Internal struggles for power between factions of the Sinaloa Cartel may have led to an increase in violence in western Mexico, the latest example of internecine conflict that has plagued the crime group for years.
Two sons of captured Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán suffered injuries on February 4 after one of the kingpin’s closest associates allegedly tried to assassinate them, El Universal reported. El Chapo was arrested in Mexico in January 2016 and extradited to the United States last month.
The recent ambush was reportedly carried out by Dámaso López, known as “Licenciado,” who allegedly targeted two of El Chapo’s sons as well as Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, another top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The attack on El Chapo’s family coincides with a recent surge in violence in the state of Sinaloa. Between February 5 and February 7, shootings between police forces and members of organized crime groups claimed the lives of 12 people.
The new wave of violence forced authorities to take extraordinary measures, and on February 8, 148 schools across Sinaloa were closed after new clashes involving organized crime groups broke out.
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Although the apparent attempted assassination of El Chapo’s sons by Licenciado is a sign that feuds within the Sinaloa Cartel may be on the rise, internal struggles within the organization were occurring well before El Chapo’s capture.
Fights between members and close allies of the Sinaloa Cartel have been occurring for several years. The state of Sinaloa has been home to feuds between and within cartels at least since 2011, and the area suffered from a large-scale forced displacement crisis as a result of the confrontations. Yet in other parts of the country, including Nayarit, Sonora, Durango and parts of Jalisco and Guerrero, these rivalries date back much further.
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Attacks against El Chapo’s family appeared to increase after the leader’s January 2016 capture. In July 2016, a group of armed men stormed into the house of the kingpin’s mother, and ransacked the town where she lives. And in August 2016, two of El Chapo’s sons were kidnapped and released shortly thereafter in circumstances that remain unclear.
Yet Guzmán’s power began to wane long before his fall, and internal struggles have been a recurrent feature of the Sinaloa Cartel. What is new is that the level of violence caused by the recent fights among organized crime groups appears high, even by Sinaloa’s standards. The 2015 Mexico Peace Index published by the Institute for Economics and Peace ranked Sinaloa as Mexico’s third most violent state.