If there is anything constant in the world of Mexican drug trafficking, it’s change. Over the decades, the size and composition of various organized crime groups best known as drug cartels change on a regular basis. Another variable that is constantly shifting is the location of conflict between cartels, largely as a result of territories that change hands. These geographical changes generally don’t start concerning U.S citizens and law enforcement agencies until it starts impacting border communities, and unfortunately, that is what seems to be happening just south of California.
The larger drug-trafficking organizations that exist today in Mexico mostly grew out of the Guadalajara cartel in the 1970s and its dissolution in 1987, with the exception of the Gulf Cartel. These cartels operated more or less like mafia organizations until some kingpins started creating private armies to act as enforcers for their cartels. The most notable of these was Los Zetas, which were created by former Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillen in the late 1990s. Los Zetas split off to become their own cartel in 2010, and since that time the number of drug organizations and “mini cartels” that have no family or historical affiliation to the kingpins of the 1970s and 1980s has grown exponentially.
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Of all these newer groups, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) poses the biggest problems from a security standpoint. The CJNG is easily the fastest growing and one of the more dangerous cartels currently operating in Mexico. The drug-trafficking group got its start as the armed wing of the notorious Sinaloa Federation, originating in roughly 2010 and operating almost exclusively in the Guadalajara area. According to InsightCrime.org, the CJNG arose after the 2010 death of Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, the Federation’s representative in Jalisco, which unleashed a fight for succession. However, it didn’t take long for their presence to expand to the areas of Veracruz, Guerrero, Morelos, Colima, Guanajuato, and Michoacán as part of the Federation’s seemingly never-ending war with rival Los Zetas. Some analysts have likened the CJNG’s tactics to that of a paramilitary organization, with the capacity to both engage Mexico’s armed forces directly and also infiltrate security forces and community organizations.
The CJNG is known to have a limited presence in the U.S., with major hub cities still being dominated by the traditional “megacartels” like the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. However, reports have been emerging in the last year indicating an increasing CJNG presence in Tijuana, a literal stone’s throw away from southern California. The CJNG split off from the Federation approximately two years ago, and has grown significantly in size and power. This move into Tijuana is indicative of that, considering the remnants of the once-powerful Arellano Félix Organization (AFO) and the Federation have held the prized drug corridor in a stranglehold for many years.
In February 2016, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the CJNG was teaming up with what was left of the AFO to fight the Federation for control of the Tijuana corridor. Bodies have been appearing around Tijuana with narcomessages purportedly signed by the CJNG, and the border city’s homicide rate has doubled since this time last year. Given that Tijuana has barely recovered from its blood-soaked image from 2008-2010, the potential for a new epicenter of cartel fighting has officials in both Baja California Norte and San Diego County concerned. Only time will determine the lengths these competing organizations are willing to go to settle into a “new normal” along the California-Mexico border.