Members of the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation. All rights reserved.
More than three years into the term of Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto, the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG) and Sinaloa Cartel operate in 15 states combined, while the Zetas and the Knights Templars have been reduced to operating in just one each.
That is the federal government's official diagnosis of organized crime at the end of the first semester of 2016. The data, collected by the National Centre for Planning, Analysis and Information to Combat Organized Crime within the Attorney General's Office, were obtained by Mexican digital magazine Animal Político via a freedom of information request.
According to the official data, organized crime has a presence in 60% of all federal territory. All of the nine cartels that appeared for the first time in the government's 2014 report are still in operation, although the number of distinct criminal cells fell from 45 to 37. While two criminal groups have consolidated their territorial presence, others have lost most of their area of operations in the past 24 months.
Three states, including the Federal District (the country's capital), were able to free themselves from the presence of cartels, according to the government's analysis.
At least three cartels are registered as operating in the states of Morelos and Guerrero. Last week, Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong assured that the current administration had delivered major blows to all of the cartels, thanks to the arrest of many of their leaders. Authorities have captured 100 of the country's 122 most wanted suspects.
Who is weakened and who is not
From 2014 to 2016, some organized crime groups kept intact nearly all of their territorial presence. This includes the CJNG, which lost its presence in only one entity over the course of the last two years: Mexico City.
According to the official data, CJNG is currently operational in eight states, more than any other criminal organization in the country. Furthermore, the report notes that their operations appear to be centralized; their presence is not based on allied criminal cells, but rather on members who belong directly to the criminal structure.
In five of the states where the CJNG is present -- Jalisco, Colima, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Veracruz -- it is the only criminal group in operation. The CJNG is also present in Morelos, Guerrero and Michoacán, where it competes for territory with rival cartels.
The head of the CJNG is Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho," who the federal government has yet to capture despite several targeted security operations and the arrest of people close to him. The Attorney General Office (PGR) is offering a reward of two million pesos (roughly $110,000) to anyone who provides information on his whereabouts, while the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has ranked him as one of its most wanted suspects.
The Sinaloa Cartel, also known as the Pacific Cartel, is the only group that has expanded its territory in the last two years, according to the government report. In 2014, the cartel was operational in six states, but it has now expanded to seven. In two of them, Coahuila and Durango, it is the only operational organization, while other groups are also present in Sinaloa, Chihuaha, Baja California, Baja California Sur and Sonora.
The Sinaloa Cartel has several leaders. The most well-known figure, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, has been arrested three times, twice during the Peña Nieto administration, while Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada remains at large. It is believed that Rafael Caro Quintero, who was set free in 2013, has been reincorporated into the cartel's leadership circle.
The Zetas and Knights Templars, however, have suffered significant setbacks. In 2014, the Zetas operated in at least 5 federal entities; now they only operate in Tamaulipas, according to the report. The Zetas are currently engaged in an ongoing dispute with the Gulf Cartel, which operates mostly out of Tamaulipas but also has a presence in Quitana Roo.
The Knights Templars’ decline has been even more dramatic. In 2014, the group was present in nine federal states, but in 2016 it is only located in Michoacán, the report says. The Templars’ leadership has been one of the hardest hit by the Peña Nieto administration. The group's leader, Nazario Moreno González, alias "El Chayo," was killed in a confrontation with Marines in 2014 while his successor, Servando Gómez, alias "La Tuta," was captured by authorities the following year.
The group now has two criminal cells left working in isolation, according to the PGR. One is located in the municipalities of Aquila, Coahuayana, and Coalcomán and is led by Fernando Cruz Mendoza, alias "El Tena." The other is in the Tumbiscatío and Apatzingán municipalities and is run by Homero González Rodriguez, alias "El Gallito."
The PGR registered the presence of organized crime in 19 federal entities, nine of which are home to at least two rival drug cartels. The two most saturated states are Morelos and Guerrero, where there are reportedly as many as three criminal groups present: the Beltrán Leyva Organization, La Familia Michoacana, and the CJNG.
These two states closed 2015 with the highest homicide rates in the country (pdf). Guerrero registered 56.5 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, while Morelos posted a rate of 25.78 homicides per 100,000.
The other states with a cartel presence are: Chihuaha, Sinaloa, Durango, Coahuila, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Mexico State, Aguascalientes, Tamaulipas, Quintana Roo, Michoacán, Jalisco, Colima, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Veracruz.
There are three entities that have eradicated their cartel presence between 2014 and 2016, according to the report. These are Querétaro and Tabasco, where the Zetas were previously present, and Mexico City, where the CJNG was operational. Since 2015, the mayor of Mexico City, Miguel Ángel Mancera, has denied that the CJNG -- or any other criminal organization -- has maintained a presence in the capital. He has said that there are drug trafficking routes that run through the city, but dismissed the possibility that criminal cells were operating there.
Cartels persist despite lack of leadership
According to the federal government, 100 of the 122 most wanted suspects in Mexico have been captured or killed. But the same number of cartels are in operation in 2016 as in 2014, although some have lost territory.
What is more, the report highlights the presence of some criminal groups that, while still not considered to be a cartel, have nonetheless a significant territorial presence. Such is the case of Guerreros Unidos, a splinter group of the Beltran Leyva Organization that operates in three states: Morelos, Guerrero and Mexico State.
Furthermore, Animal Político has previously noted that the government’s list of top suspects does not include important criminal leaders who remain at large, such as Juan José Esparragoza, alias "El Azul," considered to be one of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, and Pablo Ledezma, the current leader of the Juárez Cartel.
This article was previously published by InSight Crime with the permission of Animal Politico.