One of the leaders of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel has turned himself in to US authorities in what could be the latest sign of fragmentation in the group's upper echelons, a trend that has become increasingly evident since the extradition of legendary kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán earlier this year.
Damáso López Serrano, alias "Mini Lic," reportedly surrendered to US authorities at the Calexico, California border crossing on July 26. He was transferred to the custody of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) the following day, El Diario reported.
The motivation for Mini Lic's surrender remains unclear. Some news outlets have reported that he may be facing drug charges in a California federal court, but US officials have not publicly commented on the case. A search of publicly available court records did not show Mini Lic as a defendant in any federal criminal proceedings.
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El Licenciado reportedly assumed leadership of El Chapo's faction of the Sinaloa Cartel while Guzmán was in prison between 2014 and 2015. After a sensational July 2015 jailbreak, El Chapo was recaptured in January 2016 in Mexico, and extradited to the United States at the beginning of this year.
One expert speculated that Mini Lic's surrender might be related to El Licenciado's likely negotiations with US prosecutors, suggesting that the father and son may be seeking to broker a "package" plea agreement, in which they would give up information on other Sinaloa Cartel operatives in exchange for judicial leniency in their own cases.
"If the elder Dámaso [López Núñez] is negotiating his extradition with the Americans, he negotiated a package: himself and his son. And he is holding up his part of the bargain," security analyst Samuel González Ruiz told EFE.
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Since El Chapo's extradition, siginificant rifts have appeared in the Sinaloa Cartel's top leadership. Some observers have posited that a conflict has broken out between Mini Lic and his father on one side and El Chapo's sons, Iván and Alfredo, on the other. According to this theory, Mini Lic's surrender could be a trick out of El Chapo's own playbook, as the notorious kingpin was known for enacting revenge by providing authorities with information about his rivals.
The Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO), for instance, waged an intense turf war against the Sinaloa Cartel based on suspicions that El Chapo had informed on their leader, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, who was arrested in 2008.
SEE ALSO: Profile of El Licenciado
Others, however, have cast doubt about the public's ability to know with any certainty what is happening inside the ranks of one of Mexico's most legendary crime groups. Alejandro Hope, a Mexican security analyst and former intelligence official, wrote a column for the newspaper El Universal in which he argued that while El Licenciado and Mini Lic are likely cooperating with US authorities, it is too early to know the exact parameters of those discussions or their potential ramifications for Mexico's organized crime scene.
"Making categorical judgements in these matters with only pieces of information is very dangerous," Hope warned.