Drug Lord Mass-Killer ‘El Chueco’ Strikes Fear In Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains - DMT NEWS

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Drug Lord Mass-Killer ‘El Chueco’ Strikes Fear In Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains

Ciudad Juárez, MÉXICO - After the killing of two priests and a tour guide in June, Mexico’s government has been searching for a ghost: a man who is said to be everywhere, but at the same time, can’t be found.

Inside the Sierra Madre mountains, José Noriel Portillo is like Voldemort: his name isn’t said in public. People are too afraid to even name him, because they believe there’s always someone listening–and they might be right. Noriel has built himself an army of about 1,000 armed, violent men from all over the mountains, according to Chihuahua State official estimates. 

The fear locals have for him is not unfounded. Noriel is known to have killed two former teachers from Chihuahua to steal their car, a U.S. professor he reportedly believed was an undercover DEA agent, and most recently two Jesuit priests for begging for a man’s life.

His nickname, “El Chueco”–“the crooked one”–is a nod to his life of crime. Locals say “he’s never lived straight.” 

The Mexican government has mobilized around 300 army and national guard members, and a similar number of Chihuahua State police, to find Noriel. So far they’ve arrested 17 of his associates, including two cousins.

Noriel, 30, has never left the Sierra Madre Occidental, a trail of mountains that runs half through western Mexico. He grew up isolated, surrounded by weed and poppy fields, humiliated by tourists and foreigners for being an “indio,” or indigenous, according to local legend. His army is widely composed of people from the Indigenous Raramuri tribe (Noriel himself is half Raramuri).

Noriel has set up a series of illegal checkpoints around the deep mountains of Chihuahua, where most of the highways are one way in, one way out. That’s how he knows from kilometers away when someone’s coming. 

The geography of the region plays by his side. Noriel grew up inside the complicated Sierra Madre Occidental; he learned every turn and knows every village, however small it is. 

According to local legend, the land his family owned was taken by the cartel to use for their clandestine crops. Noriel started as a farmer, harvesting poppy and weed for other Sinaloa Cartel leaders. In 2012, he killed teachers Josefina Díaz and Elisa Díaz, and in 2018 he killed U.S. professor Patrick Braxton.

Four years ago, at just 26, he became the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel in the region, controlling more than 20 small towns and almost half of the Sierra Madre mountains, according to local reports.

“He knows he owns the whole Sierra,” Pedro, a farmer and former local police officer in Creel, told VICE World News. “He controls policemen, businessmen, everyone, and he knows he can kill just because he feels like it.”   

Pedro was one of only five police officers left in Creel, tourist destination inside the Sierra Madre, after Noriel killed many of them for refusing to work with him, Pedro says. Two weeks after Pedro quit his post, the local police station closed, leaving the town with zero police presence

Then, in June of this year, Noriel went on a killing spree that included local priests, a community he had never hit before, which turned him into a national target.

On the morning of June 20, Noriel was enjoying himself at a baseball game in Cerocahui, a small town hidden inside the woods of the Sierra Madre Occidental. 

He was sponsoring the winners, Cerocahui’s official baseball team. But a discussion regarding a metal baseball bat started a confrontation. The local rules stated that only wooden bats could be used, and Cerocahui’s official team had used a metal bat on Noriel’s orders. 

Two members of the losing team, brothers Jesús Armando and Paul Osvaldo Berrelleza, confronted Noriel and were kidnapped by his men. Jesús Armando managed to escape, but Paul Osvaldo was shot dead by Noriel

A few feet from Noriel was local tour guide Pedro Palma, who witnessed the murder. Palma fled to a local church, and Noriel pursued him. Once Palma was inside, Jesuit priests Javier Campos, 79, and Joaquín Mora, 80 begged for his life, but Noriel killed all three inside the church and took their bodies with him. 

Their bodies were found two days later, dumped on a rural highway about 200 kilometers from where they were murdered. 

The Mexican government reacted by deploying hundreds of soldiers to search for Noriel, and Chihuahua’s State police did the same. But more than two months later, he is still at large and his checkpoints can still be seen around the region. The Mexican government even nabbed legendary drug lord Rafel Caro Quintero, who was hiding in the same region, before finding Noriel. 

That might be because Noriel has weaved an important network of corruption in the region, one that includes policemen, mayors, priests, and specially impoverished local residents, who have put their trust in Noriel more than in any government.

In Urique, where the small town of Cerocahui sits, Mayor Daniel Silva and the town’s entire police force are under investigation for allegedly protecting Noriel, and even facilitating his use of its officers and official police vehicles, according to Chihuahua’s State Attorney General’s Office.

Silva’s whereabouts are unknown, as he left his office after the manhunt for Noriel began. 

But while hundreds of soldiers are looking for him, local residents remain silent–in part because they fear Noriel, but also because they mistrust Mexican authorities.

“Do you think the government will look after us if we were to hand over the criminals? I don’t think so,” Javier, a local resident of Creel, told VICE World News. “They have demonstrated to be even worse than El Chueco.”



via https://www.DMT.NEWS

Luis Chapparo, Khareem Sudlow