Sons of Mexico Drug Lord Freed After Kidnapping

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Two sons of Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, allegedly kidnapped from a restaurant in Jalisco by rivals, have been released unharmed after secret negotiations.There is still uncertainty surrounding the incident as well as the implications for Mexico’s underworld.

The director of respected Sinaloa news outlet RioDoce stated that Alfredo and Ivan Guzmán had been abducted and both have now been released, El Universal reported.  Authorities had not even been able to confirm that Iván was kidnapped. 

News of the release of all six men who were taken August 15 at the point of assault rifles from a gourmet restaurant in an upscale district of the Mexican tourism center Puerto Vallarta was first reported by RioDoce on August 20. Citing information from Guzmán relatives, the news outlet reported that Alfredo had been released. But in his interview with Radio Fórmula, RioDoce Director Ismael Bojórquez said that Alfredo’s older brother Iván was also among those kidnapped.

Bojórquez told the radio station the Guzman sons had been released after negotiations between the kidnappers and Sinaloa Cartel co-leader Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias “El Mayo.” InSight Crime sources in Mexico also said the captives had been released.

Speculation about the motive for the kidnapping immediately centered on the Sinaloa Cartel’s biggest rival in Mexico’s drug trafficking business, the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG), led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho.” That version of events was supported by Jalisco’s attorney general, who affirmed almost immediately that CJNG operatives were behind the crime. Why the rival cartel would kidnap the sons of El Chapo and then let them go remains a mystery. Bojórquez also reportedly said “El Mayo” negotiated the release with members of the CJNG.

US authorities maintain that Alfredo Guzmán, alias “Alfredillo,” has been an important player in the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug business. A federal indictment updated in 2013 in Chicago charges Alfredo, along with his father and seven other individuals, with conspiring to possess and distribute cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana in the United States. The document says the group imported cocaine in “shipments of hundreds of kilograms at a time,” from May 2005 until at least 2014.

The indictment says Alfredillo worked closely with both Sinaloa Cartel co-leaders — his father El Chapo and El Mayo — to transport drugs from South and Central America to the United States via Mexico. It accuses him of acting as logistical coordinator for smuggling the drugs across the border into the United States and for their distribution throughout the country. The younger Guzmán is also charged with managing the collection of payment for those drugs and for having the money laundered and transferred to Mexico. The US Treasury Department added two people to its “kingpin” list August 16, accusing them of laundering drug money for the Sinaloa Cartel.  

The rival CJNG is a relative upstart in Mexico’s underworld, having evolved as a result of of killings, captures and rifts in older cartels. In April of 2015, the Treasury Department added the CJNG to its list of Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, labeling them “among the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico.”

InSight Crime Analysis   

While a power struggle between an ascendant cartel and Mexico’s biggest drug organization of recent years is the most popular theory, there is much about the kidnapping that remains unclear and, for some analysts, confusing. For one thing, encounters between rival cartels do not usually occur without shots being fired, and abductions by them usually end with dead bodies bearing signs of torture rather than negotiated releases.

“There wasn’t even one little bullet,” the owner of the restaurant where the kidnapping took place, Ignacio Cadena Beraud told reporters. “It’s bad that it happened at my place. But it’s good that nothing more or worse happened.”  Cadena said the party made a normal reservation through a hotel and “they came in just like any other client.”

The almost relaxed behavior and apparent lack of tactical technique of the kidnappers has also raised doubts. A military expert that reviewed video of the event told InSight Crime “this is really bad and amateur room clearing/close combat procedure.” One apparent customer near the door of the restaurant continued to speak on his cellphone as the gunmen burst in and filed right by him.

If the credible reports that Alfredillo, and now also his brother Iván, were abducted and released after a negotiation are true, it is unclear what type of bargain might have been struck. Although the Sinaloa Cartel is thought to have been weakened by the re-arrest of El Chapo early this year, it is hard to imagine kidnappers daring to kidnap El Chapo’s sons for ransom.

A turf war seems more likely. Recent analysis by Mexican intelligence officials, originally reported on by Animal Politico.com, indicates that the two cartels do not operate in the same Mexican states. However, the Sinaloa Cartel does control a broad swath of territory along the US border, placing it in between the CJNG — whose strongholds are further south — and the lucrative US market. This geographic distribution raises at least the possibility that the CJNG is angling toward opening corridors through Sinaloa territory to the border.

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That theory is supported by reports from earlier this year that CJNG has formed an alliance with remnants of another, older enemy of El Chapo and the Sinaloa Cartel: the Arellano Félix Organization (AFO), also known as the Tijuana Cartel. Although the AFO was thought to have been dismantled by US and Mexican law enforcement, a renewal of violent confrontations between members of the AFO and Sinaloa Cartels have been reported in Tijuana since early 2015.

In March 2016, Baja California’s state secretary of Public Security, Daniel de la Rosa Anaya, said authorities had detected an alliance between the CJNG and the Arellano Félix Organization, according to El Diario. “We have detected the arrival of subjects that come from different areas of Jalisco who have been discovered with both drugs and weapons,” de la Rosa told reporters. “In their statements, they have made it known that they have an agreement with the Arellano Félix in order to strengthen their position before the Sinaloa Cartel.”

Although there was no official confirmation that the Guzmán brothers were released, Guzmán family members never reported the accused drug traffickers’ kidnapping to police in the first place. Given the clandestine nature of these illegal organizations, it is reasonable that the authorities would be the last to know.

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