Inside La Catrina’s Jalisco New Generation Cartel – who hang butchered rivals from bridges & make millions from avocados – The Sun

LA Catrina raised her bloodied hand to the soldier filming her final moments — the hitwoman with the golden gun had been shot in the neck in a firefight with cops and the Mexican Army.

The 21-year-old's death was the latest bloodshed involving the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which was founded in 2009 and whose ruthless rise to global dominance has left an appalling history of bodies and screams in its wake —  ripping out victims' hearts, dissolving their bodies in barrels of acid, and even targeting pregnant women.

On Friday, video emerged of La Catrina gasping for air as a soldier tells her to "relax" and "You are going to be fine. Try to hold on."

La Catrina, whose real name was Maria Guadalupe Lopez Esquivel, died after the shootout in the city of Tepalcatepec, where Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) gunmen opened fire on authorities for dismantling one of the group's roadblocks.

And incredibly, La Catrina isn't the only young woman to be mixed up in the ultra violence of the cartels.

Glamorous killers known as "Sicarias" or "hitwomen" have become famous on social media in recent years where they show off the ill gotten gains of their bloodthirsty lifestyles, posing with expensive weapons and designer clothes.

But La Catrina's death is just the latest life lost in the CJNG's dark story — with the cartel now considered the most dangerous and powerful in Mexico.

Founded in 2009, the CJNG's drug trafficking empire now reaches all corners of the globe, despite ferocious competition from other cartels in Mexico and increasingly desperate efforts from international authorities to hold back the blood-dimmed tide.

The US' Drug Enforcement Administration is even offering a $10,000,000 reward for information that leads to the capture of the CJNG's leader, El Mencho, which is the highest reward of its kind ever offered.

But nothing appears to be slowing the cancer-like growth of the heavily armed cartel — which is responsible for untold Mexican massacres and has even seen the military targeted.

Born with a truck-full of dead rivals

The CJNG started when an older cartel splintered at the end of 2000s and a vicious battle broke out between rival factions to fill the power vacuum.

El Mencho, who had once been loyal to the Sinaloa Cartel led by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, decided to seize the moment.

An unlikely cartel boss, El Mencho was born into a poor family who grew avocados — he dropped out of primary school to work in the fields.

After a stint as a drug dealer living illegally in America, he even joined the police in the Mexican state of Jalisco before switching sides to begin his meteoric rise through cartel ranks.

The formation of El Mencho's new group was announced to the world in a hyper-violent public display — with grisly spectacles eventually becoming the group's trademark, which have included multiple incidents of hanging decapitated bodies from bridges.

In June 2009, an abandoned truck was found in a residential neighbourhood of the popular tourist city of Cancún.

Inside, the bodies of three men were found handcuffed with plastic bags taped on their heads, along with a note: "We are the new group Mata Zetas (Zeta Killers) and we are against kidnapping and extortion, and we will fight them in all states for a cleaner Mexico."

The Zetas are a rival cartel who El Mencho waged war on — even though they were a much more powerful organisation at the time.

Since then, it's now estimated that the CJNG holds $50billion in assets and has become the most powerful cartel in Mexico.

Staggering bloodshed

After declaring war on the Zetas and other rivals — including old masters in the all-powerful Sinaloa Cartel — the CJNG began a hostile takeover of Mexico's drug industry.

And the hostility has been unimaginable.

In 2011, in the state of Veracruz, two trucks were found at an underpass containing the bodies of what were first thought to be 35 members of the Zetas, their hands bound and showing signs they'd been tortured.

Balaclava-clad members of the CJNG released a video claiming responsibility for the killings — it later emerged that the victims had no connection to organised crime whatsoever.

More massacres broke out in the following days and, within 18 days, 100 people had been murdered in Veracruz alone.

As a response, the Zetas carried out horrific reprisal killings, handcuffing and burning 16 people to death in Sinaloa in 2011.

Since then, it's been all out war — including with the Mexican Army.

In 2015, members of the CJNG shot down an army helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade in Jalisco — six soldiers were killed.

The unprecedented military-style attack came on the same day that the cartel killed another nine people in the state.

CJNG thugs burned banks and torched petrol stations while using flaming vehicles to block roads during the chaos, which was carried out in response to a police operation targeting the cartel.

When members were arrested for the helicopter killings in 2018, authorities found the group had a Barrett .50 calibre rifle, which can disable aircraft with a single shot, along with stolen cars modified to be fitted with machine guns.

Endless mass graves

But it's not just rivals and law-enforcement who have been massacred by the CJNG.

In 2018, three film students were abducted by CJNG gangsters — they were working on a project together at a house belonging to one of the victims' aunts.

The cartel believed one of their rivals was going to arrive at the property and they kidnapped the students, suspecting their story was a cover.

They tortured the trio of innocent men and one died from the beating he was given — the CJNG then decided they had no choice but to murder the other two.

Their bodies were taken to another site where they were believed to have been dissolved in barrels of acid.

And just last month, authorities found a mass grave containing the cut up bodies of at least 50 people at a farm outside the city of Guadalajara.

Cops are investigating to see if the CJNG is responsible for the macabre site, which is close to a spot where 40 bodies were found stuffed down a well in September.

Mass graves are frequently used by cartels to dispose of bodies, with at least 40,000 people having disappeared in the country since Mexico's drug war began in 2006.

'Green gold' rush

As well as killing for control of Mexico's drug trafficking market, the CJNG has used its brutal methods to control the nation's avocado trade.

In 2016, avocado exports from Mexico were worth around $1.5billion, offering a ripe opportunity for criminal extortion.

The CJNG is believed to have grown financially by pioneering this type of crime — in which wealthy avocado farmers are identified and then forced to pay protection money to the cartel.

If they refused, farmers and their families would be kidnapped and killed.

It's thought the criminal incursion into the avocado business has stepped up recently as the rise of synthetic opiates caused the value of opium to collapse to less than a third of its 2017 value.

Cartels were therefore looking to find more profitable industries to target to supplement the production of heroin.

Growers are even banding together to form vigilante "avocado armies" to fend off the worsening cartel threat.

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