Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Legacy of Sinaloa Cartel Lieutenant 'El Flaco'

In many ways, Mexico's capture of Noel Salgueiro, alias "El Flaco," marked the end of an era, with the fall of the man who led the Sinaloa Cartel’s bloody, but currently stalled, four-year old effort to wrest Ciudad Juarez from the grip of the Juarez Cartel.

War came to Chihuahua on a 100-year loop: Pancho Villa had risen up in 1910 and the Sinaloa Cartel invaded in January 2008. But only now has the Sinaloa Cartel’s mysterious invasion chief come out of the shadows, with the October 4 arrest of Noel Salgueiro.

The border metropolis of Ciudad Juarez is located in Chihuahua, Salgueiro’s home state. Social meltdown and crime problems had already enveloped Juarez when the Sinaloa gang invasion of 2008 opened the Juarez Cartel War, which is still ongoing.

The stunning numbers reported from this conflict -- 7,000 dead, 250,000 residents displaced, 25,000 homes vacated, 5,000 to 10,000 businesses closed, 130,000 jobs lost -- are guesses in the dark and perhaps exaggerations, but show the depth of panic during the invasion and Juarez’s subsequent epidemic of gang murders. So does the label “most dangerous city in the world.”

This was not classic war or even “insurgency” (as a congressional subcommittee puzzingly tried to say of Mexico’s criminal clashes on the day of Salgueiro’s arrest, October 4). The Juarez War was the street-gang dynamic which was once feared to represent the bleak future of the United States, but blocked by the web of U.S. law enforcement -- while the potential for gang disaster seeped south to more vulnerable ground. The ghost here is not Che Guevara but 1920s Chicago, writ large.

 Noel Salgueiro, aka "El Flaco" (Slim), reportedly grew up a long eight hours south of Juarez in the remote mountains of southern Chihuahua, amid tales of giant pot plantations, epic drug lords rising from poverty and a clan culture of pacts and showdowns. Just south, completing the Golden Triangle of three mountainous Mexican states apt for drug-growing, were Sinaloa (drug-lord capital of North America) and Durango, whose crags still hide outlaw wonders the world can only imagine.

Before 2008 Salgueiro was unknown outside his folksy home smuggling area on the Durango state line, astride the great corridor up Mexico’s mid-section to Texas at the Juarez-El Paso border. Local clan agreements had staved off the growing gang warfare seen elsewhere as Mexico morphed in a new millennium -- the Nuevo Laredo War of 2004-2006, the Tijuana meat grinder, the upheaval in Michoacan. In 2004, however, the Juarez die was already cast as two underworld giants -- the Juarez Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel -- began isolated tit-for-tat killings of relatives: brother for brother, the odd wife for the occasional cousin. By the end of 2007 either the stars had aligned or the killable relatives had run out -- or the conspiracy theories were right and some big puppet-masters, always beyond final proof, wanted the whole pie. Either way, now it was all-out war. Among the 1.3 million or more residents of Ciudad Juarez, with their backs to the U.S. border, rumors said the coming invasion date would be January 6, 2008. The mayor later said the first killings actually started a day earlier.

No bugles called. The number of homicides in January 2008 simply jumped to more than 40, the most homicides of any January in Juarez history -- though barely a blink compared to what was coming. Accordion-laced narco songs were said to break into police radio frequencies.

Witnesses from police chiefs on down would later testify that every single cop in Juarez had long been on the take, or under orders from captains who were. The invaders, massing far to the south in the Sinaloa Cartel, were sending notice to police throughout the state of Chihuahua: defect now from your ties to the Juarez Cartel (the old but badly bogged-down hometown mob) and come over to our side as we take over.

Apparently the only public announcement was a hand-lettered poster left January 26 at Juarez’s Statue to the Fallen Policeman. The poster crisply listed four top police officials the infiltrating invaders had already killed that month -- and 17 others set to be offed. When an SUV deposited the poster the statue was being sleepily guarded by a city cop, who was then indignantly fired -- the gnat sacrificed to the hurricane. Police operations chief Francisco Ledesma was leaving his home on January 21 when he was obliterated by a .50-caliber rifle, the kind of belt-chewing blaster used by action-movie heroes, able to blow through both sides of an armored vest at a distance of 100 yards. That same January, by coincidence, on the 15, a predecessor of Ledesma’s, ex-police chief Saulo Reyes, was arrested across the bridge in Texas with a thousand pounds of marijuana. Reyes was not a stereotyped thug but a fresh-faced boy wonder in business circles, appointed as unlikely police chief in a political swamp. A city that had been booming imperfectly at the turn of the millennium, with 400 factories for border export, was honeycombed with get-rich shortcuts.·

·To prey on this prize (or save it, they said), more than 500 clandestine gunmen were said to be hired by the Sinaloa invaders under the chief in the shadows, Noel Salgueiro, down on the southern state line. Above him were still more elusive top bosses in Sinaloa or Durango: El Chapo, El Mayo, El Azul -- a fog of mystic symbols in a sierra Olympus. January 6 was the Day of the Three Kings, Epiphany, the end of Christmas vacation in Mexico -- and the one-year anniversary of a big dance thrown deep in the sierra on January 6, 2007, by the Sinaloa Cartel’s storied top capo, Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman, as he had feted his 18-year-old beauty queen fiancee (Miss Coffee and Guayava Festival), prior to their marriage July 2, 2007, clearing the decks for war.

The blitzkrieg invasion force, with Salgueiro back in the bunker, was recruited from standard sources: dirty cops and ex-cops, ex-soldiers, lots of young sierra apprentice assassins -- and barrio toughs from target areas in Chihuahua’s own neighborhoods.

Recruit Mario Nuñez, aka "M-10," would be one of several (on both sides) whose name would be bandied about as perhaps responsible for a thousand deaths all on his own, like a Bosnian ethnic cleanser. Nuñez and some others came from San Dimas, a Durango mountain stronghold so bad, for so long, that its very name recalled one of the thieves crucified with Jesus, because a shocked father superior in the 1600s had secured an Inquisition permit to excommunicate the whole place, formally cursing “every man, woman and child… animals, land and seeds.”

Meanwhile, the city of Juarez was said to have 8,000 members of ordinary street gangs. The reputed 6,000 in the largest group, the Aztecas, had long been employees of the Juarez Cartel, gradually taking over much of local drug pushing and debt murder, with a parallel·blurring of cartel discipline. In earlier years the Juarez Cartel had held lordly pre-eminence in Mexican drug-smuggling, but the crown fell quickly; by 2008 the·Sinaloa Cartel was called the largest in the world -- so big that nearly every Mexican citizen seemed to know the never-proven theory that the Sinaloa Cartel had secret links to the government.

Salgueiro’s invasion push from the south showed what the theorists meant (though it did not prove them right). To roll up the 600-mile corridor north to Juarez, his boys first came over the state line from Durango and disappeared a couple of local smuggling bosses -- after three area police commanders were also whacked. On April 5, the Juarez clans struck back, guns blazing along 20 miles of state-line highway, with six dead, including a 19-year-old Juarez Cartel arm-twister with a fake federal police ID.

The punchline came at the 19-year-old’s large clan funeral on April 8 -- because the Mexican Army irreverently swooped down on this crowd of Juarez Cartel faithful, terrifying women and children with helicopters and rifle butts. The corridor guardians for the Juarez Cartel made easy targets for flashy drug arrests: they were long established and known to all -- while the Sinaloa Cartel invaders were hit-and-run phantoms, sometimes blitzing whole towns in convoy strength, but final address unknown. The Juarez stalwarts were caught in a pincer movement, between government forces and the invading hitmen.

On March 28, as murders skyrocketed, Mexico’s federal government flooded Chihuahua with 4,000 troops, 180 vehicles, three Hercules C-130 cargo planes and a Boeing 707. Many residents saw the result as favoring the Sinaloa invasion. The government was in a devil’s bind, facing so many dirty local cops that a crushing blow against such a crowd would be horrific surgery, sure to raise cries of human rights abuse. As the Sinaloa Cartel stepped in to “cleanse” Chihuahua for its own reasons, there was no knowing how high the stakes might go.

As 2008 went on, one out of every 889 Juarez residents would be murdered, according to the U.S. State Department. By 2010 the Juarez death toll had topped 3,000 in that year alone. As in World War I, the Sinaloa Cartel’s lightning strike through figurative Belgium hadn’t quite worked; the two sides settled down to permanent killing.

The invasion would succeed at getting the Sinaloa Cartel into major drug smuggling nodes in Chihuahua, but in the end, despite premature announcements, it did not eliminate the battered Juarez Cartel. Both groups would continue operating in the ruins of Juarez -- and killing each other.

This past spring, as the Juarez murder rate began to dip a bit, federal authorities badly needed the capture of a high Sinaloa Cartel leader, in order to beat back the “government cartel” accusations. Dragnets had pulled in embarrassingly more members of the Juarez Cartel than of the Sinaloa Cartel. The criticisms were reaching gale force, and a logical way to counter them would be to parade in handcuffs the Sinaloa Cartel overseer for Chihuahua, Noel Salgueiro. But where was he hiding? On December 13, 2010, Salgueiro was said to have escaped, wounded, from a 500-officer raid. On April 30 the net closed not on Salgueiro but on 40 heavy weapons from the U.S. Fast and Furious arms-trafficking fiasco, guns that had somehow reached Juarez and a Sinaloa Cartel trove.

By this time, Salgueiro’s shadowy image was not that of a butcher but a moderator. Down in Durango, a group of Sinaloa Cartel underbosses had gone off the reservation, unleashing a reign of terror so bad that April brought the discovery of record-setting mass graves: 217 bodies at main sites and stories of more than 300. The Durango renegades began displaying angry public messages, aimed not at the pursuing government but at Salgueiro, who they said was barging in and trying to remove them. Again the pincer movement: both the government and the Sinaloa Cartel hierarchy were closing in on the extremists, who were known as the Emes, or “M’s.” One of them was bloodstained Mario Nuñez, "M-10," of Juarez fame, who had come south to join his Durango brothers from San Dimas. By July this pocket had apparently been cleaned out.

On September 15, a government raid 80 miles south of Juarez was said to be seeking Salgueiro, but caught only stolen cars, one from Texas. Then on October 4, a mysterious pinpoint operation was said to strike at drug-lord central, in the capital city of the state of Sinaloa. The result was a lone arrestee, no shots fired, and no other details released. The face in the shadows had emerged.



  1. Puta madre you Gringos are geniuses, you stop a war without even doing nuffin.
    My question is, why arent you fighting Nixons war within your borders?

  2. Great read, props to Chamuko. Like hearing the ins and outs of leaders and armed wings of La Federacion. Keep up the good work.

  3. Very informative and well written article! First class!

  4. "Recruit Mario Nuñez, aka "M-10," would be one of several (on both sides) whose name would be bandied about as perhaps responsible for a thousand deaths all on his own, like a Bosnian ethnic cleanser. Nuñez and some others came from San Dimas, a Durango mountain stronghold so bad, for so long, that its very name recalled one of the thieves crucified with Jesus, because a shocked father superior in the 1600s had secured an Inquisition permit to excommunicate the whole place, formally cursing “every man, woman and child… animals, land and seeds.”


    So, how safe do you think it would be for naieve, clueless gringo's (I'm one) to go to this San Dimas town just to poke around and look at the sights? You know, "tourist attraction" what with the ancient curse and all... right out of a movie script! Couldn't they use the economic boost?

    Just can't even get me to go into Mexico for anything nowadays!

  5. Haha now with him arrested all the real gn don't know what to do and they are just running from place to place. NOW for sure sinaloa ain't gonna win this year and ever will. I remember a few months back people saying patadas de ahogado about la __ hahaha.

  6. Our politicians are idiots. They arrested the only guy cleaning the Juarez plaza. A stronger CDJ means more extortion and murders of innocent women and children.

    No tactics, no tactics at all. You go after the biggest problem first. And that problem is what happens to the ordinary people.

  7. This is a complicated story with many details and this article probably only hits the surface. It reads like a chapter out of a book on the history of the Narco Wars. With a little more editing, this could grace the pages of a top newspaper or magazine as another insight into the complex situation in Mexico.

    So when does the book come out?

  8. Looks like with this capture chapos hopes of ever taking Juarez are pretty much gone.

  9. I've googled and apparently there is some tourism there.

  10. Chapo gave him up because the government needed someone to account for all the mass graves found in Durango, he was sacrificed... Thats why "Lone arrestee with no shots fired" etc... Chapo calls the shots in mexico... Its now being said that Chapo is hiding in the US!

  11. so anybody smelling something fishy here, motherfucker is captured in NARCOville without a shot fired. Somethings not right, he did something wrong or was made to take the fall so that the gov gets off the hook with being in bed with Sinaloa and both can go about their buisness. I remember a quote about history and events, " nothing of importance ever happens by chance or circumstance it is always orchestrated or manipulated."

  12. 9:29 PM...I wish you would go to Juarez and say that stupid stuff. All you Chapo nut huggers amaze me. Before this war started there wasn't any extortion. There was occasional kidnappings but for the most part, it was people involved in the drug trade and if it wasn't, they collected and let them go. This evil bastard y'all are idealizing and calling the last hope caused more death destruction and atrocities than you can ever imagine. He and Chapo fueled a stupid battle that they, the federal police, and the army couldn't win. They were in the wrong, and their evil greed killed the city. That is why the people of Juarez ran Calderon out of the city. This guy and the people he worked for did not have intentions for a better Juarez. They are the core evil that has created Mexico as we know it today. This writer that wrote the article took a topic and person, sensationalized it and him, only to prove is writing skills. This guy is not a last hope hero and after he failed at a task nobody could succeed with, his bosses sold him down the river. A typical Chapo move. Bottom line.

  13. Damn cdj is small bu still holding ground, seems the juarez cartels people are real faithful to the carrillos.

  14. This is a good article and for those who don't know the legend of the Salguieros. El Flaco has always had a presence in Chihuahua and has been a trakatero for years. His shadowy crew in Chihuas especially south has always reigned. He was more than just person put in charge for GN, he was a huge player in trafficking maryjuana and cocaine north for himself and CDS. Already a self established drug dealer and most likely millionaire ideally needed to pact with Chapo. I think he had more of a mutual agreement with CDS and Chapo as his crime family extends several decades as well. Their are heavy hitters in south Chihuahua, including Parral that are low key but are very important players for CDS. Not glorifying the guy and not saying he is better than CDJ. They all have blood on their hands and are very greedy. But for those that say GN is dying, their are people put in place in case something like this happens. CDS is very structured and are an organization. Did Chapo flip him? I don't think so, the goverment had pressure to catch him and someone who was a player for CDS. If he gets time in Mexico he comes out and either becomes stronger than he once was, but if he gets extradited to the states it may be game over for him.

  15. 9:37 AM...Good stuff. And thanks for no name calling because you disagree with me. I respect that. I in no way believe CDS is dying. I personally think they are grossly over extended and as usual with long time successful cartels, gotten a little lazy with success. I also think that their southern partners are using Ojinaga instead of Juarez as their doorway.

  16. When los zetas and liñea announced they were allies, they mentioned that parral would fall to them in a week. That hasn't happend. El flaco and gn have it locked. Ita easier to defend a place then to take it over, as chapo has seen in juarez and nuevo laredo. But they haven't took any of his important plazas either

  17. 2:28 and 4:37 I agree as you have with me. They may have well overextended themselves quiet a bit with too many war fronts but I believe in now way will they lose GN strongholds. Parral is a gateway to la sierra de Chihuahua to Balleza and westward. And it also is a gateway from Durango and Sinaloa. Both very key points that CDS affiliates have had very well guarded. Los Zetas and la linea wanted Parral for those reasons but there are families there who in no way would have let that happen. Very influential crime families and legitimate influential families. It's going to be interesting to see what happens of Flaco being captured. So far there have been narco mantas displayed but nothing really attributed to it. CDS has too much money and lives invested in Chihuahua to just let it lie. The war is declared to the death with la linea and Carrillo's. There is no turning back and vice versa.

  18. m10 Apa?? if la gn can't get kill him then how are they gonna get la linea which is way more people linea has people in oijinaga too and they always go into parral.They even made it into delicias to kill el chapos people at that race track and he was pissed hahahaha.

  19. So who running Durango, is it El Peinado or M10? All I know is that supposibly Durango, Dgo is in chaos between los Z's and M's, GN, and Peinado's group? Yes or No?

  20. Hang this stinking asshole from a high telephone pole by his balls until hes dead. That would be called " what went around came around"!! He deserves it, no doubt!!

  21. 6:19 PM...I see it as securing what is yours and expanding as much as you can during the final stretch before the elections. When the PRI takes everything in 2012, we will see a forced truce and after a time, things will be back to what they were up to 2006. Really, the big guns and wealthy supporting players have minimal loses and they don't seem to be going after each other. It is a chess game where fierce enemies become allies with the change of the wind. It is more business than a fight to the death. There is too much money to be made and they will succumb to that soon. There was talk of a cartel leader meeting in 2012 back in early 2010. It was suggesting a possible truce could occur. Only a chosen few really know. The PRI will take business and tourism as a priority. We will see a shift back from federal dominated power to the states too. They playing field will become more level with this shift. Thank you for the info about Chihuahua south. Juarez is what I know more about.

  22. Not to many zetas in the city of durango. M10 runs mazatlan and the city of durango. He did, not to sure now. El paisa ran dgo for el chapo but was killied in a shootout with troops.
    There's so many groups throughout the state that they have to share the cake. There's los M'S, Chachos, mingos, canelos, mayitos, GN and couple more. With all the chaos el chapo and mayo can still relax in dgo without trouble. Most of la sierra is there's and that's were they like to move around.

  23. Theres always talk about an invacion to the city of juarez, but, the reality seems to be, that at least the first 2 years of the war it was actualy la linea traitors and old Juarez cartel narco's who waged war on behalf of the cds against la linea;hense why gn had success in almost exterminating la linea's narco generation at that time. All this Meaning; that, the hit was basically from whit in.


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