Shooting down military helicopters, murdering entire police convoys and decimating rival gangs – welcome to the twisted world of the Jalisco New Generation, which now holds the title of Mexico’s deadliest cartel.
Promoting themselves as ‘guardians of the people’ the gang, based in Guadalajara in Jalisco state, is one of the first cartels to communicate directly with the public by hanging banners around the city with messages of solidarity and posting videos online of vigilante justice.
‘We are against extortion, kidnapping and violence inflicted upon innocent citizens’, said one masked New Generation vigilante in a video the cartel posted on YouTube.
Since 2006 at least 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s so-called ‘drug war’, leading people to lose faith in the ability of the authorities to stem the violence.
This has made many susceptible to the appeal of a gang presenting itself as a band of Robin Hoods fighting for the people.
Following a coordinated attack on a police convoy last month which caused the deaths of 15 police officers, the New Generation hung banners around Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city, proclaiming that ‘the cartel wishes to aid and defend the citizens against The Zetas, The Knights Templar [two other major cartels and rivals] and the abusive authorities’.
The gang claims to represent the public and loudly proclaims how it does not wish to harm innocent people as they go about the lucrative business of trafficking drugs and illegal migrants into the United States.
The New Generation cartel has been active since 2009, starting out as a faction which broke off from the now-defunct Milenio cartel.
After years of vigilante fighting dedicated to the killing of Zeta and Knights Templar cartel members, in 2011 it announced its plans to take the city of Guadalajara from the ‘corrupt government’, announcing itself as the ‘armed wing of the Mexican people’.
The criminal organization has constantly sought societal approval for its actions, describing itself in its messages to the public as ‘righteous’ and ‘nationalistic’.
The relatively new cartel carried out a series of attacks during the May bank holiday weekend as the Mexican military launched Operation Jalisco – an anti-cartel offensive aimed at bringing order to one of Mexico’s most dangerous regions.
Six soldiers died when the cartel shot down a Cougar helicopter with rocket-propelled grenades.
The chopper crashed into a field on the outskirts of Guadalajara. Authorities reported that it was the first time any organised crime group had used RPGs against military vehicles.
The weekend resulted in the highest number of military and police deaths through the whole of Mexico’s drug war.
The New Generation’s attacks included motorway blockades and the firebombing of government-run banks and petrol stations. Besides those who died when the helicopter was shot down at least 15 other people were killed and 19 injured.
Since the attacks the Mexican government has declared ‘all-out war’ against the cartel, which hung banners around the main roads of Guadalajara apologising for the civilian deaths during the conflict.
But the cartel’s claim to be champions of the people is a monstrous lie, according to one security expert.
Dr Dante Haro Reyes, who is a professor for security research at the University of Guadalajara, told MailOnline: ‘If they’re positioning themselves as the cartel of the people, then its simply a propaganda myth spread around by their own people.
‘They’re an extremely brutal group of people and there’s no doubt that any person, innocent or otherwise who gets in the way of their making money will be dealt with in the most extreme fashion. Such events we have already seen.
‘The people who try to get in the way of their operation have so far been rival gangs and the authorities, and we have seen how efficiently and brutally they have been dealt with.
‘It’s unthinkable that a member of the public acting similarly would receive any other form of treatment.
‘If they leave the public alone, it’s not out of any feeling of compassion or solidarity, it’s simply that they have nothing to do with the business of narco-trafficking.’
Dr Haro Reyes says that the New Generation have been slowly working in a low-profile manner since 2009 and that it was only since the recent capture and execution of one of the organization’s top narcos, who police have not named, that their retaliation caused multiple military and police deaths.
He said: ‘This is a cartel with enormous economic resources, which can afford to equip itself better than the authorities it is fighting.
‘Such a sophisticated operation, which has become expert in the production and distribution of synthetic drugs, is a force to be reckoned with.
‘Numerous narco-laboratories exist within their territories, where raw materials are shipped in primarily from Asia, arrive in the Pacific ports of Colima and Michoacan, and are professionally synthesised into narcotics, primarily methamphetamine.’
In one YouTube video promoting New Generation’s brand of vigilante justice, four battered members of the rival Sinaloa Cartel are forced to confess to the abduction and murder of innocent citizens who they had kidnapped and ransomed.
Daniel Diaz, who identifies himself in the video as a member of the Sinaloa cartel, admits to the kidnapping and murder of Guadalajara resident Juan Manuel Gonzalez and his son.
‘We didn’t receive the complete ransom, so we let them starve to death’, he says on camera, ‘my job was to get rid of the bodies without a trace’.
‘We will continue to protect the people from these atrocities’, says the masked vigilante following the kneeling kidnappers’ admissions. ‘The New Generation will not stand for the terrorising of innocent members of society’.
The video was posted last year and has already had more than one million hits, as astonished viewers around the world log on to watch a cartel that has pulled off some of the most daring operations Mexico’s drug war has ever seen.
Last year the cartel was discovered to have succeeded in manufacturing more than 100 AR-15 assault rifles, using hi-tech factory equipment and parts imported from the United States.
The cartel is led by Nemesio Oceguera, known by his gangland name ‘El Mencho’.
Despite their carefully-cultivated public persona, the New Generation cartel is very media-shy.
Following the capture of one of El Mencho’s deputies in Sinaloa state last year, reports surfaced that the gangster had paid police hundreds of thousands of dollars in order not to have his photo taken by the authorities.
One Guadalajara-based journalist, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of his own safety, attempted to arrange interviews with New Generation cartel leaders.
He was told that a secluded meeting was possible and that he should advise the gangsters ‘when and where he wanted to die’.
According to the US State Department the New Generation cartel also has links to criminal groups in Europe, Africa, Asia and the United States.
The New Generation’s biggest cartel rivals are The Zetas and the Knights Templar. New Generation is also known as ‘Los Matazetas’, or ‘Zeta Killers’.
The Zetas are a paramilitary organization of ex-special forces soldiers who turned to terrorising Mexico’s Gulf Coast, taking control of the drugs and human trafficking rackets in the process.
The Knights Templar cartel are based in Michoacan, a state which borders Jalisco to the south and is one of the country’s most prized territories for drug producers and traffickers.
Since Mexico’s government launched its offensive against drug kingpins, a strategy which hoped to achieve the breaking-up of large cartels into smaller factions, many of Mexico’s larger criminal organizations have lost power and territories.
Despite their claims of protecting the public, a number of tequila producers in the region controlled by the New Generation have complained of extortion rackets which have demanded upwards of $15,000 a month, forcing many businesses to close down.
The weakening of the established criminal organizations has allowed the New Generation to grow rapidly, aided by firepower which vastly exceeds that of even the Mexican authorities.
‘The government does not have the capacity to attack more than one big group at a time’, security expert Eduardo Guerrero told The Guardian.
Guerrero explained that the cartel has become so powerful because it has combined immense firepower with the ability to infiltrate the authorities – a skill it may have learned from the Sinaloa Cartel, which it represented for long periods as an armed faction in the Jalisco/Michoacan region.
Accusations of complicity within local and state police forces have surfaced since the cartel’s rise to power, leading many to believe that their well-coordinated attacks on government forces have benefitted from insider information.