What We Know About ‘La Kena,’ the Cartel Boss Suspected of Killing 2 Americans

Mexican media has fingered Jose Alberto Garcia Vilano, who is connected to the Gulf Cartel, for the attack that killed two Americans in Matamoros. He already has a price on his head.
Mexico's government put a bounty on the head of an alleged Gulf Cartel boss Jose Alberto Garcia Vilano, alias La Kena or Ciclon 19, in April 2022. Photo: Mexican government. 

MEXICO CITY — The deadly kidnapping of four Americans in the border city of Matamoros, Mexico this week has been connected to the leader of a faction of the powerful Gulf Cartel. 

Mexican news outlets Reforma and Milenio have both fingered a man named Jose Alberto Garcia Vilano, alias La Kena or Ciclon 19, as being the head of the group behind the attack on Friday March 3, in which four Americans visiting the city were first fired upon and then abducted. 


Two of the victims were found alive on Tuesday. The other two U.S citizens were killed. Although Mexican authorities arrested a 24-year-old man who was guarding the safe house from where the two living American victims were rescued and the bodies of the other two retrieved, no official statements have been made as to those behind the attack or the motive.

La Kena is reportedly the boss of Los Ciclones, or the Cyclones in English, a faction connected to the Cárdenas family, which has been one of the anchors of the Gulf Cartel over the last 25 years or so. Matamoros is home to at least two warring factions of the Gulf Cartel, one of the country’s oldest criminal organizations that has splintered repeatedly over the past 15 years. 

La Kena is believed to have worked as a top lieutenant for Alfredo Cárdenas, alias El Contador, or the Accountant in English, who was the leader of a major faction of the Gulf Cartel in Matamoros for several years. In April 2022, the Tamaulipas state government put out a 2,500,000 peso reward, or roughly $140,000, for information that could lead to La Kena’s arrest.


While little is publicly known about La Kena, several songs were written about the alleged Gulf Cartel boss by a narco rapper named 5050. 

In one of the songs about the life of La Kena, 5050 raps that he was born and raised in Matamoros and “began working with the cartel with El Señor of letters double T,” signifying Tony Tormenta, another member of the Cárdenas family.

“Along his path, he converted into a gunman. He’s crazy, has no fear,” raps 5050 with lyrics signed off by either La Kena or one of his associates. “He likes danger, he likes to carry an AK47, made in Matamoros, he’s building his turf.”

Narco rap is a hip hop subgenre of narcocorridos, a style of traditional Mexican music where cartel members pay musicians to sing aggrandizing ballads about their life and exploits. While narcocorridos have existed since the 1970s, the narco rap style began to proliferate in the 2000s specifically for members of the Gulf Cartel.

Alfredo Cárdenas, who La Kena worked for, was a nephew of the legendary Osiel Cárdenas, a powerful Gulf Cartel boss around the turn of the century. After Osiel’s 2003 arrest, numerous other members of his family, including his brothers Antonio Cárdenas, alias Tony Tormenta, and Mario Cárdenas, alias M1, have at various points run factions of the cartel. After the death of Tony Tormenta in 2010 and the arrest of M1 in 2012, Alfredo would eventually take control of a faction of the group.


El Contador was able to escape the grips of the law for several years. He was arrested twice and released on questionable technicalities. But his luck ran out in February 2022 when he was arrested for a third time. The U.S. is currently trying to extradite El Contador to face charges stateside.

Not only is La Kena believed to have worked closely with him, according to Milenio, but he was one of three men tapped to continue to run the faction of the Gulf Cartel he controlled, along with two other members of the Cárdenas family: Axel Cárdenas and Alán Cárdenas.

U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar released a statement saying that “Tamaulipas represents a risk due to the high levels of crime and violence. We are particularly concerned about the control exercised by the Gulf Cartel in the area.”

Whether or not La Kena was in fact behind last weekend’s kidnapping and killing of the four American tourists in Mexico has yet to be confirmed by the authorities, and the motive remains unknown.