El Mencho, Mexico's crazy new drug lord, is making Spring Break less safe
If you're planning for a Spring Break destination, you consider which towns have the best beaches, rowdiest bars and smallest swimsuits.
And, if you're thinking about Spring Break in Mexico, you think about the violence.
Beach towns have largely existed in an oasis of peace. In the past. you could do shots, make out on the beach, and generally disgrace yourself in safety. But the violence is starting to trickle into the tourist towns like a rising tide.
In Los Cabos, a beach town at the tip of Baja, California, law enforcement unearthed 14 dead bodies near a marine preserve and discovered a bag full of body parts on the road leading to the tourist district. In Cancun, a party town on the Caribbean, there was a shootout last month in a nightclub on the strip of tourists; three men were killed.
Some analysts worry that the bubble of safety around these Spring Break spots might be about to burst completely. The State Department recently warned Americans to be careful in Los Cabos, and issued a travel warning for Cancun.
This is all because of the Mexican Drug War — which is really the Mexican theater of the American War on Drugs. The Mexican theater has been going hard since 2006, when president Felipe Calderon sent the military after the cartels, only to find out that the cartels have militaries of their own. In the years since, two football stadiums worth of people have been murdered.
It's long been scary. Now, it's even scarier. And the reason your Spring Break is now threatened is not because the government has failed a lot, it's because, in one case, the government succeeded big time.
They arrested the most wanted drug lord in the world, the notorious El Chapo Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, nearly two years ago. His cartel ran heroin, laundered money, shot rivals and controlled most of the drug trade in the western part of Mexico. El Chapo was worth more than a billion dollars. Today, he sits in solitary confinement in a cell in New York.
Cops seem to think they can end the drug war, and the violence, by arresting the guy at the top. But no. Busting the biggest drug boss in the world just unleashes the demons underneath him.
See, El Chapo's gang controlled so much territory that they enforced a kind of peace, the way a high school with one gang is safer than a high school where two gangs fight for respect. Scholars called it the Pax Sinaloa — the Sinaloan Peace.
When El Chapo was arrested, the Sinaloan Cartel disintegrated. Into that power vacuum poured some of the nastiest warriors this world has seen. Violence is up by as much as 60 percent in the region that Sinaloa controlled. The most deadly is the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Mexican ISIS. Where the Sinaloans would shoot you, the New Generation will cut your head off on camera. While the Sinaloans would kill your family, the New Generation will rape your children and burn them alive.
And the New Generation cares less about staying out of the wet t-shirt contests and Señor Frog's of the hot beach resorts.
The New Generation leader — Mexico's new El Chapo — is Rubén Oseguera Cervantes, who goes by El Mencho — The Nemesis. Some are calling El Mencho the most ruthless drug lord since Pablo Escobar. He tortures kids, rapes women and offs YouTube stars for insulting him. "He just has zero regard for human life," a source told Rolling Stone.
El Mencho's bloodthirst — deeper than El Chapo's — is affecting America's favorite vacation spots.
El Chapo didn't mess with Americans; he knew that killing Americans has big consequences. There's an investigation, news reports and bad PR.
But El Mencho seems to care less.
Last year, his henchmen burst into an upscale restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, a normally quiet tourist haven on the Pacific Ocean. The gangsters didn't care that Americans were in there. Didn't care that it would raise alarms. They just wanted their prey: two of El Chapo's sons, who were having dinner there, whom they kidnapped. El Mencho wanted to prove he owns El Chapo's former empire, down to his kids.
Another reason for the violence? Meth. Stimulant use is on the rise in America. And while El Chapo's gang tended toward shipping and using cocaine and heroin, El Mencho's cartel churns out meth. They make it in underground labs using chemicals imported from Asia, and ship it up to the States — El Mencho even has submarines.
The New Generation's soldiers also snort it, with scary consequences. More than heroin or cocaine or most other drugs, meth makes people unhinged, paranoid and aggressive, making El Mencho's thugs as violent as any ever. And they're on the verge of coming to the beaches.
There's a lot at stake. Vacationers in Mexico spend an estimated $20 billion a year in the resorts, beaches and strip clubs. The Mexican government is desperate not to lose that revenue.
"Tourist security has been a constant priority for the authorities," Daniel Flota Ocampo, director of Riviera Maya Tourist Promotion, told USA Today. He described the violence as "criminal groups settling scores among themselves" and said authorities are taking action against them. "No tourists have been impacted," he said.
A Mexican tour operator told USA Today: “If you’re not in that (criminal) circle, you’re fine,”
Still, it's a scary thought, that violence might rip apart your vacation. Scary that there could be so many unintended consequences of America's War on Drugs. And scary that so few politicians are talking about changing the laws.