Mexico gunned down a top drug cartel leader three years after he had been reported killed by the previous administration, the government said.
The army and marines tracked down Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias “El Chayo,” yesterday after local authorities reported he was still alive, said Monte Alejandro Rubido, executive secretary of the National Public Security System. The troops opened fire after Moreno refused to drop his weapon and confronted them, Rubido said at a press conference. Moreno’s fingerprints matched those in government files, officials said.
President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration has captured or killed the heads of Mexico’s biggest cartels since taking office in December 2012, most recently arresting Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the most-wanted drug baron in the world. Contradicting reports of Moreno’s death by former President Felipe Calderon, Rubido said he was still operating as the top cartel leader in Michoacan state, where extortion threats have led thousands of Mexicans to take up weapons in the past year to fight off drug gangs.
Mexico “received many reports from both citizens and local authorities, as well as anonymous tips, that said Nazario Moreno wasn’t only alive, but continued to lead the criminal group in extortions, kidnappings” and drug trafficking, Rubido said.
Mexican security officials had reported that Moreno was killed in December 2010 amid battles between federal forces and cartel members, though his body wasn’t recovered. The government had Moreno on its most-wanted list, offering a bounty of 30 million pesos ($2.3 million)
Moreno wrote guidelines that the members of the La Familia drug cartel had to follow, the government said in 2010 when he was reported dead. La Familia claimed to protect Mexicans, preaching against the use of methamphetamines in Mexico in favor of sending the drugs to the U.S., according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Alejandro Hope, who worked as a government intelligence officer when Moreno was reported dead, said the current administration will need to produce more evidence to convince the public that he was still alive after 2010.
Weeks after Moreno was reported dead three years ago, La Familia began rupturing and its offshoot, the Knights Templar, started gaining power, while Moreno’s associate Servando Gomez, alias “La Tuta,” was filmed confirming his death, Hope said.
“If this was a hoax, it was an extraordinarily elaborate hoax” to convince the public Moreno was dead, Hope, who is now a security analyst at the Mexican Competitive Institute, said by telephone yesterday.
Rubido said intelligence operations led federal forces to Moreno and also discovered a vehicle with communications equipment that he owned.
Pena Nieto deployed federal forces to Michoacan in January after vigilantes took over more than a dozen towns, kicking out local police they said were colluding with criminals. The government then signed an agreement with the armed groups to allow them to register their weapons and form a temporary rural police brigade. In February, the groups agreed not to take over any more town halls, although last week they stormed the municipal building of Apatzingan.
Moreno indoctrinated members of his drug gang with spiritual teachings, many of them included in a “guide” he distributed to recruits that justified their crimes, said Javier Oliva, a political scientist at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
Milenio TV broadcast images today of a booklet titled “They Call Me the Craziest One,” another nickname given to Moreno, saying it was distributed across Michoacan and compared Moreno to Pancho Villa.
Insight Crime, a research group that studies organized crime in Latin America, posted in June a report by journalist Dudley Althaus titled “Ghost of ’The Craziest One’ is Alive in Mexico,” detailing sightings of Moreno in Michoacan.
Reports of his death in 2010 “were an advantage for Moreno because it gave his group more capacity to expand” without fear of getting caught, Oliva said in a telephone interview from Mexico City.