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Reports of internal conflicts following arrest of El Chapo suggests a weakening Sinaloa Cartel

July 23, 2016  |  Posted by: JammedUp Staff
Reports of internal conflicts following arrest of El Chapo suggests a weakening Sinaloa Cartel

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Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman Loera, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, is currently languishing under heavy guard at a maximum security prison in Northern Mexico awaiting extradition to the U.S. following his January apprehension after escaping a maximum security prison in July 2015.

The Mexican drug lord’s absence represents a game changing paradigm shift in Mexico’s criminal landscape, which many experts have previously predicted would lead to a proliferation of drug-related violence as a result of the possible fragmentation of the world’s most powerful criminal organization.

In the wake of El Chapo’s arrest, reports of violence have surged to unprecedented levels in the Golden Triangle, a region of Northwest Mexico encompassing the states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Guzman’s home state of Sinaloa, widely known for the cultivation of heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana.

Recent reports indicate armed confrontations have erupted over disputed territories, raising concerns over the danger of a looming war between rival factions, signaling a possible rupture within the usually hegemonic Sinaloa Federation Cartel.

Mexican law enforcement officials concede opposing cells jostling for power may have prompted recent incursions by rival criminal organizations seeking to take advantage of the group’s perceived vulnerability following the capture of the powerful capo.

Mexico’s Golden Triangle, made up of parts of Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa states, is a stronghold of the Sinaloa cartel and an area of drug cultivation.

Mexico’s Golden Triangle made up of parts of Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa states is a stronghold of the Sinaloa cartel and an area of drug cultivation.

Internal Unrest

The Security Cabinet for the Sinaloa State Government and federal police officials have identified at least two fronts in a war over territories as the cause for the escalation in drug violence in the region.

As JammedUp reported, one conflict involves the Sinaloa Cartel and the Beltran-Leyva Organization, which recently exploded into violence in the Sinaloa Mountains.

Local media reports out in Mexico, suggests another war is the result of a dispute over drug smuggling corridors between a new generation of narco-juniors and one of the men some experts believe could succeed Guzman.


Damaso Lopez Nunez is identified as one of the likely candidates to succeed Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman

According to the Culiacan-based news publication Rio Doc, a cell led by none other than Ivan Archivaldo and Alfredo Guzman, the sons of El Chapo, have launched a challenge over the drug trafficking Plaza in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur against a rival faction led by top capo Damaso Lopez Nunez.

Lopez Nunez, known as ‘El Licenciado’ or ‘El Lic’ for short, is the leader of a faction called Los Damaso, and ‘compadre’ of El Chapo.

El Lic is not your prototypical narco; he is a college graduate who earned his law degree before starting a career in law enforcement. Lopez Nunez became the top official at the Puente Grande Prison in Jalisco, where he would allegedly help El Chapo pull off his first escape back in 2001.

Ministerial Police and Army officials have attributed the territorial dispute between the two cells to a recent wave of killings around Culiacan and in the nearby municipality of Navolato.

According to BCS Noticias, gunmen in the La Quintas area of Culiacan executed Guadalupe Acosta Lopez, alias “El Javier,” a regional plaza boss and top operator for Los Damaso in the Baja California city of Los Cabos.

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Death of Guadalupe Acosta Javier Lopez linked to an internal war within the Sinaloa Cartel (Zeta-Tijuana)

A source told the newspaper that the execution of ‘El Javier’ was prompted by “the children of El Chapo, who now aim to displace Damaso Lopez in the state of Baja California Sur (BCS).”

Furthermore, the conflict was the catalyst for a May 28th raging gunbattle between the two groups in the town of Villa Juarez, Navolato, leaving three men dead and several others wounded.

Also, violent clashes have flared in the Baja city of La Paz between Los Damaso and a cell led by the sons of Guzman’s longtime partner and top boss Ismael’El Mayo’ Zambada, according to El Debate Culiacan.

Chapitos vs. Los Damaso: Shootout in Villa Angel Flores, Navolato stemming from a war between top narcos.

Chapitos vs. Los Damaso: Shootout in Villa Angel Flores, Navolato stemming from a war between top narcos.

Officials believe the confrontation was the cause for series of reported armed attacks and executions in La Paz that occurred in the first two weeks of July.

The capture of El Chapo and reports of the internal unrest within his criminal organization have also emboldened rivals to start disputing the Sinaloa Cartel’s long-held dominance over the border regions leading into Arizona, California and parts of Texas.

In Tijuana, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, widely viewed as the Sinaloa cartel’s main competition, regarding power have allied with remnants of the Arellano-Felix Organization to dispute the Tijuana smuggling corridors.

Emergence of the ‘Narco of Narcos’

Law enforcement officials believe there is a direct correlation between the internal dissension occurring within the Sinaloa cartel and another conflict linked to the recent re-emergence of legendary drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero, known as ‘The Narcos of Narcos,’ who remains at the top of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s Most Wanted List.

The 63-year-old drug trafficker was released from prison under dubious circumstances back in April 2013 after serving a 28-year-prison sentence for his role in the 1985 kidnapping, torture, and murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique ‘KiKi’ Camarena much to the anger of U.S. officials.

His release was viewed as a major embarrassment for the Mexican government and seiously strained relations with the U.S. government.

At one time, Quintero yielded significant power as one of a triumvirate of leaders who founded the now dismantled Guadalajara Cartel, the organization that would eventually spawn the Sinaloa, Juarez, and Tijuana cartels.

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Reports now suggest that Caro Quintero seeks to reestablish himself as a dominant player within the Mexican underworld, having forged alliances with elements of the Beltran-Leyva Organization, elements of Los Zetas and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel with the intent of mounting a challenge for territories controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel.

“We have information that he intends to come here, wishes to occupy the spaces of the Sinaloa cartel and dispute [those spaces] with them,” Jorge González, Chihuahua state attorney general, revealed to reporters on July 5th.

Caro Quintero’s criminal alliance was reportedly behind the June 11th attack on Guzmán’s stronghold of La Tuna, located in the municipality Badiraguato, Sinaloa, which is also Caro Quintero’s hometown.

One week later, Juan Carlos Landeros ” El Guero 90,” a top operator for ‘El Mayo’ Zambada, was killed in a gun battle with rivals in the town of Cosala.

Additionally, a narco manta, which is what cartels use to make public announcements written on a sheet or posterboard, appeared in Ciudad Juarez last week, allegedly signed by Caro Quintero.

In the message, the ‘Narco of Narcos’ announced his intention to begin “cleansing” the city of Juarez and warned the Attorney General that he and his staff had a week to resign from their posts.

Officials noted that a spike in violence in Juarez within the first week of July saw the number of homicides rise to 16, which is double the number compared to last year coincided with the reports of Caro Quintero’s reemergence.

In a recent article, analyst Michael Lohmuller from Insight Crime wrote that the old school drug trafficker maybe sensing a weakness  and could feel the timing is right to mount a hostile takeover for control of territories held by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Narcomanta left last week in Ciudad Juarez allegedly signed by Rafael Caro Quintero

Narcomanta left last week in Ciudad Juarez was allegedly signed by Rafael Caro Quintero

“Caro Quintero may feel the timing is propitious to challenge the once hegemonic Sinaloa Cartel, which if reports are correct, is experiencing internal unrest following the arrest and possible extradition of El Chapo.”

Mike Vigil, the former Chief of International Operations for the DEA questioned whether Quintero has the muscle to challenge the Sinaloa Federation.

“I don’t believe he has the power to take over any of, like, the Sinaloa cartel. He just doesn’t have the muscle,” Vigil told the Business Insider.

“But Caro Quintero is used to power; I do think he’s trying to carve out a piece of territory, then take over possibly a state where he can get back into the business, maybe build up from there and establish a good solid pipeline into the United States.”

Alejandro Hope, a prominent Mexican security analyst questioned the intelligence gathering cited by the Chihuahua State Attorney General indicating Caro Quintero’s ambitions in a written piece published in El Universal.

“Why would Caro Quintero, at almost 64-years-old, having spent half his life in prison and not in perfect health if medical records are correct, want a target on his back, increasing the probability of being recaptured and extradited to the United States?” Hope wrote.

He added: “Would he take all those risks in order not to pay a few percentage points to ‘El Chapo’ and ‘El Mayo,’ it sounds foolhardy at the very least. It’s one thing to get over on the authorities and something very different to get over on the authorities and the Sinaloa cartel.”

Reports of violence in the Golden Triangle have surged. EL HABAL (Mazatlán, Sinaloa) in early July was the scene of a raging gun battle between cartel factions

Reports of violence in the Golden Triangle have surged. EL HABAL (Mazatlán, Sinaloa) in early July was the scene of a raging gun battle between cartel factions

Although Hope remained highly skeptical of the Attorney General’s report, he didn’t completely rule out the possibility of a challenge by Caro Quintero.

“In the long history of Mexican organized crime stranger things have happened, but with these issues skepticism is healthy,” said Hope.

However, Vigil noted, “I don’t think that Rafael Caro Quintero, being in the business for as long as he was and wielding as much power as he has, is intimidated by the Sinaloa cartel, or by any cartel, for that matter.”

Most experts do agree that the upswell in violence since Guzman’s arrest is a clear illustration of the changing dynamics in Mexico’s criminal landscape as a result of the internal fragmentation of the major drug organizations stemming from the government’s ongoing efforts to crack down on kingpins.

Since the arrest of El Chapo Guzman, reports of violence have increased within his criminal organization

Experts believe the Sinaloa cartel has weakened since the arrest of El Chapo Guzman and amid reports of  internal unrest within his powerful criminal organization 

“Every time you knock off a capo, you run the risk of unleashing higher levels of violence,” said Bruce Bagley, an expert on organized crime in Latin America and University of Miami professor.

“Once the leader gets removed, underlings compete for power, or rival groups try to seize territory, the Mexican government has created an environment where regional criminal groups can flourish,” said Bagley.

Alejandro Hope has echoed Bagley’s analysis and believes the violence will only get worse: “In 20 years there won’t be a Sinaloa Cartel or Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación. El Chapo is the past. The future is these small, very brutal local groups.”

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