A younger "Chapo" Guzman, before his escape from jail in 2001

The world's most wanted criminal and prolific drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been captured at a beach resort in Mazatlan, calling into question the future of Mexico's most powerful drug trafficking organization, the Sinaloa Cartel.

The capture of the cartel boss, for whom the United States was offering a $5 million reward, took place in a hotel in Mazatlan this morning, the Attorney General said in a press conference. Since the death of Osama Bin Laden in 2011, Chapo Guzman had been one of the priority targets of the United States.

The arrest operation involved the Mexican Marines, one of the most trusted branches of the security forces, often used in operations involving intelligence or cooperation from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). They managed to take him with no shots fired, prompting questions over the drug lord's security detail, believed to be comprised of dozens of gunmen.

As part of the operation, thirteen other people were arrested and Mexican authorities seized a veritable armory, including 97 guns and two grenade launchers, reported the AFP.

"Not a single shot was fired. This is enormous, huge. Many people said it was not possible to catch him; well it has been done," an anonymous US official source was quoted as saying in El Universal.

The 57-year-old native of the state of Sinaloa, from where the cartel he leads gets its name, had dodged an international manhunt for more a decade, after escaping from a prison in Jalisco, slipping out in a laundry cart after allegedly paying a $2.5 million bribe. Security around him now is likely to be unprecedented, as there have long been allegations that Chapo has senior figures in the government and the security forces on his payroll.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profiles

Under Chapo's leadership, the Sinaloa Cartel has not only come to dominate the world cocaine market, but has also become a major player in the trade in heroin, methamphetamines and marijuana, with elements of his organization also dabbling in human trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.

InSight Crime Analysis

While Chapo Guzman is the most visible head of the Sinaloa Cartel, he is not the only leader, and his arrest does not signal the end of the organization. Indeed, the Sinaloa Cartel is sometimes referred to as "The Federation." Chapo's principal partner, Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias "El Mayo," holds equal stature in the organization to Chapo and has a long and distinguished criminal career; he served as part of the Juarez Cartel when it was the most powerful drug trafficking organization in Mexico.

SEE ALSO: Chapo Guzman Profile

There are other significant leaders, such as former policeman Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias "El Azul," who could quickly seek to fill the vacuum created by Chapo's removal from active service.

Chapo's arrest also does not necessarily mean he will be cut off totally from the Sinaloa Cartel. Depending on where he ends up imprisoned, he may still be able to direct criminal activities, at the very least by passing messages via his lawyers and perhaps more directly, by using smuggled cell phones or human couriers. What would neutralize his power very quickly would be his immediate extradition to the United States.

The Sinaloa Cartel's bitter rivals, the Zetas, may try to take advantage of Chapo's arrest and annex territory or retake ground lost over recent years. Under the previous administration of President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012), there were allegations that the government favored the Sinaloa Cartel while hammering the Zetas

Chapo's arrest is a huge boost for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, who had taken a lower profile stance against the drug cartels than his predecessor in the hope of reducing violence. This capture will allow him to state his policy is working, as violence levels have dropped modestly, and he has managed to capture the country's most important drug trafficker.

Investigations

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

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

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...

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...

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

The Fixer and El Salvador's Missed Opportunity

In the photograph, they are both smiling. In the foreground, on the left hand side, a man in a short-sleeved buttoned white shirt, jeans and a metal watch, holds a bottle of water in his right hand. He laughs heartily. He is Herbert Saca. On the right...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

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.

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...

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...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...