The Cartel of the Twenty First Century

In less than a decade, a once low-profile drug trafficking organization managed to aggressively become the most powerful cartel in Mexico. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) has been described by some media outlets, including the BBC, as the “Cartel of the Twenty First Century”.

Emerging from a splinter group of the extinct Cartel del Milenio, the CJNG has now become more visible and violent, possibly evolving into the most notorious criminal group of Latin America. It has carried out several attacks on the police and military forces, as well as engaging in violent clashes with other criminal groups. During the last months, it has managed to spread its operation to fourteen Mexican states, which account for more than half of the country.

There are at least four key reasons for the rapid growth of the CJNG, which has even managed to overshadow the once most powerful Mexican criminal group, the Sinaloa Cartel.

First, while most of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations have generally opted for a high profile, the CJNG started in the shadows. Instead of targeting the most common national drug routes to the United States and Western Europe, it chose to go East and control the less travelled ones. The CJNG’s criminal model is about transnationalism, while most of the other groups –except for the Sinaloa Cartel– remained relatively focused on the local.

Before becoming the most notorious Mexican group, the CJNG had already established presence and contacts in Vancouver, which served as a destination as well as a transit point to Australia and Southeast Asia. Documents from the Drug Enforcement Administration consulted by Mexican news outlet Animal Político reveal that the CJNG introduced methamphetamine into the Australian market with the help of its ties with Chinese criminal groups.

A second reason is that it diversified its criminal portfolio from very early stages. The CJNG is involved in the trade of the most popular drugs: cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines. Aside from that, it is also involved in high profile kidnapping, extortion rings, and oil theft. It is also allied with Los Cuinis, a criminal group that has been described as “the richest in the world”. This group serves as its financial arm, and has been in charge of money laundering operations.

This has made the CJNG’s model more resilient, sustainable, and resistant to fragmentation than other groups like for example the Zetas.

Third, the foundation of the CJNG partly included an ideological propaganda that at some point appealed to many: it promised to get rid of other criminal organizations. The CJNG emerged in a period when the Zetas were the most feared group in Mexico, as it constantly carried out terror attacks. One of the many names that the CJNG used before was “Matazetas” (“Zeta Killers”). It has also been reported that the group provided arms to self-defense citizen groups in the state of Michoacan fighting the Knights Templar. Eventually, the CJNG managed to displace all of its rivals and get hold of their drug markets. It has done so through the use of excessive violence.

The latest group that it has managed to overcome is the Sinaloa Cartel. Following the extradition of its leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the United States, the Sinaloa Cartel has experienced internal disputes for power. The CJNG has taken advantage of this –and has even perpetuate it– in order to eclipse the once most powerful Mexican cartel.

Lastly, the CJNG –as other armed non-state groups in Mexico– operates as a network. Although it does maintain a leadership structure, it is not a homogenous entity with a strong hierarchy. Rather, it depends on the operation of cells that are collaborating with local criminal groups and gangs in order to expand its presence through the region. Generally, these cells have a relative autonomy and sometimes rather weak ties to one another. This dynamic has resulted in the fragmentation of Mexico’s main criminal groups like the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel, in constant changes of alliances, and in the creation of new groups.

The CJNG, however, appears not to have suffered from fragmentation yet, and instead continues to expand aggressively.

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