Travel around the state of Michoacan these days and it’s about impossible to find anyone who believes Nazario Moreno is really dead.
He is a drug lord ‘ghost.’
Before his apparent demise on Dec. 10, 2010, Moreno led a crime group known as La Familia Michoacana, a cartel that was different than other drug-trafficking groups. The gang played off Michoacan pride and deep-seated grievances with the central government. Rather than kinship, it was regionalism and pseudo-religious sentiment that bound the group.
Then there was the personal style of Moreno, who cast himself not only as alpha dog but as the group’s spiritual leader. He embraced nicknames like “El Mas Loco,” or “The Craziest One.” He’s also known as “El Doctor” and “El Chayo.”
Moreno penned quasi-religious self-help pamphlets, urging followers to voice their love for their family and to use good manners. Click here for an article I wrote about him in 2010.
Then in mid-December of that year, the government of then-President Felipe Calderon suggested that soldiers on a raid in Apatzingan had gunned down Moreno.
"Various pieces of information obtained during the operation coincide in indicating that Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was shot dead yesterday," said Alejandro Poire, the former security spokesman for Calderon. Poire did not provide any evidence, and no body was ever recovered.
Afterward, La Familia disintegrated and a faction formed a new group, the Knights Templar.
One a recent trip to Michoacan, I found only people who believe Moreno is very much alive and leading the Knights Templar.
This belief was repeated on national radio this morning when Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, a self-defense group leader, told MVS Radio that Moreno “is alive.” Mireles, who is the subject of a profile that McClatchy is publishing in a few hours, said Moreno now goes by the name of Ernesto Morelos Villa, a combination of the names of his apparent heroes: Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and Jose Maria Morelos and Pancho Villa, both Mexican revolutionary patriots.
A few months ago, columnist Martin Moreno wrote that El Mas Loco “will go down in history as the man who died twice: Once when it was convenient and again when it actually happens.”
No one I spoke to said they’d seen Moreno directly. All said they knew people who had either seen him on recent videos or seen him directly.
The U.S. government still maintains on the internet this chart of La Familia displaying Nazario prominently as a leader.
Moreno is far from the first case of a ”dead” drug lord who may not be dead. As this AFP story notes, drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes allegedly died in 1997 while undergoing plastic surgery but his body never turned up. Then last year, the navy said it had killed Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano. An armed squad later burst into a funeral home and abducted the body, leaving no evidence to substantiate the death.