MEXICO CITY — Mexican soldiers and federal police on Monday captured one of the four top leaders of Mexico’s Knights Templar drug cartel in Michoacan state, which has seen fighting between the gang and vigilante groups that have sprung over the past year.
An official at the federal Attorney General’s Office, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, revealed the arrest of Dionicio Loya Plancarte, alias “El Tio,” or The Uncle.
The 58-year-old Loya Plancarte had a 30-million peso ($2.25 million) reward on his head from the Mexican government for drug, organized crime and money-laundering charges. He was considered one of the country’s three dozen most-wanted drug lords in the late 2000s.
The Knights Templar ruled many parts of Michoacan with an iron fist, demanding extortion payments from businesses, farmers and workers. “Self-defense” groups rose up in arms last year and have gained ground against the cartel in recent months. Federal police and army troops were dispatched to bring peace to the troubled region, but the vigilantes have demanded the arrest of the cartel’s major leaders before they lay down their guns.
Loya Plancarte got his nickname, “The Uncle,” because he is believed to be the uncle of another top leader, Enrique Plancarte Solis.
One of the longtime bosses of La Familia Michoacana, a predecessor cartel, Loya Plancarte joined Plancarte Solis and Servando Gomez in forming the Knights Templar after the purported death of La Familia leader Nazario Moreno in a shootout with federal forces in 2010.
The Attorney General’s Office has described Loya Plancarte as “one of the main leaders” of La Familia, saying he was “responsible for press and public relations for the organization, and it is presumed, the one who had contact with law enforcement and judicial authorities.”
A local journalist from Michoacan recounted watching when Loya Plancarte led a sort of pilgrimage to a shrine erected to Nazario Moreno and had his assistants hand out 500-peso ($37) bills to people who attended.
In early 2013, after armed vigilantes in some Michoacan towns began confronting the Knights Templars over its extortion demands, Loya Plancarte posted a video on the Internet challenging self-defense leader Hipolito Mora to a duel to settle their disagreements.
“Still, today, I laugh at it,” Mora said of the challenge.
On the video, Loya Plancarte wore a crucifix as well as a cowboy hat and a bandanna, apparently props for his proposal for a western-style duel. He appeared absent-minded and to be speaking with some difficulty as he espoused many of the often vague and contradictory aspects of the Knights Templar, which he called “a brotherhood,” rather than a criminal organization.
He offered to talk with the self-defense forces, and said the alternative was “duel to the death” with Mora. Of his gang, he inexplicably said, “we may be called responsible, but not guilty.”