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Two reported dead in narco-blockade chaos, as federal police show off captured drug kingpin

March 13, 2012

Panic gripped the streets of Guadalajara last Friday. Sirens rang out, helicopters buzzed overhead and thick plumes of smoke blotted the afternoon sky as armed men left roadblocks of burning vehicles across the city and surrounding areas of Jalisco.

These coordinated “narcobloqueos” were provoked by the capture of the leader of the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), following a shootout with security forces at his Zapopan home.

Chaos reigned as the emergency services were flooded with calls, cell phone lines were down for hours and social networks were ablaze with rumors and false information.

Reports of incidents involving buses, trailers and private automobiles came in close succession throughout the early afternoon. Governor Emilio Gonzalez then confirmed that gangs had commandeered 25 vehicles in 16 separate incidents – 11 of them in the Guadalajara metropolitan zone.

The blazing buses caused severe traffic jams in several parts of the city and a massive mobilization of police and emergency services. According to witnesses, in most incidents groups of three to six armed men signaled for the buses to stop.

They boarded the vehicles and asked passengers to disembark quietly and calmly, before dousing the buses in gasoline. They then departed hastily after igniting the fuel with matches, molotov cocktails or fragmentation grenades.

Two people were killed amidst the chaos. Bus driver Moises Corona was burned to death when his Turquesa-line vehicle was set alight by armed men at the junction of Puerto Guaymas and Las Torres in Zapopan.

“He turned to me … and walked a bit and then boom! It exploded with glass and everything, and then huge flames,” said his wife, who witnessed the incident. “He wasn’t able to get out and save himself.”

One of the criminals was also shot dead in a firefight with police in San Juan de Ocotan.

“These criminals seek to inject fear and take control of our society,” said President Felipe Calderon on Sunday, affirming that neither his government nor the people of Jalisco will permit it. “We are going to help Jalisco to preserve the security and peace that we all aspire to.”

The spark that lit the streets ablaze was the arrest of CJNG kingpin Erick Valencia Salazar earlier on Friday.

Known by the alias “El 85,” Valencia worked in allegiance with the powerful Sinaloa Cartel headed by Mexico’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. He was also a close ally of the Sinaloa Cartel’s regional boss, Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, who was killed by security forces in Guadalajara in July 2010.

Coronel’s death – along with the breakup of another organization known as the Milenio Cartel – left a power vaccum in Guadalajara. Valencia sought to fill it by forming the JNCG, while rival gang members founded a group called La Resistencia and forged an alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel’s fiercest adversaries, Los Zetas.

Valencia was also head of the “Matazetas” or “Zeta Killers,” a subdivision of the CJNG established last year to hunt down their rivals, who had begun making inroads into Jalisco via southern Zacatecas. The Matazetas were deployed in Michoacan, Morelos, Guerrero and most infamously in Veracruz, where last September they dumped the bodies of 35 alleged Zetas in broad daylight on busy city streets.

Parading Valencia before the media on Monday, the Attorney General’s Office said he “controlled drug trafficking along part of the Pacific route, principally in the port of Manzanillo, Colima, where he coordinated the importation of cocaine and ephedrine (a chemical used in crystal meth production) from Colombia and China.”

Valencia was arrested along with his second-in-command, Otoniel Mendoza, who goes by “Tony Montana,” the name of Al Pacino’s iconic drug lord in the movie “Scarface,” and a third man, Jose Luis Salazar Gutierrez. They were captured in a carefully orchestrated raid on Valencia’s home in the Lomas Altas neighborhood of Zapopan.

Having sealed off the streets around the building, members of Mexico’s Special Forces descended by helicopter around midday Friday. A 15-minute firefight ensued, in which Valencia was wounded in the right hand by a grenade and Mendoza was struck in several places by shrapnel.

Following the arrests, a search of the premises turned up six handguns, 37 assault rifles (including 19 AR-15 rifles with fitted grenade launchers) two machine guns, two Barret rifles, three fragmentation grenades, 119 magazines for different weapons, 69,000 cartridges, three silencers, communications equipment and false documentation.

The subsequent disturbances across Jalisco began around 1 p.m. A Defense Department spokesperson suggested they were carried out to distract security forces from taking further action against the cartel. A similar wave of blockades and violence broke out in February 2011 after the arrest of two leaders of La Resistencia.

In total, 19 people were arrested on Friday: the three men detained in the initial raid and 16 others suspected of involvement in the blockades. The Jalisco Attorney General’s Office presented 15 of the suspects to the press on Friday night. They were all handcuffed and none spoke. No questions were allowed.

Four were later released for lack of evidence when it transpired they were innocent vegetable sellers from San Juan de Ocotan. On Monday morning, Governor Emilio Gonzalez announced four more suspects had been arrested in connection with the narcoblockades.

Incidents were confirmed at the following locations:

  • Las Torres and Puerto Guaymas
  • Rayon and Miguel Blanco
  • Enrique Diaz de Leon and Avenida de los Maestros
  • Lazaro Cardenas and Cruz del Sur
  • Colon and Isla Raza, by the Tren Ligero Station
  •  Cinco de Mayo and the Periferico ringroad
  •  Juan de la Barrera and Deportes in Tlaquepaque
  •  Carretera to Nogales, at Venta de Astillero
  • Carretera to Chapala, at the corner of the Periferico
  • Carretera to Zapotlanejo, near the Puente Grande in Tonala
  • Carretera to Morelia, just after San Agustin in Tlajomulco
  • Carretera libre to Colima, at the Atoyac turnoff
  • Carretera from Sayula to San Gabriel
  • Carretera from Ocotlan to Tototlan
  • Carretera from Mascota to Talpa
  • Carretera from Tototlan to Atotonilco

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