‘El Mayo,’ the Unsung Leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel

Whille all attention has been focused on drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, there is evidence that another leader of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel is actually the most powerful and prolific drug trafficker in the world.

International media attention has focused heavily on drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman ever since he broke out of a maximum-security prison in dramatic fashion nearly one month ago. However, the man who took over the reins of the Sinaloa Cartel following Guzman’s arrest in February 2014, Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias “El Mayo,” is now believed to have eclipsed El Chapo as the world’s biggest drug trafficker. 

“El Mayo is the most powerful drug trafficker,” US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Chief Jack Riley told Proceso in June. “I even think we have underestimated [El Mayo’s] influence and power over the US drug market,” Riley added.

Security analysts say El Mayo’s low profile and use of discretion has enabled him to work for over 40 years in the drug trafficking business without once being caught by authorities, reported BBC Mundo. El Mayo has eluded capture despite the United States offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

InSight Crime Analysis 

Thanks in large part to El Mayo, the Sinaloa Cartel’s drug trafficking operations barely took a hit following El Chapo’s capture last year. Many feared El Chapo’s arrest would also unleash a wave of violence among mid-ranking Sinaloa commanders battling for control of the cartel; such infighting has been seen following the fragmentation of other Mexican drug trafficking groups such as the Gulf Cartel. However, violence in fact went down considerably in the Sinaloa Cartel’s strongholds during the first 12 months after El Chapo was captured.

The Sinaloa Cartel’s continued prominence in the transnational drug trade and the low rates of violence is a testament to El Mayo’s ability to run the cartel smoothly in El Chapo’s absence. If El Chapo plans on reclaiming his position atop the Sinaloa Cartel, El Mayo is surely one of the first people he will meet. There are already rumors the recently escaped capo will attempt to reunite with his former boss, Rafael Caro Quintero, a co-founder of the now-defunct Guadalajara Cartel who was released from a Mexican prison in 2013.

SEE ALSO: Profile of El Mayo

Despite El Mayo’s reputation as perhaps the world’s most prolific active drug trafficker, it is worth noting the Sinaloa Cartel is essentially a confederation of criminal organizations, and its leadership structure is akin to a board of directors. This horizontal leadership structure means no individual — neither El Chapo nor El Mayo — has complete control over the cartel’s drug trafficking operations.