The Sinaloa cartel, profitable business with or without El Chapo

The rescue of Ovidio Guzmán López on Thursday 17 in Culiacán showed that the Sinaloa Cartel continues to have strength, despite its fragmentation. Commanded by El Mayo Zambada and the sons of Chapo, the criminal group maintains an extensive network of business alliances and connections in much of the world.

OFAC's list reveals that the Sinaloa Cartel is the organization with the largest presence of partners and companies in Mexico and abroad. Photo: France24
OFAC's list reveals that the Sinaloa Cartel is the organization with the largest presence of partners and companies in Mexico and abroad. Photo: France24

However, on the day in question, the hired gunmen at his service overdid it, which will have consequences for the organization that for years tried to make people have a positive impression of it.

The DEA considers the Sinaloa Cartel the fastest growing Mexican criminal organization in the international arena. It has a presence in more than 20 countries and is linked to about 400 companies it uses to launder money and move drug shipments. In Mexico, it operates in 23 states.

Although last July a court in New York sentenced Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera, El Chapo, one of the leaders of that group, to life imprisonment, on Thursday 17 his hitmen showed in Culiacan that they still have strength. That day they managed to rescue Ovidio Guzman Lopez, who had been apprehended by members of the Army and the National Guard.

During El Chapo's trial, the New York prosecutor's office estimated that the Sinaloa capo's profits amounted to 14 billion dollars (about 266 billion pesos). In order to calculate this figure, the amount of drug that the drug trafficker sent to the United States was added up and multiplied by the price at which the drugs are quoted on the black market.

According to U.S. authorities, much of the profits remained in Mexico; the rest was injected into the companies run by the cartel's financial operators.

Chapo's sons: Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar and Ovidio Guzmán López -Los Chapitos- have been in the sights of U.S. authorities for years, after they helped Guzmán Loera escape from the Altiplano prison.

The recapture of the capo in January 2016 and his extradition to the United States a year later, where he was finally convicted, did not slow the geographic growth of the cartel nor did they diminish its financial structure, since Ismael El Mayo Zambada, the partner of Chapo, supported Los Chapitos, who resisted the attacks of Dámaso López Núñez, El Licenciado, and his son, El Mini Lic, who tried to take control of a part of the organization. Finally, López Núñez and his son were detained by federal authorities.

Sources from the Subsecretaría de Seguridad de Sinaloa, who asked for anonymity, discard rumors that there has ever been a division between El Mayo and Los Chapitos: "They have always been seen as close".

Within the criminal organization the positions are vertical: the visible command is held by Iván Guzmán, who is supported by his brother Jesús Alfredo -both were procreated by El Chapo and Alejandrina Salazar-; there are also his half brothers Ovidio and Joaquín, whose mother is Griselda López, and Aureliano Guzmán Loera, El Guano.

The Chapitos operate in central Sinaloa, especially in the municipalities of Culiacán, Navolato, Guamúchil, and Badiraguato, while El Mayo and its people work in coordination with them; none has a specific zone.

The north of the entity - Los Mochis and El Fuerte - is the territory of the Beltrán Leyva brothers, while in Concordia, Rosario and Escuinapa are Los Zetas; that zone is disputed by Los Mazatlecos, who eventually incursion into Los Mochis.

So far, according to sources consulted, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) has not entered Sinaloa.

The territory of Los Chapitos

In Culiacán society celebrated that on Thursday the 17th the federal forces withdrew and released Ovidio Guzmán López. The perception is that the state does not have to bother them, says one of the officials interviewed.

Eduardo Guerrero, a security specialist, comments: In September there were 35 executions in Sinaloa, one of the "lowest rates in the country". However, he adds, the entity is experiencing "chronic violence because there is a lot of social rooting of organized crime; that is, there are many young people involved in the cultivation of marijuana and poppy, as well as in the purchase and transfer".

He adds: "The clashes are between small cells grouped with the Sinaloa Cartel... It had really been quiet, unlike 2008, with the Beltrán Leyva, and 2017, when the Dámaso split from the organization. On those two occasions, the number of deaths was higher".

-Has there been a division between El Mayo and the children of El Chapo? -the researcher was asked.

-No. Never. My impression of the situation of the Sinaloa Cartel (even though there is no systematic study of it) is that it has not expanded in the last two years. My impression is that the Guzmán brothers focused on their father's trial in the United States; therefore, instead of growing up they have spent defending themselves against the New Generation Jalisco Cartel, trying to contain it in places like Manzanillo, Nayarit, Tijuana, and Ciudad Juárez, where there is conflict... Let's say that (the Sinaloa Cartel) has only reacted to the expansionist spirit of the Jalisco Cartel.

Guerrero points out that this cartel, led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, El Mencho, fights very hard in Veracruz, Tabasco and Quintana Roo, where it disputes the markets with the Sinaloa Cartel and local groups.

The Sinaloa Cartel, he explains, is very different, much more conservative in terms of its business portfolio. It has concentrated on privileging drug exports to the United States.

"It's not a cartel that likes to get into extortion or kidnapping. In fact, their leaders have often punished their hired killers for extorting or kidnapping civilians, as happened in 2011 in Durango, when people in May took out Los Emes, whose members extorted, kidnapped and even disappeared hundreds of civilians".

The researcher emphasizes that the leaders of this organization like people to have a positive impression of them; they even have good relations with the authorities and are willing to contribute resources for social works.

Regarding the performance of Los Chapitos and its people on Thursday 17 in Culiacán, Eduardo Guerrero comments: "The display of force that they showed was excessive; it has no precedent. The way his men got into the fractionating to threaten the families of the soldiers was completely disproportionate, as if they crossed a line.

"The May is much more moderate, prudent; it would have been difficult to have mounted something as aggressive and spectacular as what the Guzmán brothers mounted".

For now, he says, there is an exodus of the families of the soldiers who resided in the military housing unit in Culiacán. As of Thursday, the 24th, 60 of the 140 families had emigrated.

-In how many states does the Sinaloa Cartel operate? -the reporter asks.

-In 23 states, including Mexico City.

Analyst Alejandro Hope comments that the organization headed by Los Chapitos retains the characteristics of the old guard.

-What is the map of the Sinaloa Cartel? How has it moved so far last year to date? -asks the reporter.

-There is a graduality in this period. There continues to be a very important presence in traditional areas of illicit crop production, with the exception of the state of Guerrero, where fentanyl production fell.

Hope explains that the conflict zones between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG are located in the ports of Manzanillo, Lázaro Cárdenas and Topolobampo, among others. It is there, he says, where there is access to precursors, where they easily move merchandise.

He points out that the Sinaloa Cartel operates in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, part of Sonora, Baja California and Colima. And in their leaderships are the sons of Chapo and El Mayo; it is probable that Rafael Caro Quintero will also be with them.

"If we compare it with the years of the dispute with the Beltrán Leyva, the Sinaloa Cartel may be diminished, but it still has a very important presence, especially regional," concludes Hope.

The list of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)

Since 2007, the U.S. Department of the Treasury began to demonstrate the existence of more than 250 companies established by this organization in Mexican territory and in Latin American and European cities.

The Kingpin Act classified Chapo Guzmán, Mayo Zambada, and Juan José Esparragoza Moreno, El Azul, as the ringleaders.

On May 17 of that year, the agency released the list of the cartel companies established in Sinaloa, which functioned as a front for money laundering. Eight months later, the Cázares Salazar financial network appeared, which includes marketing companies, factories, restaurants, and real estate agencies, among others.

On December 15, 2009, the Treasury Department attributed links with drug trafficking organizations in Central America and Colombia to the cartel.

Earlier that year, in April, the Sinaloa organization was linked to Guatemalan capo Waldemar Lorenzana Lima and three other individuals from his network in that country. And in Colombia, he was linked to the network of Jorge Milton Cifuentes Villa and his companies, which range from foundations to airlines located in that country, Panama, Mexico, the United States, and Spain.

In 2012, the Sinaloa Cartel was blacklisted by Marllory Dadiana Chacón Rossell's organization in Guatemala, whose companies were located in that country and in Panama.

That same year, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the Treasury Department, identified María Alejandrina Salazar Hernández and Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar as Chapo's relatives.

OFAC then pointed to the Esparragoza Moreno network; it then linked the Sinaloa Cartel with John Angel Zabaneh and his organization in Belize, and reiterated its closeness to Chacón Rossell and his people in Guatemala. The organizational chart also includes the cell of Rafael Caro Quintero, included on June 12, 2013, whose companies OFAC locates in Mexico.

In the case of the companies, the most recurrent lines of business are cattle ranching and farming, as well as exchange houses, imports, exports and the manufacture of clothing and airlines.

Of the 399 entities published by OFAC, it mentions 228 persons and 171 companies presumably used for money laundering.

According to information from the Department of the Treasury, of the 339 companies and active people, El Mayo, also leader of the cartel, is the one who has more companies and partners at his service, with 62 social purposes, followed by El Azul -who presumably died on November 7, 2014-, with 36. As far as Chapo goes, at least 250 companies are attributed to the latter.

The capos use wives, sons, daughters, brothers, cousins, compadres and friends of their respective families in these signatures. OFAC published full names and photographs of at least 70 people on its famous list.

According to a review by the website Animal Político, of the 146 companies active on OFAC's list, at least 12 have been insured at the request of ministerial and judicial authorities in Mexico. In all cases due to suspicions of having participated in illegal activities.

In the case of Mexico, Sinaloa concentrates 108 people and companies that allegedly launder resources; 34 are located in Jalisco; 32 in Mexico City; 30 in Baja California; 24 in Sonora; and the rest in Chihuahua, Durango, the State of Mexico, Michoacán, Morelos, Nuevo León, Puebla and Quintana Roo.

OFAC's list reveals that the Sinaloa Cartel is the organization with the largest presence of partners and companies in Mexico and abroad, which consolidates it as a strong international money laundering network.

The organization has at least 52 companies and presumed laundering partners in Colombia, 14 in Guatemala, 10 in Honduras, six in Panama, four in Ecuador, two in Belize, one in Venezuela, one in Israel and one in Spain. It recently added companies from Asia.

During the operation to free Ovidio Guzmán López, this wealth was fundamental in moving the "plebada," (folks) especially the youth. Iván Guzmán Salazar and Joaquín Guzmán López allegedly offered 20,000 pesos to each of those who joined Ovidio's rescue.

Source: Proceso

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