Grim glossary of the narco-world

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Words can hardly convey how vicious, how over the top, Mexico’s drug war has become. So they invented some.

The Mexican media now have a special expression for being lined up and shot, and another for being dumped in the trunk of a car (we’ll get to these). There are also terms for mafia kidnappings, for drug-gang spies and for the hand-scrawled notes hit men leave with the bodies of their victims. The lingo is grim, but how else to portray such savagery as beheadings and bodies cut up and cooked in acid?

Herewith a partial, and macabre, narco-glossary:

Levanton: the kidnapping of one or more members of a rival gang, or other enemy. Unlike traditional kidnappings, the point is not ransom, but to torture and kill a foe. Victims of a multiple levanton may end up fusilados.


Fusilados: from the Spanish word for rifle, to be executed in the style of a firing squad, or with a shot to the head, known as a tiro de gracia. This occurred in an attack at a Ciudad Juarez drug-treatment clinic in early September.

Encajuelado: Based on the word for “trunk,” a body dumped in the trunk of a car. This is a common method for disposing of victims of a drug hit. Often, the bodies are bound and gagged with packing tape or are encobijados, wrapped in blankets. Sometimes they are accompanied by a handwritten narcomensaje.

Narcomensaje: A scrawled drug message, often rambling or peppered with misspellings. Such missives are typically meant to threaten rival drug cartels or government security forces. Messages sometimes take the form of banners, known as narcomantas, and are hung from bridges or in other public places to demonstrate a gang’s audacity.

Plaza: Not the quaint public square you see in nearly every Mexican town, but rather any defined drug marketplace, such as a smuggling point. Much of the violence since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon declared war on drug cartels, is due to fighting among gangs over coveted plazas, or turf, including street-level sales taking place in tienditas.

Tiendita: Any place where drugs are sold in small quantities on the street -- a house, apartment building or even a little store. Tienditas, or “little stores,” play a big role in what Mexican officials say is a worrisome increase in domestic drug use and addiction in Mexico, which once served mainly as a pipeline to the United States with little local consumption.

Halcones: To guard strongholds, trafficking groups rely on a network of street-level informants -- taxi drivers, fruit vendors, teen boys -- known as halcones, or falcons. Halcones provide early warning of the arrival of federal police or soldiers that have been dispatched around Mexico as part of Calderon’s drug war.


Cuerno de chivo: “Goat horn,” nickname for the AK-47 assault rifle, a favorite of cartel gunmen. The name refers to the curved shape of the magazine. Hit men are increasingly making use of even more powerful weapons, including .50-caliber machine guns and 40-millimeter grenade launchers. Authorities also report a rise in the use of potent pistols, able to fire through body armor, that are known here as matapolicias, or cop killers.

Narco-(anything): It’s handy for headline writers and coiners of terms that narco combines with almost any noun.

Alone, narco can refer to a trafficker or the entire illegal drug trade, as in, “The government’s war against el narco.”

A little creativity yields narco-fiestas (opulent, drug-laden parties featuring foreign dancers or big-name musical groups), narco-zoologicos (narco-zoos, collections of exotic animals that, for some reason, are collectors’ items for traffickers) and narco-candidatos (politicians reputed to be in cahoots with drug gangs).

Attorneys who defend suspected capos are narco-abogados, or narco-lawyers.

Narco-policias are cops on the take.

And representing the drug war’s next generation: Narcojuniors, the well-heeled children of traffickers accused of helping run the criminal enterprises.



Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.