Leaked intelligence revealed that the drug cartel Nueva Familia Michoacana, who recently had journalists abducted, was taking in over 10 million pesos every month by strong-arming a foreign mining company.
Their extortion of the gold mine may be continuing to this very day.
A Kid, Like Any Other
At the beginning of December 2022, Alan García Aguilar was unknown to the public. He enjoyed traveling around his home state, posting on social media and studying. He was just a normal, young guy – just like millions of other Mexican citizens.
García Aguilar was born in the small town of Sinahua, located in Pungarabato municipality. Sinahua lies within the Tierra Caliente region of the state of Guerrero, which is one of the poorest areas not only in the state – but in the whole country.
García Aguilar was considered an excellent student at at his high school, Preparatory School #9 Comandante Che Guevara and he managed to get accepted to the University Autónoma de Guerrero. He graduated with a degree in Public Administration and Political Science.
He was granted a public scholarship to go to the University Complutense de Madrid in Spain, for six months to participate in a study on the effectiveness of electronic systems in managing public resources.
When he returned from Spain, he was given an award by the municipality of Chilpancingo for academic accomplishments.
He would go on to be appointed president of the student brigade, in Acapulco, Guerrero which was leading an important collaboration between his university and the federal Attorney General’s Office (FGR). The collaboration involved hosting townhouse-style meetings in which public security issues were discussed.
But under this veneer of normality, García Aguilar was actually doing much, much more. He was daring to do what most of his fellow countrymen were too afraid to try – he was investigating the ugly underbelly of Mexico.
At some point in 2018, García Aguilar created the Facebook page “Escenario Calentano”, which reported on the organized crime groups terrorizing his home region, the Tierra Caliente region of Guerrero.
The Escenario Calentano page posted about the local violence perpetrated by cartel groups. It also focused on instances where cartel groups had bribed and corrupted regional politicians, from every political party – a commonplace practice in Guerrero since the late 1990s.
Some of their posts were very straightforward, such as the one published on December 11, 2022, which accused the PRI mayor of Arcelia, Bulmaro Torres Berum of being a “narco-mayor” who had embezzled municipal funds to build himself a new house.
In the spirit of full disclosure, it’s important to acknowledge that many of the claims published by Escenario Calentano did not cite sufficient enough evidence to merit the accusation.
However, the fact remains that Escenario Calentano was bravely giving the real name of local cartel members and denouncing instances when certain political leaders associated with cartel groups.
García Aguilar wrote anonymously on Escenario Calentano. The page was just one of many other anonymous pages which covered cartel activity and García Aguilar took care to not personally identify himself in any way, ensuring that he could not be tracked down by cartel members. At least this is what was believed by everyone… until it wasn’t.
On January 7, 2023, the Escenario Calentano page posted a video. The footage depicted two young men, hands and feet bound in metal chains, who were sitting on plastic chairs. The men told the camera that they were Fernando Moreno Villegas and Alan García Aguilar, writers from the Escenario Calentano page.
The men said they were paying the consequences for publishing information about certain people on the internet. Alan García went on to explain that Escenario Calentano had been created in 2018 and that he assumed full responsibility for its content as the founder of the page.
The video was captioned, “This is for you, so you see that sooner or later we always end up finding these assholes. In order to prove we found them, we are publishing the video from their own account.”
Soon after the video was picked up by other outlets, the Escenario Calentano page was deleted from Facebook. The page remains deleted to this day.
Within hours, news about their kidnapping spread and journalists from across the world began reporting on the abduction. It was quickly discovered that a third journalist, Jesús Pintor Alegre, had also been kidnapped.
The reaction to this kind of journalist abduction has become almost routine, at this point.
First, social media users demanded that the journalists be released. Then a number of American and European media outlets wrote articles that are lengthy, yet often poorly researched. And then, bowing to public pressure, Mexican politicians release boilerplate press releases expressing their support for the journalists and stating that something must be done to free them.
On January 11, 2027, Jesús Pintor and Fernando Moreno were released by their captors. In a video posted by state authorities, both men said they were kidnapped (on different dates – Fernando Moreno on December 25 and Jesús Pintor on December 27) by “unknown people.”
They describe being taken to an unknown location, where their cellphones were taken. They claim that after the unknown people discovered that they had nothing to do with the Escenario Calentano page, they were set free.
Fernando Moreno, in particular, emphasized that he had nothing to do with the Facebook page and that Alan García was always the one behind the posts.
In typical fashion, media interest in the case dropped off quickly. Very few articles have touched the topic since the two men were released despite the fact that a third man was still missing, being held captive. Or so we thought.
Until that third man was released. Only problem is, he wasn’t Alan García Aguilar.
The Fourth Man
The name of the fourth man who was kidnapped is José Alberto Benítez Santos. He had also been kidnapped on December 25th but apparently no one had noted that a fourth person had been taken.
It‘s easy for a disappearance to go unnoticed in a place such as Guerrero, where there are currently thousands of people who have gone missing.
What makes less sense, though, is how his disappearance went unnoticed when Fernando Moreno personally knew Benítez Santos, the fourth missing man.
As Director of Communications for the town of Arcelia, Fernando Moreno had, in fact, hired Benítez Santos to help manage their social media presence. It’s interesting to note that since their kidnapping, both men have been dismissed from their jobs at the Arcelia town hall.
All too quickly the articles, videos, posts and tweets about the journalists kidnapped in Guerrero stopped trickling in.
It’s inevitable that their story will be buried, lost in the vast pile of similar incidents in Mexico.
If a new, even more gruesome attack against journalists occurs, the story of García Aguilar might be mentioned in passing, merely listed off alongside a host of other examples – none of which peak the public interest anymore.
So, how can anyone break this cycle? How can one possibly make this time different for narcos who attacked him?
Well, let’s try taking a look at one of the secret revenue sources funding the perpetrators and explore an under-reported aspect of how the killers, El Pez and El Fresa, finance their cartel empire.
But to do this, we must first delve into the heart of a land which is ravaged by murderers, ensconced in the lies of the corrupted, and drained of all money by the powerful. Tierra Caliente is a land where there is no home for the humble and no mercy for the helpless.
But it is also in this brutal place… that you find the most extraordinary acts of bravery.
Because truly, …how else could one describe the choices – the sacrifices Alan García Aguilar made?
The Context Behind the Kidnapping
In order to really understand what led to the kidnapping of the four men in December 2022, we must understand the context of the area.
The landscape of Guerrero has been marred by the presence of organized crime groups since at least the 1980s. A large part of its predominantly indigenous population lives in the Sierra mountains, where the corn and avocado plantations of old have been replaced by marijuana and poppy fields.
The rural areas of Guerrero, in particular, have been damaged the most by cartel groups. The local resources are used to fund their criminal activities and thus they are fought over, turning communities into battlefields.
These resources include:
The extortion of civilian businesses
The harvesting of the poppy and marijuana fields
The production of methamphetamine, using chemicals precursors imported through the ports of Zihuatanejo and Acapulco
The importation of cocaine through speed boats and specially designed submarines which travel from Colombia, Guatemala and Nicaragua
The importation, smuggling and sale of high caliber weapons
Much of the state is divided into private fiefdoms, were cartel bosses behave as middle-age kings.
Out of all the cartel groups which operate in the area, one group stands as the primary suspect in the kidnapping of Alan García Aguilar. The Nueva Familia Michoacana (NFM).
Who is this group and, more importantly, who are the leaders behind it?
They were born out of the remnants of the cartel group founded by Nazario Moreno González, alias “El Chayo” from La Familia Michoacana.
This group first appeared around the mid 2000s (although it likely existed, loosely, at the beginning of the 2000s) and primarily focused on the production of methamphetamine.
The group emerged when the southwestern Mexican coastal region was under siege, pushed in by the Gulf Cartel, helmed by Osiel Cárdenas Guillén at the time.
Cárdenas Guillén sent the CDG subgroup Los Zetas to the forefront of the warfront, using them as a battering ram. The sheer brutality of the Zetas advance into the area and the bloody battles against them was later used as a justification by then-president Felipe Calderón for his war on organized crime.
LFM grew, their recruitment spurred on by local hatred of Los Zetas. By 2011 to 2012, LFM splintered into two, with one half evolving into the Knights Templar (Caballeros Templarios, CT). The CT grew rapidly and drew much more media attention.
It quickly overshadowed the other splintered LFM half. In 2014, its founder El Chayo was killed after a previous series of fake deaths.
The CT would go on to wage a bloody war against a so-called autodefensa movement (self defense movement, akin to a local militia). Although it masqueraded as a civilian led movement, it was deeply penetrated by organized crime groups by both the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and CT defectors.
This conflict in many ways has not gone away, but merely evolved, becoming the CJNG forces versus a federation of local cartel figures called Carteles Unidos.
The largely-forgotten LFM splinter group survived. Capitalizing on the lack of public interest post-Chayo, it was able to engage in criminal enterprises with renewed vigor. It was in the middle of all this regional turmoil that we heard the names of the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers for the first time.
The Birth of a Monster
During Chayo’s years of dodging attention through a series of fake deaths, a series of other LFM leaders were allowed to play the part of his successor, allowing him to continue to lead from the shadows. When Chayo’s real death occurred, many of his pseudo-successors fought to grab more territory in the power vacuum which emerged.
In the State of Mexico, José María Chávez Magaña, alias “El Pony”, took the lead. The state mainly acted as a conduit, a staging ground, for illegal products bound for Mexico City.
As profiled by Milenio newspaper in 2014, El Pony was a trusted plaza boss who reported under El Chayo and the LFM leader Jesús Méndez Vargas, alias “El Chango Méndez”, who entrusted him with the Apatzingán plaza in 2008.
Satisfied with his handling of the area, Pony was sent by his bosses to the coastal region of Guerrero in 2010. He was tasked with increasing the region’s methamphetamine production.
Then in 2011, in the wake of the LFM split, El Pony was designated as the regional leader of the State of Mexico.
When new cartel groups began cropping up in the neighboring state of Guerrero, El Pony sent one of his enforcement cells to calm the waters. The group was made up of about 18 hitmen and led by (according to journalist Héctor de Mauleón) a brown-haired, brown-eyed thin man, who stood about 6 feet (1.84 m) tall.
This man was named Johnny Hurtado Olascoaga, known by the aliases of El Pez, El Pescado, El Fish, and El Mojarro.
Pez may have been chosen due to his roots in the area. Pez was born in the town of Arcelia, Guerrero, and raised alongside his brother José Alfredo Hurtado Olascoaga, alias “El Fresa”.
By February 2012, Pez had managed to corrupt and co-opt the 102nd Infantry Battalion into working with his enforcement cell in Guerrero. The soldiers passed on intelligence to Pez about incoming security operations, allowing him to dodge law enforcement efforts.
His collaboration with the battalion allowed him to develop an iron grip over the towns of San Miguel Totolapan, Arcelia, Teloloapan, Apaxtla, Altamirano and Acapetlahuaya in Guerrero and in towns of Tlatlaya, Luvianos, Amatepec and Tejupilco in the State of Mexico. His right hand man and second-in-command in managing these regions was his brother, El Fresa.
His control over the battalion, however, was not all encompassing, however, because on December 6, 2013, the 102nd killed 4 municipal government officials in the town of Palos Altos, Arcelia. Among the dead was Arcelia’s police chief Mario Urióstegui Pérez, alias “La Mona” – the father-in-law of El Pez.
A year later, Pez would have his revenge against his former collaborators.
On December 22, 2014, he ordered his hitmen to leave the dismembered remains of two men alongside a banner which read:
“To the Army and Navy,
Here’s your Christmas dinner. As much as I enjoy seeing your soldiers being sent to do your operation, I had to do this so that you know who is the real person in control of Guerrero.
I don’t give a fuck. And I’m giving you 24 hours to leave before I start killing each and every one of you in ambushes. You fucking corps, you’re never going to be stronger then me, the father that made you.
El Pez & M16
Long Live La Familia Michoacana”
El Pez’s criminal ambitions were put to the test in July 2014, El Pony was arrested, allowing Pez the chance to inherit Pony’s territories.
These territories encompassed the Tierra Caliente regions of Guerrero and the State of Mexico. Many believe that Pez was able to hand over because he had already established a foothold in the Tierra Caliente region through controlling the aforementioned towns.
The Rise of Nueva Familia Michoacana
With key regions in Guerrero and the State of Mexico now under the brother’s control, they were able to tap into supplying Mexico City, one of Latin America’s biggest drug consumption epicenters.
They were evidently effective at expanding into this market, because the next time the brothers made headlines it was on March 23, 2016, when the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR at the time) presented their 16 most wanted criminals in Guerrero.
Printed next to leadership figures from Los Rojos, La Barredora or Guerreros Unidos, stood the names of LFM’s El Pez, with a $3 million peso reward, and his brother La Fresa, with a 1.5 million peso reward.
The Hurtado Olascoaga brothers continued to grow their empire, rebranding their group as Nueva Familia Michoacana (NFM) and expanding into other markets such as extortion and kidnapping for ransom schemes.
They partnered with other criminal groups (possibly the CJNG, although evidence is scant) and began importing cocaine directly from South American providers, utilizing speedboats to unload multi-ton shipments on the Guerrero coast.
They later ventured into the production, smuggling, and sale of fentanyl. The US Treasury Department would later sanction both brothers in November 2022, for their allegement involvement in fentanyl specifically dyed in bright colors, alleging that the colors were being used to target a younger demographic of potential users.
The brothers were known to retaliate in publicly violent ways against government officials who they believed wronged them, often utilizing insurgency-style tactics to ambush their targets. The brothers infamously ordered an attack on a State Police convoy in Puerta del Carmen, in the State of Mexico, which left a total of 17 dead in May 2021.
Their territory continued to expand, reaching out beyond Guerrero and the State of Mexico, into the neighboring state of Michoacan.
When the war between the CJNG and Carteles Unidos erupted, the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers took full advantage of it, attacking operators on both sides.
They heavily focused on extorting lawful, civilian economic activities within their territories, operating similar to mafia-style organizations.
The Mexican new magazine Proceso published an article in October 2022 which focused on La Nueva Familia Michoacana´s economic strength.
According to sources, which spoke to the magazine under the condition of anonymity, NFM currently controls a total of 35 municipalities – 9 in Guerrero, 26 in the State of Mexico (their holdings in Michoacan were evidently not included).
The 35 municipalities encompass more than 9,650 square miles (25,000 thousand square kilometers) where nearly 1.4 million people live. All of these people are somehow impacted by NFM within their daily lives, primarily through extortion.
NFM is believed to have started the practice of “collecting fees” from lawful civilian businesses in 2011, when they levied a tax on chicken farmers. The practice began to infect every industry within their territory, with the percent of fee increasing as time wore on.
By the end of the year 2022, the level of “fee collection” became such a burden to civilians that a group of merchants in San José del Rincón and Petatlán who spoke about organizing together to collectively refuse to pay the fee.
The refusal, however, never seemed to come to fruition, no doubt due to the merchants’ understanding of just how deadly such an endeavor could be.
In many cases, the tactics go beyond simply charging a fee.
Construction businesses within their territories, in addition to a fee, are allegedly told that they must buy materials (such as concrete, sand, plasterboard, beams, etc.) from a selected group of material providers, who LFM no doubt exert control over.
This tactic is commonly seen in Sicily in areas controlled by La Cosa Nostra.
The extortion of the construction industry has resulted in massive economic losses for local businesses, with Proceso estimating that at least 500 million pesos were being taken from the construction industry every month. They estimate that the average price of construction in these areas has risen between 20-40% beyond the inflation rate.
There’s an industry that NFM favors even more than construction, however, owing to the lack of inherit criminality: Mining.
Mines in Arcelia
The symbiotic relationship between Mexico’s mining industry and cartel groups has already been covered extensively in previous Borderland Beat stories, such as this.
From the Coahuilan coal mines to the Michoacán ore fields, cartel groups are believed to obtain billions of dollars in profits by illegally mining at abandoned pits, stealing loads of precious metals, and imposing fees in return for being “allowed to operate”.
Cartel groups who are known to have leeched off of local mining businesses include: Los Zetas, the CJNG, and the CT, although it’s likely many more groups engage in the same practice. The Caballeros Templarios, for example, allegedly stole iron ore from open pit mines in Michoacán, which they then exchanged for chemical precursors from Chinese importers at the port of Lázaro Cárdenas.
The Hurtado Olascoaga brothers, though, engage in the business a little more directly. They simply own a mine, called Campo Morado. It is located in their hometown of Arcelia, Guerrero.
According to its current operators website, the Campo Morado mine contains 25 tonnes of gold and 1,871 tonnes of silver.
The mine was originally owned by a Mexican subsidiary of the Nyrstar corporation, headquartered in Belgium.
The subsidiary was founded in the state of Morelos in 1994, owned by Elia Sánchez Cerda, who ran the mine up until the year 2015, when it had to close down to “security concerns” – a delicate way of acknowledging the pressure being exerted on the company by NFM. The mine remained closed for years after “a lack of security” had forced it to shut down.
According to Guacamaya leaked government intelligence, published by El Sur newspaper, a man identified as Eleunín Camacho Goicoechea attempted to buy the mine from Elia Sánchez Cerda, however the deal never went through.
Their attempted buyer, Eleunín, is possibly related to Euclides Camacho Goicoechea, alias “El Quiles”, a former leader of the Caballeros Templarios who was captured back in 2014.
In June 2017, the Mexican subsidiary of Nyrstar was eventually bought by a Canadian mining corporation called Telson Mining for approximately 20 million dollars.
Telson Mining was able to get Campo Morado mine up and running again by October 2017.
In May 2018, Telson was allegedly contacted by NFM members who imposed certain “conditions” on them. NFM demanded that they hire people of their choosing for certain job positions, telling them to hire family members, friends and most importantly a business associate of theirs, Iker González Macías, the son of a general in the Army.
They also demanded that the mine only use trucks owned by the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers, paying them for their use and the diesel used in them.
Telson complied with their demands and the general’s son Iker González Macías was named as the mine’s Head of Security and Logistics.
From then on the brothers were paid for every vehicle used on site and the fuel for the vehicles/machinery, the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers began taking in 10-15 million pesos from the mine’s 60 million pesos monthly operations budget.
Narcos, Politicians, and Military Generals
At the beginning of August 2018, Army (SEDENA) soldiers made a visit to Campo Morado mine. The visit apparently spooked the leaders of Familia Michoacana, the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers, who set out on a campaign to use their power and influence to get the Army to turn a blind eye to the mine.
A number of secret correspondences between government officials and the leaders of Familia Michoacana were intercepted by Army intelligence in 2018.
The intelligence report detailing these communications was leaked by the hacker group Guacamaya and published by the newspaper Sur Acapulco, in this article. They detail the following events.
August 3, 2018
Adolfo Torales Catalán, the local mayor, spoke with an associate of the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers. The mayor told him that “they” were officially invited to a “mining” business meeting. The meeting was to be held in Acapulco and would be attended by a number of other high profile guests such as the state’s governor, Héctor Astudillo Flores.
August 10, 2018
The Olascoaga brothers sent a business associate of theirs to meet with the governor’s son in Acapulco. The associate asked the son if he could set up a meeting with his father, the governor, for sometime next week so they could discuss “matters related to the authorization of the mine.”
August 17, 2018
The mine’s Head of Security, Iker González Macías (hand selected by the Hurtado brothers), was subjected to a random inspection by soldiers from the Army, who entered the Campo Morado mine and searched him. They found nothing unusual and let Iker go.
Iker was told later that day by other members of NFM, that he had to get the Army to back off. The other members may have implied that, because Iker was the son of an Army general, he should leverage his father’s position when trying to convince the Army to focus elsewhere.
August 20, 2018
Iker met with Army General José Francisco Terán Valle and asked him to investigate the group of soldier who were assigned to the region near the mine.
August 22, 2018
Iker met with his father, General González Loaiza. The intelligence report writes that Iker told his father that El Fresa “was pressuring him about the Army’s [overbearing] presence in the mine” and that “Pez believes the Canadian company [Telson] is the one requesting” the soldier’s presence.
His father had Iker meet with General Velasco, the Chief of Staff in charge of the region. General Velasco reportedly agreed to help and told Iker that “removing soldiers from the area would be no problem.”
But something didn’t go as planned, somewhere down the line something changed, because the soldiers were never sent an order to withdraw from the area.
September 3, 2018
El Fresa threatened to stop allowing Campo Morado mine to use his trucks, which would effectively force the mine to cease working, if the Army’s troops were not withdrawn from the area.
Iker warned authorities that if work stopped at the mine, there would be devastating economic losses for the whole region.
Unbeknownst to many, Iker was beginning to crack under the pressure that El Pez and Fresa were exerting on him. Iker began to secretly coordinate with his father, the General, on a way to turn in the Hurtado Olascoaga brothers. The father and son worked together, drafting up a report which revealed the current location of the brothers.
Iker and his father planned to take their report to Army high command if things continued to get worse, however, it seems it never got to that point and the report was never delivered.
September 12, 2018
The soldiers were still not removed so Fresa withheld his fleet of trucks, forcing the mine to shut down operations.
October 17, 2018
Iker met with General Juan Manuel Rico Gámez in order to “seek protection in Arcelia, since his company’s [Telson’s] board of directors decided that they will not pay the fee (3 million MXN) demanded by La Familia.”
November 07, 2018
Mine personnel were warned that they “owed” 2 million MXN for the previous use of the fleet of trucks and that “El Pez gave them until December, otherwise they will have to face the consequences.”
It’s unclear if work in the mine resumed after this point or not. What is clear is that in September 2019, Telson officially announced that it was indefinitely suspending all work at Campo Morado mine.
Something changed soon after the announcement, however because just a handful of months later, in February 2020, mining operations resumed.
In 2021, Telson Mining restructured itself and became “Altaley Mining”. Altaley Mining continues to run the Campo Morado mine to this very day.
It’s important to note that the newspapers El Sur de Acapulco and Aristegui which have written about this particular Guacamaya-leaked document and there is no version of these documents publicly available.
However, Borderland Beat was able to find a financial irregularity which may corroborate the story.
On August 10, 2020, an individual named Iker Alejandro González Macías had two checking accounts blocked by Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (UIF) due to what appears to be a blocking request made by a foreign government.
Mexico’s National Bank was notified of the block and then, the National Bank notified the two banks which Iker had checking accounts with.
Iker’s father retired from being a general in 2021. Evelyn Salgado Pineda took over as governor of Guerrero from Astudillo Flores in 2021. It’s worth noting that there’s evidence that NFM’s extortion of the mine continues to this days Last month, President Andres Manuel López Obrador mentioned two Canadian mining companies had recently filed complaints about extortion in Guerrero.
It was later confirmed, in news reports, that Altaley Mining was one the companies which filed these complaints.
Having reached this point, a number of questions arise. Like, why hasn’t there been any major attempt by state or federal law enforcement to arrest El Pez and El Fresa?
We’ll leave that question for you to determine.
Or, why would a major Canadian corporation such as Altaley (Teslon) choose to reopen Campo Morado mine, when they know the cost of operating in the region?
We’ll leave that question for you to determine.
Or, how does the reporter, Alan Garcia Aguilar, factor into all of this?
Now, that question has no simple answer.
Because the Facebook page was deleted, we have no idea if Aguilar ever wrote about the mine, the mayor, the meeting with the governor, or the son of the Army general.
But we do know that just the month before the abduction, Garcia Aguilar called out one of Hurtado brothers, writing on the page:
“Alfredo [Hurtado Oloscoaga] or El Fresa.
How about you leave the people alone? Let them work freely, without your extortion fees, without raising the prices according to your needs.”
Out of solidarity, we’d like to join in on Garcia Aguilar’s message and personally call upon El Fresa to stop extorting the citizens of Tierra Caliente.
Until next time readers.
We’ll see you in part 2, covering NFM’s expansion into Michoacán, their war against the Tequileros, and look deeper at the plaza bosses who might have been involved in the reporter kidnapping.
Sources: El Sur de Acapulco, Aristegui, Mexico Business.News, Telemundo, Campier, El Heraldo, Headtopics, Proceso Article 1, Article 2, Quadratin, JDS Mining, Mining Digital, Portfolio: Campo Morado, Breaking.com.mx
Please check out our previous collaboration which covered the rise and fall of the Cartel Santa Rosa de Lima in Guanajuato, linked here.