Friday, May 15, 2015

The New Generation Jalisco Cartel Is A Rising Threat

From the Wall Street Journal:
The armored vehicle carrying the top security official of Mexico’s embattled Jalisco state had just rounded a street corner on the outskirts of this cosmopolitan city when a dozen gunmen from the New Generation Jalisco Cartel pumped more than 200 bullets into the car.

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That late March attack, which failed to inflict casualties, presaged a rising wave of violence that has engulfed Guadalajara, the state capital and Mexico’s second-largest city, climaxing with the cartel’s downing of an army helicopter by rocket-propelled grenades that killed eight soldiers on May 1.

That latter assault, the same day cartel gunmen sowed havoc across the state by torching gas stations and banks and blockading roads with hijacked cars, trucks and buses, thrust the once-obscure New Generation gang forward as enemy No. 1 for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government.

Thousands of troops, backed by armored personnel carriers and quasi-military federal police, are pouring into Jalisco to curb the cartel, which officials say has grown rich selling hundreds of millions of dollars of smuggled methamphetamines from Mexico and South American cocaine to consumers in Mexico, the U.S. and elsewhere. The government took the rare step of appointing a general to lead the mission.

“The violent actions of criminal gangs, far from stopping the government to act, strengthen the determination of the Mexican state to enforce the law,” said Mr. Peña Nieto after the helicopter attack.

When Mr. Peña Nieto took office in December 2012, he attempted to distance himself from his predecessor Felipe Calderón’s strategy of deploying troops against the gangs. ...

Mr. Peña Nieto’s government argued that it could decrease the violence, defeating the gangs by relying on intelligence services and surgical strikes on criminal bosses. ...

But that had the unintended consequence of splintering them into smaller and sometimes deadlier cartels, prompting Mr. Peña Nieto’s government, like his predecessor’s, to dispatch troops to several gang-besieged states, including now Jalisco, one of Mexico’s economic engines.

The New Generation cartel is perhaps Mexico’s most audacious and vicious criminal enterprise, after the government captured or killed most leaders of the Zetas gang based in northeastern Mexico, say officials and security analysts. Like the Zetas, ... the New Generation gang favors paramilitary methods, and has received tactical training from Mexican and foreign mercenaries, these people say, including the use of rocket-propelled grenades against the helicopter.

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The New Generation Cartel, a name experts say is intended to distinguish itself from the older Guadalajara Cartel, formed in 2010 following the killing by federal forces of the Sinaloa Cartel’s regional boss, who controlled operations in Jalisco.

The cartel first announced itself to Mexico’s public in 2011, when—calling itself the “Zeta Killers”—it claimed responsibility for killing 35 alleged members of that rival gang in Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico. New Generation has strengthened in recent months, as federal forces weaken the Zetas and the Knights Templar in neighboring Michoacán state, said Mexican officials and experts.

“They have ranks and a hierarchy like armies do,” said Alfonso Quintero, a retired Mexican air force captain who now specializes in intelligence issues. “They are very united behind their leader and have made loyalty a supreme value.”

Former members of the Kaibiles, Guatemala’s feared army special forces, and Mexican military veterans have given strategic and paramilitary training to the gang, said Mr. Solorio, the state security commissioner. Captured cartel members also have said an American veteran—“a very aggressive, very wild U.S. Marine”—has also been training the group’s gunmen, he said. “We believe he was paid a fortune to give them training,” Mr. Solorio said.

The cartel’s weapons—rocket-propelled grenades, antitank missiles and 50-caliber sniper rifles—come mainly from Central American and U.S. black markets, officials say. Soldiers have seized makeshift factories in Jalisco’s mountains where cartel members assemble their own assault rifles, the officials say.

The cartel isn’t afraid to strike back at officials against attempts to capture or kill purported kingpin Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera and other cartel leaders. Violence surged in late February following the arrest of Abigail “El Cuini” Valencia, whom officials have identified as the cartel’s financial brain. Mr. Solorio said his arrest precipitated the helicopter attack, for which six people have been arrested.

On April 6, suspected cartel members killed 15 state police officers in a guerrilla-style ambush on a highway connecting Guadalajara with the Pacific beach mecca of Puerto Vallarta, in revenge for the government’s killing of a midlevel New Generation boss, state officials said.

Targeting public servants has been one of New Generation Cartel’s calling cards. Officials say the gang has killed some 50 in the past two years alone, including a federal congressman in 2104 and a year earlier Jalisco’s tourism secretary.

A report by the Jalisco attorney general’s office, seen by The Wall Street Journal and confirmed by Mr. Solorio, contends the cartel controls the port of Manzanillo, in neighboring Colima state, where it imports tons of cocaine and precursor chemicals used to produce methamphetamine from China, Colombia and Central America. Colima officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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