“HEARST” for Borderland Beat

The singer Chuy Montana was kidnapped and killed by cartel hitmen in Tijuana. 

Although Chuy didn’t reference any particular cartel group in his music, he was closely associated with a band named Fuerza Regida which uses promoters who are currently under investigation for money laundering for the Sinaloa Cartel. 

Fuerza Regida has previously been threatened by the CJNG.

Warning: Graphic content below this point.

Discovery of the Body

At 11:45 am on February 7, 2024, Chuy Montana’s body was found on the side of the freeway which connects the cities of Rosarito and Tijuana.

His hands were handcuffed together and he had multiple gunshot wounds. Bullet casings were found on scene. Near Chuy’s body was a orange-colored Renault vehicle, which had been left abandoned.

The publication Punto Norte wrote that “according to the initial investigation, Chuy Montana was kidnapped by a group of men and it was at this point [on the freeway] that he managed to throw himself out of their vehicle, with his wrists handcuffed, in an attempt to save his own life.”

Punto Norte continues, writing that “The fall from the vehicle left him with several wounds on his abdomen, but his kidnappers shot out of the vehicle they were using in the kidnapping, a 2017 orange Renault Stepway, and shot him with a 9mm caliber pistol.”

How long Chuy had been in their captivity and if the hitmen had begun to torture him prior to his attempted escape is unclear. The orange vehicle was abandoned on scene, so Chuy’s kidnappers either fled on foot or in a vehicle that was working in tandem.

Because the kidnappers felt comfortable leaving the vehicle, it was likely stolen and the vehicle registration may not help in identifying the kidnappers.

In a dark twist of fate, Milenio reports that a leaked song that Chuy was working on had the lyrics “Sorry mom, I wasn’t what you wanted, I know that right now you feel sad, my body was lying there and in a soaked red puddle.”

Chuy’s Career 

In 2023, Tijuana resident Jesús Nolberto Cárdenas Velázquez, who went by the stage name of “Chuy Montana”, was just a street performer. 

Chuy would often walk between the vehicles stuck waiting in the line to cross the US border and sing tunes, asking for tips. Sometimes he’d play guitar as he sang, sometimes he’d be accompanied by a friend who played the guitar for him. 

A social media video shows Chuy being approached by the vehicle of Jesús Ortiz Paz, the lead singer of Fuerza Regida, a popular band.

After listening to Chuy sing an original song titled “Porte de Scarface” for a few minutes, Jesús says he wants to sign Chuy to his record label.

Chuy was then officially signed to Jesus’s label Street Mob Records. Chuy released the single “Porte de Scarface” (video) in March 2023. The video for the song currently has over 14 million views and 22 million plays on Spotify. 

The song doesn’t appear to be a narcocorrido, which is a song celebrating a particular cartel figure or group. The lyrics center around partying and having a Scarface-like demeanor, referencing the 1983 crime film. 

He went on to release a handful of singles, none of which referenced any particular cartel or person but they did fall within the larger corridos tumbados genre, which the San Diego Union Tribune describes as a mix of “regional Mexican and trap fusions […] which often contrast the hard realities of street life with dreams of luxury cars, cash and the company of beautiful women.”

In August, he released “Marlboro Blanco” (video), which makes an interesting reference to shooting a white armored car, something which would actually happen to a bodyguard of Fuerza Regida that same month, however in the song Chuy presents himself as the aggressor so the reference may be purely coincidental.

In October 2023, Chuy Montana was featured on Fuerza Regida’s song “Polvos de Chanel” (video). The song garnered 1.8 million views on YouTube. 

The lyrics glorify a narco lifestyle in a generic way, talking about buying Chanel for girls, being a mafioso, and having an AK under the car seat. This song also doesn’t appear to be a corrido for any particular person or group. 

Fuerza Regida & Their Cartel References

Fuerza Regida is a band that formed in the US, in San Bernadino, California.

They are considerably more famous than Chuy, with around 32.7M monthly listeners on Spotify (compared to Chuy’s 0.8 million monthly listeners). The lead singer of Fuerza Regida, Jesús Ortiz Paz, heads the record label Street Mob Records, which Chuy signed to.

Fuerza Regida, unlike Chuy, have waded into singing songs which overtly reference a cartel organization. As an example, their song “TQM” (video) positively refers to Chapo and his son Ivan. The song has over 121 million views, despite being released only 8 months ago. 

They have also released “Ch y la Pizza” (video), a collaboration with Natanael Cano, which celebrates the Chapitos side of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Their songs “Lo Vieron Pasar” and “Mi Terre CLN” are narcocorridos praising Chapitos figure Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas, alias “El Nini”, paid for by Nini himself.

The lead singer Jesús Ortiz Paz said in a 2023 interview that Fuerza Regida charge a narco about $60,000 US dollars (1,027,239 pesos) per song. 

He went on to say that they will write corridos about any cartel figure who pays them, implying they can come from any cartel group (“no hace distinciones”).

And this seems to be true. In 2020, Fuerza Regida released a song titled “Señor Miedo” (video) which is a narcocorrido for CJNG figure Ricardo Ruiz Velasco, alias “El RR”. 

At least two songs (the song “GDL” and a song literally titled “CJNG”) off their 2023 album Pa las Baby’s Y Belikeada contain pro-CJNG lyrics and some seem to be for El RR.

It is, however, fair to say that Fuerza Regida’s most well known songs venerate the Sinaloa Cartel.

Fuerza Regida’s Recent Activity

In July 2023, Fuerza Regida played a concert at the BMO stadium in Los Angeles. After the event ended, the band continued partying in the streets outside the venue.

The Los Angeles Times reported that “LAPD officers were trying to control traffic between Hawthorn and La Brea avenues in Hollywood in the early morning hours Sunday when they observed an individual with a gun in one of the cars they’d stopped, causing the officers to draw their weapons.” 

Billboard wrote that the LAPD told them that officers “discovered one of the men in the procession had a concealed weapon. That man has been arrested and booked for carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle.” 

Videos show that Jesús Ortiz Paz and the band’s manager Jimmy Humilde were detained by police that night, however, it is not confirmed that Jesús was the one in possession of the firearm. Jesús and Jimmy were released by police within two hours of being detained. 

In August 2023, one of Fuerza Regida’s bodyguards was attacked by cartel hitmen on a highway in Veracruz. The bodyguard later died from his injuries.

Fuerza Regida broke into major international success in September 2023 when they collaborated with Colombian singer Shakira for the song “El Jefe” (video), which has more than 138 million. The song is actually a criticism of said jefes, or bosses, focusing on socioeconomic inequality. 

That same month, a different corridos tumbados artist named Peso Pluma, who has also dabbled in referencing Sinaloa Cartel in his lyrics (see “Siempre Pendientes”), was allegedly threatened in banners placed in Tijuana signed by CJNG, causing him to cancel his concert.

Peso Pluma has reached even wider international success than Fuerza Regida, having performed on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and who performed at Coachella 2023 as a guest of Becky G.

On October 6, 2023, a series of narco banners allegedly signed by the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion appeared in Tijuana threatening Fuerza Regida.

Soon after the banner appeared, the band announced they were canceling their October 6 concert.

Later in October, Montserrat Caballero, the mayor of Tijuana, discussed the banners which caused Peso Pluma and Fuerza Regida to cancel their concerts in an interview with Joaquín López-Dóriga

She said “These two singers expressly sing for a criminal group. I think we have to put on the table why to one criminal group and not to another? They sing to the Sinaloa Cartel, why this preference?”  

She said the state’s Attorney General’s Office will be investigating the promoters of both Peso Pluma and Fuerza Regida to see if the business was laundering money for the Sinaloa Cartel. 

López Dóriga asked the mayor if there was evidence that both artists are linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. The mayor responded, saying “They could have links, I say it and I assure you, that the Attorney General’s Office is investigating.”

And the mayor seems to be focusing on a specific group of promoters linked to Pluma and Fuerza Regida, stating in a different interview that Natanael Cano, who also sings corridos, has a different set of promoters who are not suspected of money laundering in the same way.

In November 2023, the city of Tijuana officially banned narcocorridos from being played in public spaces which effectively banned artists from playing any narcocorridos during their concerts in Tijuana. 

When announcing the new law, Mayor Montserrat Caballero said “What cannot be part of Mexican folklore, nor represent us, is the narcocorrido and the apology of crime,” later adding that “singers like Peso Pluma glorify crime, so there are certain groups that get upset, and unfortunately those who suffer the consequences are the citizens who want to attend their concerts and are then put at risk.”

The Convergence of Fuerza Regida & The Kidnapping of Chuy

As recently covered by Sol, Jesús Ortiz Paz, the lead singer of Fuerza Regida was detained on February 3, 2024, when traveling back into Mexicali, Mexico, from the US due to his possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Jesús Ortiz Paz was released into Mexicali from government custody on February 6.

And then, on February 7, Jesús Ortiz Paz’s protégé Chuy Montana was kidnapped by cartel hitmen and his dead body was found by police by around 11:45 am.

Chuy is an artist who only gained popularity within the last year and he has never named any particular cartel in his music. 

The closest that Chuy Montana seems to have ever got to directly referencing a specific cartel was when he wore a hat which references Fuerza Regida’s song “TQM”, which has lyrics celebrating the Sinaloa Cartel.

Rather than Chuy Montana being the primary target of the kidnapping, it seems more likely that the cartel kidnappers were using Chuy Montana as a way to get at Fuerza Regida or a promoter tied to Fuerza Regida. 

The cartel most likely to have carried out the kidnapping appears to be CJNG, who have threatened Fuerza Regida in the past, although the CAF and the Mayo side of the Sinaloa Cartel are other groups active in the city who consider the Chapitos to be rivals. 

Sources: San Diego Union-Tribune Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, AZ Central, El Universal, Infobae, Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Interview with Fuerza Lead Singer, Milenio Article 1, Article 2Tres65 News, Transfondo, The Los Angeles Times, Billboard, Radio Formula