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.
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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.
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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.
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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.