Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias ‘El Mayo’

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Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias “El Mayo,” heads a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel. Along his recently escaped partner, Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” El Mayo is one of the most storied traffickers in Mexico.



Originally a farmer from Sinaloa, El Mayo started out working with the Juarez Cartel in the 1980s and 1990s. After the death of the head of the Juarez Cartel, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias “El Señor de los Cielos,” El Mayo created his own organization. With the slow demise of the Tijuana Cartel, he has sought to expand his routes through Sonora and Baja California. He also controls much of the heroin production and shipment from Mexico into the United States.

El Mayo Factbox

DOB: January 1, 1948

Group: Sinaloa Cartel

Criminal Activities: International drug trafficking, money laundering

Status: At large

Area of Operation: Sinaloa, Mexico

In recent years, El Mayo has suffered the loss of several key members of his inner circle. Authorities have arrested his brother, two sons and a nephew. One of his sons, Ismael Zambada, alias “El Mayito,” was extradited to the U.S. in 2010. In 2012, El Mayo’s alleged right-hand man, Manuel Torres Felix, alias “El M-1” or “El Ondeado”, was killed in a shootout with the military.

Some analysts surmised that El Mayo might be easing into the shadows, or even retiring, after he appeared on the front cover of the Mexican investigative news magazine Proceso in 2010. However, several years on he remains at large and is believed to still be active. 

Criminal Activities

Following the arrest of El Chapo in 2014, some consider El Mayo to have claimed his partner’s mantle as the world’s biggest drug trafficker. El Mayo oversees much of Mexico’s heroin production that’s smuggled into the United States. El Mayo’s Sinaloa Cartel is also a dominant player in the international cocaine trade. In 2004, the US government offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the drug lord’s capture. 


El Mayo is originally from Sinaloa, and he is believed to operate out of the mountainous regions in Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. However, El Mayo’s influence is thought to extend throughout much of Mexico, and the Sinaloa Cartel has a presence in almost every major city in the Western Hemisphere. 

Allies and Enemies

El Mayo has made and broken many alliances with other drug trafficking organizations. His partnership with Guzman has been cited as a big reason why the Sinaloa Cartel is the strongest in the hemisphere. 

El Mayo has also used his connections in the Mexican government to push his influence steadily north toward the U.S. border and south toward Cancun, leaving a trail of imprisoned and dead colleagues in his wake.


It is unclear if El Chapo plans to rejoin his partner atop the Sinaloa Cartel after the kingpin’s dramatic dramatic escape from prison in July 2015. If El Chapo does return to Mexico’s underworld, it is unclear how that would affect the Sinaloa Cartel’s leadership, if at all; even before El Chapo’s arrest in 2014, El Mayo was a major figure within the cartel, and perhaps even of equal stature on the operational side.

El Mayo’s long-held connections in government and the local population in Sinaloa make his chances of being captured very low. Indeed, El Mayo has spent over 40 years in the drug trafficking business without ever seeing the inside of a jail cell.

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