US and Mexican sanctions offer a glimpse of who actually runs Mexico's ascendant Jalisco cartel

  • Recent sanctions on CJNG members show that the group is one of the few with a traditional hierarchical structure.
  • That kind of centralized command structure carries risks, including fragmentation and spikes in violence if key leaders are arrested or killed.
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Sanctions recently imposed by the United States and Mexico on CJNG members allegedly linked to two high-profile murders demonstrate that the criminal group is one of the few remaining with a traditional hierarchical structure.

On April 6, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced sanctions against Carlos Rivera Varela, alias “La Firma,” and Francisco Gudiño Haro, alias “La Gallina.”

According to OFAC, both individuals helped to orchestrate contract killings in the coastal region of Puerto Vallarta in Jalisco state for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG).

OFAC also identified Alejandro Chacón Miranda, a travel agent based in the city of Guadalajara, as a CJNG collaborator. Chacón Miranda allegedly arranged trips for the cartel and facilitated drug shipments logistics. These three individuals received orders from Gonzalo Mendoza Gaytán, alias “El Sapo,” a CJNG leader based in Puerto Vallarta.

A CJNG organizational chart constructed by the US Treasury Department.US Treasury Department

One week before the US announced the sanctions, Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera – UIF) blocked bank accounts belonging to Rivera Varela, Gudiño Haro and Chacón Miranda.

According to Mexican news reports, the UIF also stated that the three individuals were linked to two high-profile hits on politicians: the murder of former Jalisco governor, Aristóteles Sandoval, and the attempted murder of Mexico City’s police chief, Omar García Harfuch.

The former governor was murdered in a bar in Puerto Vallarta in December 2020 and García Harfuch was attacked last June by at least twelve hitmen along one of the Mexican capital’s busiest thoroughfares.

Photos and videos published after the attack revealed the weaponry to which the CJNG has access: .50-caliber Barret sniper rifles and FN SCAR assault rifles manufactured in Belgium, normally used by US special forces.

InSight Crime analysis

Mexican drug cartel Jalisco New Generation.Screen grab

US authorities have imposed numerous sanctions against CJNG leaders and collaborators, but the individuals targeted this time can help to identify patterns and characteristics within the CJNG’s internal structure.

As opposed to other transnational criminal organizations — like the Sinaloa Cartel — that tend to have relatively horizontal structures with different factions and groups having broad decision-making power, the CJNG is characterized by a hierarchical structure. In this group, strategic decisions appear to be made by top leadership and passed down the chain of command, according to analysts.

“The CJNG structure is completely vertical. Nemesio Oseguera, alias “El Mencho,” is the brain behind everything,” David Saucedo, a Mexico-based journalist and security analyst, told InSight Crime.

The information provided by OFAC and the UIF about Mendoza Gaytán and his associates highlights this dynamic.

When Mendoza Gaytán was designated as a “Drug Kingpin” in 2019, US authorities claimed that as the Puerto Vallarta plaza boss, he planned murders and kidnappings in order to expand El Mencho’s territory. The reports published this month show how he delegates tasks such as carrying out attacks, acquiring weapons and transporting cartel members to his subordinates.

Some media outlets, such as La Opinión, have speculated that Mendoza Gaytán could possibly be a successor to El Mencho. He is already a top target for Mexican authorities.

But having such a centralized command structure carries risks. Such groups have proven vulnerable to fragmentation and spikes in violence if crucial leaders are arrested or killed. The so-called “Kingpin Strategy,” favored by Mexico and the United States, has been partially blamed for contributing to this fragmentation and the country’s rise in homicides.

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