What happened with Mexican Drug cartels after the capture of El Chapo?
El Chapo’s Capture, overview
6:40 am on February 22nd 2014, marked the arrest of who was once the most wanted drug kingpin in the world: Archivaldo Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka El Chapo. Mazatlan, Sinaloa, was the city where he was arrested, through a joint operation by the Navy Department and the Attorney General’s Office of the Government of Mexico and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the United States.
The leader of Sinaloa’s Cartel, a criminal organization involved in drug trafficking, with influence in 21 states of the Mexican Republic and in more than 50 countries in Asia, Africa, Europe, America and Oceania, was finally arrested after escaping in 2001 from Puente Grande prison in Jalisco, and being sought by Mexican and international law enforcement agencies.
|Fotografía: Aristegui Noticias
El Chapo was hiding in a house in the city of Mazatlan, in Sinaloa, and his arrest came after "an operation that we had been working on for several months", according to the information provided by the Mexican General Attorney, Jesus Murillo Karam, in a press conference on February 22nd.
It was in February when agencies who worked in concert to the arrest of Guzman Loera had a more favorable position to his capture, as detailed by Murillo Karam. "Between February 13th and 17th several addresses were located where El Chapo used to live, that made it difficult to catch him. We found that all his seven houses were connected by tunnels, and that he had also used the drainpipes of the city itself". Finally, a satellite phone was used to track the precise location of the Sinaloa Cartel leader.
El Chapo Guzman was finally captured in an operation in which not a single bullet was shot, and in the middle of a controversy in social networks, where the identity of the drug dealer was questioned. The 56 year old man arrested and brought behind bars was a person with a lower height and with a different face to the remembered of the Joaquin when he was arrested 20 years ago. However, the authorities assured that the identity of the drug trafficker was verified at a "100%".
In the operation in which Joaquin Guzman Loera was arrested, eleven people more were arrested as well. 97 rifles, 36 handguns, 2 grenade launchers, more than 6000 cartridges, 43 vehicles, 14 houses and 38 communication devices were also ensured, among other possessions. On February 26 El Chapo Guzman was charged with eight criminal cases, which are estimated to result in up to 400 years in prison.
What is happening with Mexican Drug Cartels?
The arrest of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman represented the capture of the most wanted man in the world after the death of Osama Bin Laden, according to Forbes magazine. His apprehension sparked congratulations from the governments of Colombia and the United States, and news media around the world.
However, the fact of seeing Joaquin Guzman Loera behind bars, has triggered movements within the Mexican drug cartels. In the particular case of Sinaloa’s Cartel, the organization that El Chapo Guzman led, was Ismael El Mayo Zambada Garcia who assumed the leadership after the capture of Joaquin Guzman.
Ismael Zambada has been working in the Sinaloa Cartel since the mid 90's, and for many people he was considered the right hand of Joaquin Guzman. His rise as a leader of the cartel was expected both by researchers as by law enforcement agencies, and the AFP news agency confirmed that the appointment was because although El Chapo has sons, "there is no one better" that could replace Joaquin more than El Mayo Zambada. However, a godchild of El Chapo, Damaso Lopez, is also named in the leadership of Sinaloa Cartel.
So far, the Sinaloa Cartel has not shown signs of internal conflict, although the organization is under scrutiny from historians and critics, who point out that one of the main objectives of the new cartel leader is to maintain unity within its members.
What is certain is that other Mexican cartels have actually considered the arrest of El Chapo Guzman as an opportunity to fight against the Sinaloa Cartel and expand their territories. Criminal organizations such as Los Zetas, who are the principal enemies of the Sinaloa’s cartel, have also helped the Juarez Cartel to fight against El Chapo’s Cartel.
The Juarez Cartel had been dismantled after losing against El Chapo’s Cartel, but has now presented renewed fights. Recently, security consultancy Straftor reported that Los Zetas have helped the Juarez cartel headed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, to regain territory in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Chihuahua, taking advantage of Joaquin Guzman Loera’s capture.
Principal Mexican cartels and Lord Drugs before and after the capture of El Chapo
The Sinaloa Cartel has often been in the eye of criticism. When in December 2006, the then president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, openly declared the war against drug trafficking, the bands who suffered major blows were the cartels of Gulf, Tijuana, and Los Zetas, who have had conflicts with the cartel directed by El Chapo Guzman.
The situation touched off when the Sinaloa Cartel, also known as the Sinaloa Federation, was favored, and was consolidated as one of the most powerful drug cartels in Latin America. When in February 2014 El Chapo Guzman was captured by the Mexican government, the former Director of Intelligence for the DEA, Phil Jordan, declared in an interview broadcasted by several Mexican media, that El Chapo allegedly financed the election campaign of Enrique Peña Nieto, candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who won the presidency of Mexico in July 2013.
For historians as Froylan Enciso, a member of the non-governmental organization “Nuestra Aparente Rendición” (Our Apparent Surrender), "there is no before and after El Chapo Guzman", because according to a declaration in the Mexican newspaper Milenio in February, when a drug dealer is captured, his position is quickly filled with someone else, given that the organized cartels have a corporate structure.
At the moment the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas cartel control together over 80% of the Mexican territory, with clearly distinguishable borders: the group that is currently directed by El Mayo Zambada, dominates most of the states of the Mexican Pacific, based in Sinaloa; while the group headed by Omar Trevino Morales, aka Z-42, operates in most states of the Gulf of Mexico.
After the capture of El Chapo, the cartels of Gulf, Juarez and the Knights Templars, are the ones who are starring in the news.
The Gulf Cartel, based in Tamaulipas state, is facing a deep internal division, which has caused more than 35 deaths just in the past two weeks. The enemy of the Zetas cartel is also one of the oldest drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, and was also one of the most powerful. However, the fight for territory against Los Zetas, and the arrest of its leader in 2012 The Coss, and his successor, Mario Ramirez Trevino, the X20 in 2013, and other authority figures, has triggered a wave of violence to gain control of the Gulf Cartel.
The Juarez Cartel was an ally of Sinaloa Federation once, but as indicated by Straffor consultant, both groups became enemies, and the Juarez cartel directed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, lost against El Chapo. Currently his return is due to alleged support by Los Zetas, to stand against the Sinaloa Cartel after the arrest of Joaquin Guzman.
The Knights Templars has just gone through the murder of their top leaders, Enrique Kike Plancarte, on April 19th, and Nazario El Chayo Moreno Gonzalez, in an operation on March 9th. This organization was created in 2011 as a split-off of the La Familia Michoacana Cartel, who in 2006 was motivated by Mexico’s Government declaring a war on drugs.
The Knights Templars are allies of the Sinaloa Cartel in its fight against Los Zetas, and the position of leadership seems to fall to Servando Gomez La Tuta, although the Mexican government says that he shall be captured before May 10th. If the challenge is achieved, the Knights Templars organization would be dismantled, though perhaps it will persist in a few independent cells.
The Sinaloa Cartel has received its biggest strike with the arrest of Joaquin Guzman Loera, although in 2013 Gonzalo Inzunza was shot, and Jose Rodrigo Arechiga was captured, both leaders inside the organization. Although in the present there are no reports of internal conflicts in the band currently headed by El Mayo Zambada, the weakening of the arms battling Los Zetas, as the Gulf Cartel and the Knights Templars get stronger, could result into an indirect weakening of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The new geographical panorama of drug trafficking in Mexico, after the capture of El Chapo Guzman has presented changes and new conflicts, but these have not been caused by the isolated fact of Joaquin Guzman’s capture. There have been infighting at the Gulf Cartel, and the strikes from the government to organizations such as the Knights Templars have resulted in a new panorama in the Mexican drug trade.
New trends in drug trafficking in Mexico: local bands
The Executive Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Andrew Selee, wrote in the Mexican newspaper El Universal, that the fact that Mexico has captured or killed several of the leaders of the drug business, such as Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, Nazario Chayo Moreno and Miguel Treviño Z-40, that is not equivalent to the collapse of their criminal groups.
However, the weakening of the large cartels through the loss of their leaders seem to make a trend in the pattern of drug trafficking in Mexico. Andrew Selee points out that Los Zetas, despite having a major influence in several states, have become a cartel formed by small cells structured and united under one name.
The dismantling of Mexico's drug cartels does not solve the problem, nor ends the violence. The demand for narcotics in the United States and Mexico continues, so that drugs will be produced and sold. The writer and Mexican journalist Hector Aguilar Carmine, said in an article for the Spanish newspaper El País, that the illegality of drugs is what causes violence and the organization of cartels; while Andrew Selee points out that new bands, though smaller, will continue dealing drugs.
While currently cartels like Sinaloa’s are challenged to maintain unity and power after the capture of Joaquin Guzman Loera; The Knights Templars are facing fragmentation by eliminating their leaders. The Gulf Cartel has an internal fight that has led to extreme violence in Tamaulipas at Tamaulipas, and Los Zetas are operating under the same name but with different criminal groups.
Other cartels, such as the Jalisco New Generation, also known as The Matazetas, and the Juarez Cartel, have now control over smaller territories, though profitable businesses. The decentralizing of the remaining cartels like the Tijuana Cartel or Beltran Leyva family continues with an smaller scale of drug trafficking.
The capture of El Chapo Guzman was a strike to the Mexican drug trade, but has also given a media coup that benefited internationally the government of the president Enrique Peña Nieto. After concluding that the drug traffic will continue even without El Chapo, the upcoming months and years will bring the answers of whether Mexico is capable to deal with drug trafficking and its problems at a more local level while the fight continues nationally.