence” does not always mean an overwhelming physical one. For example, in 2016 Business Insider reported that CJNG “has focused on forging alliances with members of the Tijuana underworld in a challenge to the Sinaloa cartel”. This is a similar tactic to how they use non-cartel US drug dealers to sell and distribute domestically. The Juárez market is contested with the Sinaloa Cartel, which is a more mature (albeit fractured) TNO. In Juárez and other towns on the US side, there is violence, both between rival cartels, as well as directed at local and government officials and law enforcement.

  • US Border

The methods CJNG uses to get their drugs into the US are not much different from the general cartel formula. Hidden compartments in vehicles crossing the border, house to house underground tunnels, and now even the utilization of drones. As far as specific areas go, it has been reported by the DEA that they utilize the parallel US border towns to the above-mentioned Mexican ones. El Paso, San Diego, and Laredo to be specific. From there, the drugs are transited to distribution hubs, and into local communities. 

This report was a collaborative effort between Iñigo Camilleri (Spain) and Michael Ellmer (United States)

Image: Screen capture of CJNG propaganda video

Iñigo Camilleri De Castanedo
Iñigo Camilleri De Castanedo
Iñigo is a graduate in psychology specialised in decision-making. He is currently finishing a postgraduate in Politics and History, with particular interests focused on intelligence, non-state actors and information warfare.


Get the weekly email from Grey Dynamics that makes reading intel articles and reports actually enjoyable. Join our mailing list to stay in the loop for free!

Related contents