How a Drug Cartel Hitman Became a Dedicated Vigilante

One man’s unexpected journey to opposite sides of the law

A group of Mexican soldiers, photographed in 2009.
eeliuth/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / September 15, 2019 2:27 pm

What circumstances might lead someone to find work murdering people on behalf of a nation’s most notorious criminal organizations? And what might cause them to switch sides, taking their very particular set of skills, as the saying goes, to work towards bringing their former colleagues down? 

At The Daily Beast, Jeremy Kryt talked with a man, apparently in his early 20s, known only as Capache. (“The word translates as ‘trap’ or ‘trapper,’” Kryt notes.) For years, Capache worked as a hitman for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG. Now, he’s on the other side of the law, working as a member of a self-defense force, or autodefensa, and using the knowledge he accumulated for the cartel as he works to stop his former comrades. 

The rise of autodefensas reflects a growing trend in Mexico. As Kryt explains:

Over the last few years, as violence has reached historic levels, autodefensas have become increasingly common in Mexico. The Oscar-nominated documentary Cartel Land depicted the rise and fall of one such group. Academics have become increasingly interested in the phenomenon.

Capache shared the experience of his training for the cartel, which included standing mostly naked below a wasps’ nest as instructors struck the nests, releasing a horde of angry insects. “You had to stand there for 10 minutes and without moving at all. If you moved or screamed they beat you for it,” Capache told Kryt. 

After working for the cartel in different capacities, Capache ended up being captured by an autodefensa: the United Front of Community Police of Guerrero State, or FUPCEG. While imprisoned there, he switched sides, training others and engaging in combat against cartel forces.

In the article, Kryt notes that the tactics of autodefensas are not dissimilar to those used by the cartels — creating something of a moral grey area for some observers. The whole thing makes for a compelling read, taking readers into the singular experience of one man who’s experienced some of the most harrowing aspects of life. 

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