Guns found in previous failed operation against "El Fantasma"

A Mexican investigative news outlet questions whether a recently-arrested top Sinaloa Cartel hitman was handed over by cartel bosses, perhaps in order to uphold a pact to keep violence in the area at a minimum.

RioDoce, which covers news in Mexico's Sinaloa state, reports that the recent capture of Jonathan Salas Aviles, alias "El Fantasma" ("The Ghost"), may have come about thanks to an agreement with the Sinaloa Cartel. El Fantasma is accused of working as a hitman and bodyguard for the Sinaloa Cartel, and earned his nickname thanks to the precautions he took to protect his identity, according to the report. 

He had previously evaded capture by authorities twice, including one incident in which he was mistakenly reported to have been killed by the security forces. When he was arrested in Februrary, 200 soldiers and three marine helicopters participated in the operation, trapping him in a house 30 minutes south of Sinaloa capital Culiacan.

RioDoce theorizes that the operation -- in which not a single shot was fired -- was actually a surrender negotiated by the Sinaloa Cartel. The publication argues that Sinaloa Cartel leaders Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia viewed El Fantasma as a risky employee, as he was being tracked by military intelligence. El Fantasma also had a reputation as a violent and volatile gunman, who terrorized the locals in the small towns outside of Culiacan, beating up civilians and municipal police officers and interrupting private parties while brandishing weapons. Such behavior meant El Mayo received plenty of complaints from local communities about El Fantasma, RioDoce asserts.

However, even if El Chapo and El Mayo stopped seeing their top gunman as an asset to the Sinaloa Cartel, this may not have been their only motive for giving him up. A previous report by RioDoce cited a military intelligence document as saying that the Sinaloa Cartel had committed to keeping violent actions in Sinaloa to a minimum, pledging to launch attacks only in response to rivals the Beltran Leyva Organization and the group run by drug trafficker Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, alias "Chapito Isidro."

If such an agreement with the authorities is indeed in place, this would also help explain why the Sinaloa Cartel would be so willing to surrender El Fantasma: in order to respect this pact and keep Sinaloa state relatively peaceful.

InSight Crime Analysis

RioDoce's reporting feeds into suspicions that have long surrounded the Sinaloa Cartel: that President Felipe Calderon's administration had some kind of agreement with the criminal organization, allowing the cartel's leaders to operate in peace, while focusing on pursuing its rivals. Calderon's administration always strongly denied such assertions, though some observers -- including NPR, in a 2010 report -- found evidence that, at times, the government appeared to favor the Sinaloa Cartel.

The July 2012 military intelligence report seen by RioDoce may further support such theories. According to RioDoce, at no point did the report -- which included a list of recommendations for Calderon and his security cabinet -- mention taking armed action against the Sinaloa Cartel. Instead, the report recommended focusing efforts against smaller criminal organizations like Chapito Isidro's, dubbed "satellite cells." These smaller groups are responsible for much of the violence of Mexico, and thus merit particular attention, the briefing reportedly added.

Some of RioDoce's interpretations deserve questioning. It is possible that El Fantasma was captured without a single shot fired simply because the security force operation was too overwhelming -- and too quick -- for him to react. Additionally, the July 2012 military briefing was only a list of recommendations: it would be difficult to prove whether the Calderon administration actually decided to follow them, and start pursuing the "satellite" criminal groups at the expense of the larger cartels. And, going by RioDoce's reporting, the intelligence briefing does not explicitly state whether the Sinaloa Cartel negotiated its alleged pledge with the military, another branch of the government, or a rival criminal group, casting some doubt on the nature of the pact.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of precedent for the Sinaloa Cartel giving up operatives deemed too risky to keep on board. Beltran Leyva Organization leader Alfredo Beltran, captured in 2008, is just one example. It would not be surprising if El Chapo and El Mayo decided to surrender El Fantasma despite his many years of service. However, the question of whether they did so in order to comply with a non-violence pact with the authorities is more difficult to answer.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

Ivan Rios Bloc: the FARC's Most Vulnerable Fighting Division

When considering the possibilities that the FARC may break apart, the Ivan Rios Bloc is a helpful case study because it is perhaps the weakest of the FARC's divisions in terms of command and control, and therefore runs the highest risk of fragmentation and criminalization.

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

Criminalization of FARC Elements Inevitable

While there is no doubt that the FARC have only a tenuous control over some of their more remote fronts, there is no evidence of any overt dissident faction within the movement at the moment.

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

The Reality of the FARC Peace Talks in Havana

If we are to believe the Colombian government, the question is not if, but rather when, an end to 50 years of civil conflict will be reached. Yet the promise of President Juan Manuel Santos that peace can be achieved before the end of 2014 is simply...

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 Leader 'Viejo Lin' on El Salvador Gang Truce

Barrio 18 leader Carlos Lechuga Mojica, alias "El Viejo Lin," is one of the most prominent spokesmen for El Salvador's gang truce. InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley spoke with Mojica in Cojutepeque prison in October 2012 about how the maras view the controversial peace process, which has...

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

The FARC 1964-2002: From Ragged Rebellion to Military Machine

On May 27, 1964 up to one thousand Colombian soldiers, backed by fighter planes and helicopters, launched an assault against less than fifty guerrillas in the tiny community of Marquetalia. The aim of the operation was to stamp out once and for all the communist threat in...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives and Negatives

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with the seemingly intractable issue of street gangs. But it also creates new dangers.

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

A Look Inside El Salvador's Prison Nightmare (Video)

El Salvador's Cojutepeque jail is a perfect illustration of how prisons in this country have become the main breeding and training grounds for street gangs.

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

MS-13's 'El Barney': A Trend or an Isolated Case?

In October 2012, the US Treasury Department designated the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). While this assertion seems unfounded, there is one case that illustrates just why the US government is worried about the future.