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The relatively peaceful Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta made headlines this week when an armed commando unit stormed a local restaurant at approximately 12:53 a.m. on Monday and kidnapped six men, including the son of one of Mexico's most notorious drug lords.

The Attorney General of Jalisco told reporters Tuesday that 29-year-old Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, the son of imprisoned kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, was among those taken hostage. The kidnapping, according to analysts, could trigger an escalation of an already bloody turf war as Mexican cartels realign and jostle for control of smuggling routes and drug markets now that El Chapo is behind bars and awaiting extradition to the United States.

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State prosecutors have identified the kidnappers as members of a cartel known as Jalisco New Generation, a splinter group from Chapo’s Sinaloa drug cartel that was formed to kill Zetas. Analysts have called Jalisco New Generation a Sinaloa “Frankenstein” that became one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels following the recapture of El Chapo in 2014.

A Google Maps street view screenshot of La Leche, the popular Puerto Vallarta restaurant were Chapo's son was kidnapped.
Google Maps

Jalisco New Generation is headed by drug lord Nemesio Oseguera, aka “El Mencho,” and mainly operates in the Mexican states of Jalisco, Veracruz, Michoacán, Guerrero, Colima, Nayarit, and Guanajuato. Oseguera, who is currently one of the DEA's most wanted drug barons, has helped transform the cartel from a gang of hitmen into a top methamphetamine-trafficking organization. It became a monster that the Sinaloa cartel could no longer control.

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“This war has been going on for years,” Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope told Fusion. “But the kidnapping of Chapo’s son is not just one more incident, it’s an escalation.”

Hope notes that the Sinaloa cartel in recent months has been pinched by both the Jalisco New Generation cartel and the Beltrán-Leyva organization, another rival group that reportedly ransacked the Sinaloa home of Chapo Guzmán’s mother in June.

The leader of Jalisco New Generation.
DEA

“The real question about this kidnapping is whether Jalisco New Generation did it alone, or teamed up,” says Hope. “Both cartels have been hitting Sinaloa. They are specifically targeting the close circle of Chapo Guzmán.”

Mexican authorities are still investigating the kidnapping of the drug lord’s son, one of three Guzmán siblings who the U.S. Treasury has identified as key operatives of the Sinaloa cartel.

It’s unclear whether Chapo’s most famous son, Ivan Archivaldo, was also at the restaurant at the time of the kidnapping.

The recent attacks on Chapo’s family threatens to throw fuel on an already violent and chaotic drug war that's being complicated as the big cartels splinter into dozens of ambitious cells and ruthless criminal gangs under competitive leadership.

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Chapo’s imminent extradition to the U.S. appears to signal open season for these aspiring cartelitos to make their move play at the throne he vacated.