Tuesday 7 April 2015

Heating up the plaza in Jalisco

It’s been dubbed the worst attack in recent years against any arm of the Mexican state: on Monday, April 6, at least 15 of Jalisco’s elite State police (Fuerza Única Jalisco) were killed and five others wounded in an ambush. On the same day, the chief of police in Zacoalco de Torres, just west of Lake Chapala, was kidnapped, tortured, and murdered.
Burnt out truck after ambush

The location of the ambush was the Soyatán region, not far from Puerto Vallarta. The police were apparently traveling from Vallarta to the state capital, Guadalajara. None of the attackers died.

This has all of the hallmarks of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, or CJNG), though the government has not confirmed their participation. The CJNG made a name for itself taking on the ultra-violent Zetas cartel in Jalisco, cleaning up the “plaza” for the dominant Sinaloa Cartel.

But whereas things have quietened down in Sinaloa since the arrest last year in Mazatlán of Sinaloa leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the same cannot be said for Jalisco, where an all-out war seems to be underway.

On Monday, March 23, Heriberto Acevedo Cárdenas, also known as “El Güero” or “El Gringo”, was one of four people killed in a shootout with police in Zacoalco de Torres. Acevedo Cárdenas was believed to be a local leader of the CJNG. This most recent attack, and the killing of the police chief, are believed to be retribution for that killing, which itself was in response to Acevedo Cárdenas leading an attack on the Mexican military on May 12 of last year.

As well, on March 19 in Ocotlán, on the northeast shores of Lake Chapala, 11 people were killed during a furious gunfight between the federal police and, it is believed, the CJNG. In that confrontation five federal police, three cartel members, and three innocent bystanders ended up dead.

What is going on in Jalisco? The area was long under the control of the Sinaloa Cartel, but things became less stable after the 2009 arrest of Óscar Nava Valencia, leader of the Milenio Cartel, and the killing by federal authorities in July, 2010, of the local Sinaloa boss Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel.

Factions formed, among them the CJNG, and competing interests – notably Los Zetas, Knights Templar, and La Resistencia – jockeyed for power.

This was further complicated by an uneven payoff structure around Guadalajara and the small communities surrounding Lake Chapala. Local police were squeezed as different gangs demanded allegiance.

As CJNG and Los Zetas swept from Veracruz to Sinaloa, killing scores of people, things finally seemed to be settling down, with the CJNG establishing control.

But what’s true in Sinaloa is not so in Jalisco. Whereas the Sinaloa Cartel is more disciplined on its home turf, and has found some peace with the authorities, its junior partner has raised the ire of state and federal police in Jalisco. The lack of discipline, and the closeness to Michoacán, has meant that CJNG is still actively seeking to consolidate power – but now it is in an all-out war with state and federal authorities.

How will it end? It has been reported to La politica that El Chapo Guzman is living pretty well in the Altiplano prison near Toluca, but that erstwhile Los Zetas kingpin Miguel Treviño Morales (“Z-40”), who is also in Altiplano, is not treated as kindly. The Sinaloa Cartel has, in the past, proven its ability to coordinate shared interests with government and police authorities, who were horrified by the brutality of Los Zetas.

Clearly, that is not happening with the CJNG, which is behaving more like a rogue gang than a sophisticated cartel, and may have bitten of more than it can chew.

The result? CJNG either gets in line, or it loses, but not without more bloodshed. Neither the Sinaloa Cartel nor state authorities will put up with this much longer. CJNG is no longer playing off Los Zetas, and is therefore not needed by either Sinaloa or the authorities – one reason, perhaps, why this new breach has opened. This is not the wilds of Michoacán or Guerrero: we can expect a strong response.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

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