Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho,” is the leader and founder of the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), and the man responsible for overseeing the once upstart criminal faction’s transition into one of Mexico’s most formidable cartels. In the process, he has become one of Mexico’s most wanted.
El Mencho is from the Tierra Caliente region of the western state of Michoacán. According to an April 2015 press release from the US Treasury Department, he has been significantly involved in drug trafficking activities since the 1990s. In 1994, the US District Court for the Northern District of California sentenced him to three years in prison for conspiracy to distribute heroin. Following his release, he returned to Mexico, where he served as a police officer in Cabo Corrientes and Tomatlán in the state of Jalisco. In time, however, he would leave the police to continue his drug trafficking activities and join the Milenio Cartel.
After first working in the assassin network that protected Armando Valencia Cornelio, alias “El Maradona,” El Mencho went on to join a Milenio Cartel bloc allied with Sinaloa Cartel capo Ignacio Coronel Villarreal, alias “Nacho Coronel.” This group moved drugs, managed finances, and acted as enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel in the states of Jalisco and Colima.
By 2010, however, following the death of Nacho Coronel and capture of Milenio Cartel leader Óscar Orlando Nava Valencia, alias “El Lobo,” the Milenio Cartel had split into two factions: “Los Torcidos” and “La Resistencia.” These two divisions engaged in a battle for control over drug trafficking in Jalisco, with Los Torcidos evolving into the present-day CJNG with El Mencho as their leader.
Under El Mencho, the CJNG began expanding and consolidating its control over drug trafficking in Jalisco and surrounding states, taking on rival cartels the Zetas and Knights Templar. In August 2012, despite initial reports that he had been captured, El Mencho escaped an operation carried out by Mexican security forces against the CJNG in Guadalajara. In order to impede the work of the police and allow members time to flee, the cartel created dozens of roadblocks, setting fire to vehicles on key roads throughout the city.
El Mencho has continued to elude authorities, despite the CJNG’s increasing strength — and aggressive and violent tactics — resulting in increased attention and pressure from security forces.
As head of the CJNG, El Mencho directs the group’s drug trafficking operations through the states of Jalisco, Colima and Guanajuato, where the cartel is a major player in the methamphetamine trade.
El Mencho is also thought to have ordered several assassinations of Mexican politicians. In March 2013, a suspect in the murder of Jalisco’s Tourism Secretary Jesús Gallegos Álvarez said El Mencho had authorized the hit based on the suspicion that the official was working for the Knights Templar. The CJNG is also believed to be behind the September 2014 assassination of Congressman Gabriel Gómez Michel. While the motive was unclear, Michel was the former mayor of El Grullo, a CJNG stronghold in Jalisco state where El Mencho reportedly moves around freely.
The CJNG has established a presence in at least 20 Mexican states, plus Mexico City, with its base of operations in Jalisco and Colima. El Mencho uses Pacific routes to move drugs, importing cocaine from Colombia and ephedrine from China through the port of Manzanillo in Colima. He has contacts in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and throughout Central America and the United States.
El Mencho reportedly has his personal base of operations in El Grullo, Jalisco, but Los Cuinis, the alleged money laundering arm of the CJNG, may also have established operations in Brazil and Uruguay.
Allies and Enemies
The CJNG’s principal enemies are the Zetas and Knights Templar, and the cartel has been accused of supplying weapons to self-defense groups who fought the Knights Templar in Michoacán. Mexican authorities believed El Mencho was a long-time ally of Juan José Farias, alias “El Abuelo,” who had been identified as a top member of the Milenio Cartel. Farias’ brother, Uriel, is a former mayor of the town of Tepalcatepec in Michoacán, an area where local militias took up arms against the Knights Templar in 2013.
The CJNG also allegedly works closely with the Sinaloa Cartel. El Mencho’s son, Rubén Oseguera González, alias “El Menchito,” was reportedly an ally of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. In January 2014, however, El Menchito was captured in Guadalajara. He was believed to be El Mencho’s right-hand man and the Jalisco Cartel’s second-in-command.
Additionally, El Mencho and Abigael González Valencia — the leader of the Cuinis criminal group — are brothers-in-law, resulting in a “close alliance” between the two, according to the US Treasury Department. Some Mexican media, citing intelligence information, have even suggested Gonzalez Valencia is in fact running the CJNG, contradicting the commonly held belief that El Mencho is the cartel’s top leader.
More recently, El Mencho and the CJNG are battling a number of rivals. In central Guanajuato state, the group is fighting with the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, led by José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, alias “El Marro.” The CJNG is also at war with a splinter faction of the Zetas known as the Zeta Old School (Zetas Vieja Escuela), in addition to a splinter faction of the Gulf Cartel known as the Shadow Group (Grupo Sombra), focused on the state of Veracruz.
El Mencho is also dealing with internal divisions within the CJNG. The Nueva Plaza Cartel, for example, formed in 2017 after splitting from the CJNG over disputes regarding a murder that had been ordered. The Nueva Plaza Cartel has not penetrated Guadalajara — the CJNG’s base of operations — but is exerting control over areas to the west and southeast of the city.
The US Treasury Department claims the CJNG also has ties to other criminal organizations in the United States, Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. Reports have also surfaced that CJNG leaders have received training from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC) guerrilla group.
The CJNG has become synonymous with the use of sensationalist acts of violence, with a 2011 massacre of 35 people in Veracruz and an April 2015 attack that left 15 Mexican police officers dead among its more notable aggressions. In May 2015, the CJNG also shot down a military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. These attacks demonstrated the group’s strength and aggressive leadership, and earned the CJNG and El Mencho notoriety and government attention.
This attention, however, has also turned El Mencho and other CJNG leaders into high-profile targets. Indeed, El Mencho is featured on the most wanted lists of both the Mexican government and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). For information leading to his arrest, the US has offered a reward of $10 million, one of the highest bounties ever offered. Mexico has offered its own reward of 30 million pesos ($1.6 million). Given his prominent position in the underworld, it may only be a matter of time before El Mencho is captured or killed at the hands of security forces or rivals. For now, however, he has eluded authorities in both Mexico and the United States.