- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican underworld’s taste for bizarre nicknames was on full display early this year when police in Mexico City filed kidnapping and murder charges against a gang whose suspected members had aliases that sounded like something out of “Snow White.”

There was “El Salivotas” (the Drooler), “El Guero” (Blondie), “El Enano” (the Dwarf), “El Duende” (the Elf), “El Cejas,” (Eyebrows) and “El Tamalon” — the Big Tamale.

The legal name of the lone female member was “Dulce Maria” (Sweet Mary).

Nicknames are common in Mexican culture. “Gordo,” for instance, means “Fatso” and is considered a term of endearment. But criminal aliases that turn up in charge sheets can be so bizarre that even Mexicans are lost for explanations.

“Winnie Pooh” was the late Oscar Guerrero Silva, a triggerman for Mexico’s drug cartels. Hardly a lovable bear, he belonged to a gang of Mexican army deserters that worked for the drug lords.

How about “El Cachorro” (The Puppy)? That Mexico City mechanic is said to have specialized in kidnapping and abusing young women.

One male-dominated gang of northern Mexicans named itself “Las Carmelitas” (the Carmelite Sisters) after their female leader Carmela.

Many suspect that police and crime reporters encourage, embellish and even invent some of the stranger nicknames. When presented with police reports that often list up to a half-dozen aliases for one suspect, news reports usually focus on the most outrageous one.

“If you want to get a crime story on Page One, you’ve got to have an impressive nickname — and if the suspect doesn’t have one, you’ve got to find one,” said Paco Ignacio Taibo II, who writes detective novels.

Some gangs almost certainly got their monikers from the press and police, like the two most famous kidnapping gangs of the 1990s — “The Ear Loppers” and “The Finger Cutters,” who slashed their victims.

Reporters deny inventing nicknames, saying they bubble up spontaneously out of Mexico’s violent, socially frayed neighborhoods.

“People in some of these neighborhoods are known more by their nicknames than their real names,” said Celeste Saenz, general secretary of Mexico’s Press Club. “The nicknames give them some status, some sense of belonging to a group.”

Federal prosecutors admit that they collect as many nicknames as possible on crime reports, but say it’s just so they can identify and locate suspects who use several aliases.

But lawyer Americo Delgado, who has defended some of Mexico’s highest-profile drug suspects, said police sometimes slap labels on his clients — “The Lord of Methamphetamines,” for instance — to make them seem guilty.

“Then, even if they are acquitted, those labels stick,” Mr. Delgado said. “Some people still talk about them as ‘acquitted drug lords.’”

Mr. Taibo said the public’s fascination with underworld nicknames goes back at least to the 1920s, when hoodlums such as “The Black Cap” roamed Mexico City. Back then, even the worst bandits had fairly innocuous aliases, such as “The Gray Car Gang.”

By the 1980s, the drug wars and an influx of cultural imports — everything from U.S. movies to kung fu videos — gave birth to a strange new nomenclature, Miss Saenz said.

Aliases became more graphic, such as “El Senor de los Cielos” (“The Lord of the Skies”) for a trafficker who flew planeloads of cocaine into the United States.

Movies appear to play a big role, said Luis Astorga, a researcher on the sociology of crime at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

A beefy housewife who is said to have dominated the drug trade on Mexico City’s rough east side had a gang calling itself “Ma Baker.”

“I’m sure they saw a pirate copy of a U.S. movie about Ma Barker, and thought that would be a good nickname,” Mr. Astorga said. “They just got the spelling wrong.”

The same appears to apply to the diminutive armed robbery suspect known as “Chuky, the Diabolical Doll.” Chuky is the Mexican spelling of Chucky, the murderous doll in the 1988 Hollywood horror movie “Child’s Play.”

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