Senior Mexican law enforcement officials have confirmed that the Sinaloa cartel, the world’s largest drug trafficking organization, is facing an internal struggle to fill a power vacuum in the absence of its leader Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.
Violence has raged in the Sinaloa state since February 5th after the two sons of ‘El Chapo:’ Jesus Alfredo and Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar sustained injuries during an assassination attempt by one of Guzman’s closest lieutenants.
In a handwritten letter by Jesus Alfredo and Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, distributed to multiple media outlets, the ambush transpired as Guzman’s two sons and his longtime partner Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada arrived at a meeting convened by Dámaso López Nunez.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Lopez Nunez is a senior figure within the Sinaloa cartel leadership and summoned the meeting “to discuss evidence suggesting he had ordered the kidnapping of the sons of ‘El Chapo'” in August.
The letter alleged that when they arrived at the meeting location, in the mountains of Badirgurato, they soon realized that they had been betrayed by Lopez and were met with hitmen who opened fire killing their armed bodyguards.
“This, in fact, did happen,” says Mike Vigil, a former top DEA official and author of “Metal Coffins: The Blood Alliance Cartel,“ who cited information from Mexican law enforcement officials.
” [Damaso Lopez] allegedly called for an important meeting, and when they showed up they ran into a barrage of bullets from at least five or six or individuals,” Vigil told Business Insider. “They killed some of their bodyguards, but they were able to [get] away.”
“Apparently, [the gunmen] didn’t wait for these guys to get out of the vehicle when they started shooting. Had they waited until they got out of the vehicle, they would’ve probably killed them,” Vigil said.
Guzman’s sons were injured in the attack but managed to escape with Zambada. However, it remains unclear if ‘El Mayo’ escaped without injury.
The Mexican government has officially correlated the brazen assassination attempt to the surge of violence over the past week in Sinaloa, which forced authorities to take extra precautionary measures, which included closing over 148 schools throughout the region, as armed confrontations erupted throughout the state, Proceso reported.
“In the absence of their leader (El Chapo), they are fighting who can take charge of the organization; I estimate that is what is happening. It seems to me that the problem that is occurring is between them (Sinaloa Cartel),” said General Salvador Cienfuegos, the head of the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) during a meeting with the governor of Sinaloa, Quirino Ordaz, and State Security Coordination Group in the Ninth Military Zone of Culiacán.
Cienfuegos also reported that the state would receive additional troops from different military branches to quell the violence and re-establish security in the area.
The falling out between the various Sinaloa Cartel factions has increased since the extradition of Guzman in late January.
Damaso Lopez Nunez, known as ‘El Licenciado’ because he has a law degree, is a former federal judicial official and later became a deputy prison director in Puente Grande, Jalisco, where he later helped Guzman first escape in 2001.
JammedUp News drug war analyst and co-founder Michael Falzarano detailed in a report published last year, indicating Lopez-Nunez was the likely successor to ‘El Chapo’s’ throne.
“He’s described as a low-key, authoritative figure who is cunning, intelligent but violent,” Falzarano stated. “He would command more respect in the Mexican underworld than the sons of ‘El Chapo,’ who seem more intent on boasting their luxurious lifestyles on social media.”
After ‘El Chapo’s’ incarceration in March 2014, Guzman chose Damaso Lopez to oversee his operation over his sons, who he considered immature and did not like the inconspicuous life they led, posting luxuries and women on social networks, according to a recent report by award-winning Mexican journalist Annabelle Hernandez.
Lopez was the logical choice. He kept a lower profile and was already well-known by the Colombian cocaine suppliers and would end up looking after ‘El Chapo’s’ interests with such efficiency that the Sinaloa cartel accumulated more power.
However, Hernandez says the events dramatically changed after ‘El Chapo’s’ arrest in 2016. The sons of the capo quickly realized, for the first time, that their father’s power had weakened.
Ivan and Alfredo began to dispute the growing power of Dámaso Lopez Nunez and tried to claim money and properties, arguing that they belonged to their father. The brothers also claimed a place in the negotiations for drug trafficking
According to Hernandez, a fallout was facilitated after Damaso Lopez Nunez began forging alliances with rival drug cartels including César Carrillo Fuentes, the brother of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias ‘Lord of the Skies,’ and Fausto Isidro Meza, the leader of the Beltrán Leyva Cartel. Both of whom are fierce rivals of Guzman.
Hernandez added that ‘El Licenciado’ has also established ties with the New Generation Jalisco Cartel (CJNG), commanded by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias ‘El Mencho.’
The emerging ties correlated with increased attacks against Guzman’s family following ‘El Chapo’s’ apprehension in January 2016 in Los Mochis. During an assault on La Tuna, El Chapo’s hometown, gunmen ransacked the home of Guzman’s mother.
In August 2016, gunmen purportedly with the CJNG kidnapped the sons of ‘El Chapo.’ They were released only after ‘El Mayo’ Zambada interceded and negotiated their release.
Hernandez said at first that Mexican law enforcement officials attributed responsibility for the kidnapping of ‘El Chapo’s’ sons to the CJNG, but have since affirmed that behind the coup was ‘El Licenciado.’
“Only someone of high authority within the cartel could know the exact whereabouts of ‘El Chapo’s’ offspring,’ she wrote.
In a report published in Excelsior, Mexican analyst Jorge Fernádez Menéndez believes Guzman’s sons will have everything to lose in the struggle for power against ‘The Bachelor,’ who could usher in a new era within the Mexican drug landscape.
“Damaso Lopez is the one that has controlled the operations of the cartel, while the children of Guzmán Loera have demonstrated that their scope is more on Instagram than in the criminal activities,” Menéndez said.
“‘El Licenciado’ intends to reestablish alliances with the successors of Amado Carrillo in Juárez and fix the ties broken with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), it is more than the embryo of the next hegemonic cartel that could rule Mexico.”
Hernandez made a similar assessment.
“For the DEA, the extradition of Joaquín Guzmán Loera means the end of ‘El Chapo’ s’ reign and the beginning of ‘El Licenciado’s’ era, who is considered more violent and radical than his former boss,” Hernandez said.
“Allied with other Mexican cartels, he will try to revive the so-called drug federation that at one time ruled Mexico and made ‘El Chapo’ the most important capo of our time .”