By RICARDO CASTILLO
José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, alias “El Marro” or “The Sledgehammer,” rose up the ranks of Mexico’s crime hierarchy from a petty thief to leader and founder of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.
El Marro was arrested on Sunday, Aug. 2, and is to be arraigned at the maximum-security prison at Almoloya de Juárez in the State of Mexico. Yes, the very same one from which Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán escaped in January 2017.
Thus far. investigators have released information linking Yépez Ortiz to around 100 suspects who form part of the cartel, whose operations grounds in the state of Guanajuato are known as the Bermuda Triangle, an area where El Marro’s gang has wreaked havoc over the past year and a half.
El Marro’s Bermuda Triangle covers some 17 municipalities of the state of Guanajuato, including Celaya, Irapuato, Salamanca and León. Santa Rosa de Lima is between Celaya and Salamanca on the map. In fact, for over a year now, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico has warned its officials not to travel on the road linking these municipalities because it is unsafe.
El Marro began his criminal career in 2008 doing truck driver heists until he was busted and jailed. After his release, he went to work for the Zetas criminal organization as part of a cell. But, the Mexican government eliminated the Zetas, so he joined groups who found a treasure milking gasoline from Pemex ducts.
Yépez Ortiz made a career of stealing fuel, and by 2017, he launched publicly the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel with a video showing over 100 heavily armed and uniformed men aimed at combatting the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (which wanted to push him out of the business to take over his operations for themselves). “Guanajuato is ours” and “The Bermuda Triangle is our territory” were the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel’s war cries.
According to the National Public Security System, the number of intentional murders (hits) in the state rose from 1,096 in 2016 to 3,540 in 2019 and the figure for January to June of this year was is 2,293, making Guanajuato Número Uno for murders in the nation.
Authorities claim that the high figure of homicides, particularly for a territorially small state such as Guanajuato, is the result of a gang war between the Santa Rosa and Jalisco New Generation cartels.
Problems for Yépez Ortiz and his group actually began back in January 2019, when then-new Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared an open war against “huachicol” (pronounce wachy-kol) or fuel milking from Pemex ducts.
By that time, Yépez Ortíz had established a smooth black market operation, selling stolen fuel all along the Bermuda Triangle, of course, at lower than market prices. His fuel sold like hotcakes in poor farming communities, as well as with large road transport companies operating out of Queretaro.
Then came the first deadly blow. AMLO ordered the Army, the Navy and the Federal Police to stop the thieving gangs operating not just out of the Salamanca refinery, but out of many other places in the nation, such as the state of Puebla.
Upon seeing that the theft didn’t stop, AMLO ordered the Salamanca refinery shut down, drying out all the ducts and even creating a near national fuel shortage crisis.
The reaction of Yépez Ortiz was one of rage. Besides violent acts such as leaving behind dynamite-laden vehicles, the Santa Rosa Cartel leader went ahead and left a handwritten threat against the president that if the Army and Navy did not evacuate the plant, he would start a war against innocent civilians. He also wrote AMLO, “Get out of my refinery.” His threat, of course, went unheeded.
As promised, Yépez Ortiz did go against civilian society setting up shop in the industrial city Celaya, which has since seen a steady rise in murders. Just last week, Yépez Ortiz’s collectors murdered three men running a street taco shop for refusing to pay “right of land use” fee, an added illegal tax to what street vendors pay the municipal government.
In fact, in a moment of desperation, earlier this year, all the tortilla shops or tortillerías in Celaya closed down because their operators were being killed for not paying right of land use fee to the Yépez Ortiz cartel.
The cartel also expanded into other criminal activities, such as kidnapping, striking terror in the hearts of local farmers and businessmen.
Fact: When arrested in the wee hours of Sunday, at the place he was hiding in the nearby municipality Juventino Rosas, the Army an Navy soldiers found a well-to-do woman from Apaseo el Grande who had been kidnapped by the gang.
Yépez Ortiz no doubt likes publicity, and last June he came out with videos on social media when his father, mother and sister were arrested for collaborating with him. But local judges in Guanajuato decided the arrest warrants for the family members were not valid, and let them go. El Marro was furious over their arrests, and in his obscenity-laden language threatened the Mexican government with worse deeds, literally declaring himself a national public enemy.
After El Marro’s arrest was announced on Sunday, authorities expected for Yépez Ortiz’s men to do what they did last June, when his parents were arrested. At that time, they went out on the Celaya highway on a violent rampage, stealing and burning cars, and setting convenience stores aflame. Surprise, it did not happen.
Since El Marro’s detention on Sunday, there have been at least nine murders in the state, but none of them have been directly linked to retaliation for his arrest.
So, does this mean that the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel gang is finished with the rampages of El Marro? At first look, it would seem so. Let’s hope it is. Just for kidnapping alone, criminals in Mexico are now getting 60-year sentences.
If that is the case, then the government has still another gang to deal with, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which also has declared war on the government.
…Aug. 4, 2020