Saturday, November 28, 2015

Archive: Interview with Juan Nepomuceno Guerra Cárdenas

Lucio R. Borderland Beat posted on forum by Bjeff
Juan N. at far left
Note from Lucio:  Juan Nepomuceno Guerra Cárdenas, born and died in Matamoros, Tamaulipas (July 18, 1915 – July 12, 2001) was the founder of the gulf cartel (Cartel del Golfo).  The “original capo” with only a sixth grade education,  headed a 20 billion dollar a year cocaine trafficking business.  He began his career of criminality in the 1930’s, trafficking alcohol into the U.S. during the prohibition era.

During his longevity, having lived until the age of 85, he only spent a few hours incarcerated. 

Last June Tamaulipas governor Egidio Torre Cantú, cut the ribbon at the dedication of a street in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, named in honor of the man who made criminality his life, Juan N. There is a PR video of the ceremony, but the street name is not included and neither a photo of the street sign.

In the lead up to the ceremony, none of the press reported that the name of the street was “Juan N. Guerra” in honor of Juan Nepomuceno Guerra Cárdenas. 
June 2015, street dedication to honor Juan N. Tamps Governor getting hug, mayor at left

By Dane Schiller

A slump-shouldered 80-year-old Juan N. Guerra seems a lifetime away from the Stetson-wearing towering man forever forged into the lore of Mexico's underworld. Guerra's name has been whispered by at least three generations. He was legendary long before his promising younger cousin, Juanito, climbed to the top of what authorities contend is a $20-billion-a-year cocaine empire.


Some say Garcia Abrego wouldn't be half the Mafioso authorities say he is, if it weren't for the guiding hand of Guerra.

"If I had done all they say, how could I still be alive?" Guerra asked in Spanish. "I've done nothing. Clean clothes need no soap."

Through the blackened glass doors of his Piedras Negras restaurant and bar, there are no men wearing shades, dark suits or gold chains. No gunfire, blood or bodyguards.

The man locals treat like a godfather and call "Don" in the Mexican tradition, wears an aging brown blazer and a white button-down shirt with an assortment of pens, including a Mont Blanc, shoved in the pocket. His custom-made Stetson hangs on a nearby hook.

The walls of Piedras Negras are adorned with photographs and paintings of horses, mostly from his ranch El Tlahuachal, a 500-acre spread outside of town. He sits in a wheelchair, immobilized by a stroke 11 years ago. His left hand is held forever in a loose fist. His words are sometimes quick and slurred.

He'll talk to anyone willing to listen, but forget about going to him with prepared questions and a tape recorder. He'll have none of it. And absolutely no photographs. He knows about the whispers, the stares and the fear people have based on his reputation.

"It's not my fault if they talk quietly and with respect," he said.

He doesn't sit at just any table, but at one made famous at the 1994 trial of two American Express bankers in Brownsville. The inner workings of the Gulf Cartel were spilled by members of the drug underworld during their trial.

He sits at this huge round table, which is carved with his initials and a horse's head. The cedar wood table was crafted by a friend 25 years ago and is too heavy to budge with even the heartiest of shoves. It's the reputed tough-guy table of Matamoros.

The table where his famous younger cousin, Juan Garcia Abrego, came of age. A place where legend has it that some of the city's darkest secrets have been discussed.

"Being family is not a crime," said Guerra, who insists he hasn't spoken with "Juanito" since the 1980s when they met at the Brownsville townhouse of Garcia Abrego's father.

"Juanito" will never be able to live in peace, said Guerra, who doubts he will ever again see the man he has known since the day he was born.

"They talk about me now and I haven't done anything," he said. "Can you imagine what they'll say if I go and see him?"

He's at the table every day from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It's where he starts his day every morning with a glass of water and two glasses of milk. He pours them down with migas or eggs cut with chorizo sausage, ham or bacon.

Beer? Only with dinner and just one a day for the man who started his career in 1940 running truck loads of Carta Blanca from Matamoros to Monterrey. Guerra said he liked the open roads.

"I like to be alone, like the eagle," he said. "When you're alone, you can't be bad company."

Guerra is guarded about discussing Garcia Abrego and is quick to distance himself from the man who was arrested Jan. 15 in Mexico. Garcia Abrego now sits behind bars in Houston facing a slew of cocaine and money laundering charges.

"I can't talk about these things," Guerra said simply. "They are very difficult."

Guerra said his 51-year-old cousin is a Mexican national who should not have been shipped to the United States without an extradition hearing. He insists that Garcia Abrego was born in La Puerta, a ranch outside of Matamoros, and is a Mexican citizen.

Garcia Abrego's parents filed papers in Brownsville at the courthouse that made it look like he was born in the United States so he could visit the country at will, he said.

Guerra said Garcia Abrego was denied something that is the right of every citizen, the protection of his homeland. Handing over his cousin was a treasonous act by the Mexican government, he said. It may have been part of some little-known addition to the free-trade agreement, he joked, drawing mild laughter from guests at his table.

Some say Guerra once ruled the streets of Matamoros with an iron fist and little patience for anyone who got in the way.

"He was the Al Capone of Matamoros," said a man who didn't want to be identified. "He is used to getting whatever he wants."

Guerra's pull is so strong that in 1953 Miss France, Cristian Martell, danced at his old club, The Matamoros Cafe. Martell was also Miss Universe and would later become the wife of Miguel Aleman, a senator and son of a Mexican president.

In 1960, Mexican police were looking for Guerra in connection with the death of Lt. Col. Octavio Villa Coss, the son of Mexico's revolutionary leader, Pancho Villa. According to news reports at the time, Guerra's bodyguard and chauffeur later confessed to the killing. He said he feared Villa was trying to kill Guerra.

About 10 years earlier, Guerra was also wanted in connection with the death of his first wife, who was a traveling performer. The charges were later suspended by Mexican authorities.

Then there's the time in 1987 when two men, former federal security policeman Tomas Morlet and accused drug trafficer Saul Hernandez, were gunned down reportedly as they knocked at the doors of Piedras Negras.

His infamy has also sparked several wild, unproven rumors that make him seem the embodiment of all that was bold about the Wild West. He supposedly once had a Brownsville gynecologist brought across the Rio Grande at gun point to treat a family member. He also supposedly shot a man who was talking too loud at the restaurant, without even getting out of his chair.

For years he was suspected of controlling all the booze and other contraband headed south over the U.S.-Mexican border. The man known as Don Juan denies it all.

"No one has ever died in this restaurant, and I don't want to die here either," he said.

As for lore that he was a bootlegger, he said, "They're talking about Prohibition. How old was I in 1923? They're talking about Al Capone."

He speaks in sayings, much like a philosopher of sorts.

"Guns are necessary, but at times they are used by the devil."

These days Guerra travels in a green Chevy van with a man he insists is a chauffeur, not a bodyguard. He says he doesn't live in a mansion or castle, just a quiet home in Brownsville and sometimes visits his ranch Tlahuachal, a 20-minute drive outside of Matamoros.

"(Guerra) never stopped being evil," said Oscar Olivares Lopez, who claims to have been a lieutenant for Garcia Abrego and later became a witness for the FBI.

"He killed his wife, and they didn't do anything to him. He killed the son of Pancho Villa, and they didn't do anything to him," said Olivares in a 1991 interview.

Guerra's certainly no stranger to power.

In addition to being rich and having a cousin who is the reputed head of a multi-billion dollar cocaine cartel, Guerra has a nephew who was once mayor of Matamoros.

His favorite brother, Roberto, wanted to be mayor, but died in an airplane crash in 1977. Although Guerra, his four brothers and three sisters are prosperous, they come from the humhle heginnings of campesinos, Guerra said.

His father came from Ciudad Mier near Miguel Aleman. His mother fron a ranch in Palo Rlanco. He says his father worked seven days a week in the fields and was bald as far hack as he can rememher.

"Like me," he said rubbing his head, which is ringed by thin strands of gray hair.

He's married to a woman from Tampico and has three sons, Juan, Jose and Marcos, all of whom live in Brownsville. He often stays at Juan's house.

For many politicians, tourists and even police from either side of the U.S.-Mexican border, a trip to Matamoros is not complete without visiting Piedras Negras. A slow and steady stream of visitors make their way to the restaurant and head for Guerra's table as if on a pilgrimage.

They come with smiles, kisses and handshakes. They want to know how he's doing. They speak of old times. Some saw him yesterday. For others, it's heen a decade or more since they've come by.

Sitting at the round table, Don Juan is lord of his domain and among his friends.

"Friends, everyone needs a friend", Guerra said.

"I've known him all my life", said Guillermo Villarreal, a rancher whose family rented the Matamoros Cafe to Guerra.

"Everyone was afraid of him, hut not me", said Villarreal, who described how Guerra would pull him aside and peel off rent money from a wad of bills.

How did a man with a sixth grade education rise from the cotton fields of Northern Mexico to become a wealthy property owner, head of a trucking line and the famous don of Matamoros?


"Destiny," he says with a slight smile curling over his lips.

51 comments:

  1. Man what a great story you guys and gals keep it up !!

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  2. Does the DEA or any Gov Agency have anything to with this? Do they even recognize the Don?

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    1. The government s of the United states and Mexico always have a say in the drug bussiness even Obama got money from drug lords in Mexico for his campaigns

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    2. Total bullshit... 7:27

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    3. Every politician has dirty dealings. Would you say no to millions if not billions being gifted to you? I don't think so. There has never existed the perfect politician. They all have their faults.

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    4. 8:14 drugs has always helped people get the Christian message of hope, change, and compassionate conservatism specially, out to the rabble, wake the fack up!!!

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  3. I love history , thank you.

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  4. Don Juan did not kill r kidnap innocent people were save in Tamps. He was a gentleman. The Trash r bums. No classs

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    1. Everybody knows the stories this man was an asshole of large proportions.by the way first virgilio Barrera was the first big trafficker in the north east border back in the forties after him may be this guy. After

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    2. Don juan never knew what was in store for drug trafficking and drug traffickers, specially not when the chilangos from el DF and atracomulco got involved...
      Don juaquin was about as ma' and pa' greasy spoon as it gets, biggest trouble it ever saw was a hairball here or there...
      But la barbie grandfather, el gitano valdez, Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni, and the hank Gonzales heirs, the hank rohn brothas had their lebanese bank connections nearby in texas before they had to escape to califas, the CAF AND TIJUANA, due to too much heat from the "new owners of texas" owners of florida, and suitors of califa, ENRON 'S silent partners, la famiglia...of course Arizona was in the bag...since the era of Joe bananas...

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  5. It is Amazing how people here in Mexico and for that matter the USA glorify their criminals. Just goes against the grain of a moral humanity. Even allowing tombs that look like houses that were built with the blood of murdered Mexican people.

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    1. agree with you 10:44 , mainly in Mexico but throughout latin america , even middle eastern have martyrs. but yea i am in my early 30's and first born generation american of mexican parents . i see this here where i live in los angeles , the young kids glorify anything chapo ,narco , cartel . real sad to actually be aware that mexico has some brutal violence happening in most states and these chicano fuckers like me but wannabe plebada go crazy over the corridos and cheerlead these sick fucks chopping peoples heads . what is even wierd is that here in so cali la plebada claims chapos nutsack . when they almost never even been to mexico jaja . dont even know where the parents home village is at but claim to be from ranchos y que suene la banda ... damn fools wouldnt last a day in the sierra cortando leña

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    2. You got that right. What country likes its predators Big Bad and Ugly' ... Did the chileans glorified pinochet? Did the germans glorified that hitler?

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    3. @10:44 I was thinking the exact same as you. That's why Mexico is totally corrupt and full of crime cover-ups. This guy is not going to admit anything he might have done wrong. The other thing that amazes me is while this type of people see themselves as all high and mighty, many come running to hide in the USA or some other country for fear of prosecution or worse.
      On the other hand, while this is a very interesting article equal time should be given to truly honest people who made a name of themselves helping the people of Mexico instead of glorifying "innocent" criminals.

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    4. We're talking about the old school CDG. Just like CDS golfos used to be loved by the poor hell even Zetas were admired back in the early 2000s before 40 rot everything up with kidnappings and extortions. I don't know if you have ever been to Germany but even behind all that political correct agenda Germans will talk with certain admiration about the third reich if you dig deeper. yep fascism is the ghost that roams and dwells in the shadows of Europe. And if we talk about abstract terms. like criminals there isn't any bigger criminal than the state and government for that matter.

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    5. 8:43... you nailed it dude.

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    6. Biily the kid? Jesse James? Al Capone?

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    7. 8:17pm
      That's what she said.

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  6. All things considered, he kept his men in check. They did their own thing without flaunting it.

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  7. Wow I didn't even know poncho villa son was killed by him I knew he was murdred great artical

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    1. 12:46pm
      Pancho Villa had another son who died about ten years ago.

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    2. Pancho Villa's real name was Doroteo Arango, none of his sons went by the name of Villa,.His last wife died in San Antonio, TX about 20 years ago..

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    3. 7:27pm
      Ernesto Nava Villa, Villa's last known son, died in 2009, he did go by "Villa".

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  8. Back when the Gulf Cartel was actually a cartel and not a gang of alcohol syndrome crack heads.

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  9. Yet mfs say traffickers end up getting murked or in prison... He didn't get murked or went 2 prison... His family still spendin his money he made off yrs of trafficking... Money done been flipped... Now its legal... JaJaJa

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    1. Ok wise guy... Why don't you try your luck, see if you can tell the same story

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    2. 2:15 pm..Thats what makes this story and this person unique..The fact he did what he did for as long as he did without getting killed or going to prison is amazing..It is not the NORM..how many more can you name just like him? Not too many im sure..So stop making it seem like mfs as you call them are wrong about the end result of being a drug kingpins or major narco trafficker.

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  10. Viva Mexico y su narcos the only way to survive here is going against mex gov and society we don't kill innocents we just want to work we just want to eat I JUST WANT FOOD FOR MY KIDS and don't judge me Americans because if you where in the shoes of those who have been thru hell and back for a grain of rice you would understand VIVA MEXICO Y TODOS LOS GRINGOS QUE SIGUAN CONPRANDO MAS MERKA

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  11. The Golf Cartel were always killers, jumped up heavies, not "cool" or "classy" gentlemen.

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    1. What Mafioso is? The Golfos aren't the only ones who have shown to be classless. The AFO ruined it with their war with Chapo in the 1990's. As the years passed the beefs and vendettas got increasingly more violent. Those of us who know the deal know how the rest of the narco story goes.

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    2. My great great grand father was the richest man in Tampico back in the 20s. He was executed while riding a horse. Thing is back then killers in Mataulipas had balls to go right in front of your face and yield your name out loud before shooting you.

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    3. Actually it was,more El cheapo trying to take Tijuana who started all the wars and the hating

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    4. That cartel is gonna be mine.. Ok? ... 11:04 your answer is 8:29! Assuming they one/both of them aren't lying of course! ! ! Mf'rs these days... !

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    5. Yeah.. Yeah... He he

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    6. On tamaulipas and veracruz, when the foreign oil companies laid off their sicarios k own as guardias blancas, they went on to lives of crime as drug traffickers, but quietly, Don viejidio cantu would be paying no respects to juan N for nothing...
      Both are a couple of hijos de la chingada...

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    7. Actually 8:24 Chapo didn't start the war with the AFO. Ramon wanted Chapo dead with a passion and did everything he could to kill him. Ramon and Benjamin really fucked up going after Chapo the way they did and killing the Arch Bishop. Their craziness is what caused their downfall. I am definitely not a Chapo lover so it pains me to even say he wasn't initially at fault. When he broke out of prison the first time is when his reign of terror truly started.

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  12. Wonder when was the first picture taken....Looking like a real latin american mobsta....Mann how can some one in the criminal underworld, last that long? Bet your wigg those type of people have something others don't....To witstand all the hustle and bustle. (All of that dealing with BAD MEAN people everyday) ... To bad all those shit heads are running that CDG gang now.

    CARTEL DEL GOLFO EL ORIGINAL desde los 30's. Los demas son imitaciones. Si ?

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  13. About 5 or 6 years ago the wikipedia article for the Gulf cartel mentioned a certain "Weston C" as one of the founders along with Guerra. Who was he? His name has been removed from the article.
    - One

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    1. There was an "Earl" Weston,mid 1970's, NYC, distribution for el Mexicano.

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    2. 9:14pm
      Thank you
      -one

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  14. Who is that guy standing in the picture with the black shirt and the white cup in his hand? Pablo Escobar?

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    1. @8:13 Juan garcia abrego

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    2. lol not even close, Gulf was buying from Cali cartel back then.

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    3. That's "his younger cousin"who they're referring to in the article.The one who took over the biz.Who he claimed he hadn't seen in years.

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    4. yeah it is juan garica abrego his nephew

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  15. Just looks like juan N delegated some of his jobs when the shit started hitting the fan and left the bull for others to munt, nobody wants to quarrel with that, lived all his life on the hotspots of matamoros, brownsville, Piedras Negras...what are the odds that he ever retired? Not even after his death

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  16. Juan Garcia Abrego has his hand on the shoulder of Carlos Aguilar Garza who later became Comandante de la Dirección Federal De Seguridad or DFS in Nuevo Laredo Carlos Aguilar Garza and his brother Angel killed Miguel Angel Del Bosque, a well known lawyet. The murder was ordered by Juan N Guerra, who ordered Don Beto Villarreal to relay the orders to Carlos Aguilar and Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni. This was because Juan N thought Del Bosque had become a DEA snitch after the twin engine Cessna loaded with cocaine in which they all were traveling from Quintana Roo crash landed outside Monterrey, NL after the plane ran out of fuel. All of them survived but DFS agents surrounded the crash site and the cocaine dissappeared. The plane was been piloted by Captain Manuel Amozurrutia. Since Carlos Aguilar was Commander of the DFS DEA git involved, lot of information was on DEA'S desk, Juan N told Don Beto Villarreal to tell Carlos Aguilar Del Bosque was the snitch and ordered his murder, which was carried out by Fermin Reyes Martinez aka La Borrego and a guy known as La Tripa Ayala.

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  17. Great article! About as accurate as you can get. My cousin married then later divorced one of the sons you mentioned. He was a good guy and was always good to us as kids. I remember the old mans funeral what a sight!

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  18. Crime is a funny thing. One day something legal, like alcohol in U.S. in 1920, becomes illegal. Guerro was five years old when it began. Perhaps, as they say, he started selling alcohol across the border as a teenager. He was only 18 when Prohibition ended. It is said Joe Kennedy made fortunes selling Whiskey at the same time, who really knows? Most of the eyewitnesses are dead.

    In any case, one day there is money earned doing something that was legal just last month, or is legal thirty km away, and it is hard to turn down money when the kids are hungry, so....

    When do you quit? The ones who become "Crime Bosses" are those who don't back down, no matter the pressure. People of the same personality type become famous actors, singers, athletes, politicians, all our heroes, simply because they persevere and keep on going no matter what.

    The difference between transport and smuggling, crime and commerce is only a decree of ink put on paper by another human being.

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