A federal judge in Mexico’s Jalisco state on Aug. 23 sentenced one-time Guadalajara cartel chief Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo to 37 years in prison for the 1985 killing of US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.
Camarena, whose undercover work led to the seizure and destruction of huge marijuana plantations in Mexico that wounded the Guadalajara cartel, was kidnapped off a street in Guadalajara on February 7, 1985.
The US Treasury sanctioned an alleged mid-level Mexican drug-cartel operator and his organization on Wednesday, naming them as significant foreign narcotics traffickers.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control designed Raul Flores Hernandez and the Flores drug-trafficking organization under the Kingpin Act, naming 21 Mexican citizens and 42 entities — including bars, restaurants, a soccer club, and a casino — for allegedly providing support to the organization or for being owned by people involved it.
It has the drugs and distribution system of a traditional cartel – and it has the modern weapons and audacity of an army. After attacking federal forces, downing a military helicopter and shutting down streets in Mexico’s second-largest city this month, New Generation Jalisco cartel is now the main enemy in the country’s fight with drug cartels.
In just a few years, New Generation has grown from being an offshoot of the powerful Sinaloa cartel to one of Mexico’s strongest criminal groups in its own right, according to the US Treasury Department, whose Office of Foreign Assets Control maintains a “black list” of drug trafficking organisations.
Its quick rise reflects a rapidly changing organised-crime landscape in Mexico as the government targets top leaders of established cartels. More than any other criminal group, New Generation has taken advantage of the government’s top-capo strategy, strengthening and grabbing territory from other cartels as they are weakened.
“You’re talking about a powerful, large organisation with grand logistics, well-made structures, a strong group of assassins, and dedicated and qualified people with high-calibre weaponry,” Guillermo Valdes, a security expert and former director of the Mexican intelligence agency, said. “It’s a new cartel, a second generation born in a restructuring process.”
The strategy of hitting the top leadership began in 2006 under President Felipe Calderon and has continued under his successor, Enrique Pena Nieto.
As a result, large organisations have been fragmented, leaving smaller, leaderless groups to fight among themselves over control of local organised crime activities and drug-smuggling routes to the north.
When Calderon was in office, there were five major cartels. Today, the Mexican attorney general lists nine major groups and 43 smaller factions.
New Generation has its origin in that fragmentation.
While it has operated for years, it surged in public notoriety this month after it waged brazen attacks in and around Guadalajara, a major technology and manufacturing hub and the capital of Jalisco state. But the city, about 460km northwest of Mexico City, is also where Mexico’s largest drug cartels were born.
Leaders of the original Guadalajara cartel were captured in the 1980s, provoking a surge in what Valdes calls the first generation of cartels, many of which still exist, including Sinaloa, Beltran Leyva, Gulf, Zetas and Juarez cartels. But hits on their leaders have left all but Sinaloa as just remnants of their former selves.
In little more than a year, the government has arrested Sinaloa’s Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Beltran Leyva’s Hector Beltran Leyva, Juarez’s Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, Knights Templar’s Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, and the Zetas’ Omar Trevino Morales. It killed Knights Templar leader Nazario Moreno.
The strength of New Generation surprised many on May 1 when federal authorities mounted an operation, reportedly targeting New Generation leader Nemesio Oseguera:
The cartel responded almost immediately with roadblocks and arson attacks in Guadalajara and two dozen other cities. It used a rocket-propelled grenade to force down a military helicopter carrying 16 military personnel and two federal police officers, killing eight people.
And unlike the old major cartels, New Generation is willing to wage war on the state and federal government. The younger drug lords like to show off their money and flaunt their power, even if it brings a direct assault from the government.
For that reason, the May 1 clash may be the beginning of the end of New Generation, said Valdes, the former intelligence agency director.
“The drug business is not going away while we have such a large demand in the United States, but that does not give immortality to any particular group,” he said.
New Generation “just bought the ticket to being enemy No 1”.