- Jose Gonzalez Valencia was arrested at a resort area near Fortaleza in northeastern Brazil.
- Gonzalez Valencia is believed to be a leader of the powerful Jalisco New Generation cartel and is wanted by the US government.
- The CJNG is one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations.
Brazilian police have arrested an alleged Mexican drug boss, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday, in a blow to one of the most powerful organizations in Mexico’s criminal underworld.
According to the arrest warrant, police detained Jose Gonzalez Valencia, 42, a leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), with the intention of fulfilling a US extradition request.
Once a little-known gang, the CJNG has grown in recent years to challenge the Sinaloa Cartel of captured kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman for primacy of the drug trade in Mexico.
Gonzalez Valencia had been living in neighboring Bolivia for two years after fleeing Mexico and had entered Brazil as a tourist using a Bolivian passport, Brazilian prosecutors said in a statement.
Gonzalez Valencia was arrested at a beach resort near the coastal city of Fortaleza and brought to the headquarters of the federal police for the state of Ceará. He had been in Brazil on vacation with his family since December 22, a Brazilian police official said, and did not resist arrest.
He was reportedly carrying a Bolivian identification card that declared him a Mexican citizen named Jafett Arias Becerra.
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An official at the state prosecutor’s office in the western Mexican state of Jalisco — where the CJNG established itself and serves as a base for much of its operations — said Gonzalez Valencia is the brother of Abigael Gonzalez Valencia, a CJNG leader captured in February 2015.
The Jalisco official said Gonzalez Valencia was due to be extradited straight to the US from Brazil.
Abigael Gonzalez Valencia was named by the US as a narcotics trafficker and leader of the Los Cuinis drug-trafficking organization, alongside alleged CJNG chief Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, in April 2015.
“These two organizations have rapidly expanded their criminal empire in recent years through the use of violence and corruption,” acting Office of Foreign Asset Control director John E. Smith said at the time. “They now rank among the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.”
Los Cuinis and the CJNG are tightly allied; some believe Los Cuinis is the financial arm of the CJNG, while others see them as partners. Some reports prior to Gonzalez Valencia’s arrest identified him as the overall leader of the two groups.
The CJNG itself originally formed as a faction of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, but it broke away around 2010, assuming control of drug trafficking in Jalisco state. In the years since, CJNG’s expansion, first eastward and then northward, has helped push deadly violence to new highs in Mexico.
The CJNG is now considered one of the most powerful criminal groups in Mexico — many see it and the Sinaloa cartel as the only true cartels left, after years of law-enforcement pressure and inter- and intra-cartel fighting caused rival groups to splinter in smaller factions.
Competition between the CJNG and the Sinaloa cartel seemed to accelerate in the months after Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s arrest in January 2016, driving violence in and around Sinaloa state — including the August 2016 kidnapping of at least of one of Guzman’s sons, who was returned unharmed.
Fighting between the CJNG and Sinaloa cartels appears to have eased in recent months, but factions of each organization are believed to be competing for control of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, both of which are valuable territories for smugglers seeking entry to the voracious US drug market.
(Reporting for Reuters by Lisandra Paraguassu and Lizbeth Diaz; writing by Gram Slattery; editing by Leslie Adler)