Secret that keeps the Sinaloa cartel alive revealed

"It's like a big corporation," Islas recalls. That is, the Sinaloa cartel knows its market ... and usually pampers its customers.

A little town in Sinaloa
A little town in Sinaloa

The Sinaloa cartel, one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world, according to US authorities, has a presence in at least 12 of the 32 states of Mexico, and according to the US government, representatives of the organization have been detected in 50 countries

The US Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA, says the group is the largest supplier of heroin, marijuana, cocaine, fentanyl and other synthetic drugs to the market in that country. According to the DEA, the Sinaloa cartel is currently responsible for most shipments of products made with fentanyl.

The operation of the criminal organization is very similar to that of any company, tells BBC World José Reveles, author of several books on drug trafficking as "El Chapo: delivery and betrayal." "If you take away the name of the organization and you look only at its structure and strategy you would think it's an international corporation," he says.

Such strategy is one of the keys that explain the growth of the cartel, despite the capture of some of its founders, such as Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera. The capo was found guilty of ten charges of drug trafficking in the court of New York, USA, and now faces a sentence of life imprisonment.

The organization almost overcame the capture of Guzmán Loera and even, according to US authorities, keeps its drug trafficking operations unchanged. One of the reasons, specialists explain, is that in commercial matters, the cartel operates more with a sense of business and business than as a group dedicated to criminal activities.

"They are responsible for each of the phases of the operation," explains Alberto Islas, director of the security consultancy Risk-Evaluation, to BBC Mundo. Thus, in the structure of the organization, there are those who take care of their own crops of marijuana and poppy gum.

Unlike other cartels, the Sinaloa group "controls the land, does not buy crops. The peasants depend on them, "says Islas. The Sinaloa cartel controls thousands of hectares with poppy and marijuana crops.

This has allowed the cartel to guarantee the supply of these drugs without relying on external factors, such as a dispute with other organizations. Being self-sufficient offers the advantage of always having resources to maintain the operation of the group, even in difficult periods.

US support Another part of the structure of the organization is responsible for storing the merchandise in Mexican territory and then sending the cargoes to the border with the United States.

Here other people intervene who are responsible for crossing the drugs and deliver them to the allied groups that send them to different markets, such as the cities of Los Angeles, Chicago or Atlanta, for example.

Many of those who participate in this process are US citizens, including mothers or university students, say the specialists. The Mexican security forces do not lower their guard despite the capture of narcos such as El Chapo Guzmán.

In parallel, those responsible for each city or region also operate, who maintain communication with the leaders of the cartel and are also responsible for sending the proceeds for the sale of drugs.

At this level there are two more types of characters, explains Islas: one is an expert in finance, who is responsible for managing the group's profits.

"It's a small part, isolated, they are very professional people who make a strategy of how to collect the money, physically deliver it, wash the profits and reinvest the capital in the production and the structure of the cartel," says Islas.

The other type is a group dedicated to logistics operations such as searching for new routes and methods of trafficking, as well as maintaining the supply of raw materials for synthetic drugs or cocaine shipments.

These people are the ones who, generally, maintain contact with posters from countries such as Bolivia, Peru or Colombia.

This business model of the Sinaloa cartel works for its operations in Mexico and other countries. José Reveles tells a covert operation conducted some years ago by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the United States (FBI, for its acronym in English.

Two agents posed as cocaine buyers for Spain and managed to meet with Guzmán Loera in the Sinaloa mountains. "They found a 'Chapo' very different from what was believed, was a guy surrounded by managers," says the specialist.

"There was the route, the production, the international marketing and the washing. He asked the purported buyers where they wanted the drug and from what part they needed it to be shipped."

Part of that style of negotiation was narrated in the recent trial against Guzmán Loera in New York. In one of the hearings, an audio recording was presented where supposedly "El Chapo" negotiates the purchase of six tons of cocaine to a group linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

"I'm going to buy two (tons) and we're going to leave properties there in front for everything else," the recording says. The audio developer of the negotiation between "El Chapo" Guzmán and a FARC narco.

The business model is one of the keys that has allowed the cartel to remain, for decades, one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in the world. To transport drugs, the Sinaloa cartel uses improvised submarines.

Another key is its ability to innovate and adapt to new market conditions, say specialists such as David Pérez Esparza. When marijuana production in the United States increased in the mid-2000s, the Sinaloa cartel established dozens of synthetic drug laboratories in Mexican states such as Jalisco, Sinaloa and Baja California. In a short time, it became the largest supplier of methamphetamine in the US market. Later, when consumers in that country demanded other products, such as heroin or stronger chemical drugs, the Mexican organization supplied the market.

According to the DEA, the cartel is currently responsible for most shipments of products made with fentanyl, an opioid originally used to alleviate pain in cancer patients. The organization often modifies its distribution system. In the 1990s, for example, it used cargo trucks or hundreds of private cars to send the drug to the United States. He then built dozens of tunnels in border cities and then resorted to seemingly legal companies to ship cargoes in railroad cars, witnesses said in the New York trial.

He also modified the strategy to stock up on cocaine from South America. In the 90s used small planes, then speedboats and then, when in the 2000s the United States Coast Guard service deployed a special operation in international waters, the organization manufactured semi-submersible boats to transport the goods.

With information from BBC News Mundo, Mexico.