The conflict in Michoacán between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Los Viagras crime gang gained greater infamy this week with the discovery of 19 bodies in Uruapan.
The CJNG has been identified by both Mexican and United States authorities as the most powerful and dangerous criminal organization in the country, and its leader, Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, is one of the most wanted men on the planet.
And he and his gang are going up against Los Viagras, what Michoacán Governor Silvano Aureoles described in 2017 as “the most bloodthirsty and dangerous” criminal group operating in the state.
A turf war between the two groups was always going to be a bloody affair. This year the violence has become even worse.
Ten people were killed in a shootout between the CJNG and Los Viagras in Uruapan in May, a series of confrontations between the two warring cartels left at least nine people dead on a single day in June and yesterday citizens and authorities alike were given a grisly reminder of the conflict with the appearance of nine bodies hanging from an overpass and the discovery at two locations of 10 more bodies, many of which had been mutilated.
The CJNG claimed responsibility for killing the 19 people in a message left with the bodies that in part read: “Kind people, go on with your routine. Be patriotic, and kill a Viagra.”
But who exactly are Los Viagras?
Originating from Huetamo, a Michoacán municipality in the state’s Tierra Caliente region, Los Viagras was established by the seven Sierra Santana brothers under the leadership of Nicolás Sierra Santana, who is also known as “El Gordo.”
The gang began operating as a self-defense force in 2014 and was asked by former Michoacán security commissioner Alfredo Castillo Cervantes to assist in the efforts to locate and capture the leader of the Los Caballeros Templarios cartel, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez, who was arrested in Morelia in February 2015.
But Los Viagras later morphed into a drug gang, first by becoming involved in the production and transportation of methamphetamine, a move that brought it into direct competition and confrontation with the CJNG, especially in Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente region.
However, according to some media reports, the bitter rivalry between the two groups stems from El Gordo’s belief that authorities in Michoacán were providing protection for the CJNG and its leader, “El Mencho.”
The former’s disdain for the latter reportedly intensified further when in 2017 his brother, Carlos Sierra Santana, was murdered, allegedly on the orders of Oseguera Cervantes.
In addition to gaining infamy as a result of its clashes with the CJNG, Los Viagras – which now operates as a branch of the Nueva Familia Michoacana cartel – is notorious for setting up narco-blockades to retaliate against the capture of its members and to hinder security force operations against it.
While the war between Los Viagras and the CJNG has led to a surge in violence in Michoacán, the Jalisco cartel is also engaged in bloody conflicts with criminal groups in other states such as the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel in Guanajuato and Los Zetas in Veracruz.
“Unfortunately, we’re seeing that violence is getting worse in a large part of the country because of this group [the CJNG],” said Doria Vélez, a researcher at the National Citizens’ Observatory, a crime watch group.
“It’s happening because the authorities haven’t created public policies to solve the problem,” she added.
With regard to Michoacán, Vélez told the newspaper La Razón that the CJNG and Los Viagras are fighting for control of the crystal meth trade, which in addition to being produced domestically also enters the country at Pacific coast ports from countries such as China.
“Unfortunately, in Michoacán history is starting to repeat,” she said, referring to the cartel violence in the state that led former president Felipe Calderón to initiate the so-called war on drugs there shortly after he took office in December 2006.
“. . . Michoacán is a strategic area for the transport of a lot of [illicit] products via the port of Lázaro Cárdenas so what we’ve seen since 2006 is that . . . it is [part of] criminal groups’ operating range.”