The Story of El Chueco: A Life of Crime and Violence

Learn about the violent life of El Chueco, a notorious lieutenant of a criminal group associated with the Sinaloa Cartel, who was responsible for various crimes, including the murder of Jesuit priests and tour guide Pedro Palma.

The Story of El Chueco: A Life of Crime and Violence
"El Chueco", a lieutenant of a criminal group associated with the Sinaloa Cartel was responsible for various crimes. Photo: Government of Mexico

The name Jose Noriel Portillo may not be known to many, but his alias, El Chueco, was infamous in the Sierra Tarahumara region of Mexico. El Chueco was a lieutenant of the criminal group at the service of Los Salazar, a cell associated with the Sinaloa Cartel that has been operating since the 1990s. He was known for his scowl and sharp mustache, but his deformity, a shorter leg than the other, is what earned him the nickname "El Chueco".

El Chueco was responsible for various crimes, including murder, robbery, and extortion. He controlled the sale of beer, fried foods, and even sweet bread in the region, deciding brands, schedules, and percentages. He also demanded quotas from merchants and those who did not comply faced dire consequences. El Chueco's crimes went beyond extortion, though.

El Chueco's Reign of Terror

The first known crime that authorities attributed to El Chueco was an attack on the facilities of the State Investigations Agency in the Municipality of Urique in 2017. This attack resulted in an injured element, and El Chueco became a wanted man. In 2018, American professor Patrick Braxton-Andrew was shot to death in Urique, allegedly because El Chueco and his gang mistook him for an agent of the DEA anti-drug agency.

A year later, El Chueco was blamed for ordering the kidnapping and murder of activist Cruz Soto Caraveo, a member of the Collective of Forcibly Displaced Families of the Sierra Tarahumara. Soto was found lifeless on October 19, 2019, six days after he was reported missing in the community of Los Llanos, Municipality of Guazapares, after attending a meeting with local authorities.

But El Chueco's most heinous crime occurred on June 20, 2022, when he went on a drunken binge after murdering a baseball team's umpire. Tour guide Pedro Palma asked him to moderate his party at the Misión Cerocahui hotel, which infuriated El Chueco, resulting in the murder of Palma and Jesuits Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín Mora Salazar, who tried to protect the tour guide while he tried to take refuge in his church. These murders were particularly shocking and drew media attention, leading to El Chueco's identification as the alleged culprit.

The Fall of El Chueco

The hunt for El Chueco intensified after the murders, with authorities in Chihuahua and neighboring states collaborating to track him down. The search finally ended on Saturday when his body was found on a dirt road in the Sindicatura de Picachos, Municipality of Choix, on the border with Chihuahua. He had been shot in the back of the head.

The Attorney General of the State of Chihuahua, César Jáuregui, reported that a woman named Diana Carolina Portillo identified him as her brother. However, Jáuregui specified that until DNA tests confirm that the body corresponds to "El Chueco," it cannot be confirmed. The body presented only one bullet wound in the head from a weapon known as R-15, although 16 percussion cartridges were found at the scene. The investigation into El Chueco's death falls under the jurisdiction of the FGE of Sinaloa, but as far as Jáuregui is aware, there were no reports of a shootout.

The death of El Chueco is not a victory for justice or a solution to the structural problem of violence in the Sierra Tarahumara, according to the Society of Jesus, to which the two murdered Jesuit priests belonged. The religious organization stated that "this outcome, if confirmed, is not what we expected nor what we are working for." They added that the absence of a legal process by the law about the homicides would imply a failure of the Mexican State in the face of its basic duties and would confirm that in the region, the authorities do not have territorial control.

Mexico's Ongoing Struggle Against Organized Crime

The death of El Chueco highlights the ongoing issue of violence and organized crime in Mexico, particularly in regions such as the Sierra Tarahumara. The Sinaloa Cartel and its associated cells have been operating in the region for decades, engaging in various criminal activities such as drug trafficking, extortion, and murder. The lack of territorial control by authorities has allowed these criminal groups to thrive, resulting in the loss of countless lives and a sense of fear and insecurity for the people living in the region.

The Mexican government has attempted to combat organized crime through various strategies, including deploying military and police forces to the affected areas. However, the effectiveness of these measures has been called into question, with some arguing that they only exacerbate the issue of violence and do little to address the root causes of the problem.

Furthermore, the lack of accountability for crimes committed by members of criminal organizations is a significant issue in Mexico. Many of these groups operate with impunity, and those who are caught often receive light sentences or are released due to corruption or other factors. This lack of justice only emboldens criminal organizations and perpetuates a cycle of violence and impunity.

In conclusion, the life and death of El Chueco shed light on the ongoing issue of violence and organized crime in Mexico, particularly in regions such as the Sierra Tarahumara. While his death may be seen as a victory for some, it is ultimately a symptom of a larger problem that requires significant and sustained efforts to address. Until authorities can establish territorial control, combat corruption and impunity, and address the root causes of violence, the people living in affected regions will continue to suffer the devastating consequences of organized crime.