El Chapo's capture (and re-capture) by the authorities has left a disastrous and bloody power vacuum inside the drug cartels of Mexico, and in a recent Rolling Stone profile, a man who is poised to take over where El Chapo left off was introduced to much of America. Despite a drug trafficking indictment in a DC federal court and a $5 million bounty over his head, Rubén Oseguera Cervantes, better known as El Mencho, doesn't have much in the way of illicit celebrity in the United States.
El Mencho is the head of the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, thought by some experts to be both the richest and the deadliest drug cartel in Mexico. They've achieved dominance despite only being operational for about five years, avoiding a dangerously high profile in the United States and focusing on methamphetamine markets across Europe and Asia. This strategy, along with El Mencho's "aggressive" leadership style, has allowed the CJNG to amass a war chest that may be worth up to $20 billion – much more than El Chapo's Sinaloa Cartel ever had, according to one anonymous DEA source. And in this particular context, "aggressive leadership style" is not some boardroom euphemism, but an actual reflection of El Mencho's violent approach to the drug business. Scott Stewart is a senior cartel analyst at a private intelligence firm, and he summed up the situation like this:
"We've seen it become very bloody, and a lot of people attribute that to El Mencho himself. Wherever they try to muscle in, it creates bodies."
Mencho has distinguished himself from El Chapo in the way he dishes out violence toward his enemies, erring on the side of public spectacle in some cases. In 2011, he reportedly arranged for 35 people to be bound and tortured before their bodies were dumped on busy streets in Veracruz. Two years after that, a ten-year-old girl whom members of the CJNG cartel believed was the daughter of a business rival was found raped, murdered, and set on fire. In 2015, a man and his young son were executed via dynamite as CJNG members recorded it with their cell phones. The year after that, El Chapo's own sons were kidnapped, followed by the payment of a $2 million (plus a large quantity of drugs) ransom. These crimes are all reported in the Rolling Stone piece, where one DEA source is quoted, go so far as to liken the cartel's activities to ISIS:
"This is ISIS stuff. The manner in which they kill people, the sheer numbers – it's unparalleled even in Mexico."
Mencho is reported to have smuggled drugs using everything from submarines to fashion models. He uses bribery and intimidation to influence local law enforcement, and one anecdote has him sending a severed pig's head to the Mexican attorney general "as a warning."
El Mencho has made a serious business out of maintaining an almost unbelievably low profile. Currently believed to be hiding in a remote, mountainous area somewhere in Mexico, few photos of him exist, and the State Department's official description has little that could identify one specific man in a lineup: "He's five feet eight, 165 pounds, brown eyes, brown hair." Narco lore sometimes calls him "The Lord of the Roosters" for his love of six-figure cockfights, but beyond that he is described as a ghost and a cipher by those whose job it is to track him down. No one knows how his story will end, but one DEA agent has a prediction: "I'd be surprised if they captured him alive."