MEXICO CITY — You only die twice — or so it seemed for Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, leader of Mexico’s notorious Knights Templar drug cartel.
In December 2010, Mexican officials believed that they had killed Moreno, known alternately as “El Chayo,” and “El Mas Loco” (“The Craziest One”), in a shootout in the troubled state of Michoacan. His body was never recovered, however, and many locals doubted the story.
Since then, western Mexico has been rife with rumors that the charismatic leader had been seen. He has earned a strange cult-like following for preaching a cracked version of evangelical Christianity to go along with his cartel’s extensive extortion and drug-running rackets.
On Sunday, the federal government again announced that they had killed Moreno, this time in a Sunday morning shootout in Michoacan. And this time, officials said, they have a body, and the fingerprints, to prove it.
In a press conference, Monte Alejandro Rubido, the executive secretary of Mexico’s National Public Security System, said the Mexican military had attempted to arrest Moreno in the municipality of Tumbiscatio, but were forced to fire upon him after they were attacked.
Rubido said federal authorities had been receiving “constant reports” from locals that Moreno was, in fact, still alive.
Afterward, Tomas Zeron, an official with the federal attorney general’s office, showed finger- and thumbprints from a body that was recovered, projecting them side-by-side with matching prints on file with the Mexican military. Zeron said the government had “100 percent” identified the body as Moreno’s.
The killing of Moreno — if he is really dead this time — would be another high-profile victory in the drug war for the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office in December 2012 promising to fight the cartels in a smarter and more efficient manner.
On Feb. 22, Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, one of the world’s most-wanted criminals, was apprehended in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlan in a joint Mexican-U.S. operation.
Although the takedown of these crime bosses may deal a short-term operational blow to their respective criminal networks, it remains unclear if the Pena Nieto government has devised an effective long-term strategy to reduce the power of the cartels inside Mexican territory.