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Mean guys, by any other name

Cruel cartels up ante on Mexico thug monikers


– When “The Worm Eater” and his sidekick “The Rat” were captured, they were allegedly carrying five grenades and about $1 million in cash. “Garbage” was caught extorting money from Mexico City bus drivers, police say. “The Pig” was known for his brutal style of killing rivals. “The Bum” allegedly burned and buried his victims in clandestine pits.

As Mexico’s drug violence gets bloodier, with cartels competing to leave ever-bigger piles of slaughtered victims, drug traffickers are being tagged with ever-grittier, lowbrow nicknames to reflect their impersonal, almost industrial style of violence.

Gone are the days of high-flying sobriquets such as “The King” (Jesus Zambada Garcia), “The Lord of the Skies” (Amado Carrillo Fuentes) or “The Boss of Bosses” (Arturo Beltran Leyva), all of whom are dead or in prison. Midlevel cartel leaders are adopting or being baptized with nicknames such as “The Dog Killer.” That was Baltazar Saucedo Estrada, an alleged leader of the notoriously bloodthirsty Zetas gang.

Experts say the killings and arrests of top cartel capos have left lesser spawn to run the drug, kidnapping and extortion businesses; that has fueled a cruder approach and a psychopathic, mass-dismemberment style of killing. Instead of offing rivals for turf or cash, many of today’s narco-killers, especially among the Zetas, view their ultraviolence as a part of business, designed to shock the public into submission.

“What we’re seeing today is a different kind of nickname, that reflects a different way of criminals identifying themselves, and these new forms of violence,” said Martin Barron, en expert in criminology at Mexico’s National Institute for Penal Sciences.

Mexico had already seen plenty of grisly drug war violence after the federal government launched its offensive against the cartels in 2006. The carnage has only accelerated over the past two years and grown ever more routine, with the emphasis placed on the sheer quantity of bodies. The latest mass atrocity came in May, when 49 still-unidentified torsos were dumped on a roadside in northern Mexico with their hands, feet and heads chopped off.

“We’re seeing an ever-more bestial violence ... in which other people are dehumanized,” Barron noted. “You no longer care about what you do or don’t do to someone else.”

Saucedo Estrada, “the Dog Killer” (El Mateperros), purportedly ordered his henchmen to set fire to a casino in the northern city of Monterrey last year to punish the owners for failing to pay protection money. Fifty-two people were killed, and Saucedo Estrada was arrested in January.

The source of his nickname remains unclear: Cartels sometimes refer to rivals and police as “dogs,” and cartel recruits reportedly are ordered to hack up the animals as training for human dismemberment.

Another midlevel Zetas leader, William de Jesus Torres Solorzano, alias “The Worm Eater” (El ComeGusanos), was an alleged financial operator for the Zetas. His nickname may allude to the survival training top Zetas go through, which is styled on that of Guatemala’s elite Kaibil rangers unit, in which participants are expected to eat whatever insects or animals they can find in the jungle.

“The Pig” (La Puerca), Manuel Fernandez Valencia, was allegedly a close associate of cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman; his nickname came from his “piggish” style of killing rivals. He was also known as “The Animal.”

The new breed of nicknames show “a trace of cynicism, of mockery,” said Pedro de la Cruz, a professor who specializes in security issues at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

“These nicknames reflect the fact that even they do not take themselves seriously,” as cartel leaders of the past did, with codes of conduct and large clans of family-based criminal networks that operated on mafia-style codes of silence and obedience, de la Cruz said.

Even more chilling are the nicknames considered so dangerous that no one even dares to pronounce them, Barron notes.