Police finally cage the drug kingpin called 'The Monkey'


Click to follow
The Independent Online

His nickname turned out to be richly deserved. When armed police presented Jose de Jesus Mendez at a press conference in Mexico City yesterday, the drug kingpin had a fat neck and simian scowl. That's presumably why he was known as "El Chango," or "The Monkey."

Mendez was leader of La Familia Michoacana, one of half a dozen large criminal organisations which have been fighting over one of Mexico's most lucrative industries: the $38bn (£23.5bn) a year business of shifting cocaine from South America, where it is produced, to the United States.

The circumstances of his arrest on Tuesday were rare, given the bloody nature of the Mexican Government's ongoing "war on drugs," which has left almost 40,000 dead in the past four years. Federal police who swooped on "El Chango's" hideout in the central state of Aguascalientes were able to arrest their target without a shot being fired.

Mendez is the second head of La Familia to be brought to book in recent months. In December, founder, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as "El Mas Loco" ("The Craziest") was killed by security forces during a fierce two-day gun battle.

"With this (latest) capture, what was left of the command structure of this criminal organisation is destroyed," a government spokesman announced.

Felipe Calderon, the Mexican President who has devoted much of his time in office to battling the drug trade, used his Twitter account to label the detention of a man who had a $2.5m price tag on his head a "big blow" against organised crime.

Mendez is likely to be charged with shipping tonnes of cocaine to the United States, along with large volumes of methamphetamine and marijuana. With weapons bought in America, his private army commited murder, kidnapping and extortion.

It may represent the beginning of the end for La Familia, a drug cartel which was as famous for its cult-like mentality and loose Christian theology as it was for the extreme violence it used to maintain a grip on its territory along Mexico's strategically-important western coast.

Founded in the 1980s, as part of the larger Gulf Cartel, the group became an independent organisation roughly six years ago. Its existence became publicly known following an incident in 2006, when members lobbed five decapitated heads onto the dance floor of the Sol y Sombra night club in the city of Uruapan.

Keeping in line with their counterparts in New York, where the Mafia dons boast nicknames such as "Baby Shacks" and "Junior Lollipops", many of Mexico's drug lords also boast eccentric monikers. They don't, however, always fully represent the ruthless nature of the title-holder. Jose de Jesus Mendez, who was arrested on Tuesday, is known as "El Chango", or "The Monkey", which portrays a rather endearing creature. Yet this monkey is one of Mexico's most-wanted drug lords and an alleged leader of the La Familia cartel, a criminal organisation which has been directly or indirectly involved in the vicious drug wars that have killed at least 35,000 people in Mexico since 2009.