How a powerful gang leader became a victim of Mexico's bloody cartel wars

At his peak, he was known as "El Cholo," a prominent gangster and presumed head of the Nueva Plaza Cartel, a criminal organization based in Guadalajara, Mexico.

But in the end, he was simply Carlos Enrique Sánchez, his body left wrapped in plastic on a park bench in downtown Tlaquepaque, the Mexican state of Jalisco — yet another casualty in Mexico's bloody cartel wars.

A former member of the notorious Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), El Cholo once was considered the right-hand man of El Mencho, one of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's most-wanted drug lords.

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But El Cholo separated from the cartel in 2017 after allegedly ordering the killing of Marcos Hernández, a cartel financial operator who told El Mencho about robberies El Cholo supposedly committed, according to Mexican security sources based in Jalisco that requested anonymity for fear of retaliation.

Carlos Enrique Sánchez, aka El Cholo, was a cartel boss who was killed by a rival gang and left wrapped in plastic on a park bench in Mexico.
Carlos Enrique Sánchez, aka El Cholo, was a cartel boss who was killed by a rival gang and left wrapped in plastic on a park bench in Mexico.

El Cholo formed his own gang, the “Nueva Plaza Cartel,” financially supported by the Sinaloa Cartel, one of CJNG’s biggest enemies. CJNG and the Nueva Plaza Cartel fought over the years to control Mexico’s western states.

In a video that went viral on the internet, heavily armed men guarded a handcuffed man speaking to the camera.

“My name is Carlos Enrique Sánchez Martínez, aka El Cholo,” said the man on the video in Spanish. “I met (Mexico City police chief) Omar Garcia Harfuch in Mexico City to ask for support, as we both are CJNG’s enemies."

The man claiming to be El Cholo finished the video advising his supporters to stop following him.

"You guys that still support me, stop doing it, and dedicate to your family," he said. "Look how I ended.”

Jalisco’s Attorney General Gerardo Solis said all indications suggest the man on the video is Carlos Sánchez Martínez, or El Cholo.

In June 2020, Harfuch blamed CJNG for an assassination attempt that left him seriously injured and killed two of his friends. "Our nation must continue to confront the cowardly organized crime," he tweeted.

More: A ruthless Mexican drug lord’s empire is devastating families with its grip on small-town USAAfter the attack, at least a dozen suspects, members of the CJNG cartel, were detained, according to Mexico City’s attorney general. But El Mencho, whose name is Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, remains free.

El Cholo wasn't so fortunate. On March 18, the same day the video went viral, a body was left on a park bench in Jardin Hidalgo, a park near the City Hall of Tlaquepaque.

The body was wrapped in plastic, stuck with two knives that pinned signs saying: “The traitor, El Cholo.”

Jalisco’s Attorney General Office said families identified the body as El Cholo.

Authorities said an investigation is ongoing into the vehicles and people who participated in throwing the body in the main square.

Such practices are not new to CJNG, known for bloody killings, dismembered bodies and recorded video of their actions.

“Unfortunately, the decapitated bodies, corpses hanging from bridges and remains with narco blankets are part of the daily landscape of violence that is experienced in many parts of the country," said David Saucedo, a security analyst based in Mexico.

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In the first two months of 2021, Jalisco has officially registered 494 deaths.

On Dec. 18, the former governor of Jalisco, Aristóteles Sandoval, was shot to death in a Puerto Vallarta restaurant. Last year, Mexican authorities found 559 mass graves in a country with more than 80,000 missing people. Authorities have recovered nearly 1,100 bodies — 433 in Jalisco.

More violence was expected after the death of El Cholo, with experts predicting a dangerous offensive by the Nueva Plaza Cartel against El Mencho’s cartel.

Instead, a surprising but tense calm hung over the city, said security analyst Saucedo. “We expected an aggressive reaction from the Nueva Plaza Cartel, but there wasn’t. It seemed that the cartel was OK with the killing.”

But it is clear El Mencho was sending a message, Saucedo said.

"Leaving the body in broad daylight is to intimidate enemies, Saucedo said. "'El Cholo' wasn’t killed during a clash; he was captured, interrogated, tortured and finally murdered."

"This is a message from El Mencho to his own people: Any member of CJNG who dares to rebel or to separate from the organization will have this end," he added.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Cartel boss El Cholo becomes a casualty of Mexico's bloody drug wars