Will considering Mexico’s criminal groups terrorists help fight them?

Puerto Vallarta (PVDN) – US officials are contemplating designating Mexican drug trafficking organizations as terrorist groups, a move that could distort the nature of this security threat and lead to ineffective strategies to address the issue.

During recent testimony before US Senate committees, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Attorney General Merrick Garland said they would consider naming Mexican criminal groups Foreign Terrorist Organizations (OTEs), in response to questions from Senator Lindsey Graham, who later introduced a bill to designate Mexico’s major criminal organizations as OTEs.

While supporters of the proposal argue that it would strengthen US law enforcement responses to organized crime in Mexico and apply harsher criminal sanctions and penalties, the White House has questioned this premise. The proposal could, however, have a more significant impact by allowing for US military action against such groups.

The government of Mexico, led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has rejected the use of US military force within Mexican territory and has described possible OTE designations as “propaganda.” Militarized counterterrorism strategies are also unlikely to be effective against organized crime, which differs from terrorism in its motivations.

Organized crime groups use violence for profit, while terrorists have a political objective. Removing a terrorist group’s commanders can weaken or dismantle their networks altogether. However, taking out a criminal leader does not end demand for the illicit goods and services that his group offers, and as long as that demand remains, a new leader or rival group will emerge to meet it.

Senator Graham has compared his proposal to Plan Colombia, a project that began at the turn of the century, in which the US and Colombian governments cooperated to combat guerrilla groups involved in cocaine trafficking. However, the FARC and ELN were political insurgencies, unlike the purely criminal organizations that Graham proposes to attack in Mexico. Moreover, Plan Colombia had mixed results, with the ELN still active, factions of the FARC still active, and cocaine production and trafficking remaining at all-time highs.

In summary, the US officials’ proposal to designate Mexican criminal groups as OTEs may not strengthen US law enforcement responses to Mexican organized crime, but it could lead to ineffective militaristic strategies and complicate the development of thoughtful policy-making.

Cartel moved its nerve center to Puerto Vallarta

The Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) moved its nerve center to Puerto Vallarta, where it currently coordinates its main operations. In addition, it has managed to expand to practically the entire national territory, through the franchise model, just as “Los Zetas” did, first-level authorities from the federal security cabinet revealed.

From this tourist destination, this cartel — one of the most powerful in the world — organizes criminal activities such as drug trafficking to other countries and money laundering. This version coincides with the investigations carried out by the United States government regarding this group of organized crime.

“Puerto Vallarta is a strategic stronghold of the CJNG, not only for drug trafficking but also for money laundering and extortion,” the United States Department of the Treasury assured in a statement issued on June 2.

The agency lists Carlos Andrés Rivera Varela, alias La Firma (originally from Cali, Colombia), Francisco Javier Gudiño Haro, La Gallina and Julio César Montero Pinzón El Tarjeta, as the leaders of the criminal organization in Puerto Vallarta.

According to the same source, they are in charge of carrying out violent attacks against rivals and government officials that ultimately benefit the CJNG’s territorial control and drug trafficking activities.

“For example, this group is allegedly responsible for the assassination attempt, with high-powered weapons, of the Secretary of Public Security of Mexico City in Mexico City (Omar García Harfuch) on June 26, 2020. The same group was also allegedly behind the assassination of the former Governor of Jalisco (Aristóteles Sandoval) in Puerto Vallarta on December 18, 2020,” the Treasury Department said in a statement.

Saúl Alejandro Rincón Godoy, alias El Chopa, was another high-ranking member of the Jalisco Cartel in Puerto Vallarta, but he died last April in the city after a confrontation with authorities. He was an operator close to Rubén Oseguera Cervantes, and was linked to various murders in Puerto Vallarta.

Currently, members of his family make up a support network for Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, El Mencho. They are; Esther Godoy Arellano (mother), Angelberto Rincón Godoy (brother), Julio Efraín Rincón Godoy (brother), and Moisés González Anguiano (brother-in-law), who was recently detained.

Another member of this group is Severo Flores Mendoza, coordinator of police chiefs for the Valles de Jalisco region, which is made up of 14 municipalities. According to the Treasury Department, he provides police information to the CJNG about operations.

“The cartel (Jalisco New Generation) Puerto Vallarta as a strategic stronghold not only for drug trafficking but also for money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, and murder. The Treasury will continue to work with partners in the United States and the Mexican government to expose and disrupt the CJNG, from its leadership to its enablers,” said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson on February 17, 2022.

The CJNG franchises

In order to expand, the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel offers local criminal groups the use of its “brand”, in exchange for alliances and operating in its territory. In this way, the Jalisco Cartel — led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes El Mencho — obtains knowledge of the region from these criminal gangs, as well as the structure of their corruption networks with local authorities.

These criminal groups, for their part, use the letters CJNG to generate greater intimidation among their rivals and the population. With this, they acquire more power, and their criminal activities such as extortion or collection of fees (what local businesses must pay the criminal gangs to ensure their safety) become much more profitable. As part of these pacts, local crime organizations buy drugs from the Jalisco Cartel, to resell them later.

“About 15 years ago, Los Zetas, when they found moderately organized criminal groups, established alliances with them to carry out processes of greater control, and above all to control certain criminal activities in those places. So, what began to spread was what was called at that time the “Zeta” brand. Many of these criminal gangs used the name of the Zetas to commit extortion and charge money, and the same is happening with the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel,” explained Armando Rodríguez, a specialist in security issues.

One of the examples is the alliance that the Jalisco Cartel had with “Los Mezcales” in the state of Colima, which worked for both parties, mainly in Manzanillo, one of the most important ports in the country for the trafficking of synthetic drugs, but ended at the beginning of this year, with a confrontation in the entity’s CERESO, which left 10 dead.

In the State of Mexico, the Jalisco criminal organization recently concluded an agreement with the Tepito Union, to create the “Nueva Alianza” group, which has operations in 11 municipalities in the northeast of the entity, and it is mainly dedicated to extortion, drug dealing, kidnapping, robbery, homicide and invasion of properties.

Meanwhile, in the country’s capital, the cartel headed by El Mencho has had alliances with capital groups such as Fuerza Anti-Unión, according to ministerial authorities.

The Jalisco Cartel was able to enter Tamaulipas — an entity controlled for decades by the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas — thanks to an alliance with “Los Metros”, a faction of the CDG, which operates mainly in the municipalities of Reynosa, Ciudad Camargo, Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, and Miguel Aleman.

In the state of Morelos, the CJNG maintains an alliance with the criminal organization “Los Colombianos”, dedicated mainly to the crimes of drug dealing, extortion, kidnapping, and homicide. Both groups operate in Cuernavaca, Xochitepec, Puente de Ixtla, and Xochitepec, among others. In Querétaro, Hidalgo, and Puebla, it also has alliances with local groups, mainly dedicated to fuel theft.

“What the Jalisco New Generation Cartel does is that it subcontracts services. These local gangs have a clear knowledge of the territory, they have their own networks of corruption and criminality, which involve government officials at the municipal level or members of local political parties. It serves to establish highly tactical and operational alliances in various parts of the territory. So far, it has worked for the Jalisco Cartel,” said Armando Rodríguez.

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