Things That Matter

Mexico Has A New Cartel Leader: His Name Is ‘El Mencho’ And He’s Targeting Police And Instilling Fear In Communities

In recent years, as drug cartel leader after drug cartel leader has been either killed or arrested by authorities (or rival gangs), violence has continued to soar out of control in many parts of Mexico.

With the capture of El Chapo, and his subsequent extradition to the US, a major power vacuum was left in his wake. Various drug cartels and organized crime groups have been fighting for control over territory vacated by his former cartel. One leader to seemingly be rising to the top is Nemesio Cervantes – leader of Jalisco Nueva Generacion Cartel.

His cartel has claimed responsibility for the deaths of 14 police officers this week.

Members of an ultra-violent Mexican cartel killed at least 14 police officers on Monday, after ambushing a convoy with armored vehicles and opening fire with high-powered rifles. 

At least 9 other officers were wounded in the attack, according to the federal public security ministry.

The attack took place while police were on an operation to carry out a court order in the small town of El Aguaje, in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, which has seen a significant uptick in violence since Obrador took office last December.

Monday’s police murders are just the latest in a series of high-casualty attacks conducted by the CJNG cartel, which is headed up by 53-year-old Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes. Known as “El Mencho,” he lived in the U.S. illegally in the 1980s and served three years in prison there for selling drugs, before being deported to Mexico in 1997.

He is currently among the DEA’s “most wanted” fugitives, with a $10 million bounty on his head.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, claims his security policies are working.

At a press conference on the morning of the massacre, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador claimed his efforts to end Mexico’s gang violence problem were working. “You can’t fight fire with fire,” he said. “You can’t fight violence with violence… You have to fight evil by doing good.”

Minutes later, over a dozen police officers had been massacred.

Obrador had hoped to address Mexico’s spiraling murder rate by tackling the root causes of the violence, including corruption and poverty, but as his first full year in office draws to a close, he’s on course to presiding over a record number of killings.

Nemesio Cervantes – leader of Jalisco Nueva Generacion Cartel – has quickly risen to become one of Mexico’s most wanted.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official who leads the investigation to capture him told Univision Noticias that El Mencho also has found his best hideout in mountainous areas of three Mexican states controlled by his crime organization.

“He hides in mountainous parts of Jalisco, Michoacán and Colima. We believe he’s not in the cities any more,” said Kyle Mori, the DEA special agent in Los Angeles who leads the team tirelessly trying to track down the Michoacan capo also known as ‘Lord of the Roosters.’

Trying to avoid compromising the investigation started eight years ago, when the DEA noticed the JNGC’s fast growth in Mexico, Mori paused when asked specifically whether El Mencho is hiding in luxury cabins, humble homes or even caves.

“I’ll say this: It’s a combination of a lot of things. I don’t believe he spends a lot of time in the same place, or in the same type of home. It’s a combination of everything that you can imagine,” he said. “He’s definitely moving constantly.”

DEA intelligence reports suggest that Oseguera Cervantes has created his own “Golden Triangle.”

In fact, he’s been claiming refuge in the same general area where El Chapo Guzman once hid for many years, a region fertile for the cultivation of poppies and marijuana that covers parts of Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa.

The El Mencho bastion, however, covers a large region where narcotics are cultivated and clandestine laboratories operate and includes two major seaports – Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan and Manzanillo in Colima – where his cartel receives shipments of precursor chemicals for making synthetic drugs. The region also includes Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico’s third-largest city and home to a vigorous economy that allows it to hide its money laundering operations.

Not only has he risen the ranks as Mexico’s most wanted, El Mencho has already entered Mexican pop culture.

Credit: DEA

A traditional Mexican song known as a corrido by the group Los Plebes del Rancho already noted his rise as the new “Lord of the Mountain” – “Few know his face/He rarely comes down to towns/He moves between the mountains/From up there he runs everything.”

Mexican Security Forces Just Killed La Catrina – One Of Mexico’s Most Famous Cartel Leaders And Not Everyone Approves

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Mexican Security Forces Just Killed La Catrina – One Of Mexico’s Most Famous Cartel Leaders And Not Everyone Approves

@MarinaNacionalMX / Twitter

The cartel wars in Mexico have produced their fair share of larger-than-life characters and stories of success and terrible failure that have to be read to be believed. Such is the case of La Catrina, a hitwoman for the vicious Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), which after the demise of Los Zetas and considered the somewhat diminished capacities of the Sinaloa Cartel has surged as the most powerful and violent drug trafficking organization in the world. As Post Media News reminds us, the CJNG is perhaps one of the most complex global players in trafficking, and “responsible for trafficking many tons of cocaine, methamphetamine and fentanyl-laced heroin into the United States, as well as for violence and significant loss of life in Mexico. The cartel is said to operate in 75 per cent of Mexican states, and to have operations in Europe, Asia and Australia as well as across the Americas”. Its leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes “El Mencho” is one of the most wanted criminals in the world. 

Among its ranks, the CJNG has had some female dealers and killers. Among them, the most legendary and powerful was a young woman of vicious looks, a killing fashionista by the moniker of La Catrina. She was only 21-years-old, but was known for her savage methods.  Her real name:  María Guadalupe López Esquivel. As CE Noticias Financieras reminds us, she was born and raised in one of the most violent regions of the country: “Although she was born in Buenavista, María Guadalupe was taken to live in Tepalcatepec, where she attended primary school, counted by settlers from that municipality of Tierra Caliente”. 

La Catrina was a sicaria and led a group of assassins who were accused of ambushing a police convoy.

La Catrina committed the ultimate crime in the world of the Mexican cartel wars: she and her sicarios ambushed a police convoy and ended the lives of 13 officers in the much disputed state of Michoacan. She then became a prime target for the army and the newly formed Guardia Nacional. La Catrina was infamous for her bloody methods and cruelness. 

She got into the cartel when she fell in love with one of its most powerful members.

As often happens, she was led into a life of crime out of love, as she started dating one of the cartel strongmen. As news.com.au reports: “It is believed that La Catrina joined the CJNG in 2017, having fallen in love with another leader, Miguel “El M2” Fernandez. She rose rapidly through the ranks under El M2, living a glamorous lifestyle within the cartel. When she died she was in charge of paying fellow criminals and lead assassinations, extortion and kidnappings”. She often flaunted her lavish lifestyle on social media, posing in designer clothes and holding weapons made out of pure gold. 

An online bodycam video shows the moment when security forces found her gasping for air as a river of blood emanated from her neck.

The video is a gruesome reminder of the consequences that individuals who decide to dedicate their lives to crime might ultimately face. As the camera approaches we can see a young woman dressed in sweatpants and what seems to be a hoodie sitting on the floor. She is gasping for air and the sound is chilling, a premonition of certain death. The soldier tells her “hang on, mija, we are waiting for a helicopter to take you.”

But as luck would have it, it was way to late and the sad legend of La Catrina was born. It was a moment that will perhaps be turned into a movie scene someday, as Post Media News reports: “An amateur tourniquet draped around her neck, she can be seen sitting slumped in the dust beside a wall, blood dripping from her hand and neck as she gasps for breath. Glancing up at the officer approaching her, she seems resigned to her fate.”

She died while arrested, as a helicopter was trying to take her to hospital.

The mission in which La Catrina was killed and six other cartel members were captured involved state trooperes, state police and the National Guard. It all happened in a village called La Bocanada in Tepalcatepec, Michoacán, a territory known for the cruel disputes among cartels. They were found in a safe house after a tip led the authorities to capture one of the CJNG’s biggest fish.

La Catrina’s death is a big step, at least in terms of media reach, for the AMLO government, which has failed to reign in the cartels and has so far been unsuccessful in curbing violence and killings in the country. 2019 was the bloodiest year to date in modern Mexican history and the government seems to be at the mercy of the cartels. 

Former Drug Cartel Members Share Why The Drug War Will Continue To Fail And What Is Needed Instead

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Former Drug Cartel Members Share Why The Drug War Will Continue To Fail And What Is Needed Instead

Alfredo Estrada / Getty

The strategy that the Mexican government has employed during the past 13 years, since then incumbent president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa basically declared national war against the global trafficking organizations operating out of Mexico, has been nothing short of catastrophic. More than 200,000 people have died and at least 60,000 have disappeared. Whole communities have fled their lands, other crimes such as sex trafficking and illegal organ harvesting, as well as kidnapping and financial fraud, have increased and morale is low in many regions of the country. 

We often get the government’s perspective in the media. Reports also focus on the effect that cartel violence has had in the individual and collective wellbeing of victims. However, save a few notable examples such as Everardo Gonzalez’ poignant documentary “La libertad del diablo”, the view of current or former sicarios is rarely shared. The Spanish newspaper El Pais has just published the doctoral findings of Karina Garcia Reyes, a woman from Northern Mexico whose city has lived dantesque levels of violence and who did a postgraduate degree overseas to find out what was the rationale behind cartel members’ actions and lifestyle. She is currently a Professor in Bristol, United Kingdom. 

Garcia Reyes interviewed 33 former cartel members and wrote their biographies.

Credit: El Pais

Garcia Reyes interviewed former cartel members in both sides of the border. Some belonges to the biggest criminal organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas Cartel or the Gulf Cartel, although the majority used to belong to independent cartels. This speaks of the probable fear that former cartel members might experience and their reluctance to speak out. 

This is the first academic study that includes interviews with real narcos, in which they talked about their early years.

The study is extremely relevant and innovative, as Garcia Reyes did not make suppositions on what these men think or feel: she actually got them talking about drugs, alcohol, street violence and their entry into the criminal underworld. Chief among the findings is how narcos perceive themselves: there is a lack of self esteem that can lead to a life of violence and illicit livelihood. 

The study revealed that narcos do not see themselves as “victims” and that the “no other option” narrative is misleading.

One of the prevalent reasons given to the rise of cartel violence is the lack of opportunities and socioeconomic vulnerability. Media narratives indicate that young men are lured into the narco world because that is their only chance to make a living. The subjects interviewed by Garcia Reyes claim that, contrary to popular belief, they are not victims and they were making ends meet in the informal economy. They just wanted “more”. They wanted tu pursue a lifestyle that an everyday job would not give them. 

They feel they are “disposable” and that their life has little value, and that death is “a relief” sometimes.

Credit: J Bustamante / Reuters

According to the researcher, former cartel members don’t see themselves as monsters and reject the media depiction of them as bloodthirsty bad hombres. Instead, they see themselves as free agents whose life is dispensable.Sometimes, they said, death is a relief. 

Poverty is a constant trigger for cartel activity and a “survival of the fittest” mentality.

Through her 33 respondents, the researcher found that there is an Us vs. Them mentality among former cartel members when it comes to social class. As one of the participants argued: “I knew that I would live and die in poverty and I asked God ‘Why does it have to be me?’’. Poverty is seen as something that cannot be avoided and that determines your fate for life. A respondent called Rigoleto said: “I knew I was all alone, if I wanted something I would need to get it myself”. 

Gangs are seen as the only way to survive the streets and that is why the government is losing the war.

Credit: Alfredo Estrada / Getty

According to the men interviewed, there is a sense of inevitability when it comes to being a male in poverty-stricken Mexico. You will become an addict and you will be a victim of street violence. That is unless you become a gang member yourself. Gangs are seen as the only way to survive in a “kill or be killed” type of environment. 

Former cartel members believe they will die tragically so they want to live each day as if it was the last.

An overdose or a bullet, plain and simple. That is how former cartel members thought their lives would end and there was no other alternative. Because they have this pessimistic view of life, many cartel members want to live a life of excess and luxury.