Small Wars Journal

SWJ El Centro Book Review – CJNG: A Quick Guide to Mexico's Deadliest Cartel

Sat, 05/18/2024 - 7:36pm

SWJ El Centro Book Review – CJNG: A Quick Guide to Mexico's Deadliest Cartel

John P. Sullivan

CJNG Quick Guide

Chris Dalby, CJNG: A Quick Guide to Mexico's Deadliest Cartel. Virtual: World of Crime, 2024 [ISBN:  978-9083423913 paperback, 978-9083423906 eBook, 170 Pages]

The Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG), or Jalisco New Generation Cartel is one of Mexico’s major criminal cartels. It is locked into a major contest for dominance of Mexico’s illicit economy with the Sinaloa Cartel (Cártel de Sinaloa). Indeed this competition is increasingly global and involves numerous smaller conflicts with other rival cartels and gangs in Mexico and beyond. Both the CJNG and CDS, Mexico’s largest criminal groups, exercise territorial control and criminal governance and effectively rule over large segments of Mexico’s populace, economy (markets), and spaces. This places the CJNG in direct confrontation with its criminal rivals and the state in the areas it controls or seeks to control. This contest for power and profit is often punctuated by violence. It is also colored by myth and misunderstanding of the nature of these contests,

Chris Dalby, a seasoned journalist, formerly with InSight Crime, has analyzed Mexico’s criminal landscape along with its crime wars and criminal insurgencies for many years. Now Director of World of Crime, a think tank based in the Netherlands with a global virtual remit, has published a resource guide capturing the salient aspects of the CJNG story. The guide, CJNG: A Quick Guide to Mexico's Deadliest Cartel, is built upon years of field work, research, and reportage.

Early Days

After a brief introduction, the text is divided into thirteen substantiative chapters followed by a list of “essential resources.” Each chapter describes a distinct aspect of the CJNG’s activities, from their economic ventures to their threats and a description of their geographic reach.

The first topical chapter, “The CJNG’s Origins,” looks at the foundation of the CJNG in the Milenio Cartel under Armando Valencia Cornelio, briefly recounting the early links to the so-called Guadalajara Cartel under Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, and influence of Pablo Escobar and the Colombian Medellín Cartel. These early seeds set the stage for the rise of “El Mencho” or Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes the CJNG’s founder and current leader. This emergence is punctuated by the rise of “avocadonomics” or the boom in avocados as a cash crop that became integral to Michoacán’s economy and ripe for exploitation by the CJNG.

The next chapter, “The CJNG’s Many, Many Wars,” recounts criminal conflicts with a number of groups, including the Cárteles Unidos and La Familia Michoacana in Michoacán, the Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas and Veracruz, the Mezcales in Coloma, the Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL) in Guanajuato, and the Zetas Vieja Escuela in Tamaulipas. This is followed by “The Matazetas,” which examines the story of a counterforce to the Zetas that many report as a part of the emergence of the CJNG. Yet, the true story is more nuanced and complicated.

The Cult of El Mencho

The next chapter details the emergence of “The Cult of El Mencho.” Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, aka “Mencho,” is the notorious leader of the CJNG.  El Mencho eschewed the mantle of social bandit, cultivated by Sinaloa kingpin El Chapo Guzmán, and “Cultivated an aura of fear, devotion and anonymity.”(p. 50) This section recounts Mencho’s early years, when he was connected to the Valencia family and the Milenio cartel; his time in the United States (both in California and in federal prison in Texas); and his return to Mexico where he became a cop, before he reconnected with the Valencia Family and the Milenio Cartel in time for the war with Los Zetas. 

The Rise and Fall of the Cuinis and the Next Generation

The legacy of "Los Cuinis” is told in “The Rise and Fall of the Cuinis” which describes the symbiotic relationship between the CJNG and the Cuinis, led by Mencho’s brother-in-law known as “El Cuini.” This group, or faction, were dominated by the González Valencia family. Money laundering, funding expansion into the global methamphetamine trade were hallmarks of the Los Cuini era. After several notable arrests the Cuini power faded. The next chapter “The Next Generation of CJNG Leaders” assesses potential successors to “El Mencho” amid speculation that he is seriously ill and dying or already dead (his actual fate is unknown at the time of this book’s release and this review).

Money Laundering and Branding

“The CJNG’s Money laundering Empire” looks at the financial services component of the CJNG. From front businesses to real estate transaction, trade-based money laundering helps convert the profits from the global meth, fentanyl, and heroin trade into portable capital. The early rise of this business center to its connections to the Chinese shadow banking system and use of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies is briefly reviewed before turning to public affairs. “The CJNG’s Gift for Public Relations” examines the CJNG’s use of social media—including generating a fan base and associated trademark “purple devil” (😈) emoji—and propaganda are described emphasizing “narcoculture,” machismo, hyper-violence, battle images, and cults of personality to reinforce the CJNG brand.

Synthetic Pharma, Other Profit Centers, and Geospatial Reach

The next two chapters focus on the CJG trade in illicit pharma or drugs. “The CJNG and Methamphetamine” sets the stage with a description of the cartel’s innovation in producing its own product through a network of meth labs to form a power base. The global connections derived from this endeavor were the foundation for the next phase, fentanyl. “The CJNG and Fentanyl” describes the growth and current state of the fentanyl trade and its impact in Mexico. The next chapter, “How Else Does the CJNG Make Money?” Looks at the Avocado trade, Extortion, Fuel Theft (Huachicoleo), Illegal Fishing, Illegal Logging and Timber Trafficking, Migrant Smuggling, and Timeshare Fraud. The final two chapters” “Where is the CJNG in Mexico” and “The CJNG Across the Americas” briefly ok at the CJNG presence in each of Mexico’s states and Mexico City (CDMX) and the United States, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, and Guatemala. The text ends with a short list of reference resources.

Assessing the Text

CJNG: A Quick Guide to Mexico's Deadliest Cartel is a quick read. While it is not a comprehensive account of the CJNG, an exhaustive investigative account, and in-depth ethnology or political economic assessment, it provides an accessible, synopsis of the CJNG’s rise, operational context, and geographic reach. While specialists may miss detailed accounts of social network analysis and conflict analysis, both specialists and generalists will find this an accessible and succinct overview of the CJNG’s major characteristics. Journalists and senior leaders seeking to prepare themselves to understand current events and more detailed research and operational analyses will likely find this a good primer or “essential A–Z” on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel’s background. The author states that this is the first of many potential World of Crime “quick guides” with future volumes on the Tren de Aragua an the Chapitos in preparation. I look forward to seeing those released as companions to this text.

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at