Sinaloa Cartel Leader ‘El Azul’ Dead? ‘El Mayo’ Now In Control?

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The Sinaloa Cartel has reportedly lost “El Azul,” one of its two remaining leaders, as well as another key member running operations in northern Mexico, although so far the cartel  has maintained its cohesion in the face of similar losses. 

Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul,” allegedly died of a heart attack on June 7 while recovering from injuries sustained during a car accident, reported Riodoce.   El Azul is one of the Sinaloa cartel’s remaining top leaders — after the capture of Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo,” in February — the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been offering $5 million for his arrest since a 2004 indictment.  

On the day Esparragoza died, Mexican authorities arrested Juan Carlos Lopez, a key Sinaloa Cartel operative in the northern state of Chihuahua. Lopez had allegedly controlled the cartel’s operations in this state since November 2011 and trafficked cocaine and synthetic drugs to the United States, reported Diario las Americas

InSight Crime Analysis

The arrest of “El Chapo” Guzman in February left Esparragoza and Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias “El Mayo,” in charge of the organization. In spite of losing its top leader, however, the Sinaloa Cartel appears to have maintained internal cohesion. Although there have been reports of infighting among cartel operatives in Honduras, Guzman’s capture did not unleash the type of internal battles that often results from a loss of leadership. 

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile

Part of the reason for this unity may be the fact that the top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel are linked by blood and marriage, which has likely made the group more resilient. Esparragoza was married to Guzman’s sister-in-law, for example, and is supposedly godfather to one of Zambada’s sons.  

A former police detective, Esparragoza also reportedly played a key role in brokering peace agreements between rival cartels and helped Guzman continue his business operations while he was imprisoned in Mexico. When Guzman escaped from prison in 2001, Esparragoza became one of the leaders of the organization. 

Mexican cartel leaders have been known to fake their own deaths in order to relieve pressure from security forces. A notorious example of this was the case of Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias “El Chayo,” of La Familia Michoacana, who was believed killed in a shoot out in 2010, but who turned up in a gunfight in March 2014, where he was, finally, killed.

SEE ALSO: El Azul profile

It remains to be seen whether Esparragoza’s death and Lopez’s arrest will spark any internal conflict, although judging from the lack of fall-out after Guzman’s capture, the Sinaloa Cartel may well be able to weather this storm as well. 

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