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Forget El Chapo — Meet El Mencho And His Bloodthirsty Cartel

The Mexican cartels have more power than you think
The Mexican cartels have more power than you think. Here, Ozy's Meghan Walsh on another dangerous figure who could be on the loose.

On a warm day in May, members of a blossoming Mexican narco syndicate went on the attack. They blocked more than 30 roads with smoldering tankers, boxing in the city of Guadalajara. In broad daylight, they lit ATMs and banks on fire. When the military came after them, cartel members shot down a helicopter with RPGs and then executed the soldiers inside. It was a brazen and terrifying display of power. “There was panic. No one knew what was going to happen next,” says Pedro Guerrero Haro, a forensics investigator who ended up sorting through the mess.

As authorities across North America embark on an epic manhunt for Joaquín Guzmán Loera, the kingpin better known as El Chapo, experts say an even more dangerous figure is on the loose — one who hasn’t been arrested but who is believed to have orchestrated the bloody siege in Guadalajara. His name is Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes — or just El Mencho. Over the past few years, he’s risen to commanding heights in the landscape of Mexican narcotrafficking, rivaling the power El Chapo once had. The cartel he leads has chosen to seize power by any means necessary — including, apparently, rocket launchers. “He’s the top crime boss right now in Mexico,” according to Tristan Reed, a Mexican security analyst for the global intelligence firm Stratfor.

It takes a certain brilliance to map your way in today’s drug wars, in which erratic and ever-shifting narco networks battle it out in ever more brutal fashion. While the federales have had mixed success in recent years picking off the jefes — the catch-and-release saga of El Chapo is a case in point — even their victories have a downside, in that each one basically creates a power vacuum. A gaggle of smaller cartels are fighting to fill it, wreaking havoc on Mexico’s streets as they compete for market share. The stakes have only grown as the drug supply chain has extended from the U.S. to China to Europe.

All this chaos and change has given El Mencho his chance: He’s shown a foxlike dexterity for adapting to circumstance, whether it’s switching allegiances or moving to meth from heroin — all while going unseen. Indeed, while he hasn’t gotten much press outside Mexico, El Mencho and his Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación have expanded territory from coast to coast, becoming the most global of all the Mexican suppliers. “He’s different from some who might want to be feared but aren’t trying to build a territorial dynasty,” says Everard Meade, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. A businessman with a military mindset, El Mencho has focused on tightening and lengthening his supply chain, and demolishing competitors or anyone else who might get in the way.

Nearly as much lore as substance, the kingpin is rumored to be a former police officer originally from Aguililla city or Uruapan, both in Michoacán. The United States Treasury Department, which froze his assets in April, says El Mencho did time in U.S. prison for conspiracy to distribute heroin. Otherwise, he’s managed to evade the authorities, unlike his 24-year-old son, El Menchito, who’s been arrested three times now. Yet even those who’ve studied El Mencho closely can’t agree on his first name; some say it’s Nemesio, others Ruben. The law enforcement background would make sense, though, experts say, given his precise tactics and willingness to wage war against the government. Which, by the way, he seems to be winning.

About 60,000 people were murdered in Mexico between 2006 and 2012, according to Human Rights Watch.

The Mexican drug trade has long existed, of course, but the past 15 years have seen a deadly shift in the balance of power. When Mexico had a one-party political system, the government could more easily set the terms with cartels, Meade says. Typically, the exchange went like this: The government promised to leave cartels alone so long as its agents got their cut. But in 2000, the political system opened up to multiple parties, giving cartels more leverage. Instead of the government taxing the drug runners, it’s now the other way around: “The cartels set the terms,” says Meade. And their use of violence has shifted too. Murder is no longer a way of shielding the black market from public view; it’s become a tool “to terrify local governments and people into submission,” Meade says. According to numbers from Human Rights Watch, about 60,000 people were murdered in Mexico between 2006 and 2012, a death toll El Mencho is only accelerating.

Not long before the helicopter incident, his men assassinated 15 Jalisco police officers, according to Mexican authorities. A YouTube search produces gruesome videos of killing and torture that CJNG takes credit for. One, which was recently taken down, showed a father and his teenage son wrapped in explosives; they detonate the kid first so dad can watch. When businesses don’t pay their “taxes,” it’s a grenade through the front door, residents of Guadalajara say. Yet nothing compares to when El Mencho’s CJNG allegedly killed 35 members of Los Zetas, a rival gang, several years ago. Before killing their victims, cartel members tortured them, cutting off ears and limbs. The victims’ mutilated bodies were dumped on the highway at rush hour, news reports said.

As the past few years have shown, fighting the cartels is a deadly game of whack-a-mole. Take down El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel and a new, more heinous monster rises in its place. Indeed, El Mencho has seemed to learn from the mistakes of his high-profile predecessor, remaining a shadow in an already dark underworld. And as the authorities renew their chase of El Chapo, El Mencho will likely recede further — and flourish. Turns out, says Reed, “El Chapo’s escape may have bought El Mencho some more time to remain at-large.”

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Supreme Court Blocks Trump Administration’s Attempt To End DACA

The Supreme Court voted to block the Trump Administration's attempt to end the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals program on Thursday (June 18). The decision, handed down in a 5-4 vote, protects 800,000 DACA recipients who came to the U.S. as children, from being deported.

The SCOTUS vote delays the Administration’s potential efforts to rescind DACA versus blocking it indefinitely. The court ruling determined that a DACA reversal is not unconstitutional.

“Today’s decision must be recognized for what it is: an effort to avoid a politically controversial but legally correct decision,” Justice John Roberts wrote.

Roberts, the swing voter, joined Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer. The remaining Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorusch, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh, voted to rescind.

Sotomayor was the only Justice who acknowledged the argument that ending DACA was motivated by discrimination against Latinos, who make up a large percentage of DREAMers.

Former President Barack Obama, who created DACA in 2012, reacted to the SCOTUS decision on Twitter. “Eight years ago this week, we protected young people who were raised as part of our American family from deportation. Today, I’m happy for them, their families, and all of us.

“We may look different and come from everywhere, but what makes us American are our shared ideals. And now to stand up for those ideals, we have to move forward and elect @JoeBiden and a Democratic Congress that does its job, protects DREAMers, and finally creates a system that truly worthy of this nation of immigrants once and for all.”

...and now to stand up for those ideals, we have to move forward and elect @JoeBiden and a Democratic Congress that does its job, protects DREAMers, and finally creates a system that’s truly worthy of this nation of immigrants once and for all.

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) June 18, 2020

Thursday's SCOTUS ruling hands a second blow to the Trump Administration in a matter of days. Earlier in the week, the SCOTUS voted to add a provision to the 1964 Civil Rights Acts that bans employers from discrimination based on sexual orientation of gender identity.

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Carlos Perez

Anuel AA Breaks Free

In 2015, an entourage of close to 30 men drew guns among one another during a traditional Christmas parranda in Puerto Rico. The scene turned into something straight out of a movie when a pair of gangsters clandestinely attempted to kidnap local rapper Anuel AA. After a brief scuffle and flagrant shouting match, however, the man born Emmanuel Gazmey Santiago went on to finish the evening’s holiday spree in the boisterous company of his loyal posse.

Months later, after ushering in the new year on a promising note by featuring on one of Latin trap’s first global hits – De La Ghetto’s sex anthem “La Ocasion” with Arcangel and Ozuna – someone delivered Anuel AA a divine premonition of sorts: “If you keep talking about this stuff in your songs, something really ugly is going to happen to you.”

A Puerto Rican music legend, Hector “El Father” of reggaeton-turned-son of God, paid Anuel a visit to share his foreboding message. “He and I did not know each other,” explained Anuel, who prides himself on waxing poetics about the real-life experiences Hector was concerned with, “but God spoke to him and Hector felt he needed to reach out to me. When he warned me, he said it with so much conviction that he even cried.”

Having forged a legacy of his own as one of the key trailblazing reggaeton entertainers of the ‘90s who later signed a deal with JAY-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records, Hector – now a devoted Christian – understood life imitated art when it came to Anuel’s lyrics.

“My lyrics talked a lot about God and the devil, so when he told me that,” Anuel continued, “I knew I needed to make some changes. Those themes, good versus evil, they were my mark and what separated me from the rest.”

On April 3, 2016, just two weeks after meeting with Hector, Anuel was arrested and held in Guaynabo’s correctional institution on charges of illegal gun possession. Following his biggest musical break yet, just as he was touching the cusp of international stardom, a court judge sentenced Anuel to 30 months in federal prison without bail.

Raised east of San Juan, in the Puerto Rican city of Carolina, Anuel AA has a lot in common with many of my favorite MCs: he’s charming, resolute, and lyrically gifted, yet marred by a criminal past, complicit misogyny and the constant struggle between right and wrong. “I had no choice but to carry those weapons with me, because of the issues I had on the street,” the rapper said to VIBE Viva over the phone, while quarantined in Miami. “I thought to myself I’d rather be locked up than found dead.”

Indeed, Anuel had evaded his probable demise when he was nearly abducted and landed right behind bars months later, fulfilling a prophecy that cost him both his freedom and a flourishing start at the tipping point of trap music en Español. “I was being forced to reckon with all the bad things I had done for money in the past,” Anuel expressed, regretfully. “I started reading the Bible for the first time and realized that my talent and blessings came from God, not anywhere else.”

Anuel had begun to take music seriously around the same time his father, José Gazmey, was laid off from his coveted A&R position at Sony Music. With his back against the wall, a scrappy Anuel left home at 15 and began to engage in felonious activity to help provide for his family and finance his music endeavors.

Like many rappers on the island, Anuel was influenced by popular culture and trends on the mainland, most discernibly by contemporary trap. Anuel understood the genre’s synonymy with street life and the drug enterprise and immediately took to Messiah El Artista, a Dominican-American rapper VIBE profiled for championing Spanish-language trap music all over New York.

“I figured if Latin trap was doing well in New York, it was for sure going to pop in Puerto Rico,” said Anuel, who had signed with the Latino division of Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group the year prior to his arrest. “I spent about a month in New York before I returned to Puerto Rico. Then I started to release all the songs I had, one by one, and they began to gain popularity.”

While artists like J. Balvin helped breathe new life into the reggaeton genre in Colombia, Anuel wanted to spearhead a movement in Puerto Rico with a sound all their own. “I recorded the ‘Esclava’ remix with Bryant Myers and it might not have taken off worldwide, but it became a huge trap song in Puerto Rico.”

Akin to the heydays of reggaeton, an Afro-Caribbean genre-fusing hip-hop and reggae that originated in Puerto Rico, trap music was considered lowbrow and was heavily criticized for its vulgarity, violence, and explicit lyrics. Puerto Rican critics and artists alike had very little faith in the music’s potential and therefore denounced it. “DJ Luian, who is like a brother to me, couldn’t understand why I wanted to put all my energy into music that none of our artists wanted to sing.”

“Reggaeton went dormant for years,” he continued. “It was necessary to make trap music, because it felt like reggaeton was stuck in another era.” A self-described student of the late and oft-controversial Tupac Shakur, Anuel thought reggaeton had reached its pinnacle and believed Latin trap would be its successor.

Songs like “Nunca Sapo,” where Anuel channels Rick Ross’ Teflon Don ethos and spits a grimy slow-tempo flow over a sinister 808-laden instrumental, helped put a face to Anuel’s little-known name in the US. On cuts like Farruko’s “Liberace,” Anuel speeds up his delivery for fun and plays on the “Versace” rhythm popularized by Migos, who all hail from Atlanta—the widely credited birthplace of trap music.

For Anuel, whose life mantra “real hasta la muerte” is now a famous hashtag, music aspirations had little to do with radio play. Anuel, 27, was largely concerned with dominating the digital space, especially while incarcerated. Despite his arrest, he continued to release music from behind prison walls while his team fed his massive following up-to-date content.

Hear This Music CEO, DJ Luian heeded what Anuel was trying to accomplish and began to work with Bad Bunny, the Latin Grammy-winning artist and star voice of the current Latin trap movement. “When I was locked up, Luian helped develop Bad Bunny and he basically became in charge of keeping trap alive while I was away,” said Anuel, who ironically came under fire recently and was accused of throwing shade at Bad Bunny for the video treatment of “Yo Perreo Sola,” in which the rapper-singer dresses in drag as a stance against toxic masculinity.

“I couldn’t believe something like this was going viral,” Anuel interrupted anxiously before I could expound on a question concerning their relationship. “It looked like it was something that was edited or put together to make my Instagram posts read that way. I immediately texted Bad Bunny about it and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, people are always going to be talking sh*t.’”

Anuel considers Bad Bunny a genius at what he does and maintains that despite not knowing each other very well, he and his fellow compatriot are friendly collaborators with a working rapport: “When he and I do a new song together, what will people say then?”

Today, the collective jury will reach a verdict upon listening to Anuel’s newly-released sophomore studio album Emmanuel, where fans will find a track titled “Hasta Que Dios Diga,” a sultry, mid-tempo reggaeton number. Fans can expect to hear a star-studded project riddled with guest features, including Tego Calderón, Daddy Yankee, Enrique Iglesias, J. Balvin, Ozuna, and Karol G, to name a few.

Discussing life during a global pandemic, Anuel spoke fondly of his partner-in-rhyme, Colombian singer-songwriter Karol G. “She’s the love of my life. She’s been there with me through the good and bad. People who really love you are the ones who stand firm by you when things are bleak. In my toughest moments, Karol was there. She’s shown me how to be a better man,” he gushed.

“Karol comes off as super feminine—which she is, but Karol also has a really tough masculine side,” Anuel laughed heartily on the other end of the line. “She rides motorcycles and likes taking them up these crazy hills. She rides jet skis too! She’s like a dude, haha. We work well together and we give each other advice all the time.”

The pair are making the most of quarantine life in South Florida, releasing a self-directed and self-shot music video for their joint single “Follow,” a reference to flirting over social media in the era of social-distancing, the idea that shooting one’s proverbial shot can lead to a budding romance.

On July 17, 2018, Anuel dropped his debut studio album, Real Hasta La Muerte, hours before he was released from jail. By September, the RIAA certified his introduction to the game platinum, garnering the attention of Roc Nation artist Meek Mill. When the Philly wordsmith released his fourth studio LP in November of the same year, followers were geeked to learn Anuel had earned himself a place on Meek’s highly anticipated Championships album with “Uptown Vibes.”

I always wanted you and anuel aa to make a track together bc i feel like he’s the meek mill of spanish trap , how was it working with him ?

— Nagga (@naggareports) December 17, 2018

“Recording with Meek Mill for me was like when Allen Iverson played with Michael Jordan for the first time,” Anuel said, singing praises about their first-ever partnership. “I’m a huge fan of Meek; when his music took off I was still in the streets, so I related and identified with a lot of the things he was saying.”

“Meek doesn’t understand a lick of Spanish,” he mused in jest, “but he’s always with a bunch of Latinos. When I speak to him he says, ‘I don’t know what you’re saying, but my Spanish [speaking] ni**as tell me you be talking that sh*t!’”

Anuel leveraged his knack for storytelling and released “3 de Abril” earlier this year, an emotional freestyle about the day he was arrested and a graphic snapshot of his trials and tribulations.

“I did things without caring about the consequences. I thought I was a man because I was street smart. Now I know what it’s like to lose everything, so I wanted to talk more about my life and the experiences of me and my family,” Anuel described the inspiration behind the song.

Following the release of “3 de Abril,” Anuel again turned hip-hop heads when he and Lil Pump shared a fiery audiovisual for their collaborative effort “Illuminati,” stamping Pump's first new song since summer 2019. This year, Anuel also has songs with Colombian pop empress Shakira (“Me Gusta”) and with the late Juice WRLD (“No Me Ames”).

Albeit Anuel and Juice WRLD never got to meet in person, Anuel learned about the Chicago rapper from listening to his singles on the radio in jail. “The same year I won Billboard Latin’s Artist of The Year award, Juice WRLD won New Artist at the American Billboard Awards. We ended up recording the song after that but held off on releasing it for a bit because he and I had respective singles coming out at the same time,” Anuel explained.

“By the time we were finally ready to premiere it, Juice WRLD had passed away. We were never able to record together in person, but at least we got to feature him on the video. I know the tribute gave his fans and family some needed strength.”

Less than 30 minutes have gone by and already I am forced to wrap my conversation with Boricua’s burgeoning superstar:

Anuel, explain “real hasta la muerte” for me. Why exactly is this mantra of yours so important? 

“I can’t betray anyone. I don’t know what it’s like to really betray someone. I’m very loyal to my circle, my family, and those I hold close to me. Being real is what keeps me humble. It doesn’t matter how much money I make or how much I accomplish. What’s critical is staying real to myself and keeping my feet on the ground. That’s what helps keep me going.”

This interview was translated from Spanish to English and has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Planes belonging to Delta Air Lines sit idle at Kansas City International Airport on April 03, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. U.S. carriers reported an enormous drop in bookings amid the spread of the coronavirus and are waiting for a government bailout to fight the impact. Delta lost almost $2 billion in March and parked half of its fleet in order to save money.
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Puerto Rico Calls For Ban On Flights From Coronavirus Hot Spots

To reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, Gov. Wanda Vázquez has inquired a possible ban on flights from popular cities in the United States due to the high number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

Associated Press reports Gov. Vázquez launched the petition to the Federal Aviation Administration this week after officials accused tourists of taking medication to reduce their fevers and failing to adhere to the self-isolation rules. The incidents were later confirmed by GNPR general aide, General José Reyes.

The FAA reportedly granted a request for all flights to arrive at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (LMM), so that Puerto Rico National Guard (GNPR) could screen passengers arriving at the island.

“Now we want people from the areas most affected by Covid-19 not to arrive," Vázquez said. "This as part of the necessary measures to prevent this virus from spreading and affecting the health of the people of Puerto Rico."

As part of the proposal, Vázquez has listed flights from New York, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Illinois as "hot spots" of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, cases in Puerto Rico have sadly risen. The island has reported at least 24 deaths and 620 confirmed cases. Much like in cites like New York, a curfew was imposed on March 15 that closed non-essential businesses and ordered people to stay in their homes with the exception of grocery shopping or picking up medication.

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