Jalisco New Generation Cartel: A drone, explosions and impunity: the CJNG exhibits its firepower in Michoacán

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A vehicle from the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel and a drone form a rental in the municipality of Aguililla, Michoacan in April 2021.Darkroom

First there is an explosion. Fire. Smoke. Immediately, dozens of people are seen running out of what appear to be cabins hidden among the trees. Three other projectiles fall on the town. The camera widens the focus and from above you can see how the flames begin to consume a yellowish forest. The video, of two minutes and 20 seconds, is recorded from a remote-controlled drone of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which was also in charge this Monday of unleashing the bombings on the shantytowns of the municipality of Tepalcatepec, in the State of Michoacán.

Then clumsy zooms in on the fire; others about the neighbors who flee in terror. At minute 1:18 the camera begins to rotate chaotically and only blurry images are seen, running: the inhabitants of the area have managed to shoot down the drone. This is how the images were obtained, according to The universal.

It was not the only attack of the day. The criminal group launched an offensive in different towns in the same municipality. In another video broadcast by neighbors, two members of a local self-defense group, armed and refugees, are seen against a tree trunk. The shots of the drug traffickers resound dryly around him. At one point, one of the men grabs his rifle and tries to return fire, but the CJNG’s firepower is much greater and they are forced to flee. There the recording becomes adrenaline rush: you can see how they escape through the forest in distorted and rapid images of dry branches and leaves. Meanwhile, the shooting rumbles in the background, omnipresent.

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The video captured by the drone camera during the attack.

The situation has become extreme for the inhabitants of the municipality. Last week, in another video broadcast on social networks, the mayor, Martha Laura Mendoza, is heard in a meeting asking the authorities for desperate help: “In Tepalcatepec we have already had four months of insecurity. No one turns to see us there. Everything that was talked about right now is very nice, hopefully and it comes true. But this is the only municipality in which we have more than 3,000 displaced people.” He makes a short pause that gives seriousness to his intervention and, with an urgent tone of voice, he repeats: “Four months and no one turns to see us, no one gives a solution!”.

Michoacán has been a hot zone for drug traffickers since its existence, although in recent months the situation has intensified in a struggle between rival cartels in which the name of the CJNG always stands out. In fact, it is not the first time that the criminal group has attacked the region with drones. It has become a common way to demonstrate their power, a firepower typical of a professional army. The play is twofold: in addition to ending any opposition, they challenge the State, often without finding an answer. It is not strange either to see news in the local press about towns that are left without police: the agents flee between threats, overcome by the weapons deployment of the drug traffickers.

Since the 1990s, dozens of self-defense groups have also joined the cocktail which, tired of what they considered institutional abandonment, decided to arm themselves and protect themselves against criminal organizations. Between 15,000 and 25,000 people made up these commandos as of 2013, according to estimates by Romain Le Cour, coordinator of the Evalúa Mexico security program, who conducted in-depth research on this phenomenon. The end result was like adding more gunpowder to a bomb with a fuse that was too short: the violence multiplied.

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The massacres take place with total impunity in Michoacán, a state that does not reach five million inhabitants, but in whose limits some of the darkest records in Mexico are accumulated. It is one of the regions with the most murders: on average, seven people are executed a day—from January to October 2021 alone, 2,234 homicides have been registered, according to The Sun of Morelia—. Since 1964, 4,242 people have disappeared according to official data, but the reality becomes more serious when it is taken into account that of them, 952 have occurred in the last year.

Its inhabitants have been forced to get used to doses of extreme violence in a territory where the arm of the State is not enough. Massacres, bodies abandoned in ditches or hanging from bridges, institutional offices razed to the ground with Molotov cocktails or professional basketball players kidnapped —although in this case, he later turned up alive and tied to a tree— are just some of the latest episodes. And in the background, always omnipresent, the CJNG, with an increasing firepower and no fear of showing it off with total impunity.

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