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VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Jordy McKen
The number one currency these cartels deal in is blood. Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we're examining notorious cartel assassinations that shocked nations. Our countdown of infamous cartel hits includes Fernando Villavicencio, Enrique 'Kiki' Camarena, The 2011 San Fernando Massacre, and more!


Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re examining notorious cartel assassinations that shocked nations. We’ll explore what happened and see if those responsible faced any justice.

Fernando Villavicencio

Before entering politics, Villavicencio was an investigative journalist who criticized former president Rafael Correa. As such, he spent time in prison and in exile. After Ecuador’s National Assembly was dissolved, Villavicencio ran for the presidency. In August 2023, after getting threats from gangs, he was leaving a campaign rally in the capital city, Quito. Just as Villavicencio got to his car, he was ambushed and fatally shot. The assassin, Johan David Castillo López, also threw a grenade, which thankfully didn’t go off. Nine people were injured, and López died from gunshot wounds. The criminal group Los Lobos claimed responsibility for the attack, but this is disputed. Several people were arrested in connection with the assassination. However, all of them were killed in prison.

Rodrigo Lara

In 1983, Lara was appointed Colombia’s Minister of Justice by President Belisario Betancur. He soon began targeting criminal organizations, corrupt politicians, and Pablo Escobar and his group, the Medellín Cartel. Lara’s interference contributed to Escobar’s expulsion from Congress and investigation by authorities. In April 1984, Lara was traveling in a convoy when Byron Velasquez and Ivan Dario Guisado, paid by the Medellín Cartel, drove up to his vehicle on motorbikes and opened fire, killing the Minister. While Guisado was slain by Lara’s bodyguard, Velasquez was later arrested for the assassination and then paroled in 1995. Escobar fled to Panama days after Lara’s murder as the government looked for justice.

Jaime Ramírez

Working alongside Rodrigo Lara in stamping out cartel influence was Colonel Ramírez, Director of the Colombian Drug Enforcement Unit for the National Police of Colombia. In 1984, Ramírez was involved in an operation with the DEA to find the Medellín Cartel’s stash in the jungle, delivering a huge blow to the group. But this made Ramírez a target. In November 1986, while traveling with his family, unknown assassins connected to the Medellín Cartel drove their vehicle alongside Ramirez’s car. After taking out the car that contained Ramírez’s bodyguards, they opened fire. They wounded Ramírez, causing him to crash, before finishing the job. In 1992, Ramírez was posthumously awarded the title of Brigadier General, a position he was meant to have a month after his passing.

Margarito Martínez

As a photojournalist specializing in crime in Tijuana, Mexico, Martínez was a well-known figure in the community. However, he was falsely linked to a Facebook group that openly criticized cartels and unmasked members’ identities. After receiving threats, Martínez was in the process of getting governmental help when, in January 2022, he was fatally shot. Adrián “El Uber” Ramos and José “El Huesos” Ochoa were reportedly paid around $2,500 to assassinate Martínez. In December 2022, the duo were both sentenced to 25 years in jail and ordered to pay $25,000 compensation to Martínez’s family. As of the time of writing, the people who ordered the journalist’s murder haven’t been charged.

Chalino Sánchez

After working with his brother Armando as a “coyote,” an immigrant smuggler, everything changed for Sánchez in 1984 when his brother was murdered. He began creating music, becoming a recognizable talent in Mexico and California. In May 1992, four months after surviving an attack at a gig in Coachella, Sánchez was handed an alleged threat while performing in Culiacán, Mexico. As he left the venue with his family, an armed group pulled over their vehicle and took Sánchez. His body was found the next day, seemingly executed by a cartel. Another musician who was allegedly murdered by the Los Zetas group was Valentín Elizalde in 2006. Only a year later, Sergio Gómez was fatally attacked by an apparent gang.

Jaime Zapata

In February 2011, Zapata and Víctor Ávila, two agents with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were traveling from Laredo, Texas, to Mexico City. While driving in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, two speeding vehicles appeared, began opening fire, and rammed the agents’ car off the road. Even though Zapata and Ávila loudly shouted they were US diplomats, the armed men continued shooting, injuring the agents and fleeing. Zapata drove away from the scene before collapsing and passing away. Ávila was treated for his wounds. The Los Zetas cartel was responsible for the attack and eventually the murderers were arrested.

The 2010 San Fernando Massacre

In 2010, as a war between former allies Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel consumed the Mexican city of San Fernando, an injured Ecuadorian teenager called “Luis” approached some Mexican marines. He told them he had just survived a terrible massacre. Luis had been part of a group of immigrants traveling towards the US. who were taken to a warehouse by members of Los Zetas. There the gang executed 72 people, with only 3 lucky individuals surviving. The group apparently did this to steal money, get information, and make sure the immigrants weren’t working with the Gulf Cartel. Los Zetas are also believed to have slain two of the investigators into the massacre. Eventually 81 members of the gang were arrested.

Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena

After working for the police, Camarena joined the recently formed US Drug Enforcement Administration in 1973. Eventually, he joined the branch in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his work led to several plantations being seized. In February 1985, Camarena was abducted by corrupt officials. He was believed to have been responsible for the closure of the 2,500-acre site, known as Rancho Búfalo, the year before, leading to retaliation. Camarena’s body was found a month later, showing signs of abuse. The investigation concluded that Guadalajara Cartel founders Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Rafael Caro Quintero, and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo were responsible, getting a sentence of 40 years each. Several others were sentenced for their participation, too. However, there’ve been allegations the CIA was also involved.

The Monterrey Casino Attack

In August 2011, members of the Los Zetas cartel sought revenge from the Casino Royale in Monterrey, Mexico. The owner hadn’t paid a protection payment so they decided to send a message. The cartel forced their way into the casino, pouring gasoline everywhere as people ran for the emergency exits, only to find the doors locked. Then, Los Zetas set the building on fire and left within 3 minutes of arriving. All of this was captured on surveillance footage. When emergency services arrived, they found the bodies of 52 people inside and many injured. By 2022, only 5 people who were linked to the attack were arrested on unrelated weapon charges.

The 2011 San Fernando Massacre

In March 2011, over several days, public transport buses filled with passengers in San Fernando, Mexico were taken by Los Zetas. It’s speculated the group did this to force people to work with them, or interrogate passengers suspected of involvement with the Gulf Cartel. The kidnapped people were assaulted and many allegedly made to fight each other in gladiator-style fights. Over several weeks, the authorities began finding numerous mass graves. In the end, 193 bodies were discovered. Soon after, 82 people involved with Los Zetas were arrested in connection with the massacre. Sixteen corrupt police officers were imprisoned for aiding the gang. This horrific event led to the cartel’s higher-ups, such as Miguel Treviño Morales, being imprisoned.

Which leader of a criminal organization is the most frightening? Pablo Escobar? Ronnie and Reggie Kray? Griselda Blanco? Al Capone? Or someone else? Let us know below.