Until his arrest in March 2011, Juan Alberto Ortiz Lopez, alias “Juan Chamale,” was ranked by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Guatemala’s number one drug trafficker. He was known as Guatemala’s “Heroin King” and served as a key contact for the Sinaloa Cartel.
Ortiz was heavily involved in cocaine trafficking, and was accused by US authorities of helping to move over 40 tons of cocaine through Central America en route to the United States. Ortiz worked with local fishermen to smuggle cocaine in small fishing boats and may have also commissioned semi-submersibles to transport the drug.
Juan Chamale Factbox
Group: Ran drug transport network
Criminal Activities: Drug trafficking, opium poppy cultivation
Status: Extradited May 2014
Area of Operation: San Marcos province, Guatemala
Ortiz also controlled a major opium poppy producing area, the province of San Marcos, where he was a popular local figure. When Ortiz was arrested in 2011, locals protested to demand his release. He owned at least ten estates in his area of operations and provided numerous jobs, in addition to cultivating local support by throwing parties and sponsoring beauty contests.
Ortiz was involved in cocaine trafficking and poppy cultivation for heroin production.
Ortiz based his criminal network in the San Marcos province, one of the most important regions in Guatemala given its proximity to the highlands, Mexico and to the Pacific coast, where most of the drugs coming from South America land. His group’s control of various points along the coast gave it a strategic advantage over competitors.
Allies and Enemies
Ortiz exerted influence over local politicians and police in the region, and relied on a powerful local support network to conduct his business. He is thought to have worked out a deal that made him the Sinaloa Cartel’s top transporter, helping the Mexican group move drugs that arrived via Pacific routes.
Ortiz was arrested in March 2011 in the city of Quetzaltenango, near the Mexican border. In February 2012, a Guatemalan court ruled that Ortiz could be extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges. He was extradited in May 2014.