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NORTHCOM Security Brief: Cartels Battle Police in the Town of El Aguaje in Michoacan, Mexico

Week of 04/19/21 | Issue 8


Neoclis Soteriou, Kayla Kearns, NORTHCOM


Logo of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel[1]


Date: Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Location: El Aguaje (also known as Bonifacio Moreno), Michoacan, Mexico

Parties involved: Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), New Michoacan Family Cartel (NMF, also known as the Viagras), Michoacan State Police

The event:

The CJNG, NMF, and the Michoacan State Police are in an ongoing three-way battle to control the hamlet of El Aguaje (also known as Bonifacio Moreno), in the Aguililla township in the state of Michoacan. Conflict for control of El Aguaje has been ongoing since October of 2019 when CJNG gunmen ambushed and killed 14 state police officers inside of the town.[2] However, the situation has recently intensified as state police were sent back into El Aguaje at the beginning of April 2021 as a means to restore order in the small town. The CJNG and NMF cartels retaliated against this resurgent police presence by parking hijacked trucks across roads and even digging deep trenches across roadways to keep police convoys out of the town.[3] The Michoacan state police were eventually able to enter the town by using backhoes to fill in many of the trenches keeping police convoys out. However, cartels retaliated further by injuring two state police officers on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, using a drone that had been carrying explosive devices. Michoacan state police announced that the two officers have since been released from the hospital and have accused the Jalisco Cartel of also being behind this recent attack against them.[4]


The implications:

  • This recent attack against state police by the cartels is likely to prompt a retaliatory response by the police. In return, this is likely to provoke even more violent attacks by the cartels who may enhance their drone attack tactics to involve more lethal amounts of explosives. This is very likely to increase the presence and frequency of violence in El Aguaje and the surrounding area of the Aguililla township as the cartels and state police remain in an ongoing battle for control.

  • This may also lead to an increase in violence across the state of Michoacan in Mexico as many of the state police officers are likely to be occupied trying to restore order to the town of El Aguaje. This could lead to a power vacuum in other parts of Michoacan that the cartels can then move into and fill. This is especially likely as CJNG leader, El Mencho, is attempting to establish control over his hometown region.[5] These actions have drawn resistance from local criminal gangs, which has led to an increase in violence. As such, the public in this area is at increased danger to violence, as it is likely that the fight between the cartels and state police will result in injuries to innocent bystanders

  • The CJNG is likely to continue using drones as a means of weaponry against law enforcement and other rival gangs in the area. Although the explosives linked to the most recent drone attacks were not lethal, the CJNG will likely adapt its tactics to be so. This is concerning as law enforcement is restricted in its tactics against drone defense, as many options include shooting a drone out of the sky or disabling it while in flight, both of which are grave endangerments to the surrounding public.

  • The state police’s inability to combat the cartels in the area is likely to lead to a decrease in trust in law enforcement by the public. As such, the public may believe that the police are incapable of protecting them from the actions of cartels. This is likely to lead to a deteriorating relationship between not only the police but the Mexican government as well as its citizens. This is especially true following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, where cartels were providing aid and enforcing quarantine restrictions to help lessen the impact of the pandemic.[6] If law enforcement is unable to successfully combat the cartels in the Aguililla township area, the public may likely resort to cartels for protection, thus increasing the cartels’ power in the area.

  • Rival cartels in the area may be staging attacks against local state police and claiming it is the actions of the CJNG cartel as a means to create tensions and attract police attention. According to a source from the CJNG cartel, the recent drone attacks were not committed by the group, but rather by another cartel that is placing blame on the CJNG.[7] Rival cartels in the area are likely carrying out attacks against law enforcement and claiming it as the CJNG as a means to draw attention to CJNG activities. An increased police attentive presence could hinder CJNG operations, which would benefit rival cartels in the area. Law enforcement may focus their attention on CJNG roadblocks, crime busts, and increase arrests due to an increase in attacks claimed by the group. False claims may further increase law enforcement investigative tactics against CJNG, which is likely to slow the cartel’s operations.

  • If the conflict between state police and cartels in Michoacan continues to escalate then this may lead the Mexican federal government to send in federal police, or even military to restore order to the area. This scenario may occur if the CJNG and other cartels continue to develop their use of drones carrying explosives to attack police, which may require a response from the Mexican army.[8] This would then likely provoke an increase in violent attacks from the cartels in retaliation for the federal government/ army’s involvement in the conflict. However, the presence of federal police or the Mexican army may restore order to the Aguililla township area of Michoacan and retake control from CJNG and other cartels quicker than the state police can.

[1] “Logo of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel” by BaptisteGrandGrand, licensed under Public Domain

[2] Mexico cartel attacks police with exploding drones; wounds 2, Yahoo News, April 2021, https://news.yahoo.com/mexico-cartel-attacks-police-exploding-014112132.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mexico cartel attacks police with exploding drones; wounds two, Associated Press, April 2021, https://www.9news.com.au/world/mexico-cartel-attacks-police-with-exploding-drones-wounds-2/54db34eb-0548-41ae-afbe-8450340b536b

[5] A Mexican Drug Cartel Is Dropping Bombs on Cops With a Drone, Vice, April 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/dyvzma/a-mexican-drug-cartel-is-dropping-bombs-on-cops-with-a-drone

[6] Mexican cartels are providing COVID-19 assistance. Why that’s not surprising, Brookings, April 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/04/27/mexican-cartels-are-providing-covid-19-assistance-why-thats-not-surprising/#:~:text=Among%20the%20Mexican%20criminal%20groups,of%20the%20Zeta%20splinter%20groups.

[7] A Mexican Drug Cartel Is Dropping Bombs on Cops With a Drone, Vice, April 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/dyvzma/a-mexican-drug-cartel-is-dropping-bombs-on-cops-with-a-drone

[8] Ibid.

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