The BLO has since forged an alliance with the Zetas in an effort to stave off elimination. But authorities, with the apparent assistance of information provided by the Sinaloa Cartel, killed Arturo Beltran Leyva, known as "El Jefe de Jefes," in December 2009. In-fighting and more arrests, most notably that of Edgar Valdez Villareal, alias "La Barbie," have left the cartel reeling. Hector Beltran Leyva has dubbed the organization the South Pacific Cartel, but its control over that area is in dispute.
By most accounts, the Beltran Leyva brothers began working in their home state of Sinaloa with small-time poppy growers. Often called "gomeros," for the sticky paste that comes from the plant before it is processed into heroin, the Sinaloa region was and remains the heart of poppy cultivation in Mexico. The brothers later rose with the Sinaloans, who built nationwide organizations. Among these was Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who employed them as hitmen and transporters. Alias "El Señor de los Cielos," Carrillo Fuentes ran the powerful Juarez Cartel, which had established drug trafficking routes stretching south to Colombia and north into the United States. Like its boss, the Beltran Leyva clan was ruthless and ambitious. Their home municipality, Badiraguato, is the same as that of Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo," and there is some evidence they worked together as hitmen in the infamous Guadalajara Cartel. Through marriage the Guzman Loera and Beltran Leyva families became closer and more tightly aligned. This connection proved critical when Guzman was jailed in 1993. The Beltran Leyva brothers helped Guzman’s brother, Arturo, maintain the business; they shuttled cash to their imprisoned Sinaloan “cousin” and helped Guzman escape in 2001.
Guzman’s escape, the capture of his brother Arturo several months later, and the death of Carrillo Fuentes opened the door for the Beltran Leyva brothers. After several meetings in 2002 with Guzman and his partners, Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias "El Azul," and Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias "El Mayo," the group formed what became known as the Federation, or the "Alianza de Sangre" (Blood Alliance). The description was apt. Alfredo Beltran Leyva, alias "El Mochomo," is married to Guzman’s cousin. Esparragoza married Guzman’s sister-in-law. Guzman later married the niece of another partner, Ignacio Coronel.
As godfather to Amado Carrillo Fuentes’ son, Esparragoza was also closely tied to the Carrillo Fuentes clan. That Juarez-based family was brought into the pact in the 2002, but it would not last. In 2004, Amado Carrillo Fuentes' brother, Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes, alias "El Niño de Oro," killed two of Guzman’s operatives in Ciudad Juarez. Guzman had him assassinated. Faced with a choice, Zambada and Esparragoza picked Guzman's side, and the war between the Sinaloa and Juarez organizations has raged ever since.
In the meantime, the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) began to make their mark. Guzman charged them with forming a security team for the cartel to combat the rising power of their other rivals, the Gulf Cartel. A few years earlier, the Gulf Cartel had lured 31 special forces officers from the Mexican military to create a powerful, sophisticated and brutal armed wing that called themselves the Zetas. The BLO recruited their own fresh blood. One operative, Edgar Valdez Villareal, alias "La Barbie," came from Laredo, across the river from the home base of the Zetas. Valdez’s group, the Pelones, began to match Zetas’ brutality. Another group, the Negros, was led by a former police detective. At the top of the pyramid was Arturo Beltran Leyva. Alias "El Jefe de Jefes," Arturo created his own unit which he modestly called Arturo’s Special Forces (Fuerzas Especiales de Arturo - FEDA). The war soon spread, as did the BLO’s power and influence. By 2005, the BLO was reportedly operating in 11 states: Guerrero, Morelos, Chiapas, Queretaro, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Quintana Roo, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Mexico State and the Federal District (Mexico City).
Guzman also tasked the Beltran Leyva clan with penetrating the security and political forces, which they did with alarming efficiency. In 2005, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recorded a conversation between Nahum Acosta, a close advisor to the Fox administration, and one of the Beltran Leyvas, presumably Hector. Hector, alias "El H," was responsible for payroll, which also allegedly included top members of the government’s National Investigative Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigacion - AFI) and the country’s drug czar, Noe Ramirez Mandujano. Ramirez is in jail awaiting trial for allegedly receiving $450,000 per month from the organization; Acosta was arrested but later exonerated.
Despite their influence, however, the BLO suffered from hubris. Their public profile steadily rose, as did their public appearances in extravagant parties in places like Cuernavaca where their domain was undisputed. Their allies in the Sinaloa Cartel, meanwhile, appeared troubled. Added to this was a dispute over a distribution route in Chicago between the Sinaloa faction and the BLO. Tension boiled over when authorities arrested Alfredo Beltran Leyva on January 21, 2008. After authorities released Guzman’s son, Ivan Archivaldo, from jail on a technicality, Arturo Beltran Leyva’s worst (possibly paranoid) fears seemed confirmed: Guzman had provided the information leading to the arrest of his younger brother Alfredo.
War was declared, and one of the first victims was Edgar Guzman, Joaquin Guzman’s son, who was killed when he left a Sinaloa shopping center with his bodyguards. The levels of bloodshed in Sinaloa spiked shot upward. The BLO allied themselves with their former arch-rivals, the Zetas. The Sinaloa Cartel reached working agreements with the Gulf Cartel and the Familia Michoacana, a ruthless group that had burst onto the scene in 2006. Throughout, Guzman, Zambada and Esparragoza remained aligned against the BLO. Using their contacts in the federal government, the Sinaloa Cartel wore down the BLO. Dozens of operatives were arrested or killed in 2009. And in December, 2009, Mexican Marines killed Arturo Beltran Leyva after he’d barricaded himself into an apartment in an upscale neighborhood in Cuernavaca.
This year has been even worse for the BLO. Following the death of Arturo, Valdez Villareal split to form his own organization. Hector Beltran Leyva regrouped and began calling his operation the South Pacific Cartel (Cartel del Pacifico Sur). However, the battles between them left both vulnerable. Carlos Beltran Leyva, a brother of Hector and Arturo, was arrested in January 2010. Valdez Villareal’s top lieutenant was arrested in April, and Valdez Villareal himself was detained in late August. Hector’s top security officer, Sergio Villareal, alias "El Grande," was arrested in September. What’s left of the BLO has strengthened its alliance with the Zetas in order to stay afloat.
It was not until a 2005 report by Mexican intelligence described them as the “Three Horsemen” (Los Tres Caballeros) that the BLO garnered widespread attention. A local journalist used the report as the basis for a story about the brothers. According to the report, the gang controlled drug trafficking routes through Sonora, Chihuahua and Sinaloa. They worked closely with the strongman in the region, Raul Enriquez Parra, alias "El Nueve," and had forged ties with active and retired police for protection of their cargo and themselves. They also used Enriquez Parra’s armed wing, the Numeros, and created their own, the Güeros. The journalist who had written about the Tres Caballeros in a Sonora newspaper was preparing another report on the brothers’ ties to the Sonora governor when he disappeared. Shortly thereafter Enriquez Parra’s body appeared. Sonora was then in the hands of the BLO.
The report gave important clues as to how the gang operated: using connections in local government and the security forces, they would move large quantities of cocaine, marijuana and later methamphetamine in small airplanes, stash it in safe houses, and then ship it north over the porous Arizona border. Their financial wing, led by Hector, would buy off high and low level security and politicians throughout the country to replicate this model. Their multiple security wings ensured their associates either complied with their orders, or faced death.
The BLO are allied now with the Zetas, the former armed wing of the Gulf Cartel. The two organizations complement each other well. The Zetas have their power base on the eastern U.S.-Mexico border and operate along the Caribbean coast through Central America. The BLO has its power base in the west, in Guerrero, Morelos and the State of Mexico. It has also begun pushing into northern Sinaloa. Combined, they have some of the more sophisticated and well-equipped hit squads in Mexico. However, there are also obvious negatives. The two are allied for practical rather than ideological or family reasons. Their bond comes from their common enemy: the Sinaloa Cartel. Their alliance is therefore fragile, and could break at any moment.