Some members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) have no qualms about showing their faces, a sign they’re confident that official security forces are powerless to stop them and they will be able to continue their criminal activities with impunity.
The photo agency Cuartoscuro has published a series of images taken in Aguililla, Michoacán, that show heavily armed CJNG members without the face coverings they are typically seen wearing in photographs and videos posted to social media.
Gunmen sporting bulletproof vests emblazoned with the CJNG initials stare directly and menacingly at the camera in some of the photos, which were taken by a photographer who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of reprisals.
The images show off the immense firepower of the cartel, generally considered Mexico’s most powerful and violent criminal organization.
The photos were taken during a military-style march held last week in Aguililla, the Tierra Caliente municipality from which CJNG leader Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes hails.
The municipality has become a battleground for the CJNG, which has been fighting the Cárteles Unidos for control. According to some media reports, the Jalisco cartel seized control of Aguililla earlier this year but violence has continued to plague the municipality, causing many residents to flee. The region of which Aguililla is part is coveted by criminal groups due to its proximity to Pacific coast ports, through which illegal drugs are smuggled into the country, as well as its iron mines and forests, according to a report by the newspaper El País.
That some CJNG members have now chosen to reveal their faces to a photographer in broad daylight is perhaps unsurprising given that the cartel has become increasingly brazen. It paraded a homemade tank it apparently seized from the Viagras crime gang in the municipality in March, and attacked police with explosive-laden drones in April.
The cartel has also set up roadblocks preventing access to Aguililla, where organized crime is flourishing due to the absence of the state, according to the Vatican’s ambassador to Mexico.
Authorities have faced a constant battle to keep roads into the municipality open because roadblocks and trenches are often reestablished and dug again shortly after they are dismantled and filled in.
Residents have faced shortages of essential goods because delivery trucks have frequently been unable to get into Aguililla and citizens been unable to get out to shop and access services in neighboring municipalities. Some residents last week prevented an army helicopter from landing in the town because they were fed up with soldiers getting supplies while they are forced to go without.
At a meeting between residents, authorities and soldiers in Aguililla on Tuesday, the army committed to ensuring that the Aguililla-Apatzingan highway remains open during daylight hours, reported the newspaper Milenio, which was granted access to the gathering.
Aguililla residents also called for social programs to be restarted, for a government well-being bank to be opened in the town and for electricity, telephone and internet services to be guaranteed. Community activists said that federal and state authorities committed to meeting the demands.