René Velázquez Valenzuela
"infected with our virus"
Known to the sicarios under his command as Phoenix Antrax, René Velázquez Valenzuela was a high ranking member of Los Antrax, the armed wing of the Zambada faction of the Sinaloa cartel. It was the duty of this group to protect and ensure the liberty of the children of Ismael Zambada Garcia, a powerful drug lord.
After the arrest of his boss El Chino Antrax, Velázquez Valenzuela assumed a more prominent position within Los Antrax, and he was at the forefront of the fight against competing drug gangs, specifically their arch-rivals the Beltran Leyva cartel. A ruthless and dangerous drug trafficker, fate would eventually catch up with Phoenix Antrax.
The Deadly Antrax
In the early morning hours of October 30, 2016, gunfire could be heard in the Las Quintas neighbourhood in Culiacan. Elements of the Mexican Army were engaged in a fierce shootout with suspected members of organized crime. After being spotted by soldiers, the cartel gunmen opened fire resulting in a firefight that last thirty minutes.
When reinforcements arrived, the cartel members attempted to flee the scene. One of the vehicles, a red Toyota, drove off on Miguel Higaldo street while the occupants opened fire. It soon came to stop, the occupants dead or wounded. At least three suspects were confirmed dead, three others were injured along with another three who had been apprehended.
When the shooting had stopped, one of the dead was identified almost immediately, owing to his unique appearance. Lying half inside the vehicle, his head hanging outside, the soldiers could see the man with the shaved head and long beard was René Velázquez Valenzuela, “El Gato Negro”, the second-in-command of the deadly Los Antrax hit squad.
Well-known for his particular style and physical appearance, René Velázquez Valenzuela was leading figure in the Mexican criminal underworld, and an influential member of Los Antrax, a group of gunmen tasked with the protection of the Sinaloa cartel leader and his family.
Originally working as a truck driver in Sinaloa, Velázquez Valenzuela had, like many other young men, became enticed by the prospect of earning more money by joining the deadly drug cartels that by 2008, had become established and prevalent throughout Mexico. He had been contacted directly by Mayito Gordo who asked him to joined his family’s cartel.
Los Antrax had been founded as an enforcer group, composed of military trained gunmen to act as both an armed wing, that would battle rival cartels, and as a protection unit, whose members would given their lives to protect the cartels leader. But it was the family of cartel leader who Los Antrax would provide protection.
Ismael “Mayo” Zambada Garcia, the co-leader of the Sinaloa Federation, and head of the Zambada family, wanted to ensure the lives of his sons and daughters, and for this reason Los Antrax was created. Mayo Zambada had as many as four sons, all of whom followed their father into the drug trafficking business.
Ismael Zambada Imperial “El Mayito Gordo”, Ismael Zambada Sicairos “Mayito Flaco” and Serafin Zambada Ortiz “Sera” all worked in some capacity within the Sinaloa cartel, while Vincente Zambada Niebla “El Vincentillo” was assigned to work with Los Antrax. Given the codename “El 10,” the young Zambada would help oversee drug shipments into the U.S.
At some point during 2008, Velázquez Valenzuela joined and quickly rose up the ranks of Los Antrax, becoming a high ranking member, taking the codename “El 3,” he was eventually made the chief of sicarios, overseeing the training of cartel hit squads. Phoenix Antrax preferred wearing black clothing, shaved his head, and grew a long beard.
Equally notorious for his method of executing rivals, Phoenix Antrax was known by various nicknames such as “El Gato Negro,” meaning the Black Cat, “El Sargento Phoeni,” the Phoenix Sergeant, and El Taliban, for his long beard and penchant for wearing turbans. In social media photographs he would sometimes pose next to a portrait of Osama bin Laden.
His exploits as a cartel enforcer were showcased in narcocorridos or drug ballads, by several singers and music groups such as Larry Hernandez, Enigma Norteño, Jorge Santa Cruz, Los Nuevos Rebeldes, Gerardo Ortiz and Ariel Camacho. These songs describe his violent lifestyle and proficiency with high-calibre weapons.
As commander of sicarios, Phoenix Antrax reported directly to his superiors José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa “El Chino Ántrax” and Eliseo Imperial Castro “El Cheyo Ántrax”, who was cousin of the Zambada clan. Owing to his success in gun battles against rivals, Velázquez Valenzuela earned the trust of Ismael Zambada Garcia.
Shortly after joining Los Antrax, Velázquez Valenzuela and several associates became involved in a shootout with the Mexican army. According to police reports, Velázquez opened fire on an Army unit, which triggered a firefight between his men and soldiers in Miguel Hidalgo street.
As the gunmen attempted to escape the scene, the Army units shot at the vehicles tires causing it to stop. Velázquez was apprehended along with his brother Fidel Velázquez Valenzuela, Marco Antonio Lopez Armendariz and Francisco Angulo Estrada. At the time of his arrest, Velázquez was found with an AK-47 assault rifle, a 40mm grenade and a 5.7x28mm pistol, while others in the group were in possession of an assortment of other weapons.
Velázquez would complain that when he and his accomplices surrendered, the Army units continued to open fire on them in an attempt to kill him. He claimed he threw himself on the floor to avoid being hit, and was then kicked by the soldiers, who pistol whipped him.
The Army countered these claims by stating they acted in accordance with the law when attacked by Velázquez. A subsequent investigation found that Velázquez opened fire on the Army unit, in order to distract them and allow “El Chino Antrax” to escape the scene.
He then reportedly surrendered himself by walking towards the Army officers with a grenade in his hand. Imprisoned at the Penal de Aguaruto, a low-security prison in Aguaruto, Culiacan, while awaiting trial, Velázquez reportedly assumed a leadership role among the inmates, and was in charge of “Module Five”. This was part of the prison sector that held Sinaloa Cartel-affiliated criminals involved in drug trafficking.
There he enjoyed luxuries, including access to social media, upon which he uploaded photographs of himself and his lifestyle behind bars. In these pictures he can be seen walking the prison yard with an entourage of inmates, smoking marijuana, playing with a pet raccoon, and receiving visits from others cartel associates, including Roque Landeros “El Roque Antrax/El 29”.
By the time of his release from prison on August 22, 2014, Phoenix Antrax had served two-thirds of his sentence. He was quickly appointed second-in-command of Los Antrax after his boss, El Chino Antrax had been captured. He immediately resumed his position within the group, and continued his criminal activities.
On November 29, 2014, Los Antrax put up a narcomanta in Hueyapan, Veracruz announcing that they’re arrival into the town to cleanse it of Zetas. Hueyapan was considered an important Zeta trafficking route, with drugs passing through to Tamaulipas, and on to the U.S.
The leader of Los Zetas, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales “Z-40” had been engaged in a deadly turf war with El Chapo, El Mayo and the Sinaloa Federation for several years, until his capture on July 14, 2013. His successor as leader of the Los Zetas cartel was his brother, Omar Trevino Morales “Z-42”, who oversaw an already fractured organization.
The banner read;
“To all the beautiful people of the Hueyapan de Ocampo municipality.
Brought to your attention is that we are already here and we will soon start cleansing these territories of the so called zetas and whichever person who has had something with them in one way or another.
We have not come for innocents we come for rats, lookouts, municipal, state, federal police, and public officials and all state and soldiers snitches.
Soon you all will know what it is to be infected with our virus.
If you have polarized windows please remove them so we will not unfortunately confuse you.
Association and Corporation Antrax
Death of Hidalgo Street
At 4:00am, on October 30, 2016, elements of the Mexican Army engaged in a clash with an armed group in the Las Quintas neighbourhood in Culiacan. The incident occurred on Miguel Higaldo street at the intersection with Esteban Flores and Alejandro Quijano streets.
According to official reports, the Army unit was on the way to Sanalona, a town in Culiacan, when they received word of armed men in the area. As they neared the scene, they overheard gunshots near the 9th Military Zone, and re-routed back to that direction. A convoy of fifteen Army vehicles carrying some 70 soldiers headed to the area, and reinforcements were called and were on-route.
As they arrived at Las Quintas, the Army discovered that several members of Los Antrax were attending a home gathering. When the gang members noticed the arrival of law enforcement, they attempted to flee the scene in their vehicles. Others tried to escape by running across rooftops and yards of the neighbouring houses, causing panic among the local residents.
Velázquez was present with several other gunmen, who decided to stay and engage in a gunfight with the Army. The firefight started around 3:30 AM, and lasted 30 minutes, creating chaos amongst the neighborhood and ended with three members of Los Antrax killed, including Velázquez.
His body was found with several gunshot wounds inside a red armoured Toyota Tacoma. Because of his unique physical characteristics, he was quickly identified. The two other men killed were identified as Gilberto Alejandro Simental Castaneda “El Tilin” and Jesus Rogelio Martinez Armenta “El Chuy Piedra”.
Another three members of Los Antrax were wounded and captured, Juan Carlos Aristegui Murillo “El Toto”, Jesus Javier Gomez Armenta and Jose Carlos Lopez Alanis “El Cali”, who had assumed control of Los Antrax after the arrest of Chino Antrax.
Three others were arrested at the scene, Jesus Manuel Ibarra Chavez “El Ninon”, Carlos Meza Gonzalez “El Carlillos” and Abelardo Salazar “El 50/El 90”, all members of the same criminal group. Subsequent intelligence reports indicated the suspects were part of a security detail providing protection for “El Mayito Flaco”, the last of El Mayo’s son’s to remain a fugitive.
It was believed Velázquez and his men had decided to attack the Army units to allow El Mayito Flaco to escape. During the aftermath, the Army requested support from the Criminal Investigation Agency (AIC), to secure the scene and gather evidence. The body of Velázquez was removed, to ensure it was not taken by an armed commando from Los Antrax.
The wounded were taken to a local hospital where 50 soldiers were stationed to prevent the escape or rescue of the suspects. Mexican authorities later confirmed the death of Velázquez, and released information on his role in the criminal group, stating he was second-in-command, and head of sicario operations.
The Government of Sinaloa stated to the press that they could not discount the possibility of a violent reaction from Los Antrax over the death of Velázquez. The operation was conducted as part of a larger operation against Los Antrax and the Sinaloa cartel since September 30, 2016, when gunmen of the Sinaloa cartel ambushed and killed five Army soldiers in Culiacan.
The press received information about the shootout from an anonymous source, which claimed the Army discovered the location of Velázquez from an unknown tip, meaning he was likely betrayed by someone in his own organization.
The identity of the person who set-up Velázquez and Los Antrax was allegedly revealed to be Ivan Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar “El Chapito”, the son of El Chapo Guzmán, who had been captured for a third time on January 8, 2016.
Since the death of Phoenix Antrax, and the capture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, the Sinalo Federation has become fractured, with several warring factions emerging. One of those is the Zambada faction, that continues to remain a dominant force within Sinaloa.