Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 32: Former Governor Assassinated in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

Wed, 12/23/2020 - 11:49pm

Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 32: Former Governor Assassinated in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco

Patricia H. Escamilla-Hamm, John P. Sullivan, Nathan P. Jones, and Robert J. Bunker

An assassin (sicario) shot former Jalisco governor Aristóteles Sandoval in the bathroom of the Distrito/5 bar in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco on Friday, 18 December 2020.  He succumbed to his injuries.  The Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is suspected; however, other actors and political motivations can’t be ruled out in this direct attack. 

Sandoval

Jorge Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz, former Governor of Jalisco

Source: Official Photograph

Key Information: Thomas Bravo, “Ex-governor of gang-plagued Mexican state shot dead in beach resort.” Reuters. 18 December 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mexico-crime-idUKKBN28S1XJ:

Jalisco state officials said former governor Aristoteles Sandoval was shot in the back by an unidentified assailant while his security detail were outside the restaurant. A shootout erupted as his bodyguards began moving Sandoval to hospital.

Sandoval’s 2013-18 term as governor was overshadowed by the brutal rise of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), an outfit with local roots which went from relative obscurity to become one of the most powerful drug gangs in the country…

…The attorney general said the restaurant had “manipulated” the crime scene, cleaning up finger prints and taking security cameras in an apparent attempt “to evade justice.” He said investigators believed 8-10 suspects were involved in the attack, but did not indicate who was responsible. A federal official said authorities suspected CJNG involvement.

Key Information: “Ex-governor of Mexico’s Jalisco state shot to death.” Washington Post (Associated Press). 18 December 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/ex-governor-of-mexicos-jalisco-state-shot-to-death/2020/12/18/f2360c24-4137-11eb-b58b-1623f6267960_story.html:

The former governor of Mexico’s troubled western state of Jalisco was shot to death early Friday at a restaurant in the Pacific coast resort of Puerto Vallarta. Jalisco state is home to the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, and the attack bore the hallmarks of a gang killing…

…The killer waited until Sandoval got up from a table he was sharing with three other people, before shooting him several times in the back. Solis said that although only one gunman fired at Sandoval, he may have been accompanied by as many as seven to nine accomplices who waited outside…

…One of his bodyguards was wounded outside in what appears to have been an exchange of gunfire after the attack, when people attempted to take Sandoval to a hospital where he died.

Key Information: Analy Nuño, “Mexico: assassin shoots former state governor in restaurant bathroom.” The Guardian. 18 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/18/aristoteles-sandoval-mexico-jalisco-shot-dead-puerto-vallarta:

Aristóteles Sandoval was dining with four others when at around 1.40 on Friday he got up from the table and went to the toilet, where the killer shot him in the back, said the state attorney general, Gerardo Octavio Solís.

Sandoval did not die immediately, but when his bodyguards tried to evacuate him from the restaurant, their escape was blocked by more gunmen in the street outside, who opened fire, seriously injuring one of the bodyguards. The former governor died soon afterwards at a local hospital…

…Sandoval was a rising star of the Institutional Revolutionary party, PRI, whose term as governor was overshadowed by the rise of the ultra-violent Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG).

He had recently resigned from the party’s executive committee, saying that the PRI – which lost by a landslide to Amlo in 2018 had failed to admit its mistakes and was guilty of clientelism. Analysts said the brazen assassination presaged more violence ahead of regional elections next year.

Key Information: “Asesinan a Aristóteles Sandoval en Puerto Vallarta.” Reforma, 18 December 2020, https://www.reforma.com/aplicacioneslibre/preacceso/articulo/default.aspx?urlredirect=https://www.reforma.com/aplicaciones/articulo/default.aspx?id=2092028&referer=--7d616165662f3a3a78706d7c767a7b70626671747c796c3b767a78--:

Aristóteles Sandoval, ex Gobernador de Jalisco, fue asesinado en un ataque directo esta madrugada en un restaurante de Puerto Vallarta…

…"El ex Gobernador se levanta de su lugar y se dirige al baño y en el baño es donde es atacado por al parecer un sujeto de manera directa con arma de fuego por la espalda".

Señaló que personal del restaurante limpió la escena del crimen, lo que dificulta el trabajo de los peritos.

En tanto, el Secretario de Seguridad del Estado, Agustín Pacheco, informó que el ex Gobernador contaba con equipo de seguridad, tenía 15 elementos asignados, así como vehículos blindados, pero al momento del ataque sus escoltas no estaban presentes.[1]

Key Information: “Asesinan en Puerto Vallarta a Aristóteles Sandoval, exgobernador de Jalisco.” El Universal. 18 December 2020, https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/aristoteles-sandoval-exgobernador-de-jalisco-asesinado-en-puerto-vallarta:

Personal del restaurante limpió escena del crimen Personal del bar Distrito 05 de Puerto Vallarta, donde esta madrugada fue asesinado el exgobernador de Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval, entorpeció las investigaciones del homicidio al limpiar la escena del crimen y borrar prácticamente todos los indicios.

El fiscal del estado, Gerardo Octavio Solís Gómez, señaló que cuando los peritos forenses arribaron al sitio, el personal del bar prácticamente había desaparecido cualquier pista que ayudara a la investigación.[2]

Key Information: “Así se escuchó enfrentamiento afuera del lugar donde mataron a Aristóteles Sandoval en Puerto Vallarta.” Artstegui Noticias. 18 December 2020, https://aristeguinoticias.com/1812/mexico/asi-se-escucho-el-atentado-contra-aristoteles-sandoval-en-puerto-vallarta/:

Distrito 5 está ubicado sobre una de las avenidas principales de Puerto Vallarta el Boulevard Francisco Medina Ascencio– y fue escenario del atentado contra el ex gobernador de Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval. Según reportes de las autoridades, el priista fue atacado a balazos por la espalda cuando acudió al baño de este lugar, alrededor de la 1:40 am, pese a que contaba con equipo de seguridad. En un video que circula en redes se escucha un presunto enfrentamiento que ocurrió en la parte de afuera del restaurante, informó el fiscal de Jalisco.[3]

Key Information: “La sombra del CJNG en el asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval: en 2018 el “Mencho” lo amenazó de muerte.” Infobae. 18 December 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/12/18/la-sombra-del-cjng-en-el-asesinato-de-aristoteles-sandoval-en-2018-el-mencho-lo-amenazo-de-muerte/: 

La madrugada de este viernes, el ex gobernador de Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval, fue ejecutado en el bar Distrito/5, ubicado en Puerto Vallarta. Aunque el Fiscal General Gerardo Octavio Solís, dijo que es pronto para responsabilizar a alguno de los grupos armados que operan en la zona, el nombre del Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) saltó de inmediato.

La violenta organización liderada por Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes alias el “Mencho” había amenazado de muerte a Sandoval en 2018, así lo hizo saber el propio ex mandatario.[4]

Key Information: “Investigan a célula del CJNG en Vallarta por homicidio.” El Universal. 20 December 2020, https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/investigan-celula-del-cjng-en-vallarta-por-homicidio:

La principal línea de investigación que siguen las autoridades ministeriales sobre el asesinato del exgobernador priista de Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz, es que detrás de los hechos está el Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG).

Fuentes ministeriales apuntan al colombiano Carlos Andrés Rivera Varela, La Firma; Julio César Moreno Pinzón, El Tarjetas, y un sujeto identificado como Christian, La Gallina, como principales operadores del grupo criminal en Puerto Vallarta, y como los presuntos autores intelectuales.

Cabe recordar que El Tarjetas es señalado de ordenar el atentado contra el secretario de Seguridad Ciudadana de la Ciudad de México, Omar García Harfuch, donde el CJNG invirtió millones de pesos para la compra de armamento y pago a los sicarios.[5]

Then Governor Aristóteles Sandoval Inspecting Members of the Fuerza Única Jalisco in 2013. Source: Gobierno del Estado de Jalisco.

Analysis

Gunmen assassinated the former governor of Jalisco (2013-2018) Aristóteles Sandoval in a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta on Friday 18 December 2020 at ~0140 hrs.(1:40 am).[6]  Sandoval had 15 bodyguards but only 2 were present during the attack, though there are conflicting reports on the exact number of bodyguards present and their positioning.  The primary sicario (assassin) shot Sandoval in the back as he went to the restroom.  Sandoval’s bodyguards attempted to evacuate him while assassins fired at them.  Some sources indicate that Sandoval died on scene while others suggest he died at the hospital.  Notably the restaurant staff cleaned the tables, removed bullet casings, and deleted the security camera footage, as if trying to ‘manipulate’ the investigation according to statements by the Jalisco Attorney General.  There are conflicting reports of the number of assassins.  According to the State and Federal sources there were 8-10 suspected shooters and the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is the prime suspect organization behind the attack.[7]  Other sources indicate there may have been as many as 30 attackers.[8]  

So far there are more questions than answers about the assassination of Aristóteles Sandoval, former governor (2013-2018) of the Mexican state of Jalisco on 18 December 2020. Who killed him and why?  Was it the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG)?  Were there any early warnings?  Who benefits?  Is it an isolated incident or will there be repercussions?  State authorities have not yet offered clues to answer these questions, but everyone is speculating.

Warnings Ignored

Evidently, Sandoval ignored early warnings, at least from the CJNG.  To name a few, In March 2013, his Secretary of Tourism J. Jesús Gallegos was executed, and Danny Quintero, the CJNG main operator in the capital city of Guadalajara, was charged with his murder and incarcerated for several years.[9]  In May 2015, CJNG violence exploded in Guadalajara, Jalisco´s capital, and surrounding municipalities and states. The violence erupted when federal and state forces tried to capture Nemesio Oseguera, a.k.a. El Mencho, the CJNG top leader.[10]  The CJNG blockaded dozens of roads, burned vehicles, vandalized banks and commercial businesses; and, in an unprecedented act of defiance, shot down a military helicopter.  Dozens of military and police officers were killed and injured as a result.  In 2016, the CJNG kidnapped Alfredo and Ivan, sons of Joaquín Guzmán, a.k.a. El Chapo, from an upscale restaurant just a 322 meters (.2 miles) from the one where Sandoval was killed.[11[12]  Then, in 2018, his last year in office, Sandoval received personal death threats from the CJNG; and his Secretary of Labor (formerly Fiscal or state Attorney General, 2013-2015) Luis Carlos Nájera was nearly assassinated at a restaurant in Guadalajara in an attack believed to have been carried out by CJNG in May 2018.[13]  The attack left two people dead and 15 injured, including innocent bystanders.  Regardless, Sandoval did not seem to fear for his life.  The night of his murder, Sandoval´s protective detail appears to have consisted of only two bodyguards.

The CJNG vs. The Cartel de Sinaloa (CDS)     

The CJNG emerged from the ashes of a major component of the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS).  Nacho Coronel was known as the King of Cristal and oversaw Sinaloa Cartel operations in Guadalajara.[14]  His death in 2010 at the hands of the Mexican government led to a fragmentation of trafficking groups in the area, from which the CJNG eventually emerged victorious and a Sinaloa Cartel ally.  The Sinaloa cartel sent the CJNG, referred to at times as the Matazetas, to Veracruz to battle the Zetas.  This alliance continued until roughly 2013.[15]   By 2016, the CJNG kidnapped Chapo Guzman’s sons at a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, and the conflict was clearer.[16]   While the CJNG released Guzman’s sons, a new fault line had emerged in Mexico’s organized crime wars.  The CJNG and CDS were now the two dominant groups and they came into bloody conflict with each other.  

The CJNG began a massive expansion across the country and into Sinaloa Cartel territories.  The CJNG allied with the Juarez Cartel remnants such as La Línea against the Sinaloa Cartel in Juarez and Chihuahua.  The CJNG allied with the Cártel Arellano Félix (CAF) against the CDS in Tijuana.  They even started their own franchises like the Cartel de Tijuana Nueva Generación (CTNG), led by former CAF members released from the Puente Grande Prison which was by then controlled by the CJNG.[17]  The CJNG expanded itself into Michoacán battling La Familia and the Viagras.  The CJNG expanded into Guanajuato battling the Cártel de Santa Rosa de Lima (CSRL).[18]  One of the more recent fronts and likely to be one of the hottest going forward is in Zacatecas where the CJNG battles the CDS for land routes to the border region.[19]  While the CJNG has continued its expansion it has also splintered with a group known as the Nueva Plaza led by El Cholo fragmenting off and battling the CJNG in its home state of Jalisco.[20]

Both the CDS and the CJNG have demonstrated an increasing willingness to target government security forces and elected officials. In June 2020 authorities believe the CJNG attempted to kill the Mexico City Police Chief Omar García Harfuch.[21]  According to the BBC, “Omar Garcia Harfuch was shot several times” by 28 assassins divided into 4 cells with 3 ambush points.  The assassins carried high powered weapons such as sniper rifles and grenades.[22]  The CJNG has been suspected in attacks on governors, ex-governors, and other officials in Mexico.[23]

On the other hand, the CDS confronted federal government forces in October 2019 forcing them to release Ovidio Guzmán, one of El Chapo’s sons.[24]  However, it should be noted that an analysis of ACLED data demonstrated that the CJNG was far more willing to engage state forces in 2020 than the Sinaloa Cartel.[25]  This broader context of competition between the CDS and CJNG and both group’s willingness to confront the state, may help illuminate and provide context to Sandoval’s assassination. As these organized crime groups battle each other, they battle for control and to be protected by the political class and the security apparatus.  As David Saucedo points out, it is when the CJNG has entered new areas with existing agreements that it has responded with violence.[26]

Organized Crime and Political Assassination

There have been numerous state governors targeted for assassination by drug cartels in Mexico since 2006.  In June of 2010 Rodolfo Torre Cantú (PRI) was assassinated in Tamaulipas.  He was the front runner candidate for governorship of the state.[27]  Organized crime scholar George Grayson speculated the most likely culprit was the Zetas and described their desire to create a ‘dual sovereignty’ with the government.[28]  Later that same year, the former Governor of Colima Jesús Silverio Cavazos Ceballos (PRI) was assassinated at his home November 2010.[29]  In June 2013 former candidate for the Governorship of Coahuila was found assassinated outside Saltillo, Coahuila.[30]

The situation has been far worse for local mayors.  A 2018 Justice in Mexico Study found that between 2004 and 2017 “more than 150 mayors, former mayors, and mayoral candidates … have been killed,” in Mexico.[31]  Scholars such as Trejo and Ley (2019) have argued that organized crime groups in Mexico are not necessarily ‘apolitical.’  Between 2007 and 2012 Mexican organized crime groups targeted municipalities that were ‘unprotected’ by the federal government in their competition with rivals and to protect themselves from the state.  They established “de facto subnational criminal governance regimes.”[32]

Thus, the assassination of Sandoval can be viewed as an escalation of existing trends. Jalisco is home to Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico and one of Mexico’s most important states.  Taken in context, it demonstrates the CJNG’s willingness to target higher levels of government, accept more media attention, and thus targeting by the state.  

Who killed Sandoval and why?

The crime took place in Puerto Vallarta, a beach town in the state of Jalisco, considered as CJNG turf, and one of the most important territories in dispute by the CJNG and the Cártel de Sinaloa.  Moreover, according to law enforcement expert Javier Carrasco, "The zone where the homicide was committed has a record of similar assassinations, which suggests that criminal organizations control the territory.”[33] Therefore, some observers assume that the crime was cartel-related, though there is no hard evidence yet. It is too early and hard to tell, especially because evidence from the crime scene was destroyed and manipulated.  According to state authorities, it took about 20 minutes for the crime to be reported to them and another 20 minutes until their arrival. By that time, the staff of the restaurant had cleaned the crime scene and surveillance cameras and the body (dead or alive) had been removed.  Javier Carrasco said that the timeline is not unusual for Jalisco standards and that the cleaning job could have been done by restaurant personnel coerced or co-opted by the assassin(s).[34]  This would not be unusual either if narcos were involved, Carrasco said.  However, he found it extraordinary that all evidence could have been removed, as the authorities said, in such a short time.

One hypothesis is that the CJNG killed him to settle old scores. During his governorship (2013-2018), in addition to attempts to capture El Mencho, security forces arrested and jailed El Mencho’s son.  Rubén Oseguera, a.k.a. El Menchito, in Mexico in 2015.[35]  In June 2020, El Menchito was extradited to the US, where he sits in prison awaiting trial.  But why would the CJNG wait to retaliate and kill Sandoval?  According to Javier Carrasco, his killers probably waited until he lowered his guard and became more vulnerable.[36]  The operation required much planning, a commando of up to 30 sicarios, and confidential information about his whereabouts that, according to Carrasco, could have only come from the authorities or his bodyguards.  Security expert Eduardo Guerrero offers another version of this hypothesis, which more directly would link the killing to the CJNG.[37]  Guerrero says that Sandoval’s execution could be related to the release from prison in early December 2020 of Danny Quintero, who had been convicted of killing Sandoval's Secretary of Tourism in 2013.[38]      

Until now, there have been no allegations that Sandoval´s execution was related to any personal involvement in organized crime.  Although at the beginning of his administration there were some rumors, they did not amount to serious accusations or known investigations by authorities.[39]  On the contrary, Javier Carrasco says, he was committed to fight drug cartels, particularly the CJNG.[40]  Nonetheless, the CJNG evolved into a powerful cartel during Sandoval’s governorship.

Another hypothesis is that his assassination was politically motivated.  Sandoval was the former governor of one of Mexico’s most important states economically and politically.  His party—the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party – PRI)—ruled in Jalisco for seven decades until the opposition seized power in the mid 1990s.  Since then, Sandoval had been the only PRI governor. Hence, it would be natural for the PRI to want to regain power in Jalisco or for the opposition to try to retain it.  But who would want Sandoval dead and why?  As an ex-governor, he had been relatively quiet politically and remained loyal to the PRI.[41]  

However, he had reactivated politically and began to pressure the PRI to innovate to gain popular support.[42]  But, most importantly, he was also meeting with local groups with an eye on the 2021 state and local elections.[43]  Presumably, he was trying to mobilize support for candidates representing other parties to compete against the PRI.  Rumors were that he might have been considering an alliance with the Movimiento Ciudadano (MC), the party of current Jalisco governor (2018-2024) Enrique Alfaro or with the Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (Morena), the party of Mexico's President.  Naturally, this was not well received by the PRI leadership.  But was this a reason to kill him?  It depends.  Eduardo Guerrero suggests the possibility that Sandoval could have angered local PRI leaders linked to the CJNG.[44]  They are likely to want to control who wins the 2021 elections.  In such a case, his assassination would be motivated by a combination of narco-political interests and actors.  It makes sense, though Javier Carrasco and others did not see Sandoval as a key political actor; at least not crucial enough to be killed.  

Conclusion 

In sum, one way or another, the hand of the CJNG in Sandoval´s assassination cannot be completely discarded; either to settle old scores or to prevent future political losses that might limit the power of the CJNG and/or the PRI.  If this is the case, one may expect to see other assassinations for similar reasons.  As security analyst David Saucedo points out, the Sandoval assassination may be about sending a message to all governors and political actors in CJNG combat zones that the CJNG will target them even after leaving office and despite their security details if they do not comply with CJNG demands.[45]  

Sources

“Asesinan a Aristóteles Sandoval en Puerto Vallarta.” Reforma, 18 December 2020, https://www.reforma.com/aplicacioneslibre/preacceso/articulo/default.aspx?urlredirect=https://www.reforma.com/aplicaciones/articulo/default.aspx?id=2092028&referer=--7d616165662f3a3a78706d7c767a7b70626671747c796c3b767a78--

“Asesinan en Puerto Vallarta a Aristóteles Sandoval, exgobernador de Jalisco.” El Universal. 18 December 2020, https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/aristoteles-sandoval-exgobernador-de-jalisco-asesinado-en-puerto-vallarta.

Thomas Bravo, “Ex-governor of gang-plagued Mexican state shot dead in beach resort.” Reuters. 18 December 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-mexico-crime-idUKKBN28S1XJ.

“Ex-governor of Mexico’s Jalisco state shot to death.” Washington Post (Associated Press). 18 December 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/ex-governor-of-mexicos-jalisco-state-shot-to-death/2020/12/18/f2360c24-4137-11eb-b58b-1623f6267960_story.html.

“Investigan a célula del CJNG en Vallarta por homicidio.” El Universal. 20 December 2020, https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/estados/investigan-celula-del-cjng-en-vallarta-por-homicidio.

“La sombra del CJNG en el asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval: en 2018 el “Mencho” lo amenazó de muerte.” Infobae. 18 December 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/12/18/la-sombra-del-cjng-en-el-asesinato-de-aristoteles-sandoval-en-2018-el-mencho-lo-amenazo-de-muerte/.

Analy Nuño, “Mexico: assassin shoots former state governor in restaurant bathroom.” The Guardian. 18 December 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/18/aristoteles-sandoval-mexico-jalisco-shot-dead-puerto-vallarta.

Endnotes

[1] In English, the title reads: “Aristóteles Sandoval assassinated in Puerto Vallarta.” The text reads: Aristóteles Sandoval, former Governor of Jalisco, was assassinated in a direct attack this morning at a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta.”...  “The former Governor got up from his place and goes to the bathroom and in the bathroom he is attacked directly apparently by a subject with a gun from behind.”…“He [the Attorney General] noted that restaurant staff cleaned up the crime scene, making it difficult for the experts to work.”…“Meanwhile, the Secretary of State Security, Agustín Pacheco, reported that the former Governor had a security team, had 15 assigned elements, as well as armored vehicles, but at the time of the attack his bodyguards were not present.” 

[2] In English, the Title reads: “Aristóteles Sandoval, former governor of Jalisco, murdered in Puerto Vallarta.”  The text reads: “Restaurant staff cleaned up crime scene”…“Staff at the District 05 bar in Puerto Vallarta, where former Jalisco governor Aristóteles Sandoval was assassinated this morning, obstructed the homicide investigations by cleaning up the crime scene and erasing practically all evidence.”…“The state prosecutor, Gerardo Octavio Solís Gómez, pointed out that when the forensic experts arrived at the site, the bar staff had practically disappeared any clue that would aid the investigation.”

[3] In English, the title reads: “This is how the confrontation was heard outside the place where Aristóteles Sandoval was killed in Puerto Vallarta.” The text reads: “District 5 is located on one of the main avenues of Puerto Vallarta— Boulevard Francisco Medina Ascencio—and was the scene of the attack against the former governor of Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval. According to reports from the authorities, the PRI [Partido Revolucionario Institucional] was attacked with bullets in the back when he went to the bathroom at this place, around 1:40 am, despite the fact that he had security detail.  In a video that circulates in networks, an alleged confrontation that occurred outside the restaurant is heard, the Jalisco prosecutor reported.”

[4] In English, the title reads, “The shadow of the CJNG in the murder of Aristóteles Sandoval: in 2018 the “Mencho” threatened him with death.” The text reads:  “At dawn this Friday, the former governor of Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval, was executed at the District/5 bar, located in Puerto Vallarta. Although the Attorney General Gerardo Octavio Solís said that it is too early to hold any of the armed groups operating in the area responsible, the name of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) jumped [to mind] immediately.”… “The violent organization led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes alias "Mencho" had threatened Sandoval with death in 2018, as the former leader himself disclosed.  

[5] In English, the title reads, “CJNG cell in Vallarta investigated for homicide.” The text reads: “The main line of investigation that the ministerial authorities are following on the murder of the former PRI governor of Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval Díaz, is that the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) is behind the events.”…“Ministerial sources point to the Colombian Carlos Andrés Rivera Varela, La Firma; Julio César Moreno Pinzón, El Tarjetas, and a subject identified as Christian, La Gallina, as the main operators of the criminal group in Puerto Vallarta, and as the alleged intellectual authors.”… “It should be remembered that El Tarjeta is accused of ordering the attack against the Secretary of Citizen Security of Mexico City, Omar García Harfuch, where the CJNG invested millions of pesos for the purchase of weapons and payment to the hitmen.”

[6] Analy Nuño, “Mexico: Assassin Shoots Former State Governor in Restaurant Bathroom.”  The Guardian, 18 December 2020, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/18/aristoteles-sandoval-mexico-jalisco-shot-dead-puerto-vallarta.

[7] Juan Carlos G. Partida and Javier Santos, “Participaron por lo menos 30 sicarios en el asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval.”  La Jornada. 19 December 2020, https://www.jornada.com.mx/2020/12/19/politica/003n1pol.

[8] Ibid. and Tomas Bravo, “Ex-Governor of Cartel-Ravaged Mexican State Gunned down in Beach Resort,”  Reuters. 19 December 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-crime-idUSKBN28S1PY

[9] Elena Reina, “Aristóteles Sandoval, el último hombre del Nuevo PRI.” El Pais. 18 December 2020, https://elpais.com/mexico/2020-12-18/aristoteles-sandoval-el-ultimo-hombre-del-nuevo-pri.html.

[10] “El narco demuestra su poderío: derriba un helicóptero, 39 bloqueos, 7 muertos,” Proceso. 1 May 2015, https://http://www.proceso.com.mx/nacional/2015/5/1/el-narco-demuestra-su-poderio-derriba-un-helicoptero-39-bloqueos-muertos-146492.html.  In Guadalajara on this date (1 May 2015) the CJNG deployed 39 narcobloqueos (blockades) and set fires at numerous businesses, gas stations, and banks, and shot down a SEDENA helicopter leaving seven dead, 19 injured, and 17 arrested.  Parallel blockades and incidents of arson also extended to the states of Colima, Michoacán and Guanajuato.

[11] Dan Alder, “Sons of Mexican Drug Lord Freed After Kidnapping,” InSight Crime. 22 August 2016, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/both-guzman-brothers-reportedly-abducted-released-in-mexico/.

[12] Distance from Distrito/5 determined from “The 10 Best Places near Distrito 5 in Puerto vallarta, Jalisco.” Yelp, https://www.yelp.com/search?find_near=distrito-5-puerto-vallarta.

[13] Luis Pablo Beauregard, “El exfiscal de Jalisco sobrevive a un atentado en pleno centro de Guadalajara.” El Pais. 22 May 2018, https://elpais.com/internacional/2018/05/22/mexico/1526956235_789994.htm.  Nájera had left his post as Fiscal (prosecutor) in 2015 but returned as Labor Secretary a few months before his attack in 2018.  He quit shortly after the attack.

[14] William Finnegan, “The Kingpins:  The Fight for Guadalajara.” The New Yorker. 2 July 2012, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/07/02/the-kingpins.

[15] Josh Eells, “The Brutal Rise of El Mencho.” Rolling Stone. 11 July 2017, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/features/the-brutal-rise-of-el-mencho-w491405.

[16] Fidel Gutierrez, “Sources: El Chapo’s Son Freed.” CNN. 22 August 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/08/22/world/mexico-el-chapo-son-freed/index.html; and Nathan Jones, “The Strategic Implications of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación.” Journal of Strategic Security. Vol. 11, no. 1 (2018): pp. 19–42, https://doi.org/10.5038/1944-0472.11.1.1661.

[17] See interview of Retired California Department of Justice Agent Steve Duncan: Borderland Beat Reporter J, “Book Review: Martin Corona, Confessions of a Cartel Killer Part 2.” Borderland Beat. 3 September 2017, http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2017/09/book-review-martin-corona-confessions_2.html.

[18] Nathan P Jones and John P Sullivan, “Huachicoleros: Criminal Cartels, Fuel Theft, and Violence in Mexico.” Journal of Strategic Security. Vol. 12, no. 4 (2019): p. 1, https://doi.org/10.5038/1944-0472.12.4.1742; Veronica Espinosa, “Ejecutan a Jefe Antidrogas de La Fiscalía de Guanajuato.” Proceso. 3 July 2019, https://www.proceso.com.mx/590880/ejecutan-a-jefe-antidrogas-de-la-fiscalia-de-guanajuato; and David Saucedo, “Fuerzas de ‘El Mayo’ y ‘El Marro’ Se Unen En Guanajuato En Contra de Un Enemigo Común: El CJNG.” Sin Embargo. 18 November 2019, https://www.sinembargo.mx/18-11-2019/3681077.

[19] “Zacatecas a New Cartel Battleground as ‘dangerous Alliances’ Form.” Mexico News Daily. 15 October 2020, https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/zacatecas-becomes-a-new-cartel-battleground-as-new-alliances-form/.

[20] Op cit. Jones, “The Strategic Implications of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación” at note 16. 

[21] Natalie Kitroeff, “Mexico City Police Chief Is Wounded in Brazen Ambush.” New York Times. 26 June 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/26/world/americas/mexico-city-police-chief-shot.html.

[22] “Mexico Launches Raids after Assassination Attempt of Police Chief,” BBC News. 27 June 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-53207372.

[23] See, for example, “What is Grupo Delta, the violent CJNG cell implicated in the death of Aristóteles Sandoval and Felipe Tomé.” The Mazatlán Post. 19 December 2020, https://themazatlanpost.com/2020/12/19/what-is-grupo-delta-the-violent-cjng-cell-implicated-in-the-death-of-aristoteles-sandoval-and-felipe-tome/.  The report notes that when Sandoval was attacked by a sicario (hitman) and armed commandos he had already received threats from the CJNG. The report also states that the CJNG employs a cell known as the ‘Grupo Delta’ (Delta Group) to conduct high impact assassinations.

[24] “Video: Violence Erupts Over El Chapo’s Son in Mexico,” New York Times. 18 October 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/100000006776042/culiacan-mexico.html; and “Mexican President Says He Ordered Release of El Chapo’s Son.” The Guardian. 19 June 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/19/mexico-amlo-el-chapo-son-release.

[25] An analysis by the authors found that the CJNG had engaged more than 100 attacks against state forces versus 11 Sinaloa Cartel attacks for January to mid-December 2020. See the ACLED Data Set.  Clionadh Raleigh, et al. “Introducing ACLED: An Armed Conflict Location and Event Dataset: Special Data Feature.” Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 47, no. 5 (2010): pp. 651–60.

[26] David Saucedo, “El asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval.” Milenio. 19 December 2020, https://www.milenio.com/opinion/david-saucedo/columna-david-saucedo/el-asesinato-de-aristoteles-sandoval.

[27] Nacha Cattan, “Rodolfo Torre Cantu Assassination: Why Are Drug Cartels Killing Mexican Candidates?” Christian Science Monitor. 28 June 2010, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Americas/2010/0628/Rodolfo-Torre-Cantu-assassination-Why-are-drug-cartels-killing-Mexican-candidates.

[28] See George W. Grayson, The Evolution of Los Zetas in Mexico and Central Amercia: Sadism as an Instrument of Cartel Warfare. Carlisle Barracks: Strategic Studies Institute (US Army War College). April 2014, https://publications.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/2267.pdf; and George W. Grayson and Samuel Logan, The Executioner’s Men: Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs, and the Shadow State They Created. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2012. 

[29] “Former Governor of Colima and Medic Shot to Death” Justice in Mexico. 23 November 2010, https://justiceinmexico.org/former-governor-of-colima-and-medic-shot-to-death/.

[30] “Hallan Asesinado a Un Exdiputado Local.” El Siglo de Torreón. 30 June 2013, https://www.elsiglodetorreon.com.mx/noticia/887189.hallan-asesinado-a-un-exdiputado-local.html.

[31] Laura Y. Calderón, “An Analysis of Mayoral Assassinations in Mexico, 2000-17.” Justice in Mexico, Working Paper Series. Vol.15, no. 1 (January 2018): p. 44, https://justiceinmexico.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/180117_CALDERON-WRKPPR_v3.0.pdf.

[32] Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley, “High-Profile Criminal Violence: Why Drug Cartels Murder Government Officials and Party Candidates in Mexico.” British Journal of Political Science. September 2019, pp. 1–27, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123418000637.

[33] Javier Carrasco Rueda, telephone interview with Patricia Escamilla-Hamm, 18 December 2020.  As a government official, Dr. Carrasco advised Governor Sandoval in the creation of the Metropolitan Security Agency, the Metropolitan Unified Police Agency, and other special policy projects. 

[34] Ibid. Javier Carrasco Rueda. 

[35] “La caida de El Menchito y los efectos sobre el Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación.” Infobae. 23 February 2020, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2020/06/17/la-caida-de-el-menchito-los-efectos-sobre-el-cartel-jalisco-nueva-generacion/. El Menchito was first arrested in January 2014, but a judge released him in December of the same year.  Then, in June 2015 he was captured again and incarcerated in México.  In June 2020 he was extradited to the US.

[36] Op. Cit. Javier Carrasco Rueda at notes 33 and 34.

[37] Rubén Luengas, Interview of Eduardo Guerrero, “El CJNG está involucrado en asesinato de Aristóteles Sandoval, ex gobernador de Jalisco?” YouTube. 18 December 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67vCE-GQpJk&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=LAOCTAVA.

[38] Op. Cit. Elena Reina at note 9; and Ibid. Eduardo Guerrero interview at note 37.

[39] Ruben Luengas, Interview of César Gutiérrez Priego, “Aristóteles Sandoval: ¿Una ejecución del crimen organizado? YouTube, 18 December 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozmz35CF_MI&list=PLc8dUzkL--13Ma1FRi5Q9U1YwYNfXTras&index=1&t=10s.

[40] Op. cit. Javier Carrasco Rueda at notes 33, 34, and 36.

[41] Sandoval was a longtime member of the PRI and the son of a (now retired) State Supreme Court Justice determined to make the PRI stay in power by all means (legal or illegal). On behalf of the PRI, Sandoval was elected legislator (2004-2007) in the Jalisco state congress and mayor (2009-2012) of the City of Guadalajara, one of Mexico´s most important cities in economic and political terms, as well as for narco activity.

[42] Op. cit. Elena Reina at note 9.

[43] In 2021, Jalisco will renew all its (38) congressional representatives and (125) municipal governments. In 2021 Mexico will hold the biggest election in history in terms of the number of positions at stake.  The whole federal congress will be renewed plus 15 governorships and all state and municipal governments and legislatures. 

[44] Op. cit. Eduardo Guerrero interview at note 37. [45] Op. cit. Saucedo, “El asesinato de Aristóteles” at note 18.

[45] Op. cit. Saucedo, “El asesinato de Aristóteles” at note 18.

Additional Reading

Nathan P. Jones, “The Strategic Implications of the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación.” Journal of Strategic Security. Vol 11, No. 1, 2018, pp. 19-42.  

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds. The Rise of the Narcostate (Mafia States), A Small Wars Journal Anthology. Bloomington: Xlibris, 2018.

Daniel Weisz, “SWJ EL Centro Book Review – Votes, Drugs, and Violence: The Political Logic of Criminal Wars in Mexico.” Small Wars Journal, 31 October 20920.

Guillermo Trejo and Sandra Ley, Votes, Drugs, and Violence: The Political Logic of Criminal Wars in Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

 

About the Author(s)

Dr. Patricia Escamilla-Hamm specializes in US-Mexico security and defense cooperation and the combat of transnational organized crime. She is a scholar and  independent consultant and former Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (WJPC, National Defense University) in Washington, DC.  As a subject matter expert at WJPC, she was responsible for briefing officials from the US Department of Defense (DOD) and other departments, as well as from Mexico and other Latin American countries.  Dr. Escamilla conducts research and frequently lectures at academic and government institutions and other fora.  She taught at the University of California at Irvine (UCI), and was assistant professor at Iowa State University (ISU) and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Colef, Tijuana, Mexico). Dr. Escamilla has produced policy research for the DOD and provided consultancy for the Organization of American States (OAS) and Mexican and bi-national government institutions.

Among her publications are “US War on Organized Crime,” “Mexico’s Security Policies at its Northern Border,” and “Trump's Wall is Unlikely to Make America's Border Safer from Illicit Flows.”  Dr. Escamilla has a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California; M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Dr. Escamilla-Hamm was born and raised in Mexico City, but did her academic career in the US.

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

Dr. Nathan P. Jones is an Associate Professor of Security Studies at Sam Houston State University and a Non-resident Scholar for Rice University’s Baker Institute in Drug Policy and Mexico Studies; he previously was an Alfred C. Glassell III Postdoctoral Fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. He holds a PhD from the University of California, Irvine and won an Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation Fellowship to conduct fieldwork in Mexico on organized crime. Jones published Mexico's Illicit Drug Networks and the State Reaction (Georgetown University Press, 2016), and has published with numerous think tanks and peer reviewed journals. He is a Small Wars Journal–El Centro Fellow and serves as the book review editor for the Journal of Strategic Security.

 

 

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.   
 

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