Weekly Report - 18 November 2021 (WR-21-46)

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MEXICO: Army captures narco-queen

In a joint operation between Mexico’s army, federal prosecutors, and intelligence agency (CNI), Rosalinda González Valencia, the wife of Nemesio ‘El Mencho’ Oseguera Cervantes, the leader of the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) drug trafficking organisation (DTO), was captured in Zapopan, Jalisco state, on 15 November.

The capture of 58-year-old González Valencia is significant on at least two counts. Imprisoning the wife of Oseguera Cervantes could be a significant blow against the leader of what is arguably Mexico’s most powerful DTO. In second place she is a significant criminal leader in her own right, closely involved in handling CJNG money laundering and business interests.

González Valencia is the daughter of a large Michoacán-based family of avocado farmers which over the years diversified into growing marijuana, processing Colombian coca paste, and eventually dealing in synthetic drugs.

Her uncle set up the Milenio Cartel in the 1990s, and González Valencia played a key role in running Los Cuinis, a money laundering and financial operation which owns beauty salons, restaurants, and hotels. Although Los Cuinis were for some time aligned with the Sinaloa DTO, they ended up becoming the financial arm of CJNG. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) claims that CJNG/Cuinis is one of the world’s richest criminal groups.

González Valencia has been imprisoned in Mexico various times on money laundering charges. A number of her brothers are also in prison. Two of her three children with El Mencho are currently in prison in the US: Jessica Johanna (who has dual US-Mexican citizenship) on money laundering charges, and Rubén (also known as ‘El Menchito’) who is awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges.

Her capture raises speculation over Mexico’s current anti-crime strategy. By and large the federal government led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has avoided targeting top DTO leaders, preferring a ‘hugs not bullets’ strategy of relying on long term poverty reduction and economic development to provide alternatives to crime.

It has been critical of the previous government’s use of a US-inspired policy of targeting ‘kingpins’, arguing that it only leads to increased violence and that captured leaders are quickly replaced.

The government’s attempt to seize one Sinaloa DTO kingpin (Ovidio Guzmán López, son of DTO leader ‘El Chapo’) in Culiacán in October 2019 backfired badly. It seems that in this latest case the López Obrador administration is seeking to attack the financial side of the CJNG operation. There is certainly a risk of reprisal: in the past El Mencho has ordered attacks on government officials (including an assassination attempt on Mexico City [CDMX] public security minister Omar García Harfuch in June 2020). CJNG also used a grenade launcher to shoot down a Mexican army helicopter in 2015.

A further interesting question is whether the capture of González Valencia involved intelligence cooperation between US and Mexican law enforcement agencies. Angered over the US arrest on corruption charges of Mexico’s former (2012-2018) defence minister (General Salvador Cienfuegos) in October 2020, Mexico’s government had threatened to limit security cooperation and intelligence sharing. However, the US side monitors CJNG extremely closely. There have been speculative reports that González Valencia may be proposing to reach some kind of plea-bargaining deal in the US that would result in reduced prison time for her children.

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