The Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (Jalisco New Generation Cartel) has risen to prominence over the last few months, apparently coming out of the blue with their sudden offensive in Jalisco that was highlighted by the shoot-down of a Mexican Army helicopter, the first such shoot-down in the Mexican drug war. The truth is, the cartel was growing behind the scenes, masking its presence and its growth as the rest of the Mexican cartels caught headlines with their atrocities.

Reportedly, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion was formed from the disintegration of the Milenio Cartel, a largely financial affiliate of the Sinaloa Federation, following the killing of Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel in 2010. With “Nacho” dead, the cartel split into “La Resistencia” and “Los Torcidos,” and proceeded to fight amongst themselves until “Los Torcidos” came out on top and became the CJNG.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel really started to come to light as some of the driving force behind the push against Los Zetas; there is still some confusion as to whether the “Mata Zetas” (Zeta Killers) are another name for the CJNG, or a specialized cell of the group.

This sort of vigilante operational model helped to obscure the new cartel for some time; with the rise of the autodefensas militias in Michoacan, the government (which has its own reasons for disliking the rise of autonomous armed groups not under the control of Mexico City, regardless of their goals) has accused many of the self-defense militias of being supported by, if not actually allied with, CJNG. The connection between CJNG and the autodefensas has yet to be substantiated, but it is undeniable that once the Caballeros Templarios Cartel crumbled in Michoacan, the CJNG has quickly stepped in to fill the void.

Propaganda aimed at the local populace speaks of solidarity and ridding their land of other criminal elements, such as Los Zetas and Caballeros Templarios, which does tend to point to at least some level of support for the autodefensas, even if only as a stalking horse.

The Jalisco New Generation Cartel has shown considerable paramilitary capability and plenty of willingness to use it. In 2011, they claimed responsibility for a massacre of 35 people in Veracruz, and several other massacres are likely their handiwork. In April, 2015, they ambushed and killed 15 Mexican police officers in Jalisco, and then, as part of a larger offensive in the same state the next month, they shot down a Mexican helicopter. How many have been killed by the “Mata Zetas” is unknown, as their operations are not easily determined through open sources.

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Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion have their own support mechanisms within Mexico, though the extent of them is unknown. There have been reports of Mexican security forces finding CJNG firearms factories, using CNC machines to scratchbuild AR-15s. Building their own guns and ammunition grants them a logistical independence that will make it even harder to shut down their operations by seizing weapons.

There is another side to the stealthy growth of what is being called the fastest growing cartel in Mexico. According to Borderland Beat, the CJNG is more than just a paramilitary cartel stepping into the void where they have driven out Los Zetas and the Templars (apparently by proxy). There is another side, known as “Los Cuinis,” after the founder of the group, “El Cuini,” Abigael Gonzalez Valencia. (Valencia was arrested in Puerto Vallarta last February.) There is some disagreement as to whether Los Cuinis is an affiliate/ally of CJNG, or simply a part of the same organization. Regardless, there appears to be considerable cooperation between them.

According to the reports, Los Cuinis and Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion built up their economic power base by ignoring the US market for years, allowing Sinaloa, the Gulf Cartel, and Los Zetas to fight over it. Instead, they formed direct bonds with Colombian cocaine traffickers to sell cocaine and methamphetamine in Europe, bypassing the US market altogether. The business sense of the partnership has been good enough that, even as CJNG steps out of the shadows and goes on the offensive in southern Mexico, their net worth is estimated to be in the billions. (Of course, it is impossible to set any hard and fast figures; the nature of illicit business means that the books aren’t readily available.) They also have some of the closest connections with Colombian and other South American drug trafficking organizations, to include the FARC.

The reports of CJNG’s connection with Los Cuinis also suggest that the accepted timeline of Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion forming after the disintegration of the Milenio Cartel is flawed at best. Of course, as we are discussing organized crime and irregular warfare organizations, structure is usually imposed by outside observers to try to make sense of an often incomplete picture. It is entirely possible that the groundwork was laid beforehand, beginning in 1997 when El Cuini returned to Jalisco from California, while the paramilitary side of the equation was built up later, following the collapse of the Milenio Cartel.

The use of paramilitary operations and information operations aimed at the local populace again points to the blurring of the lines between organized crime and guerrilla warfare. They aren’t just breaking the law for the sake of money; they are actively waging an irregular war and attempting to win over the populace. The fact that an ideology such as Communism for the VC does not appear to be present doesn’t mean much; these groups are after power, without needing the justification of an ideology.

Featured Image Courtesy: YouTube screencap from a CJNG propaganda video.