The death of Mexico’s interior minister in a helicopter crash has opened the way for the latest in a long history of narco-conspiracy theories from the country — InSight Crime counts down its top 10.

10. Human-smoked BBQ: There are numerous stories about the ways Mexican drug gangs dispose of their victims. Some, like beheadings and dissolvings in acid, are known to be true. But others are legends or, at best, uncorroborated testimonies. They range from feeding people to sharks, lions or crocodiles, to sacrificing them in satanic rituals. Among the more creative stories (entertained in Ioan Grillo’s recent book, “El Narco“) is that of Ramon Arellano Felix, of the Tijuana Cartel, who allegedly threw his victims in fire, then used the corpses’ coals to cook steaks for himself and his henchmen.

9. Death of a Minister (Part II): Ramon Martin Huerta, a security adviser for President Vicente Fox, died in a helicopter crash in 2005 (Part I). Interior Minister Juan Camilo Mouriño died in an airplane crash in 2008. His death raised suspicions·for two reasons: 1) the minister was traveling with presidential security advisor Jose Luis Vasconcelos; 2) their airplane crashed in downtown Mexico City in 2008, about a kilometer from the presidential palace. On November 4, just days before his own air disaster (Part III), Blake Mora Tweeted: “Today we remember Juan Camilo Mouriño three years after his death, a human being who worked for the construction of a better Mexico.”

8. The Death of “El Señor de los Cielos”: The biggest narcos never really die. The most recent cases are Ignacio Coronel, alias “Nacho,” of the Sinaloa Cartel and Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias “El Chayo,” of the Familia Michoacana, both reportedly killed by the Mexican military last year; both now reportedly alive and at least one living in luxury. But, in narco lore, few deaths are more shrouded in mystery than that of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias the “Lord of the Skies,” the one-time all powerful head of the Juarez Cartel. For many, he is alive, following an arrangement made with the government. And if you think he’s dead, then you have another debate on your hands. He did not die in a Mexico City clinic getting plastic surgery but was killed by the government who later fabricated story, one theory goes. Others say his bodyguards smothered him with a pillow. Of course, the way two of his plastic surgeons allegedly died adds to the tale: they were found, chopped into pieces, and partially encased in cement.

7. The Plot to Kill Colosio: In 1994, after receiving the nod (or the “finger” as they once called it) to run for president for the then-ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Luis Donaldo Colosio was shot by three bullets at close range at a political event in a poor neighborhood in Tijuana. The man who was captured at the scene, Mario Aburto Martinez, said he acted alone. To this day, few in Mexico believe him, even though he was sentenced to 42 years in prison for the crime.

6. Killing of a Cardinal: In 1993, gunmen, apparently mistaking Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo for rival Joaquin Guzman, killed the priest at the Guadalajara airport (see photo front page). Three federal investigations and an exhaustive book titled “Killing of a Cardinal,” authored by a former Attorney General, says that it was an honest error by vengeful traffickers. But for many Mexicans, how the gunmen, standing at point blank range, could mistake the plump, bespectacled and well-known church official for “Shorty” Guzman has not been made clear. The motive, say some theorists, is that the Arellano Felix Organization, aka the Tijuana Cartel, targeted the priest for his criticism of the drug traffickers and their accomplices and was presumably ready to “out” them in public.

5. Top Cop = Top Kidnapping Ring: From Rio de Janeiro to Juarez, police have longed form the core of many criminal groups, so it comes as little surprise that the name of Mexico’s top cop, Genaro Garcia Luna, is mixed up in a top kidnapping ring. The ring, known “La Flor,” does allegedly include police and ex-police and targets high risk, high return victims as well as controls the country’s unofficial chief drug trafficking plaza, or trafficking corridor: the Mexico City airport. But officials do not even acknowledge that the group exists. Conspiracy theorists would say that is precisely because Garcia Luna, who is currently the secretary of public security, is at the top.

4. Splitting up the Plazas: After the arrest of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo in 1989, the Guadalajara Cartel, Mexico’s first “cartel,” was finished. Chaos would follow unless someone with Felix Gallardo’s stature stepped in, arranged a truce. So he allegedly set up a meeting in Acapulco (or was it Guadalajara?) in which the top narcos still at large — the Arellano Felix brothers, Joaquin Guzman, Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, et al. — split up the plazas. According to this theory, if each kid had a toy, they would be happy. But we know how well kids share toys when the parents turn their backs.

3. PRI’s Arrangement: Many attempt to explain the current violence in Mexico by citing the breakdown of the top-down control exercised during the 70-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). According to this theory, the party arranged with the narco bosses to keep violence low and profits high at the expense of the “pinche gringos” doing drugs up north. And while there is plenty of evidence pointing to high-level collusion (former Mexican President Carlos Salinas’ brother Raul Salinas being the most prominent example), the reality of creating a blanket policy to keep a lid on feuds seems unrealistic. Still, the theory is so strong that some supporting a PRI return to power in next year’s presidential elections seem to believe they can also revive this fictitious Pax-Narco-Mexicana.

2. PAN Party Favors Sinaloa Cartel: Since Joaquin Guzman escaped from prison in 2001, the prevailing conspiracy theory in Mexico is that the National Action Party (PAN) favors Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel. The conspiracy starts with the escape itself: Did Guzman, as has been reported frequently in the media and in books on the man, escape in a laundry basket or did he simply walk out the front door with the government’s permission? These days, the focus has shifted more to the numbers of arrests. The PAN government, which has held the presidency since 2000, incarcerates significantly less Sinaloa Cartel members. This analysis has reached lofty heights (see National Public Radio’s report here) and even prompted President Calderon to deny it, which had the perverse effect of reinforcing the conspiracy.

1. The DEA is the World’s Biggest Drug Cartel: The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has never been popular in the region, so it’s not surprising it is as the center numerous conspiracy theories regarding its own involvement in the drug trade. Mexico’s ire reaches back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when DEA agents arranged for the kidnapping and extraordinary rendition of Humberto Alvarez Machain, as part of its efforts to prosecute those involved in the 1985 kidnap and killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena. (Alvarez was later acquitted.) Fostering the conspiracy these days is Jesus Vicente Zambada, who is facing prosecution in Chicago for drug trafficking. Zambada, who is the son of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel boss Ismael Zambada, told the court that the U.S. government allows the Sinaloa Cartel to traffic drugs in the United States in return for information on the other large trafficking organizations. The theory sometimes goes beyond DEA involvement and includes the notion that the U.S. economy (and security contractors) depends on the drug trade.

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Steven Dudley is the co-founder and co-director of InSight Crime and a senior research fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies in Washington, DC. In 2020, Dudley...