Young 'Chapo' vs old 'Chapo' photo analysis by Mexico govt

Succession in the Sinaloa Cartel does not necessarily mean more violence. Indeed, the arrest of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman could present more problems for his political and business accomplices than within his own criminal organization.

Beyond the names being mentioned as new heads of the cartel (such as Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and Damaso Lopez, alias "El Mini Lic"), it is important to keep in mind that succession in the underworld depends on the way an organization is structured. The Sinaloa Cartel is, first and foremost, a confederation of criminal organizations based on regional culture, and deep, shared blood ties that have been generated during decades of endogenous practice. Its top leadership is firm but horizontal in nature; it works as a sort of "board of directors."

The Sinaloa Cartel is also characterized by strategic alliances in the best sense of the word. Foreign criminal groups from Mexican-American gangs in the prison system in the United States or in the neighborhoods of Chicago to the traditional "transportista" organizations in Central America are partners. And the cartel does not get involved in the leadership of its partners. So what affects the cartel "headquarters" does not necessarily affect the "subsidiaries" because there is no fragmentation on the edges when there is turnover at the top.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Chapo

In comparison, other organizations like the Zetas -- a group that was forged by former military cadres -- have less that bind them to the leaders who must therefore be stronger and employ more discipline to keep the pieces together. In other words, they are more likely to fragment and divide because their organization is so dependent on having strong leadership at the 'headquarters.' When there is change or disputes at the top, this generates imbalance throughout the organization because there are no institutionalized mechanisms of succession, and the pieces are more prone to seek independence.

Such is the case for this "garrison" turned cartel. The rivalry between the leaders of the Zetas -- Miguel Angel Treviño, alias "Z40," and Heriberto Lazcano, alias "Z3" -- fragmented them, and the once powerful paramilitary organization has become, at least in Mexico, a group severely limited in capabilities that survives more because of extortion, kidnapping and hired killings than because of its transportation business.

This same structural weakness has been transferred from the Zetas in Mexico to their subsidiaries in Guatemala and Honduras. This is in part because groups like the Zetas are less likely to outsource and feel the need to undertake their own recruiting and training of personnel, practically creating from scratch the organization with which they will work outside of Mexico. This means that what happens in Mexico affects these subsidiaries far more.

To be sure, in the case of the Sinaloa Cartel, the process runs the risk of a slow succession, and that can lead to violence, but mostly affects the home state of Sinaloa and other strongholds in Mexico more than partners abroad since organizations in Central America and in particular in Guatemala (the Mendoza clan and the remaining structure Juan Chamale, to name a few) are more independent.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Sinaloa Cartel

Now these partners have two options: 1) hold on to or move their merchandise more slowly to the border while they await their marching orders; 2) sell these goods to other Mexican organizations. When power vacuums happen, everyone will "hang on to their ticket" because they do not know who to give it to, but they also do not seek a fight.

The point is that the leadership succession in the Sinaloa Cartel is, above all, an economic and not a military question. It requires quick decisions to generate stability among partners and subsidiaries throughout the continent, but it does not require a complete overhaul of the organization.

What's more, we must consider the possibility that Guzman -- who was the public face of a multinational company -- voluntarily surrendered (we would not be the first to note this possibility) or was simply expendable.

Not a single bullet was fired during his capture, and there was no violence after his arrest (there have been some symbolic protests). In other words, it is possible that the process of succession had occurred some time ago. Remember, the Sinaloa Cartel has always been an incredibly good negotiator of power and placed its emphasis on the "business" side of the relationship.

In reality, the risk that comes with Guzman's arrest may become more apparent when he starts speaking to authorities, exposing the wide net of corruption and complicity that protected him and his organization both inside and outside of Mexico. More than succession within the cartel, this process could wreak havoc within the political and business classes that desperately need to protect themselves from his testimony.

This is why he will probably never be extradited to any country outside of Mexico. Indeed, given his status as chancellor of the regional drug trafficking industry, Guzman could be the most important and powerful political blackmailer in history. Even now, as he enters custody, you have to wonder who has the keys to that jail.

*Martínez-Amador is a university professor who teaches about blood rituals in secret societies, cults, sects, fraternities and the mafia. Dudley is co-director of InSight Crime.

Investigations

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

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...