In a show of force on Tuesday night around 80 members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) took over the main square in Valparaíso, Zacatecas, an agricultural town of about 13,000.
A convoy of around 25 slow-moving pickup trucks drove through the town, located about 170 kilometers southwest of the state’s capital, and parked in front of city hall. Presumed cartel members jumped out of their vehicles, brandished their weapons, including AK-47s, and shouted “we are Jalisco New Generation,” for several minutes as shocked residents filmed the event.
The city is near the border of Jalisco and Durango and was thought to be controlled by the rival Sinaloa Cartel.
The footage was widely circulated on social media and prompted the state’s Ministry of Public Safety to issue a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying that police and military authorities did not witness the event and had not located any of the vehicles involved.
“As a result of the circulation of these videos, and although there is a presence of security forces in the municipality of Valparaíso, we have decided to strengthen the police presence,” the statement read. Spokesperson Rocío Aguilar said an investigation would be launched to determine whether the footage was actually filmed in Valparaíso and seemed to doubt its authenticity.
The cartel’s march on Valparaíso was not an isolated event. Another group of vehicles carrying men armed with long guns was seen in El Talayote on Wednesday. Minutes later, a third convoy was spotted in southeast Zacatecas on the road to Loreto.
The cartel has not been shy about announcing its arrival in the state and its plans to control the drug trafficking plaza. Ten days ago it hung vinyl banners threatening criminals, promising citizens safety and warning police not to collaborate with extortionists and kidnappers or risk joining the ranks of the cartel’s enemies.
The CJNG has employed similar tactics in other states as they expand their reach throughout Mexico. And their presence is not necessarily a bad thing, some residents say.
A priest in Apatzingán, Michoacán, told ABC News last month that “it seems like they allow people to work, and they don’t prey on civilians, they don’t kidnap, they don’t steal vehicles, they just go about their drug business.”
A restaurant owner in Guanajuato concurred. “Things are quieter when Jalisco is around,” he told the news agency.
But the CJNG is anything but peaceful. The number of bodies attributed to them in Guadalajara filled that city’s morgue to overflowing, and corpses had to be stored in refrigerated trucks. Last October the cartel killed 14 police officers, many of them execution-style. They have even taken down a security forces helicopter using a rocket-propelled grenade.