Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, Mexico’s fastest-growing and most violent cartel, appears to be moving into Sinaloa cartel territory in Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego.
CJNG is reportedly teaming up with former members of the Arellano Félix Organization (AFO) and recruiting current members of the Sinaloa cartel in the city in order to take control of drug-trafficking routes to the US, according to a February 13 report by Sandra Dibble of The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“Nueva Generacion does not have a significant physical presence in [Baja California, where Tijuana is located], but has focused on forging alliances with members of the Tijuana underworld in a challenge to the Sinaloa cartel,” Daniel de la Rosa, the public safety secretary in Baja California, told Dibble.
Bodies found in the city recently have borne narcomensajes, messages from the person’s killer, so named because they usually indicate a drug-related killing.
“The cleaning continues in Baja [California] on the part of El Mencho. Sincerely, CJNG CTNG,” read one message, referring to both CJNG and its local affiliate, Cartel Tijuana Nueva Generacion.
“El Mencho” is believed to be CJNG’s current leader, Nemesio Osegura Ramos.
This spike in homicides comes amid a longer-term increase in killings in the border city.
Drug-related homicides were more than 536 of the city’s 670 homicides last year. Moreover, Dibble reports, 71 homicides in January were the most the city has seen in the first month of the year since 2010.
State officials are confident that the rise in killings (which has occurred alongside a drop in other common crimes) is the result of organized criminal activity — and of CJNG’s ambitions.
Violence has gone “up because a third group” that had not previously been in the city “is in the process of becoming established,” the state’s deputy attorney general for organized crime, José María Gonzalez, told Dibble.
Tijuana’s police have also attracted criticism over reports that members of state and local forces are working for cartels. The city’s top police official even resigned this week, saying he “wanted to avoid the continuation of the perverse media campaign” the he believed had been mounted against the police force.
‘Increasingly there’s the sense that they’re rivals’
A strike against the Sinaloa cartel’s dominance in Tijuana by CJNG, allied with former Arellano Felix members, would be a confluence of many past and present players in Mexico’s drug trade.
The Arellano Felix Organization controlled trafficking in the Tijuana area in the late 1980s and 1990s, but a feud with “El Chapo” Guzmán’s cartel ignited a full-scale war. (Guzmán allegedly offered information on the AFO to the DEA to help to bring down his rivals.)
By the mid-2000s, the US and Mexican governments had largely brought down the AFO. Since then, Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel has managed to maintain its status as Mexico’s, and likely the world’s, dominant drug-trafficking organization, despite its leader’s stints in jail and on the run.
Around 2010, the CJNG emerged, reportedly from the remnants of a trafficking organization headed by Ignacio Coronel, an ally of Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel (and reportedly Guzmán’s current wife’s uncle) in Jalisco state in southwest Mexico.
Since then, CJNG has established itself as one of the most fearsome cartels in Mexico.
The group has seized control of much of Jalisco state, corrupting many police forces and engaging federal and military forces in bloody shootouts.
CJNG gunmen even shot down a Mexican army helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade last year, killing six soldiers.
CJNG also “is now one of the major players in the meth trade in North America,” Alejandro Hope, the security and justice editor for El Daily Post, said during a discussion at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC, in late January.
Rumors have swirled about the relationship between CJNG and Sinaloa. After Guzmán’s escape from prison in July, it was reported that CJNG had helped finance his escape, but cooperation between the two groups, if it ever existed, has likely ended.
“It was usually thought they were collaborators, that Jalisco was a junior partner with Sinaloa … but more increasingly there’s the sense that they’re rivals, and that … they’re fighting, at least in some areas,” said Hope.