From Police Officer to Drug Lord: The Rise of Mexico’s Most Wanted Man

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The Jalisco Cartel’s rapid ascent, and the meteoric rise of its leader from a relative unknown to a notorious drug lord, follow a criminal evolution seen with other groups in Mexico.

Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” has been at the head of the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation’s (CJNG) transformation. Jalisco state officials told BBC Mundo that El Mencho is now “the principal enemy of the government” and someone authorities consider “extremely dangerous.”

A former municipal police officer in Jalisco state, El Mencho has become a savvy strategist who has been able to adapt the CJNG to take advantage of changes in drug consumption, initially producing methamphetamine and then moving to heroin production, according to a risk consultant interviewed by BBC Mundo. 

Previously a relatively unknown group, the CJNG gained prominence in April with a bold attack against security forces that resulted in the deaths of 15 police officers. Since then, the group has continued on its rampage, shooting down a military helicopter on May 1, and spreading terror throughout the state of Jalisco. In response, the Mexican government has mobilized security forces as part of “Operation Jalisco,” aimed at dismantling the upstart group.

As BBC Mundo notes, in five years the CJNG has evolved from being hired muscle for the Sinaloa Cartel to becoming one of Mexico’s dominant criminal organizations. According to Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, the CJNG now has a presence in at least eight states, and has become a major player in the drug trade.

InSight Crime Analysis

The rapid rise of the CJNG and El Mencho — who just a few months ago were considered minor players in Mexico’s criminal underworld — can be explained by several factors.

One is the CJNG’s aggressive tactics and sensationalist acts of violence over the past weeks, which have demonstrated the group’s strength and raised its profile, garnering international headlines. Nonetheless, the extent of the CJNG’s international drug contacts and ability to corrupt state institutions remains unclear, and the reach of the cartel’s influence may not yet match its capacity for violence.

SEE ALSO: El Mencho Profile

Another factor is the capture or death of a number of top Mexican drug traffickers, clearing the way for relatively unknown groups and figures to rise in importance and visibility.

The CJNG has its roots in the Milenio Cartel, and started out as hired muscle for the Sinaloa Cartel before splintering off on its own when the Milenio Cartel suffered internal divisions and fragmented.

This evolution has been seen before with other Mexican groups like the Zetas. Originally founded as the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas struck out on their own after the capture of a former Gulf Cartel leader, similarly gaining notoriety for their brutal and confrontational tactics.

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