Watch: Armed Mexican Drug Cartel Convoy Occupies Mountain Highway with Police Nowhere in Sight
In what clearly looks to be a drug cartel show of strength, a video circulating this week on Mexican social media shows a convoy of dozens of vehicles and scores of uniformed and heavily armed men stopped on a mountain highway in the state of Jalisco. They appear totally unconcerned about presenting an armed challenge to the Mexican state, and with good reason—there is no sign of a police or military presence anywhere.
The video, which first popped up on messaging services such as WhatsApp before being picked up by Mexican news websites, appears to show members of what is now arguably the most powerful drug cartel in the county, the CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel). The CJNG first formed in 2009 but has risen to preeminence in the country's bloody cartel landscape in the wake of the capture and extradition to the United States of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, head of the long-running Sinaloa Cartel, which has since splintered in his absence.
In the video, the suspected cartel member who filmed the footage and a companion talk about the cartel and show other men wearing shirts bearing the CJNG initials. The scores of gunmen, many wearing military-style uniforms and helmets, others wearing pasamontaÃ±as (balaclavas), are relaxed and jovial as they casually stroll along the federal highway. Accordion-tinged music blares from car radios.
"Cartel Jalisco," one masked gunman says, pointing to himself. "We're just here on patrol," says another. The videographer describes one group of five men as "los guapos del cartel" (the good-looking guys of the cartel).
The release of the video came just days after federal officials announced they had arrested a local CJNG leader in the disappearance of three Italian citizens in January, leaving some to speculate that the video was a response to the state's actions and was intended to demonstrate the group's power.
The CJNG now controls large chunks of western and central Mexico, especially mountainous regions like the Sierra de Nayarit, where the video was allegedly filmed. It is currently engaged in turf wars with rival drug factions in several states and announced just last week that it is going after la plaza (the franchise—control of the local drug trade) in the state of Morelos.
Beyond the day-to-day brutality of its involvement in the country's drug wars, which left a record 29,000 dead last year and more than 200,000 dead since the federal government deployed the military against the cartels to bring peace and security in 2006, the CJNG is also responsible for notorious acts of violence this year, including the kidnapping, torture, and murder of three Guadalajara film students and the attempted assassination of Jalisco Labor Secretary Luis Carlos Najera.
Responding to the video, Jalisco Interior Secretary Roberto Lopez Lara said authorities were attempting to authenticate it, but moved to reassure residents. "The state has the security of all residents of Jalisco under control," he said.
The video tells a different story. It's a story all too familiar to Mexicans, who have by now endured more than a decade of drug prohibition-related violence, corruption, and impunity. That's why President-elect AndrÃ©s Manuel LÃ³pez Obrador is talking about doing something entirely different: ending the drug war.
Here's the video:
This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.