Five years ago, the CJNG ambushed the national police in one of the boldest attacks seen in Mexico

Latin America World

“MX” for Borderland Beat

Note: This post includes excerpts from the Wikipedia page of the 2015 Ocotlán ambush, which was published by “MX” in November 2017. It includes over 140 sources gathered by “MX” in both Spanish and English. 

The five police officers killed in the ambush
Exactly five years ago, on 19 March 2015, the Mexican police suffered one of the deadliest and boldest attacks ever conducted by an organized crime group in Mexico. The attack took place in a residential neighborhood in Ocotlan, Jalisco, when a convoy of the National Gendarmerie, a subdivision of the Mexican Federal Police (PF), was ambushed by gunmen of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). Five policemen, four CJNG gunmen, and two civilian bystanders were killed.

According to police reports, as the PF convoy pulled up next to a parked vehicle, gunmen shot at them from the vehicle and from rooftops. The police attempted to shield themselves using their patrol cars, but reinforcements from the CJNG arrived at the scene and overwhelmed them. The shootout lasted between thirty minutes to two hours before the CJNG fled the scene. It was later confirmed that multiple officers from the Ocotlan Municial Police force participated in the ambush alongside CJNG members.

The attack was one of the deadliest incidents against security forces during the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, and the first and deadliest against the National Gendarmerie, at that time the newest police force in Mexico, in the ongoing Mexican Drug War. The motives behind the ambush remain unclear, but many have been proposed, including one that suggests that the gunmen ambushed the police to protect their leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes (alias “El Mencho”), who was reportedly in the vicinity.

National Gendarmerie logo
The National Gendarmerie was created on 22 August 2014 by President Enrique Peña Nieto to combat crime in Mexico. All of the officers had received training from the Army and had not been part of any other police force prior to joining. The cadets were mostly young, college-educated recruits, and they were recruited without previous police training under the rationale that this prevented corruption in the National Gendarmerie’s ranks. The commanders of the units were trained by police forces in the United States, Colombia, Chile, Spain, and France. The force was initially made up of 5,000 officers.

Since late November 2014, around 300 National Gendarmerie officials had been stationed in Ocotlán to safeguard the borders of Jalisco–Michoacán and Jalisco–Guanajuato, and prevent the incursion of the Knights Templar Cartel, a Michoacán-based criminal group and a rival gang to the CJNG. They conducted patrols after there were reports of cargo theft in the region.

Weeks prior to the ambush, law enforcement officers carried out several covert operations in Ocotlán and the entire Ciénega area. According to intelligence reports, they had information that the suspected CJNG leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes (alias “El Mencho”), was in the area. On the day of the attack, the police reportedly had information that El Mencho was in a meeting in Oxnard street, in the neighborhood where the attack occurred.

Ambush and shootout
At 9:15 p.m. on 19 March 2015, seven vehicles from the National Gendarmerie drove through a street in the La Mascota neighborhood of Ocotlán, Jalisco. As one of the police vehicles moved alongside a white car parked near the sidewalk, several gunmen from that vehicle began shooting at the police officers with high-caliber rifles. Other gunmen reportedly shot at the officers from rooftops.
Blood stains in the street where the ambush took place
The ambush forced the policemen to take cover, using their vehicles as shields while they prepared to return fire. However, as the policemen tried to protect themselves from the gunfire, twelve vehicles with additional gunmen arrived at the scene and began attacking them from several directions.

In total around 40 CJNG gunmen participated in the attack. The shootout lasted between thirty minutes and two hours. It extended to nearby streets as the gunmen continued to fire their weapons while attempting the flee the scene.
Policemen guarding the scene after the ambush

Eleven people were killed in the attack: five of them were officers from the National Gendarmerie; four were from the CJNG; and two were civilian bystanders who were killed in the crossfire. Five officers were wounded, though only one of them was reportedly in a serious condition; all of them were hospitalized.

Reactions and crackdowns
The attack made national headlines and prompted reactions from the highest levels of the Mexican government. Within hours, the PF ordered its seven departments to work on the case. The federal government ordered an increase in the number of federal troops in Jalisco and the area close to the border with Michoacán by bringing in additional PF members and requesting additional support from the Mexican Army, the Jalisco State Police, and municipal forces.
The Mexican Army patrolling the neighborhood after the ambush
Over the months, they arrested multiple members of the CJNG who were accused of planning or being involved in the attack. Among them included regional leaders Javier Guerrero Covarrubias (alias “El Javi”), Alonso Guerrero Covarrubias (alias “El 08”) and Fernando Castillo Rodríguez (alias “El Toro Valencia”). This last one is the brother of Julio Alberto, one of El Mencho’s in-laws. However, despite the major crackdowns, El Mencho was not found.
Aftermath and tit-for-tats
The Ocotlán ambush was the start of a series of armed conflicts between the PF and the CJNG throughout 2015. 
On 23 May 2015, Heriberto Acevedo Cárdenas (alias “El Gringo”), a suspected regional leader of the CJNG, was killed in a shootout with the Jalisco State Police. According to investigators, El Mencho reportedly ordered the CJNG to carry out attacks against government security forces in Jalisco as retaliation for El Gringo’s death.
On 30 March, suspected CJNG members carried out an attack against Jalisco’s security commissioner, Francisco Alejandro Solorio Aréchiga, while he was driving in Zapopan, Jalisco. Over 100 shots were fired in total, but Solorio Aréchiga’s bodyguards were able to repel the CJNG’s attack and he was unharmed. Investigators confirmed that this was an assassination attempt against Solorio Aréchiga, and that it stemmed from the government crackdowns on the CJNG’s leadership.
Ocotlan (in green) within Jalisco state
A few days after this incident, the CJNG carried out an ambush in San Sebastián del Oeste and killed fifteen PF officers in the boldest attack seen by the CJNG at that time.
On 22 May, the PF raided a ranch located in Ecuandureo, Michoacán, close to the border with Tanhuato. They suspected that a CJNG cell responsible for the Ocotlán ambush was stationed there. Forty-two suspects and one PF officer were killed. The official government account stated that the PF responded to a request to investigate the ranch, where they were attacked.
However, human rights organizations and the family of the victims stated that the one-sided victory of the PF suggested that the gunmen were extrajudicially killed, likely as vengeance for previous attacks against law enforcement officers.

Two years after the ambush, Ocotlán mayor Hernández Zague stated Ocotlán was still working to recover from the attack. “We are undertaking corrective and preventative measures to change what we once saw in Ocotlán”, the mayor said. “But this change does not happen overnight. It is a long process.”