Fugitive Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán recently suffered a blow to his transnational criminal operation when authorities in Guatemala seized Samuel Escobar, a key alleged operative for the organized crime group.
On May 20, Guatemalan National Civil Police captured Samuel Escobar, 20, in the department of San Marcos, near the Pacific coast. The region contains many drug smuggling routes used by El Chapo’s forces.
Security forces confiscated a gun, jewelry, assault rifle cartridges and $128,000 in cash from Escobar, according to Guatemala Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla.
Escobar was part of an organized crime gang allied with El Chapo, López said, noting that in the days before Escobar was captured, he and other gang members apparently knew that security forces were after them.
“In a phone call they warned us to stop or they would start killing police officers,” López told reporters. That was a sign that the Escobar was allied with the Sinaloa cartel, which has kidnapped and killed dozens of police officers in Mexico.
A group of heavily armed gang members did kidnap a Guatemalan police officer, but he was able to escape, authorities said.
A broad security operation
The arrest of Escobar was part of a mission to find gang members who were living in the municipality of Malacatán, near the Mexican border, López said.
In addition to Escobar, National Civil Police also detained Deisy Villagran, 57, who allegedly had firearms, drugs and a money-counting machine inside her house. National Civil Police also arrested 44-year-old Juventino Encarnación García, an alleged drug trafficker who is suspected of collaborating with El Chapo.
Security forces in Mexico have scored a number of victories against El Chapo in recent months.
For example, on April 30, agents with the Federal Police in Sonora captured El Chapo’s father-in-law, Inés Coronel Barrera. Coronel is charged with trafficking large amounts of cocaine for the Sinaloa cartel. Federal Police also captured El Chapo’s brother-in-law, Inés Omar Coronel, 25, and three other alleged Sinaloa cartel operatives. The agents also seized more than 500 pounds of marijuana and four military assault rifles.
Inés Coronel is the father of El Chapo’s fourth wife, former beauty queen Emma Coronel Aispuro, 23. She reportedly married El Chapo when she was 18.
The Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels are waging a violent battle for control of drug trafficking routes in Guatemala. Two of the three major routes in that country are controlled by Los Zetas, and the other is controlled by El Chapo, according to Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina.
Mexican drug cartels operate in Central America
El Chapo’s forces and Los Zetas are active in Guatemala and other parts of Central America, said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.
Both organized crime groups have formed alliances with local gangs in Guatemala and other Central American countries. “I doubt that their operatives [in Central America] are dominant players, but they are there and they will fight to secure their routes,” Hope said.
The Sinaloa cartel has been operating in Guatemala for at least 10 years, while Los Zetas showed up in 2007. At the time, Los Zetas was the armed wing of the Gulf cartel (CDG). Los Zetas broke away from the CDG in 2010 and became its own transnational criminal organization.
In October 2012, Mexican Marines killed longtime Los Zetas kingpin Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano in Progreso, Coahuila. He was known as “The Executioner,” “El Lazca,” and “Z-3.” Miguel Angel Trevino Morales took The Executioner’s place as leader of Los Zetas. He is known as “Commander 40,” “40,” and “Z-40.”
In February 2013, Guatemalan authorities announced that “El Chapo” himself had been killed in the Petén jungle. A man who resembled El Chapo had been killed during a confrontation with security forces, officials said. The report turned out to be inaccurate.
Security forces capture El Chapo operatives
Mexico and the United States are cooperating in the battle against transnational criminal organizations, primarily by sharing information. Mexico and Guatemala, and Guatemala and the United States are also cooperating to combat organized crime.
In recent years, security forces in Guatemala have confiscated large amounts of drugs which belonged to El Chapo, and have captured several of his operatives:
• In June 2012, Guatemalan National Civil Police captured Walter Arelio Montejo Merida, an alleged Sinaloa cartel operative who is known as “Zope.” In March 2013, Zope was extradited to the United States, where he faces federal drug trafficking charges.
• In December 2011, the National Civil Police seized 500 kilograms of methamphetamines at an illegal lab in the department of San Marcos. The lab was run by El Chapo’s operatives, authorities said.
• In January 2011, the Guatemalan Army arrested five armed men who were in possession of 65 barrels of acetone, which is needed to make methamphetamines. The men were suspected of working for El Chapo.
Shortly after taking office on Jan. 14, 2012, Perez Molina said that his administration would attempt to verify intelligence reports that El Chapo, the billionaire fugitive leader of the Sinaloa cartel, was back in Guatemala.
Perez Molina, a former army general, captured El Chapo in 1993. Guatemala handed him over to the Mexican government. El Chapo escaped from a high-security prison in January 2001. Beginning in 2010, Guatemalan security forces have received periodic reports that El Chapo was in their country. But El Chapo is unlikely to go to Guatemala anytime soon, “for any reason at all,” said Malcolm Beith, author of “The Last Narco,” a book about El Chapo.