The Sinaloa cartel, profitable business with or without El Chapo

Despite the capture of Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán, his extradition, his trial and having been convicted of the ten crimes he was accused of - among others, leading an organization that deals with drugs on an industrial scale,, the business of the Sinaloa cartel keeps its pace as recent seizures show in border areas controlled by this group. Nor do they seem to have restricted their activities in the dozens of countries where they are present.

Bags of fentanyl, plastic tubes filled with glass, heroin, cocaine. The mythical leader is out of the game but there is no indication that the cartel is weaker or that he has lost influence in his fief, the northeast of Mexico.
Bags of fentanyl, plastic tubes filled with glass, heroin, cocaine. The mythical leader is out of the game but there is no indication that the cartel is weaker or that he has lost influence in his fief, the northeast of Mexico.

"It is still a very important force in the Mexican criminal underworld," says Alejandro Hope, an analyst on security issues.

The cartel, a huge network of contacts that is nourished by corruption, controls a mechanism that moves Colombian cocaine to Cameroon or methamphetamines 'cooked' in Mexico to Malaysia. Sinaloa controls ports where chemical precursors arrive, clandestine laboratories to process them and paid policemen that allow the drug to reach the border and then be crossed through tunnels, on the shoulders of desperate migrants or in trucks ignored by customs. There is an army of hit men, extortionists, kidnappers, money launderers and many and servile political contacts. And there is no shortage, of course, artists who put the musical note to this criminal emporium.

In the United States, the cartel continues to operate through a huge distribution system that guarantees that the drug reaches the local drug dealer and, hence, the consumer's hand.

"All of our 23 divisions have an open investigation, at least at the local level, linked to the Sinaloa cartel," said Will Glaspy, an agent with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), who has held positions in different points of the border and is currently in charge of the division in Houston, Texas. "That's how powerful their distribution network is in the United States."

Meanwhile, where everything began, in the mountains of the state of Sinaloa, there also seems to be no great changes. Ismael 'El Mayo' Zambada, the co-founder of the criminal organization three decades ago, supervises the business covered by the respect of drug traffickers of the lower level and less prestige.

"He is the main player of the cartel because he was with 'El Chapo' for years," says Glaspy.

With the third and last arrest of 'El Chapo' in 2016, there was a struggle for control of the group that was deactivated with the imprisonment of Dámaso López Núñez and his son, Dámaso López Serrano. The first was captured by Mexico and the second voluntarily surrendered to the US authorities. Today it seems that the reins are 'El Mayo' and the sons of Guzmán, Iván Archivaldo and Alfredo Guzmán, known as 'Los Chapitos'.

Ismael Bojórquez, director of Ríodoce, a weekly specialized in coverage of drug trafficking in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, says that 'Los Chapitos' "control drug dealing and defense, weapons" while "El Mayo" He's in charge of the big business. " He acknowledged that they feared that these two parties might face trial because the defense of 'El Chapo' insisted on saying that 'El Mayo' was the leader of the cartel and his son, Vicente Zambada, in prison in the United States. , was a witness against Guzmán.

"We thought it could provoke some strong, violent reaction between the Chapo and Mayo people," Bojorquez explains, but although some "friction" was felt - and internal shocks always pose problems for the cartel's business - the situation finally it calmed down and it is expected that now "things will settle".

Joaquín Guzmán Loera, who went from being a semi-literate peasant to being on the "Forbes" list of the richest and most powerful men on the planet, became almost a legend after the two spectacular escapes from high-security prisons. The myth generated around him, a sexagenarian who could spend the rest of his life in the gates of a maximum security American prison, is only comparable to the Colombian Pablo Escobar and was always known to be a lover of luxury and The women: several couples have been known to him, including his current wife, a former beauty queen of beauty with whom he married in 2007 and is three decades younger than him.

Zambada, however, has a different style. With 70 years of age, he is a discreet capo that is considered to put business above the arms, which has made him famous as a negotiator.

It has never been stopped and remains hidden in the mountains that stretch between Sinaloa, Durango and southern Chihuahua, in the so-called "Golden Triangle."

"If Chapo Guzmán had done as 'El Mayo' Zambada and had not come down from the mountains, maybe he would still be a free man," says Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations at the DEA. "His obsession with women was his defeat."

Meanwhile, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office on December 1, seems to distance himself from the strategy of previous governments, based on the frontal war against organized crime and the arrest of high-level drug traffickers.

"The main function of the government is to guarantee public safety, it is no longer the strategy of the operations to stop drug lords. What we are looking for is that there is security, that we can reduce the number of daily homicides, "he said. "There is no war, officially there is no war."

Some analysts believe that the authorities, both Mexican and American, prefer the old-school drug traffickers, like Zambada, instead of the bloody scenes that could lead to their disappearance.

"'El Mayo' has always been a balancing factor, a kind of intermediary" between certain authorities and the most belligerent forces of the cartel, says Bojórquez.

Perhaps that is why José Reveles, author of several books on organized crime in Mexico, is categorical. "'El Mayo' is still the king; he has never been captured and is not subjected to so much persecution "as El Chapo was.

And the fact that the cartel functions as a sort of clan federation make its capture less relevant.

"It was a great moral victory," says Vigil, but "it had a very small negative impact on the Sinaloa cartel."

With Guzmán out of the game, the criminal organization has continued to develop, for example, the lucrative business of fentanyl, the synthetic drug that can be bought in China for $ 9,000 a kilo, cut to 1% purity, converted into pills and sold in United States at prices that suppose a round business.

According to Ray Donovan, head of the DEA office in New York, Guzmán had a lot to do with the rise of this drug because at the beginning of this decade his organization began to mix Mexican heroin with fentanyl to increase its potency and thus could compete with heroin from other territories. However, it seems that the cartel was not very expert in measurements and mixtures and the amount of fentanyl in a pill could vary from 0.03 to 1.99 milligrams per pill, in other words, from almost nothing to a lethal dose. That is why one of the two great threats of the cartel is that it is literally killing its customers.

The other is Jalisco Nueva Generación, the most powerful Mexican criminal organization that tries to seize territories controlled by Sinaloa and is provoking bloody battles in places like Tijuana.

However, Ismael Bojórquez remembers that Sinaloa knows how to shield itself against its rivals and while, it sentences, "the drug continues to flow and business too".

The original text of this article was published by the Vanguardia at the following address:

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