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A new criminal group is challenging one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels on its home turf of Guadalajara, provoking a wave of violence in the city.

The brutal murder in March of three film students in Jalisco state’s capital city of Guadalajara sent shockwaves through Mexico and abroad. According to the official version of the incident, the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) kidnapped and killed the students, then dissolved their bodies in acid. They had allegedly confused them with members of a rival group that, until now, was little-known: the Nueva Plaza Cartel.

The recent killing was one of many acts in a wave of violence still pummeling Guadalajara today. In just the first week of July, the city registered 13 homicides with firearms in connection with the conflict between the two criminal groups, according to police data to which InSight Crime had access.

In recent months, authorities in Jalisco have reinforced their offensive against organized crime, especially at the end of May after a group of armed men burst into a restaurant in an attempt to assassinate the former attorney general of Jalisco, Luis Carlos Nájera.

This was followed by three cartel-led road blocks or “narcobloqueos” in the presumed territory of the Nueva Plaza Cartel, in which public buses were set on fire.

To understand the scope of the Nueva Plaza Cartel and how it came to compete with the CJNG in its own territory, InSight Crime spoke with several experts on organized crime in Guadalajara. Those interviewed asked that their identities be kept anonymous for security reasons.

A CJNG Splinter Group

Many members of the Nueva Plaza Cartel used to belong to the CJNG. In fact, its alleged leader, Carlos Enrique Sánchez, alias “El Cholo,” was once a confidant of CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho.”

SEE ALSO: CJNG Profile

Events leading to their split began in March 2017, when El Cholo ordered the murder of a CJNG financial operator nicknamed “El Colombiano” in the Pacific coast city of Puerto Vallarta.

As retribution for the murder, El Mencho allegedly sent a group of hitmen to kill El Cholo, who was running his own operation in Guadalajara. However, the person in charge of the hit squad — nicknamed “El Kartón” or “El Marro,” according to sources consulted by InSight Crime — was killed by the Nueva Plaza Cartel in August 2017, before the squad could reach El Cholo. The two groups seem to have been rivals ever since.

A Guadalajara source told InSight Crime that after the CJNG division, “two areas were drawn out in Guadalajara: El Cholo’s [territory] and El Marro’s. And even though El Marro isn’t there anymore, the areas remain intact.”

Local Reach

So far, Nueva Plaza Cartel operations have not reached downtown Guadalajara. Instead, it controls the western part of the city and the towns of Tlaquepaque, Tonalá, Tlajomulco and El Salto, to the southeast of the city, which are in dispute with the CJNG.

According to sources interviewed, Nueva Plaza members now live in some of the most exclusive residential zones in Guadalajara.

SEE ALSO: Mexico News and Profiles

Nueva Plaza Cartel operations are not sophisticated enough for drug production or international trafficking. As of now, their criminal economies are limited to street dealing, auto part theft and phone extortion. InSight Crime’s sources say that the cartel also lacks the military-grade weaponry the CJNG has.

Keeping a Low Profile

An intelligence source consulted by InSight Crime stated that it is not clear how many people make up the Nueva Plaza Cartel, but it is known that many members of the group played only minor roles in the CJNG, if any, and saw a new opportunity in joining up with El Cholo.

Some media outlets such as El Financiero have suggested that Nueva Plaza also has Colombian nationals among its ranks. The intelligence source InSight Crime consulted backed up El Financiero’s claim, explaining that in Guadalajara many Colombians with experience as hitmen are working in the area.

However, InSight Crime interviewed another source who said that Nueva Plaza members do not all have the same shared vision when it comes to facing off against the CJNG, and have joined instead for economic reasons.

“Just like they’re here now [with El Cholo], they can easily go back to the other side [with the CJNG],” said the source.

Nueva Plaza’s El Cholo, who also goes by the fake names Luis Emmanuel Rodríguez and Miguel Ángel Sánchez, was arrested in 2015 for cocaine possession. And Media outlet Milenio reported that an arrest warrant for a 2007 murder was also issued for him.

El Cholo managed to get out of prison under unclear circumstances, and unlike other Mexican crime bosses he has been following El Mencho’s strategy of keeping a low profile. So far, he has remained out of the public eye. In fact, there are only two known photographs of him.

“It’s difficult for people to identify him,” said InSight Crime’s intelligence source.

Rival Support for Jalisco Expansion?

Some of the sources InSight Crime consulted theorized that criminal groups that already have a foothold in Jalisco state — the Sinaloa Cartel, for example — are supporting the Nueva Plaza Cartel in order to rob the CJNG of its territory.

The Sinaloa Cartel became the predominant criminal actor in Jalisco after starting out under the Guadalajara Cartel at the end of the 20th century. The city of Guadalajara was a stronghold for ruling Sinaloa families for many years, which kept violence relatively low compared to other urban centers in Mexico. Case in point, the Milenio Cartel — from which the CJNG emerged in 2010 — was part of the Sinaloa Cartel’s criminal federation.

Guadalajara’s cartel history coupled with recent events could support speculation of an imminent partnership between the Sinaloa Cartel and El Cholo. But with InSight Crime’s sources saying they have yet to find any hard evidence of such a connection, it remains uncertain when the city’s violence will subside.

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