Authorities in Mexico have captured the legendary Juarez Cartel leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, alias “Viceroy,” who may be best remembered for presiding over the city of Juarez during what was arguably the most incredible spike in urban violence in the country’s history.
Carrillo Fuentes, who was captured in Torreon, Coahuila, would have undoubtedly preferred to have been corralled in Juarez, the place where he made his name and that of the Juarez Cartel.
Vicente was infamous for his penchant to outsource violence at the expense of an entire city. That violence may have helped secure him the Juarez “plaza” — an underworld term for trafficking corridor — following the mysterious death of his more famous brother, Amado, the so-called “Lord of the Skies,” in 1997, during a botched plastic surgery in Mexico City.
After eliminating some petty rivals and solidifying his alliances with the likes of Ismael Zambada, alias “El Mayo,” and Juan Jose Esparragoza, alias “El Azul,” Vicente became the “Viceroy.” He wasn’t quite the king of Mexican organized crime, but neither was he a peon.
That in-between status seemed to leave him vulnerable. After he his brother, Rodolfo, allegedly killed a Sinaloa Cartel operative in 2004, the urban war that would later come to define Mexico during Felipe Calderon’s administration (2006-2012) had its spark.
SEE ALSO: El Viceroy Profile
The nominal head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, lured Mayo and Azul to his side. Then Chapo’s sleek assassins surprised Rodolfo, alias “the Golden Boy,” and Rodolfo’s wife as they emerged from an air-conditioned movie theater in Culiacan in September 2004. The murder of Rodolfo and his wife would lead to more tit-for-tats — including the slaying of Guzman’s brother in jail — until early 2008, when Chapo decided to take the battle to another level.
Sinaloa’s first targets were the police and judicial authorities that had long been on the Juarez Cartel’s payroll. These included members of La Linea, a group made up of current and ex-police that had become Vicente’s hit squad.
Once the Sinaloa Cartel had won over these so-called “guarantors” of the Juarez underworld, the Juarez Cartel found itself in trouble as never before. And violence went through the roof.
Juarez went from about 300 murders in 2006 to over 3,000 in 2010, an astounding 1,000 percent increase. Local, national, and international authorities were aghast. Worse still, the dynamics in Juarez — soaring violence, little accountability — soon came to represent all of Mexico.
SEE ALSO: Juarez Cartel News and Profile
Without his praetorian guard, the Viceroy turned to Barrio Azteca, a gang born in US prisons, which had managed to establish a foothold in Juarez’s penal system and had also taken over a portion of the city’s local drug market. The Aztecas’ surprisingly strong organizational and accounting skills prompted Viceroy to lean heavily on the group when fighting the Sinaloa Cartel. But the Aztecas spent nearly as much time kidnapping and extorting locals as they did fighting the Sinaloan hitmen and commanders.
What’s more, the Sinaloa Cartel had one more card to play. Federal security forces persecuted and arrested Juarez affiliates en masse, forcing the Juarez leadership to abandon the area. Some maintained that at the very least, the federal forces had received tip-offs from the Sinaloans that allowed them to better attack the Juarez Cartel. But there were also accusations that the security forces and the Sinaloa Cartel were working side by side.
The outcome of this battle became evident in 2011, when homicides began to drop. This year, homicides are near where they were in 2006. The predominant explanation for this reversal: Chapo beat the Viceroy.
SEE ALSO: Juarez After the War
This is a simplistic analysis but one that cannot be ignored. Analysts of the Mexican underworld would be wise to understand that Vicente lost Juarez not just because of Chapo’s strengths, but because of his own penchant for unleashing violent actors on his own home turf. Vicente was long known as the most violent of the six Carrillo Fuentes brothers. As mentioned in Ricardo Ravelo’s book “Los Capos,” Carrillo would at times kill his enemies himself and order them buried in a mass grave. Sometimes he would even bury them alive.
After losing Juarez, Vicente allegedly made his way to the neighboring state of Sonora, where he tried to regroup. However, the Juarez Cartel was but a shadow of its former self, and Vicente was among the last of an older generation of Mexican drug lords who are now all dead or behind bars.
Along with his brothers, Vicente learned all the tricks of the drug trafficking trade from legendary drug smuggler Pablo Acosta Villareal, alias “The Fox,” as he was a nephew of one of Villareal’s allies, Guadalajara Cartel leader Ernesto Fonseca, alias “Don Neto.” At the peak of its strength, the Juarez Cartel relied on a large network of top-level public officials to wave through their cocaine shipments. During the government of President Carlos Salinas (1988-1994), the head of the federal police force actively cooperated with and protected the Juarez Cartel. Vicente Carrillo frequently accompanied his brother when it was time to meet high-level contacts in the military, police, and attorney general’s office, Ravelo reported in “Los Capos.”
In recent years, Carrillo was forced to remain on the move, much as his brother Amado had to do near the end of his life. There were some reports indicating that Carrillo was planning to re-ignite his feud — he was allegedly among several cartel leaders who met in a Mexican border town this year, in order to collectively commit to battling their shared enemy, the Sinaloa Cartel. Despite Vicente’s seemingly weak status — the Juarez Cartel has largely been supplanted by what’s left of La Linea, while Barrio Azteca has built up its own notorious brand of criminal violence — Vicente still proved to be an elusive catch.
Indeed, his ability to elude capture was already proven. In 2005, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (known as the PGR) arrested an architect in a Mexico City shopping mall, who was mistakenly thought to be Carrillo.
Around this time, when the sub-director of the PGR was asked about how close the government was to capturing Vicente Carrillo, he replied, “I think very soon. He’s alone and doesn’t have support. The rupture caused by the death of his brother [Rodolfo] left him in a very bad place and our information indicates that we are drawing in on him.”
Nearly ten years later, Mexican authorities finally did.
The capture of Vicente Carrillo Fuentes in Torreon, Coahuila