The Mexican state of Zacatecas is the battlefield between two criminal organizations and narco-terrorists. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel face a bloody war that has already left many dead in the region.
The security situation in Zacatecas presents an enormous challenge for local and national authorities. Furthermore, the clashes are likely to continue in the coming weeks.
The Actors: The CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel
The CJNG and the Sinaloa Cartel are two of the most important and powerful criminal organizations in Mexico and worldwide. However, their stories and dynamics are distinct.
The CJNG emerged after the dispute between two factions of the Milenio Cartel: La Resistencia and Los Torcidos. Los Torcidos won the dispute, and its members founded The Jalisco New Generation Cartel. Specifically, Nemesio Oseguera Ramos, alias “El Mencho,” is considered the leader and founder of the CJNG.
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel is characterized by being an extremely violent organization. In states such as Jalisco, the homicide rate forced disappearances and the discovery of clandestine graves has significantly increased. Some of their criminal activities include the murder of police officers in Mexican municipalities, an attack in which Omar García Harfuch, Secretary of Security of Mexico City, was injured, massacres, beheadings, and they have also hanged corpses on bridges in various States.
Additionally, the CJNG has uploaded videos on the internet of its military capabilities, including armored vehicles, large caliber weapons, and military uniforms.
Furthermore, members of the CJNG bring food, toys, and clothing to vulnerable communities in Mexico to create propaganda videos and gain support from the local population. This is concerning for the Mexican government since the CJNG seeks to act as the State in these communities.
On the other hand, the Sinaloa Cartel emerged after the dissolution of the Guadalajara Cartel. The factions that made up the Guadalajara Cartel moved to areas such as Tijuana, Juárez, and Sinaloa and fought each other to establish geographical dominance.
After several years and confrontations, the Sinaloa Cartel, under the leadership of “El Chapo” Guzman and other drug traffickers, grew and became one of the largest criminal organizations in Mexico and globally. Eventually, after the breakdown of the Beltrán Leyva Organization (OBL) in 2008, “El Chapo” became the most visible leader of the organization; although, he was later joined by Ismael Zambada García, alias “El Mayo,” and Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul.”
However, after the arrest of “El Chapo,” “El Mayo,” and El Chapo’s sons, Joaquín Guzmán López, Ovidio Guzmán López, Iván Archivaldo, and Jesús Alfredo, also known collectively as “Los Chapitos,” continued to run the Cartel’s operations.
In fact, without “El Chapo,” the Sinaloa Cartel remains one of Mexico’s leading criminal groups. El Chapo’s absence has hardly affected the Sinaloa Cartel, even though some of the group’s main leaders and other important members have been arrested. The Cartel continues to expand throughout Mexico and the world, making alliances with mafia groups such as the former FARC guerrillas.
The War in Zacatecas
Zacatecas is one of the 31 states of Mexico and is located in north-central Mexico. Zacatecas is the primary location where the two cartels have confronted one another.
The war zone developed in Zacatecas because its location is in the middle of the trafficking routes. However, Zacatecas is also the closest place to the Golden Triangle of drug trafficking, where the Durango mountains, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua converge. The Sinaloa Cartel has dominated this area for the past three decades. In other words, Zacatecas is an important center point and geographically favors the illicit activities of cartels.
Due to the wave of violence, the Mexican government sent 4,778 military and National Guard troops to priority municipalities such as Fresnillo, Lazaro Cardenas, Zacatecas, Calera, Guadalupe, Ojo Caliente, and Valparaiso.
In June 2021, a confrontation between the two organizations took place in Zacatecas, leaving 18 dead. Likewise, criminal cells associated with the Sinaloa Cartel have clashed with the CJNG in Zacatecas. Such as the case with Flechas MZ, an associated organization that has the strength, power, money, and firepower to defeat the CJNG in the region. Flechas MZ has been active since late 2020, threatening CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” and warning him that his regions will be in direct dispute with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia.
Also, in 2021, shootings were recorded with a large number of victims. Sinaloa Cartel gunmen ambushed members of the CJNG in a scuffle that left 40 dead. In addition, since November 2021, numerous people have been murdered every week, many of them hanging from bridges throughout the state.
The horror continues in Zacatecas at the beginning of 2022. On January 22, 2022, authorities in Zacatecas located a man hanging from a tree in Monte Escobedo, shot to death, and near his body was a poster with a “narco message.”
On January 6, 2022, a car with ten tortured bodies was abandoned in front of Zacatecas’ state governor’s office. Also, more raids were registered in Valparaiso, Loreto, Pinos, Calera and Guadalupe. Additionally, three police officers were murdered in Sombrerete, Zacatecas, in northern Mexico.
A few days later, three human heads, dismembered bodies in black bags, and a narco-message were abandoned by the CJNG near the municipal capital of Jerez, Zacatecas. Photographs circulated revealing the content of narco messages signed by the criminal organization commanded by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, “El Mencho,” which warned of a “cleansing” in the municipality.
The situation of violence and horror has led national and state security reports to describe Zacatecas as a narco-state.
The Need for a Response
The wave of murders, torture, dismemberments, and shootings in Zacatecas reveal an insufficient response of the federal and state governments. The war between the two cartels will likely continue in the coming weeks, and homicide rates will increase.
Thus, Mexican authorities need to evaluate better security policies to confront the two cartels and reduce the rates of violence in the region. However, in addition to a military response against the narco-terrorist organizations, it is also necessary to examine the structural causes that lead to the unending phenomenon of drug trafficking. The civilian population of Zacatecas deserves an effective and swift government response to put an end to the horrors in the Zacatecas.
Daniel Felipe Ruiz Rozo, Counter-Terrorism Research Fellow
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