CJNG: Out with the Old, in with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel


    The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) is one of the most powerful drug trafficking organisations in the country of Mexico, if not the world. 

    This article will look at:

    • The Prelude to CJNG
    • CJNG History
    • CJNG Operations

    1. Prelude

    The first public appearance of CJNG came as a cryptic narcomensaje, aka a “narco message”. Circa 2009 near Cancún, Quintana Roo, a grisly murder took place. In response to an anonymous tip, local law enforcement discovered an abandoned Jeep containing three corpses. Their bodies restrained, heads wrapped in plastic bags used as execution devices. 

    Of course, murder scenes are not a rarity in Mexico. It would seem that this was another score to add to the list of souls lost to the Mexican drug trade. A ledger spanning almost seven decades to the single party rule of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the resulting institutional rot and pandemic of corruption amongst government officials. [source] This rot set conditions for cartels to flourish, thereby establishing the current crime environment.

    However, for this incident, that couldn’t be farther from the case. This was no run-of-the-mill execution. This was a statement. A declaration of sorts, albeit one that was subtle and enigmatic. 

    “We’re the new group of matazetas, we are against the kidnappings and extortion’s, and we will fight against them in every state to clean up Mexico”

    Example of a narcomensaje (Image: Twitter/@OfficialBalam)

    1.2 The Matazetas

    In the investigation that followed the Cancún murder scene, something appeared online that had a high correlation to the case. In a video uploaded to YouTube, the three men were kneeling on the ground, hands bound, surrounded by a team of six armed men. [source]

    The men were not only armed, but dressed uniformly in a paramilitary aesthetic. Whatever group this was, they carried themselves with a semblance of professionalism; something uncommon in the cartel world.

    Moreover, the content of the video gave additional context to the situation. The captured men belonged to the Los Zetas cartel: a once domineering organisation with a proclivity towards extreme violence, which says a lot given the murderous atmosphere of the Mexican drug trade. 

    Their captors branded themselves as the matazetas, or “Zeta killers”. Until this point, there was no prior information about any such group known to the outlets covering the cartel scene. Nevertheless, they stood out. There was something captivating about them, with their paramilitary demeanour, hate towards the Zetas, and surrounding aura of mystery. 

    As the legend goes, this is the strange moment CJNG entered the fight for control of the lucrative Mexican drug trade. 

    A still image from the source video showing CJNG militants around the captured Los Zetas
    A still image from the source video showing CJNG militants around the captured Los Zetas (Image: wikicommons)

    1.3 Power Voids

    The Cancún incident foreshadowed the eventual public revelation of Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, also known as CJNG. As is commonplace in cartel land, their story started with a classic power void. 

    In 2009, a new era manifested out of the remnants of the Milenio Cartel. The Milenio Cartel was once a close ally of the Sinaloa Cartel.

    Sinaloa continues to be one of the most powerful drug trafficking organisations in the world. Its former leader is the infamous drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Archivaldo Guzmán, now known as Federal Bureau of Prisons register number: 89914-053. Also, the Sinaloa Cartel operates as a sprawling business empire with allies folded into the flock through approved association. 

    Being a smaller criminal outfit, the Milenio Cartel, primarily in Jalisco and Michoacán, grafted into the Sinaloa Federation in 2003. This is no thanks in part to the influence of Sinaloa leader Ignacio “El Nacho” Coronel Villarreal. [source

    In typical cartel fashion, fate caught up to both organisations. Milenio Cartel first with the 2010 capture of its leader Óscar “El Lobo” Nava Valencia, who was extradited to the US and convicted of drug charges in a federal trial. [source] Subsequently, El Nacho succumbed to a head wound during a firefight with the Mexican Army in July 2010. 

    When a criminal organisation reaches this scenario, it has a few probable paths to take for self-preservation. The now splintered Milenio Cartel rejected unification and instead broke into minor partitions of its former self. Two factions rose within the power void, one being CJNG.

    El Chapo in US custody

    1.4 Milenio Split: La Resistencia and The Twisted Ones

    The Milenio Cartel split resulted in La Resistencia and the “Torcidos”, or “The Twisted Ones”. 

    This split was not random, nor was it ultimately one with an amicable outcome between each faction. Tension festered from the onset of the split, with La Resistencia members levelling accusations of betrayal towards the Torcidos. 

    In essence, the former believed the latter handled El Lobo’s capture. [source] Consequently, that very accusation likely remains a factor in the current rivalry between the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG. 

    The Torcidos took a different path. One could say they even went rogue. Instead of partnership, the group sought strategic gain of territory and power over the now contested region of Jalisco. At the helm was Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Ramos along with Erick “El 85” Valencia and Martin “El 53” Ortega. Together, they reconstructed the group into the CJNG enterprise. 

    1.5 The September Massacre

    Spring 2011 was a pivotal season for the fledgling CJNG. In an unhinged act of bravado, they publicly declared war on all Mexican cartels. Not just one or two; all. For a group fostered out of ruin, this is a bold manoeuvre. Not only did they declare war, but they likewise declared an intent on taking control over Guadalajara. [source]

    In September of that year, CJNG made it known they were not bluffing. Still unidentifiable by name in the global media landscape, the group carried out a mass execution of 35 individuals. Some they reported having ties to Los Zetas, the sworn enemies of the matazetas. [source]

     The crime scene was a tapestry of brutality, even for cartel violence. Bodies devoid of clothes and bound, discovered littered on an overpass in Boca del Rio, Veracruz. [source] Included within the casualties were women, children, and ordinary citizens with no explicit ties to the cartel world. 

    CJNG took credit for the mass execution, and even displayed slight remorse (more so crocodile tears, but who is to judge). In an online video, the group identified themselves as “Los Matazetas”; a call-back to the 2009 Cancún incident. They apologised for “offending society, the people of Mexico and federal corporations”. The murders ultimately served as warnings for the citizens of Veracruz that the Los Zetas are far from untouchable. [source]

    1.6 The Edification of CJNG

    The September Massacre in Veracruz was the beginning of a meteoric rise into power for CJNG. Under their proclamation to “cleanse the state and restore law and order”, ruthless conquest paved the dusty roads of Jalisco in their wake. 

    Following the debut, more and more massacres took place. As mass grave sites were discovered, and the tears of the deceased families streamed, the spectre of CJNG increased in media coverage and reputation. Thus began the spread of its disease, masquerading as vigilantes in pursuit of their Los Zetas enemies. But as CJNG grew, so did their displays of evil and malice and control over the Jalisco state drug trade, and beyond.

    CJNG equipment (Image: Ruben Luengas)

    2. CJNG Operations

    Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación had a prolific rise to the top of their respective industry following their obscure introduction into the cartel world. The reasons for this rise vary, and even with likely explanations, it is still a shocking turn of events.

    Nevertheless, like any organised crime group, there is a method to their locura.

    2.1 The Ghost of El Mencho

    It may be a stretch, but one could say CJNG has a cult of personality surrounding its illusive leader, El Mencho. He hasn’t touched the rank-and-file foot soldiers in the same level of piety as say, Santa Muerte, but his being is at the core of the organisation’s culture. 

    For example, take this 2020 video of a CJNG convoy:

    It would be uncharitable to skip the obvious key observations, such as the weaponry, vehicles, and paramilitary demeanour of the featured CJNG soldiers. However, one distinct element stands out. As the camera handler makes their way down the parked convoy row, chants of “El Mencho” are uttered with intensity.

    So, who is this man, and what is it about him that leads his cartel to carry out his bidding, while looking past the borderline Osama Bin Laden level of public avoidance?

    2.1.1 El Menchos’ Origins

    Understanding El Mencho is helpful when examining CJNG operations. He isn’t the only piece of the puzzle, but is undoubtable a central one. 

    Cervantes was born in the state of Michoacán and lived between Mexico and Los Angeles, California, throughout his early life. Some accounts report his entry into the drug trade to have begun in the 1990s, eventually landing him in US prison for three years for conspiracy to distribute heroin. [source]

    Upon release, the US deported El Mencho back to Mexico, where he ironically became a police officer in Jalisco state. Being on the right side of the law had a quick turnover, and he returned to the drug trafficking business. This reentry started with the Milenio Cartel. 

    El Menchos’ work with Milenio elevated him to higher positions, including a partnership with Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel Villarreal, who, if you remember from earlier, is a significant figure in CJNG history. And as also mentioned earlier, the death of El Nacho, along with the capture of Milenio Cartel figurehead, Óscar “El Lobo” Orlando Nava Valencia, set the conditions for the formation of CJNG. 

    As CJNG increased activity and gained control of the Jalisco drug trade, El Mencho began taking a backseat posture to operations. He is non-existent in public media, which has led to rumours of his death, the most recent being this year. Some claim he has kidney failure, and that he had to construct a private hospital in Jalisco for treatment. Like all rumours surrounding him, none are verified. 

    CJNG has obviously continued to function despite this, but not without some ramifications. Because of the shroud of mystery surrounding both his health and earthly existence, some sceptics within CJNG have splintered into rival groups, such as “The Mezcales”, who have completely forfeited allegiance to CJNG proper. [source]

    The DEA wanted poster for El Mencho, head of CJNG
    The DEA wanted poster for El Mencho, head of CJNG (Image: DEA)

    2.2 CJNG and the Drug Trade

    Make no mistake, CJNG is a supremely powerful group within the Mexican drug trade, if not the world. However, despite their strength, they are not the most powerful. 

    Territory wise, CJNG is everywhere. The degrees of influence and command over the areas they are in is an entirely different story. In that regard, their control over regions varies, ranging from majority control – like in Jalisco – or minimal control, such as the more southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas. [source] The one area where there is virtually no foothold is Sinaloa, which makes sense given the Sinaloa Cartel, which continues to thrive in its home state even without the titular El Chapo behind the reigns.

    They likewise have no presence in the so-called “Golden Triangle of Heroin Production”: a triangular shaped region with borders in Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. It is here that fertile soil and isolated mountains provide the Sinaloa cartel ample conditions for poppy and cannabis cultivation, as well as raw opium, marijuana, and hashish extraction and production. 

    Nevertheless, CJNG is in 28 Mexican states, as well as all across the United States, and has an increased presence in other parts of Latin America

    Methamphetamine is their primary export, which they manufacture in domestic super labs and then export across the border, flooding local communities and contributing to the already epidemic levels of addiction across the US. 

    Also, the CJNG’s presence along the Mexican coast gives them the ability to take part in maritime trade. The most relevant form is through the purchasing of Chinese chemical precursors used to produce synthetic opioids such as fentanyl that are then exported to the US. 

    The group also partakes in the avocado trade, gasoline trade (through illegal pipeline theft), and other “licit” forms of trade that are de-legitimized from their corrupted touch.

    DEA chart showing relationships between CJNG and their support
    DEA chart showing relationships between CJNG and their support (Image: DEA)

    2.3 CJNG and Violence

    Apart from their involvement in the drug trade, CJNG is known for extreme violence. More so in fact that most other cartels, and displayed in more reckless and “disregarding of innocent life” ways than usual. 

    As seen in footage of the cartel, they carry themselves almost as if they are a paramilitary force. Armoured vehicles, military style fatigues and kit, and the deployment and use of military style weapons, which includes an American made .50 calibre sniper rifle.

    By and large, CJNG’s violence is a significant factor in their rise into power, despite being the youngest cartel organisation in Mexico. They implement military style tactics, and use torture techniques on their captured enemies that seem to come from the medieval age.

    3. Why this matters

    Mexico is overwhelmed with cartel dominance. In the years that have followed the 2006 Mexican drug war, not much has been accomplished. In fact, cartels are more empowered than ever, with a larger territorial reach and greater influence over politics and law enforcement.

    Groups like CJNG reflect how fast the power dynamics can change in the Mexican drug trade. All it takes is a power vacuum and the right conditions for splinter groups to become the dominant force in the cartel landscape.

    Of course, the cartel’s power brings up other questions. The drugs they manufacture and sell are mainly not for domestic citizens. There is a market, primarily in the US, and that market fuels their industry in Mexico.

    Nevertheless, CJNG and its rivals aren’t going anywhere for the time being. And for those outside of law enforcement, awareness is one of the best tools we have.

    Michael Ellmer
    Michael Ellmer
    Michael is the Head of Research and Editor at Grey Dynamics. He spent eight years the United States Marine Corps infantry, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in strategic intelligence analysis at Brunel University London.

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