Will ‘El Chapo’s’ capture affect Sinaloa Cartel operations in Latin America?
By Dialogo March 09, 2014
The recent capture of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, could prompt changes in the organization’s criminal operations in Latin America, according to Armando Rodríguez Luna, a security analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
The Sinaloa Cartel operates in Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. The organized crime group forms alliances with local gangs to transport drugs, usually cocaine, from South America north to Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The Sinaloa Cartel also transports cocaine from the Caribbean to Europe, Africa, and Australia.
The Sinaloa Cartel has also forged partnerships with two Hong Kong mafias to acquire precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of highly addictive synthetic drugs. The organized crime group uses the chemicals to manufacture methamphetamines in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, officials have said. Sinaloa Cartel operatives, including members of local gangs, pick up the precursor chemicals from ports in Guatemala and Honduras, then drive the chemicals in SUVs to clandestine labs.
With El Chapo incarcerated, the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations in Latin America could be altered, Rodríguez Luna said. The Sinaloa Cartel is the largest and most powerful transnational criminal organization in the world, but with El Chapo incarcerated, it could break up into smaller drug trafficking groups, Rodríguez Luna said.
The fall of Pablo Escobar
That is what happened to international Colombian drug cartels which Latin American security forces broke up in the 1990s, Rodríguez Luna said.
For example, in December 1992, Colombian security forces killed Pablo Escobar, the leader of the Medellin Cartel. The cartel had produced and transported cocaine to Mexico, the United States, and Canada. The cartel had its own airplanes, and flew huge amounts of cocaine to the U.S.
After the death of Escobar, the Cali Cartel took over the international cocaine trade for about two years, until security forces captured its leaders.
By the mid-1990s, smaller organized crime groups, like the Norte del Valle Cartel and the BACRIM were controlling the cocaine trafficking trade in Colombia and other parts of Latin America, according to Rodríguez Luna.
What is next for the Sinaloa Cartel?
A similar fragmentation may occur now that El Chapo is incarcerated, the security analyst said.
A breakup of the Sinaloa Cartel could unleash a wave of violence in Latin America and in Mexico, as El Chapo’s lieutenants fight for power, the security analyst said. “This would be typical of a realignment of roles, part of a realignment of power,” Rodríguez Luna said. “The small cartels – the ‘cartelitos’ – would try to fill the gaps, and El Chapo’s lieutenants may fight over the structure of the organization and profits.”
Members of the Sinaloa Cartel in Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Ecuador are watching to see who will take El Chapo’s place as leader of the transnational criminal organization. El Chapo may be replaced by his top lieutenant, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, according to published reports.
“There is a lot of money at stake, hitmen, high-powered weapons, and drugs,” Rodríguez Luna said.
The Sinaloa Cartel traffics drugs to the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa and Asia -- 50 countries in all, according to the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration.
Mexican Marines capture ‘El Chapo’
Mexican Marines and police agents captured El Chapo in the early morning hours on February 22, 2014 inside a condominium in Mazatlan, in his home state of Sinaloa. Security forces captured the fugitive drug kingpin without firing a single shot. The capture ended a 13-year search for the fugitive drug lord, who escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001.
While the capture of El Chapo is a major blow against the Sinaloa Cartel, the transnational criminal organization will continue to operate, according to Rodríguez Luna and two other security analysts, Freddy Rivera of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), which is based in Ecuador, and Sandino Asturias of the Center for Guatemalan Studies (CEG).
The transnational criminal organization has a stable structure, which will allow it to operate with El Chapo in custody, the security analysts said.
The capture of El Chapo may not have an immediate impact in Ecuador, where the Sinaloa Cartel relies on alliances with local gangs to transport drugs, Rivera said.
In the short term, Ecuador may experience an increase in violence, as Colombian and Peruvian criminal organizations and other Mexican cartels attempt to take advantage of El Chapo’s capture by trying to take control of key drug trafficking routes, the security analyst said.
Ecuador fights drug trafficking
Security forces in Ecuador are gathering intelligence on the reaction of drug trafficking groups to the capture of El Chapo, Rivera said. Ecuador is prepared to cooperate with the security forces of other partner nations to combat drug trafficking, Rivera said.
The Sinaloa Cartel works with Ecuadorian gangs to transport drugs throughout the country and north of the border. Ecuador is not a drug-producing country, but it is used as a storage place and transport route by the Sinaloa Cartel, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and organized crime groups from Russia, Nigeria, and China, according to the World Drug Report 2013, issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The Sinaloa Cartel, through the criminal gang Los Rastrojos, controls drug cultivation and methamphetamine labs on the border with Ecuador. It also controls the guerrilla group’s drug crops and laboratories in Norte de Santander, one of the strategic areas where coca is transported to Venezuela.
Ecuador is one of the ten countries around the world that has had the most success in recent years in the fight against drug trafficking operations, according to the report.
Drug traffickers move around 120,000 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia and Peru through Ecuador every year, according to the report “Situation Analysis of Drug Trafficking, A Police Perspective”, prepared by the American Police Community (AMERIPOL).
Possible violence in Guatemala
Guatemala should be “more concerned” about possible violence in the wake of the capture of El Chapo because it shares a border with Mexico, which is home not only to the Sinaloa Cartel but also Los Zetas and other transnational criminal organizations, Rivera said.
The Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas have moved 90 percent of their drug trafficking operations to Central America to smuggle cocaine into the United States, according to the UN.
Both Mexican organized crime groups transport drugs from Central America to the United States through partnerships with Guatemalan gangs. Those gangs include Barrio 18, Los Mendoza, Los Lorenzana, Los Chamales, and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), which originated in El Salvador but also operates in Guatemala.
Colombian drug trafficking groups may also try to take control of drug trafficking routes the Sinaloa Cartel has been using in Guatemala, according to Asturias.
The Sinaloa Cartel, through the criminal gang Los Rastrojos, controls drug cultivation and methamphetamine labs on the border with Ecuador. They also control the guerrilla group’s drug crops and laboratories in Norte de Santander, one of the strategic areas where coca is transported to Venezuela.
Drug trafficking adjustments in Colombia
During the last two years, the Sinaloa Cartel has attained greater control of drug trafficking routes in Colombia, Rodríguez Luna said. El Chapo exerted control over smaller organized crime groups by providing money and weapons to them, which gave him leverage in negotiations, the security analyst said. With the capture of El Chapo, these organized crime groups “will seek to negotiate better conditions in terms of profits,” Rodríguez Luna.
Security forces in Ecuador, Guatemala, and Colombia have made great strides in the fight against drug trafficking. The authorities of these countries and other partner nations in the Americas must remain vigilant in the fight against transnational criminal organizations, the three security analysts said.
El Chapo is being held in the Altiplano maximum-security prison in the state of Mexico. El Chapo is a neighbor of the former leader of Los Zetas, Jaime González Durán, known as “El Hummer.”
The Mexican Federal Police (PF) arrested González Durán in 2008. El Hummer is serving a 72-year prison sentence for kidnapping and organized crime.
The greatest danger is if that fight spreads throughout the Central and South Americas which are sensitive regions regarding transnational security. CRACK DOWN ON DRUG TRAFFICKING It's time the government capture those monsters that bring terror to our country with the damned drugs.
7 I like this information That's fine but what happens with those that use it; that's another problem and it's a very serious one worldwide. I liked the intelligence of the police because if I'm not mistaken, they had already captured him the first time. Very good, go on and thank you for keeping us informed. The World Health Organization should issue more publications on the damages that drugs cause to health. It is unbelievable that there are people interested in the decriminalization of drugs, unaware of how many people die from an overdose. Legalize drugs so that they pay taxes. Excellent articles... only Dialogo can have a specific vision of the current Latin American situation. The capture is a good thing, but as long as they don't cut the octopus's head, its tentacles will remain active. This is very good and informative. It's not a matter of whether they like it or not. Personally, I think that decriminalizing or legalizing drugs with high taxes would be the biggest blow for drug trafficking, since: 1) it would end cartels, 2) it would prevent all the killing caused by the competition between them, 3) there would be more control over the usage, 4) the States (their governments) would eliminate a heavy expense from their budget, and they would receive an income that they are not receiving currently by having to deal with the health expenses caused by drug addiction. It was the same with alcohol. Its consumption was legalized and the killings ended. Just ask Chicago.