US authorities have recently trained their crosshairs on Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, "Chapito Isidro," a low-profile Sinaloan trafficker who appears to be a major generator of violence in northwestern Mexico.
As InSight Crime reported, the US Treasury Department announced on January 17 that Meza Flores’s group was being formally classified as a drug trafficking organization. This designation applies to Chapito Isidro, eight family members, and three businesses, and gives the US far greater power to seize their assets. Days after, reports began to surface that some of the companies in question had received public contracts, meaning that Mexican government agencies appear to have been, in effect, subsidizing the growth of businesses supporting organized crime.
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The announcement seemed to come out of nowhere, demonstrating the low profile with which Chapito Isidro operates, relative to his apparent influence within Mexico’s underworld. He is not wanted for any particularly notorious crime, nor does he appear on drug gangs' public communiques, known as "narco-mantas." As a result, Meza Flores’s name does not carry the same weight as those of many of his contemporaries.
Nonetheless, reports on his activities have grown significantly over the past three years. In November 2011, Chapito was linked to 32 allegedly corrupt municipal police officers in Ahome, Sinaloa, and to the murder of 16 people whose bodies were burned and left inside two trucks in Culiacan. In July of the same year, Chapito was blamed for an attack on a caravan of cars, including that of the state’s director of public security, in which 10 police officers were killed. A number of the victims of a jailhouse massacre in August 2010, had reportedly been working for Chapito.
Specific reports on Chapito prior to 2010 are rare, but the Treasury announcement referred to him as having figured in Mexico’s underworld since 2000, while a 2012 report by Borderland Beat says that he used to work for the Juarez boss Amado Carrillo, who died in 1997. In short, his low profile belies his long track record within the industry.
The articles describe Chapito as the leader of a network which operates in the northern portion of Sinaloa state, especially around the city of Guasave. The same city has earned attention for a series of mantas, taunting Guzman that have appeared in recent years. In 2011, for example, different mantas teased Guzman for being unable to take control of the town, and accused him of working with Governor Mario Lopez Valdez, whose administration has been frequently targeted by Chapito.
Among the groups under his control is the Mazatlecos, a group of gunmen and traffickers named for their hometown of Mazatlan, which is much further south and on the coast; this reflects a range of operation that goes well beyond his base city. Chapito is also described as the local force behind the Beltran Leyva Organization, the Sinaloa offshoot that emerged from the 2008 break between Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and Arturo Beltran Leyva.
It is in this sense that the importance of Chapito’s role is hard to overstate. Thanks largely to his group, the BLO has remained on its feet -- indeed, as InSight Crime has reported, there are some recent indications that is stronger than it has been in years -- despite five years of fighting with Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel, widely considered the most powerful criminal group in Mexico. The rivalry has coincided with the decimation of the BLO’s leadership -- Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed in 2009, his brothers Carlos and Alfredo are behind bars, leaving Hector Beltran Leyva, whose influence lies in southern states like Morelos and Guerrero, as the only known member of the family still operating in the drug trade. With Chapito, the BLO retains a toehold in Sinaloa that might not be possible without him.
The same Treasury announcement also fingered the rivalry between Chapo and Chapito as being a major driver of violence in Sinaloa, which is reflected in the state’s crime stats. In 2012, 1,464 people were murdered in the state, the third-highest total in Mexico (Guerrero and Chihuahua were first and second, respectively.) This figure, while it remains among the highest in Mexico, actually represents a recent decline: in 2011, 1,907 people were killed in Sinaloa, which, in turn, was down from 2,251 in 2010.
The reports on Chapito Isidro often center on his acts of violence, and he is frequently described as a leading "sicario," or hit man. However, his role appears to go beyond merely shooting at the BLO’s enemies. Following his arrest in 2011, a trafficker working for Los Mazatlecos told authorities that Chapito was also one of his group’s suppliers of marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine.
Chapito Isidro is also striking in that he is one of the few major players to emerge in Mexico's criminal world since the midway point of the Calderon administration. Mexico has seen a vast number of its most notorious capos fall to violent death and prison terms since then; of the 20 foremost kingpins operating over the past several years, only perhaps six remain outside of prison (Guzman, Hector Beltran Leyva, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, Juan Jose “El Azul” Esparragoza, Miguel Angel “Z-40” Treviño, and Servando “La Tuta” Gomez). But the industry in which they operate chugs right along, suggesting a newer class of capos will inevitably emerge.
Chapito Isidro may be the newest big player on Mexico's criminal scene, but he will not be the last.