Real life "Breaking Bad" drug cartel boss (Part 1)

Thursday, February 6, 2014 - 2:43pm


Cold blooded murder, crystal meth, and volunteer vigilantes who take on a notorious drug cartel that's wreaked havoc on their home state. In Mexico's Michoacan that's the reality of daily life. It's in that Western state where, for the past year, citizens have confronted the tyranny of the Knights Templar, an organized crime group that not only controls the production of crystal meth but also engages in large scale extortion and it's prompted the Mexican government to act.

Guillermo Galdos is a reporter for Britain's Channel 4 and brings us face to face with the tragedy of Michoacan and introduces us to the leader of the Knights Templar.

It's early evening, we're driving through the lawless Eastern state of Michoacan, on our way to meet one of the most wanted men in the whole of Mexico. I wanted to investigate, this state that's effectively ruled by a drug baron. His name is Servando Gomez, his nickname is La Tuta.

He leads the notorious Knights Templar drug cartel. They have carried out thousands of gruesome murders among people who don't obey their rules. La Tuta is on the run, $2.5 million dollars on his head.

A former school teacher who turned to cooking crystal meth, he's Mexico's answer to Breaking Bad.

As we arrive, all cameras are turned off. Then, there he is, whiskey in hand and a gun in his back pocket.

He insists we talk in front of a white board to disguise his hideout. The atmosphere is tense, we are surrounded by heavily armed guards, so I try to make some small talk, "Breaking Bad' means turning bad in English. And for me, it's one of the best TV series ever."

La Tuta, "Listen, If you knew how it (Meth) is made, you'd think the people who take it are really stupid! It's made from acid, the acid from car batteries."

Guillermo Galdos, "Yes, it makes your teeth fall out."

La Tuta, "Everything falls out. I repeat, we are not going to fix the world. And that's business. There are people who dedicate themselves to business, but we all know that this is business."

Despite its beauty, the State of Michoacan is riddled with violence. La Tuta rules here like an unofficial governor, this is his kingdom, everything has been corrupted.

The Knights Templar rule through a mixture of fear and intimidation, thousands have died. Even the Catholic Church is afraid.

Monsignor Juan Espinoza, Morelia Diocese, "All those who live and work here in Michoacan live in fear. It's a fear we all have. We don't trust anyone, we feel fear when a van comes towards us or when strangers approach. Of course it scares us and some of my brother priests have suffered difficult situations because of organized crime."

With guns and money La Tuta has a bizarre celebrity status. Despite being on the run, he makes the occasional public appearance. He hands out money to the mothers, with money you can buy entire towns here.

La Tuta, "Ever since I was a little boy I was always altruistic. My mother told me 35 years ago that I would never have any money because I was always giving it away. As we told you: we are a 'necessary evil," unfortunately, or fortunately, we are here. If we weren't, another group would come."

La Tuta's web stretches from the capitol in Morelia to the vast sea port of Lazaro Cardenas on the Western coast. Although the port is in government hands, the cartel still does business here, with the export of illegal iron ore.

We secured rare access to a mine run by the Knights Templar, we spoke to one miner who told us about their clients, "The companies that are exporting the minerals are Chinese. They know the minerals are illegal, but they've found their own little pot of gold. The companies you call illegal sell the minerals to legal companies so it can be exported.

Guillermo Galdos, "So they 'launder' the minerals?"

Miner, "Yes they do. If it's $13 million per ship, and we have around 30 ships per year, imagine how much money that is."

Guillermo Galdos, "And how much of that money is going to organized crime?"

Miner, "50 to 75 per cent."

Guillermo Galdos, "It's a lot."

Miner, "Yes!"

Guillermo Galdos, "So they make more money from iron than they do from drugs?"

Miner, "Of course, of course, or course."

Astonishingly, La Tuta confirmed that he does do business with the Chinese.

Guillermo Galdos, "What do you think of the Chinese?"

La Tuta, "Like everyone, they have the right to do business and expand their markets. Or to create more employment or more industry. The Chinese have some huge transnationals. They are really tough mother f**kers. Not one Chinese businessman has been kidnapped."

The Knights Templar are entrenched in every aspect of the state economy, but in some villages, ordinary citizens are fighting back.

They've had enough of the cartel and its cruelty. They call themselves "self defense units" in other words, armed vigilantes, protecting their communities because, they say, the corrupt local police are failing to do it. Their enemy is La Tuta and his men.

Hipolito Mora, Self-defense unit leader, "La Tuta? La Tuta. How can someone who chops off heads be well?"

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