The killing of El Wualo contains aspects that would classify it as organized crime related. It was targeted, it involved multiple men, and they left a narco-message behind. But there also are things that stick out. An interesting detail in the first picture of the narco-message taken suggests more organization in leveraging social media. The police pursuit following resulting in two perpetrators killed and two arrested complicates traditional narratives. Altogether, these things provide a good example for talking about what organized crime related means. My goal is that after reading this you will have a better understanding of what to look for in such incidents. In addition be aware of the gray zone and complexities that can arise.
Everything started last Wednesday sometime between 9:30 - 10:00 AM according to press reports. At the time it wasn't certain if it was two separate incidents or one. An article published shortly before midnight on Thursday confirmed it was in fact one incident.
Elements of the Guanajuato security forces and the Celaya police received the report and began a persecution that sparked a confrontation with the attackers.
State authorities detailed to MILENIO that although only three assailants are seen in the video, there were four hit men, two of whom died in the persecution and two others were arrested.
Four men aboard a white Honda CRV pulled down Muñíz street in the Lindavista neighborhood of Celaya. This is not the exact address but it is within a couple meters give or take. Change in building facades make it difficult to discern exactly. But the vegetation, particularly two trees at the end of the street, confirm this is the correct Muñíz street.
Stopping at what appears about half way down the street, three of them are seen getting out of the vehicle. They open fire on a man who appears to be lounging on the sidewalk. He runs in front of the blue car but goes down almost instantly.
The man seated behind the driver of the car runs back and grabs the narco-message. Running up to throw it alongside the body. The security camera footage posted to social media lasts only 15 seconds and cuts right before a potential crucial moment which I will speak about later.
All three men load back into the white Honda CRV and speed off. Soon after they would cross paths with law enforcement, entering into a pursuit before crashing. Photographs of that scene show the car smashed into a barrier with its back window blown out. Suggesting that the car was fired on from behind, potentially striking the driver causing him to crash.
Two details emerged almost instantly. That the victim in the targeted killing was named Wualo and that CJNG had claimed responsibility. These would have been presumably discovered from what was written on the narco-message. Another detail to emerge was the relationship of the victim to El Marro. It's not entirely clear where that information originated.
In terms of what the message says, it's pretty typical stuff, even almost word for word from past messages. The expected demeaning of the other side and proclaiming that they are the ones in charge.
This will keep happening to anyone who supports "Los M" and all the filthy people from the CSRL (they are referred as "Los Mugrosos"). Here we leave you Wualo. Let's be clear: CJNG owns Celaya and all Guanajuato. Grupo Elite.
An article published by La Silla Rota the same day cites government documents that they obtained in the days following the arrest of El Marro but it doesn't specify any relationship. A picture of one of the documents shows a group of men in a section titled "Hit man and huachicoleros(fuel-thieves) in the area Celaya." One of the men is named El Wualo, listed as being born in 1962 which would make him 58 years old. Oddly the article names him as Martin Reyes. But that name is not what's listed above the name El Wualo, that name is found under the picture of a man named El Bala-something in the bottom right corner.
Further adding to the mystery is that he is listed as being already detained. Another article was circulating on Facebook that is from 2017. It details the arrest in Celaya of a Martin but not Martin Reyes who goes by El Walo. The arrest is for homicide but it's not clear from the La Silla Rota article or other information if that is the detention that the document La Silla Rota obtained is referring too.
If we refer back to the Milenio article that was first cited in the beginning, it gives us some indication as to who El Wualo was.
Guanajuato authorities confirmed to MILENIO that El Walo was not a priority target and according to intelligence work, neither was he a key player in the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel or was the head of a plaza. However, there are indications that he did participate in the theft of fuel and auto parts, and possibly in drug dealing.
Before the "Golpe de Timón" operation began to capture El Marro, in 2019, El Walo was part of the cartel but later he separated, since he never had power within the interior beyond being the leader of the Huachicolero leader.
It's possible, probably likely, that the nicknames get mixed up and letters get added or dropped. And that mistakes get made where people add on last names to matching first names. The name is really not all that important. What is more relevant is that he's on a list that said he was already detained.
Something I'm always focused on is how these incidents play out on social media. How information comes out and from who, what kinds of imagery arises and from where. While some criminals in the past have partaken in the distribution of material, for the most part that has occurred from the press and somewhat reputable anonymous citizen reporter social media accounts. In other words, instead of creating a social media account and uploading the content themselves. They will send it to someone else who already has a social media presence.
In the case of a crime scene, the assumption has always been that the photographs were coming from first responders, CSI technicians, or law enforcement. Who again, would not post them directly to social media themselves, but instead pass them to an intermediary. This makes sense, in the heat of the moment criminals aren't pulling out their phones to film it all. There are of course exceptions where part of the plan is to film it all. But for the most part they aren't going around filming themselves assassinating people.
There could be periods though when those who typically are the ones leaking photographs of crime scenes and narco-messages to the press and others decided not to. The reason isn't all that important as is thinking about how the criminals would respond. It seems logical that they would respond by taking the pictures themselves. The potential effectiveness of the narco-message is in part connected to how well its message is disseminated. Why do you think they hang them from bridges over busy streets sometimes? We can't forget that at the most basic level, narco-messages are forms of influence. Though I do think criminals misinterpret how effective these things are to begin with in this day and age. But old habits die hard.
At the beginning of October when the frequency of narco-messages was daily I had commented on Twitter that pictures of some of them appeared to be taken by the criminals themselves following the act. In addition, I had discovered a newly created Facebook account that they were originating from. A lot of those pictures had involved cursive lettering. Originally they were tagged with Guanajuatense, the Facebook account was called El Guanajuatense. Here is one from October 1.
I warn you that the picture below is extremely graphic. I don't share this picture lightly. But it reveals some important things that are relevant. Some people might think that this stuff happens all the time. But on a consistent basis, few incidents are so heinous and performative as this. Add the professionally made gigantic narco-message and it is safe to conclude that whoever did this is closely associated with whatever you'd consider the leadership of CJNG. In other words, it's unlikely something that mercenaries would do. More someone who was genuinely dedicated and invested in the cause, permanently on the payroll. Also the picture is about as clear as it gets in terms of things, coincidentally the cursive letter G not obstructing either of the texts.
In all of these instances the photographs are clear and in the case of the assassinations appear taken almost immediately after. They are all then uploaded to Facebook and marked with cursive lettering. The neon green one above appears to show a foot in the bottom left corner. Positioned to make sure the paper is spread out in order to capture its entirety.
The Facebook account in October didn't last long, either being banned or deleted. I hadn't seen any pictures coming out with a single cursive letter for a while. Until on Wednesday when the hit on El Wualo took place.
This picture was first posted to a Facebook group focused on news from Salamanca, a neighboring municipality. Compared to the picture of the same narco-message shown first, the paper looks almost pristine. The shadow is clearly of the person taking the photograph, could it be the killer?
While the picture above is the first picture taken, it wasn't the first to appear on Facebook of the narco-message. A popular account known in the area unsurprising had the first picture, first released with their watermark but soon it was going around without it. This picture was obviously taken after the picture above telling by the condition that the piece of paper is in.
The account that posted the first picture that was taken offers us some clues but nothing conclusive. It was created at the end of April this year, so it would have been active when the account I had observed in October was active. In fact, it posted a picture, the picture in the middle above without the white capital cursive letter, and with a different tag. Which is interesting, it could indicate that this account is the original applier of the cursive lettering, and the one I observed potentially set up for a particular purpose before being deleted when it was no longer needed. That picture and others are tagged with La Noticia. This account is not as focused as the one I had observed in October that was only posting these pictures but still the majority are of that nature. I've noticed different variations as well. Below pictured is the name of a neighboring municipality to Celaya written in the cursive lettering, the other shows a black capital G.
From the open source information we have available it's impossible to tell if this account is an intermediary or if it's someone who's closely associated with CJNG. But what seems fairly evident is that some of the pictures coming from this account are being taken by the criminals themselves. It's difficult for us to conclude why in these instances they've taken a more active role in capturing the crimes. The simplest explanation is probably to improve efficiency in getting the message out there. Most, if not all include some form of narco-message. It doesn't seem all that surprising that in October, when things were at their peak in terms of violence for the area, that CJNG would have it's most skilled in and around, who would utilize social media more so than usual to get the message out.
Increasingly over the last two years the conversation has focused on the relationship between organized crime groups (OCG) and the state. A book published this year titled "Votes, Drugs, and Violence" puts in tremendous work on helping to answer this question. One main concept they put forth is the gray zone of criminality. From what I've read so far, I feel this section in particular can help us better understand this incident detailed above.
Emphasis is theirs, though in original text it is italicized not bold.
Recognizing that the borders between the spheres of the state and crime can overlap, we take a step further and consider the intersection of crime and the state as an ontological feature of organized crime. As shown in Figure I.I, we call the area where crime and the state overlap the gray zone of criminality. The gray zone is the area where members of the armed forces, the police, pro-government militias, public prosecutors, and directors of penitentiaries exist alongside a wide variety of criminal organizations. These are not parallel orders but an ecosystem of coercion, corruption, and criminality where the interactions between state agents and private economic groups give rise to organized crime.²
We make the strong assumption that organized crime can only exist in the gray zone in which criminal groups enjoy some level of informal government protection, which is typically provided by agents from state security forces and judicial institutions. Outside the gray zone, criminal groups are simply common criminals and states are law enforcement agents. This definition recognizes two faces of crime; common criminals, for whom the state is the enemy, and organized crime groups, for whom access to informal networks of state protection is the fuel that feeds their organism.³ This definition also recognizes two faces of the state: state agents who do not collude with organized crime but actually fight it, and state agents who create informal networks of government protection that facilitate the existence of organized crime.
Defining the two faces of crime and the state and identifying the gray zone of criminality as the ecosystem in which organized crime can breathe, grow, and reproduce takes us away from traditional literature on crime. Whereas the criminology literature distinguishes between common criminals and organized criminal groups on the basis of levels of organization, for us the key definitional distinction stems from the forms of engagement with the state. While common criminals do have a zero-sum relationship with state agents, the crucial theoretical point for us is that organized crime can only exist when criminal organizations gain some level of state protection to operate illicit markets. One important implication is that defining OCGs solely as private economic groups that operate illicit markets – as the criminology literature does – becomes problematic. Because state support is ontologically constitutive of organized crime, OCGs cannot strictly be a private phenomenon. Another implication is that understanding OCGs as non-political actors may be misleading. Because state agents are elected officials or because elected officials oversee security agents, their association with organized crime implicitly connects OCGs with the sphere of politics.
² Students of the mafia in Italy have made active use of the concept of the gray zone to
conceptualize the environment where the mafia operates. Understanding the mafia as the
networks of brokers who connect the illicit and the licit worlds, in this formulation the
gray zone is “inhabited by professionals from the public and private sectors such as
businessmen, lawyers, notaries, engineers, architects, doctors, and even people in positions
of responsibility such as judges, politicians, law enforcement officers, public sector managers, accountants and solicitors, [who have an] … invisible but vital relationship with
mafia organisations …” (Allum, Merlino, and Colletti 2019, p. 80). The main difference
between this relational approach and ours is the key role that state specialists in violence –
armed forces, the police, pro-government militias and members of the judicial and penitentiary systems – play in enabling the existence of organized crime in our formulation.
³ Common criminals are individuals or small groups of bandits whose main illicit activities
pertain to the underworld of petty theft – e.g., shoplifting, pickpocketing, and home
robberies. For the most part, these are illicit activities for which criminals do not require
access to informal networks of state protection. Organized criminal groups, as we explain
in the next few pages, are groups of bandits that engage in illicit activities for which they
must have access to informal state protection – e.g., drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and human smuggling.
If we're of the understanding that this incident was perpetrated by CJNG, an organized crime group and not common criminals. We could then conclude that those who committed it had some form of informal protection from the state. Because as argued above, organized crime can only exist within the gray zone of criminality. And the gray zone of criminality can only exist with informal protection networks from the state.
That is not to say that such protection necessarily extends to each individual act. Meaning even if the perpetrators operate in the gray zone of criminality, it doesn't imply that the state had a direct involvement in providing protection for each act. But more so that those operating in the gray zone of criminality if caught, have people working on the inside to corrupt the process in their favor. There are certainly exceptions, where the protection looks less informal. But a promise of impunity without any drama sounds fantastical. Look at Ceinfuegos, if he's eventually let-off-the-hook it won't be without a bunch of drama along the way. Those who have more people corrupting the process in their favor than not, go free.
Even though the gray zone exists, we mustn't forget the white zone is still there. The incident detailed provides a good example, you have organized criminals pursued by the state following an assassination and killed. But I thought they had protection?
This definition also recognizes two faces of the state: state agents who do not collude with organized crime but actually fight it, and state agents who create informal networks of government protection that facilitate the existence of organized crime.
The gray zone of criminality because of the white zone cannot always guarantee a free pass. In other words, shit happens.
With all this in mind, when we see incidents that seem organized crime related we should not forget the involvement of the state. Even if the states involvement is unapparent or indirect, it is still inherently involved. Organized crime can only exist with the gray zone of criminality which can only exist with informal protection from state agents.
I don't want to go too far here in an effort to avoid mischaracterization since I myself am still working towards fully understanding the text. But I've been thinking a lot about this book and what they put forth with the gray zone of criminality.
Where that leaves us
The crucial moment that is clipped from the security footage of the hit on El Wualo is the moment in which he would have potentially taken out his phone and took a picture. Presumably it'd be sent to his boss immediately after taking it as proof, before the pursuit and all that. The boss would then be in charge of distributing it to the intermediary. That would ensure that regardless of who is doing the killing and taking the pictures, it all goes to the same intermediary.
The couple seconds between when the security camera footage stops and him getting back into the car could either blow my whole theory out the window or prove that I'm right. If I'm wrong, well, the cursive lettering must be the mark of some speedy person who's always on scene moments afterwards. But if I'm correct and the criminals are themselves taking these pictures then distributing them in a semi-organized fashion, this is the most apparent and deliberate operation I've observed myself.
We can only guess at the reasons why El Wualo was targeted on Wednesday. The statements from officials in Guanajuato to Milenio claim that he wasn't a priority target for them and that his involvement within CSRL wasn't significant. But, they also claim in the document obtained by La Silla Rota that he was detained. Had El Wualo managed to somehow finagle his way out of prison and was back on the streets? Who knows. It seems more likely the document contained outdated information.
One could probably put forth that, being all signs point to CSRL on it's way out in Guanajuato, it would be in the best interest of CJNG, who's on its way in, to take out the remaining CSRL leadership. Two obvious ways exist to take someone out of the game, either by death or arrest. Regardless of which, such an incident involving organized crime would only be found and could only exist, within the gray zone of criminality.