This article was published on 23 September 2014.
- Two journalists: the latest figures exposed by Knights Templar Leader La Tuta
- New recording just latest example of organized crime boss meeting with public figures
Servando Gómez Martínez, also known as La Tuta, is possibly Mexico’s most wanted man. He leads the Knights Templar (Los Caballeros Templarios), the cartel with large swathes of Michoacán under its sway. The cartel’s preying upon this area sparked the autodefensas’ revolt. La Tuta’s capture has become one of the primary political goals for President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government. But this narco does not seek out anonymity like other kingpins such as the enigmatic Ismael El Mayo Zambada, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. Instead, La Tuta has chosen to put himself in the limelight by using a surprising and devastating resource: the video-war (vídeoguerra). This elusive narco, old teacher and follower of necromancy, has for months chosen to forgo launching periodic assaults from his lair and instead uses recordings of himself with notable people – former governors, children of governors and mayors – who adopt subservient postures, agreeing to carry out his orders. Each video has dynamited a political career. And brought to light the immense corrosion of authority in Michoacán. He launched his latest torpedo against the media.
A video lasting 24 minutes 57 seconds roughly shows how the influential Televisa correspondent in Michoacán, Eliseo Caballero, and local news agency director José Luis Diaz pledging themselves to follow the drug dealer’s orders.
The recording, shot before the autodefensas were disbanded, was made public by the journalist Carmen Aristegui of MVS Radio. It shows a bare-walled room and a grey-concrete floor. The three men are sat around a simple white table. In a singsong voice La Tuta asks why more media outlets can’t do more interviews with him. He boasts of the coverage his videos receive and shows he is jealous of the popularity of the hit man Broly Banderas whose Youtube video has received five million visitors — La Tuta’s most popular video only has 186,000 hits. In the conversation the possibly terrified journalists adopt a tone of voice and a withering humility and offer the kingpin advice to challenge the media gains achieved by the autodefensas and Mexico’s government.
The meeting meanders along until at the last minute the journalists take out a list of their requests. José Luis Díaz asks (“I want to ask for this respectfully”) for a truck and Elisendo Caballero wants help with “some cameras that cost US$6,000.” After some drawn out comments, La Tuta shows off his unscrupulous power to corrupt: he takes a billfold from his pocket, counts the notes out one by one, putting them into two piles. Without a sound, Caballero y Diaz picks them up. Then the narco gets up, calls his escort over and leaves.
The journalists have alleged that they were forced to attend the meeting. A few hours after the broadcast of the video, Televisa fired Caballero. The broadcasting organization noted that he had failed to provide advance notice of the meeting. “Our audience can be certain that there is no room in our organization for people who violate the confidence and injure the credibility that the public places every day in Noticias Televisa,” the network wrote in a press release.
La Tuta’s latest strike shows off his tenacious grip over the Templars in troubled Michoacán
La Tuta’s latest strike shows off his tenacious grip over the Knights Templar in Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente. Alarmed by the autodefensas’ popular uprising, President Enrique Peña Nieto sent a force of almost ten thousand Federal Police and soldiers to the region under the orders of Commissioner Alfredo Castillo who was granted special powers, above those of any local authority. Besides the breakup of the autodefensas who have been absorbed by the rural police (Guardias Rurales), La Tuta’s pursuit by Castillo has resulted in the fall of many leaders. But the kingpin has yet to be toppled. La Tuta has run circles time and again around the dragnet. And he has shot these videos from the shadows. Each video’s release has generated a stormy barrage and undermined the achievements of the president’s envoy. “La Tuta eludes capture because he still has support from society. He has for years given out money in impoverished areas,” mentions a police source.
Among those figures downed by this video-war is the highflying PRI-ista Jesús Reyna, Michoacán’s interior minister and interim governor of the state during 2013. At that time, the state faced its most severe confrontation with the Templarios. Another casualty is Rodrigo Vallejo Mora, son of governor Fausto Vallejo. His downfall came days after his father withdrew from politics. It’s a long list. In 2014 alone the Templarios released six videos. La Tuta’s Youtube appearances can be added to these media mail bombs. In them, he preens himself and talks about the ostensible virtues of his organization. A criminal group with pseudo religious airs that keeps vast swathes of the Tierra Caliente subject to pillage. Experts confirm that his business goes beyond drug trafficking and runs throughout all spheres of local economic activity, from mining to avocado cultivation. Nobody in Mexico doubts that the security forces are digging in their heels. But, for the moment, La Tuta is still free and shooting videos.
Journalist Jan Martínez Ahrens is the correspondent for El País in Mexico. Follow him on Twitter @jmahrens. This article first appeared under the title, “El narco dispara con vídeos en Michoacán,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/09/23/actualidad/1411487246_569145.html.
Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a Facebook page: like it, here.