The Hunt for La Kena

Latin America World

 By “Itzli” for Borderland Beat

Military operations in Tamaulipas, Matamoros throughout the week appear to be targeting CDG Matamoros faction leader La Kena.

Monday Shootout

Expounding on previous reporting by Borderland Beat, on Monday, September 4, 2023, Mexican military forces of the Secretaría de Marina (SEMAR), along with the Fiscalía General de Justicia of Tamaulipas, conducted operations in the city of Matamoros in which four cartel members were killed and a bystander injured, which was later described to be the result of a kidnapping investigation.

Online reports began to circulate at 10:40 AM indicating a shootout occurring near the Periférico/Buena Vista/Paseo Residencial neighborhoods of Matamoros. Fifteen minutes later, it would be reported that Naranjo street had been closed and the first pictures began to emerge of the scene.

Based upon video taken from a Walmart parking lot, the black SUV is near the corner of Naranjo and Paseo de Arbol, close to Planchaduria Coral, and it appears that both streets would eventually be closed.

Thereafter, it was reported that a member of a family traveling in a nearby vehicle was injured by a stray bullet, although the location described was miles away from Naranjo street.

Just over an hour after the shootout occurred, the United States Consulate in Matamoros announced that their employees were sheltering in place.

Identifying the Dead

Within two hours of the shootout, a picture circulated of one of the individuals that was killed along with a vest indicating they were “Special Forces of Boss XIX Gulf Cartel”, a reference to José Alberto “La Kena” García Vilano, leader of the Matamoros faction of the Cártel del Golfo (CDG, Gulf Cartel), whose code number 19 is frequently stylized in Roman numerals. 

According to rumors that spread around the same time, the shootout took place “around the corner” from two houses of leaders of the CDG in Matamoros, with two other homes said to be located a few blocks away.

Initial rumors identified three of the individuals killed as SC70/Yeyo, SC5, and Jane, although it would later be said that SC70 was still alive, SC5 and Jane still rumored to have been killed, and the additional identification of Alacran 273 among the four individuals killed. It should be noted that SC70 is a reference to “Escorpión 70”, who is in charge of cartel operations in the city of Río Bravo. Also known as “El Yeyo”, some sources claim his real name is Diego Salas, while other sources claim his name is Diego Aurelio Salgado.

Furthermore, some sources have identified SC5 as José “El Cachetes” Sanchéz García, who was once a regional leader of the CDG in Aldama, Soto la Marina, and Abasol, as discussed in CDG Matamoros Part 10: Dawn of a New Era. However, this appears to be a mistake, as others identify him as Raymundo “El Cachetes” Saldaña, whose identity was notably exposed online in December 2019. While the death of SC5 has been mourned, there are rumors that he was not among those killed and is merely taking advantage of the situation to keep authorities from searching for him. 

Helicopter Operations

While media has generally focused on the shootout, it should be noted that reports of SEMAR helicopters flying over Matamoros, along with videos, began around noon on September 4, as well as video of additional operations taking place in the city. Amidst additional video, it was rumored that the second in command of “La Kena” was moving between safehouses to avoid arrest.

At one point, a helicopter either touched down or flew low enough to send debris flying down a street in the Valle de Los Reyes neighborhood. It should be noted that this location is relatively nearby where the innocent civilian was reportedly hit by a stray bullet.

Hunting La Kena

Throughout the afternoon of Monday, September 4, dangerous situations were reported in Matamoros, such as gunshots and car chases on Teotihuacán street, apparently in the Fundadores neighborhood. It would be said that authorities were hunting for La Kena by land, sea, and air.

That evening, pictures of a white Escalade SUV with numerous gunshot markings on the bulletproof glass began to circulate. It was said that La Kena had escaped the shootout with SEMAR and later abandoned the vehicle.

The following day, footage showing SEMAR forces firing on the vehicle in which the four cartel members were killed began to spread. One of the vehicles involved was a gray van, in which soldiers appear to be discreetly traveling in. 

Eventually surveillance footage appeared showing the same van arriving near a parked white SUV and a shootout takes place before the SUV escapes. This appears to be the vehicle in which “La Kena” allegedly escaped.

It would be claimed that “La Kena” was injured in this incident and was treated at a clinic before being taken to a safehouse, possibly outside of Matamoros near the dirt roads connecting to the beaches.

Thursday Operations

During the evening of Thursday, September 7, additional operations took place in Matamoros. A dangerous situation was first reported in the Sección 16/Lucio Blanco neighborhoods. Helicopters were once again shown flying over the city and spikes were left on Virgilio Garza Ruiz Avenue, in the Hacienda del Puente neighborhood. 

A shootout and car chase was reported in the Valle de Los Reyes, the same neighborhood in which a helicopter was shown flying low or touching down on Monday, September 4. Around the same time, a dangerous situation was reported nearby on Brecha 30, near the Los Palmares neighborhood. At some point there appears to have been a protest against the soldiers, but it was quickly dispersed.

It would be said that cartel members were worried about leaving their safehouses and it was alleged that Americans were embedded with SEMAR forces. Footage would be shown of soldiers manning a roadblock and it was said that operations were being conducted in the Sección 16, Baghdad Sur, and Voluntad y Trabajo neighborhoods, along with Agapito González Avenue.

Rumors would indicate that SEMAR forces had located three safehouses where “La Kena” was believed to be hiding and that it would be a matter of time before he was located.

The Kidnapping

Amidst the rumors that “La Kena” would be captured or killed comes allegations that he had kidnapped someone he shouldn’t have, which echoes the official reports from Monday, September 4, in which the operation was described as having stemmed from a kidnapping investigation.

Some point to the August 10, 2023 disappearance of Julio Cesar Lazo Rodríguez, whose brother, Francisco Javier Lazo Rodríguez, is allegedly a close associate of Carlos Fabián “El Cuate” Martínez Pérez, son-in-law of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén. 

Others allege that Juan de Dios, said to be the biggest cartel financial operator in Matamoros, as well as owner of the Hotel El Paisano, located in the 20 de Noviembre neighborhood, had been kidnapped by La Kena and was forced to hand over large sums of money. This appears to be a reference to Juan de Dios “El Camelia” Gómez González, who had been previously identified by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) as the principal drug distributor in Matamoros who had direct ties to Colombia. On a side note, it appears that José Alfredo “El Contador” Cárdenas Martínez married Balkys Marlene García Leal at the El Paisano hotel.

While some allege that “El Camelia” had recently returned to Matamoros from Colima and was suspected of passing information to the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación, others allege that “La Kena” had crossed a line with the killing of “El Camelia” and that the Cárdenas family would be replacing him with Armando “El Pajarito” López Garcés, code name “Escorpión 7”.

Ultimately, one must consider the possibility that the fall of “La Kena” was to be expected, as it was rumored on August 25, 2023 that Yahaira “Yaya” Cárdenas Muñiz, the eldest daughter of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén and wife of high ranking CDG Matamoros cartel member Rene “El Gordo” Villarreal Garza, had left the city of Matamoros after proclaiming that they would take over leadership with the coming fall of “La Kena”.