EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Mexico’s most violent drug cartel isn’t likely to sit quietly on the sidelines after the extradition of one of its leaders to the United States, security experts say.

“I expect their reaction will be very similar to that of other drug cartels when part of their leadership is taken. Almost always there’s an immediate strike — very violent and very visible — toward the government, toward police,” said Victor R. Manjarrez Jr., a former U.S. Border Patrol chief in Arizona and Texas.

Already, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico has issued a security alert warning Americans about the potential for retaliatory actions including highway blockades and vehicle burnings.

Manjarrez’s comments and the embassy’s warning came in the wake of Ruben Oseguera Gonzalez’s extradition to the United States. He is the son of Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG) leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, a.k.a., “Mencho.”

The last time a drug lord’s son was arrested (on Oct. 17 in Culiacan, Mexico), Sinaloa cartel thugs burned cars and buildings and took over most major highways aboard vehicles equipped with .50-caliber guns. And when Mexican police tried to transfer several Sinaloa cartel leaders from a jail in Juarez on Nov. 5, members of the “Mexicles” gang killed at least 10 people and torched upwards of 30 vehicles.

But Manjarrez hopes any such violence will be limited in scope and temporary.

The younger Oseguera had been jailed in Mexico while his father consolidated a drug empire that exerts control over 75% of Mexico, has a presence in at least 35 states in the U.S., and supplies synthetic drugs to millions of user in both countries, Asia, Europe and even Australia, according to a Dec. 20, 2019 report by the Congressional Research Service.

Oseguera Gonzalez was part of a cadre of Jalisco cartel leaders indicted by grand juries in 2018 in California, Illinois, Virginia and Mississippi on charges ranging from money laundering to conspiracy to import narcotics into the United States.

The gang has embarked on a campaign of murder and territorial disputes not seen in Mexico in more than a decade, according to experts.

The CJNG in the past year has substantially expanded its area of influence in Mexico, taking over towns along highways in Zacatecas, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi and Aguascalientes on its way to coveted drug-crossing routes in South Texas.

Map of drug cartel areas of influence in Mexico, as of January 2019. (graphic courtesy Stratfor)

In the process, it has displaced thousands of Mexican families that late last year showed up at the U.S. border seeking asylum.

Map of cartel influence in Mexico as of January 2020. (graphic courtesy Stratfor)

It has also swung the balance of power in Chihuahua, whose drug-staging points into the United States up until 2018 remained in control of the Sinaloa cartel.

Exclusive: Jalisco’s play for control of the border

The drug wars of the mid- and late-2000s ended with the Sinaloa cartel all but wiping out the Juarez cartel/Carrillo Fuentes organization that had been dominant in Mexico since the mid-1990s.

But remnants of the Juarez cartel retreated into the countryside and have been rebuilding ever since, while the Sinaloa cartel has been splintering and losing leadership, as illustrated by the extradition, trial and last year’s sentencing of its kingpin Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman.

“Mencho” seized the opportunity and in just over a year has helped “La Linea” — the remnants of the Juarez cartel — gain the upper hand in Chihuahua in exchange for access to drug-staging points at the U.S.-Mexico border, experts say.

“In the mountains, you still had the remnants of the Carrillo Fuentes organization that were fairly significant and strong, so the conflict persisted. And now CJNG has gotten involved in it … with La Linea and some street allies in Juarez itself,” said Scott Stewart, vice president of Stratfor, an Austin-based geopolitical intelligence organization.

The resurgence of the New Juarez cartel prompted the Sinaloa cartel to buy off one its leaders, a man nicknamed “El Tigre” (The Tiger) in 2018, Stewart said.

The breakaway faction became known as Gente Nueva de El Tigre and kept Sinaloa in control until the man was murdered and Jalisco stepped up its monetary and weapons assistance to La Linea.

“It seemed that Sinaloa were going to turn the tide against La Linea. But CJNG increased its support, so a lot of the violence we have seen has actually been Gente Nueva and Los Salazar deaths at the hands of La Linea and CJNG guys,” Stewart said. “It really seems like La Linea has the momentum again due to support from CJNG.”

La Linea continues battling Gente Nueva, now under the leadership of “El Jaguar” (The Jaguar) in the mountains of southern Chihuahua and the Salazar organization in the border of Sonora, for control of access to the drug staging point of Agua Prieta, across from Douglas, Ariz.

La Linea has failed to consolidate back into the New Juarez cartel due to infighting. A law enforcement source in El Paso, Texas, told Border Report that sometimes gang members don’t even know for which faction of La Linea they’re moving drugs at any given time. However, Jalisco keeps paying whoever controls the access to ship its heroin, meth and fentanyl to the United States, the experts say.

And Juarez is not its only target. The Jalisco cartel is active in the turf war in Tijuana, has secured seaports in Western Mexico to receive precursor chemicals for fentanyl and meth and is fighting for control of the Gulf of Mexico states of Veracruz and Tabasco.

The gains in West Central Mexico and the Gulf are aiming at South Texas. Already they are backing the Los Metros gang in Reynosa to wrestle control away from the Gulf cartel and the Cartel of the Northeast (CDN), Stewart said. The latter two groups seem to have bigger problems at the moment, losing firefight after firefight against a Tamaulipas state police fed up with two decades of the cartels’ violence. In the vacuum, the Jalisco cartel is moving in.

“Like every other organization, what you do is you establish your infrastructure. And for the cartels that’s the routes,” said the former Border Patrol chief Manjarrez. “Jalisco has been very good at that. The Jalisco cartel’s most important activity is establishing pathways to the border.”

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