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Tracking An Upstart Mexican
Cartel's Rise To The Top

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The Jalisco New Generation Cartel, Led By A Former Policeman, Has Quickly and Steadily Seized Territory Formerly Controlled by El Chapo And The Sinaloa Cartel


By Dave Graham
Reuters Media Express

Oct. 14, 2016, MEXICO CITY — In barely four years, a little-known criminal gang has grown to challenge the world's most notorious drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, for domination of the Mexican underworld, unleashing a new tide of violence.

Once minions of Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel, traffickers of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) have turned on their former masters, seizing territory and buying off thousands of corrupt police.

Led by former policeman Nemesio Oseguera, aka "El Mencho", the gang soon carved out an empire at the expense of weaker rivals.

The speed of its ascent shows how quickly power can shift in Mexico's multi-billion-dollar drugs trade.

Juggling interests from China to North Africa and eastern Europe, the CJNG's bloody advance has pushed murders to their highest levels under President Enrique Pena Nieto, who vowed to restore law and order when he took office in late 2012.

All but four in a 2009 list of Mexico's 37 most wanted capos are now dead or in jail, and Pena Nieto did initially succeed in reducing violence.

But a resurgence that led to 3,800 murders between July and August highlights the government's failure to beat down cartels without new ones springing up in their place.

Pena Nieto recently sought to allay security concerns by announcing a plan to step up crime prevention in the worst-hit areas. He did not set out the details of his plan, but urged states to speed up efforts to put local police under unified statewide command.

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto speaks during a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico January 8, 2016.
REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Intimidating, paying off or eliminating police, CJNG leaders have ruthlessly applied lessons learned during their apprenticeship under Guzman's cartel to muscle in on battered rivals and snatch trafficking routes, security experts say.

Interviews by Reuters with over a dozen serving and former officials underlined how collusion between gang members and law enforcement in the CJNG's stronghold, the western state of Jalisco, laid the foundation for the gang's advance.

"People stopped trusting the police. People believed the police in the state were working for a criminal gang," said Jalisco's attorney general Eduardo Almaguer.

Bearing the brunt of the chaos are the ports, trafficking centers and border crossings that light up the multi-billion dollar trail of crystal methamphetamine from Mexico to the United States, the CJNG's main source of revenue.

Both savage — one gang hitman videoed blowing up victims he had strapped with dynamite — and shrewd, the CJNG is flanked by a white collar financial arm known as "Los Cuinis".

"They're the entrepreneurs. They've made big investments in property, in restaurants, car leasing," said Almaguer. "They're the ones who know how to do business and corrupt authorities."

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