Bulletin From The Borderlands Special Report
Expeditionary Intelligence Group
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The Expeditionary Intelligence Group has taken on a new special project, explaining the Mexican Drug Cartels. This project will extend over several months and will go into the structures and key individuals of the Mexican cartels.
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The Sinaloa Cartel:
The Sinaloa Cartel (originally “Alianza de Sangre”, or “Blood Alliance”, and Cartel of the Pacific) is a Mexican drug cartel based in Culiacan, Sinaloa, Mexico which reaches across Mexico
into distribution cells in Arizona, Alaska, California, Chicago, Denver, Illinois, New York/New Jersey and throughout the east coast. Their activities include, but are not limited to international drug trafficking, human and arms trafficking, smuggling, money laundering, extortion, and racketeering. Cartel de Sinaloa (CDS) predominantly operates in the Golden Triangle- a rural region of northern Mexico in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Durango. The Sierra Madre Occidental mountains provide ideal setting for opium and marijuana drug farms, while the complex terrain and access to land, maritime routes, global drug producers and US consumers offer irresistible business opportunities.
The Sinaloa Cartel is primarily involved in the distribution of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, cannabis and MDMA. It is also the majority supplier of illicit fentanyl to North America. The syndicate was established around 1988-89 after the fall of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo’s Guadalajara Cartel.1 The fall of Gallardo 's cartel led to the creation of the Tijuana Cartel (led by Gallardo’s nephews- Arellano Felix brothers), The Juarez Cartel, Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel. The Cártel de Sinaloa was established by Hector Palma Garcia, Ismael Zambada “El Mayo” Garcia, Adrian Gomez Gonzalez, and Joaquín Guzmán Loera (El Chapo).
In 1989, Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín Guzmán Loera approached Benjamin and Ramon Arellano Felix, Tijuana Cartel bosses, to discuss the possibility of working together in the drug trade. The Arellano Feliz brothers turned him down, but Guzman continued trafficking drugs through their territories. One thing led to another, and a Sinalo-Tijuana war raged on until Guzman was arrested in 1993 while hiding in Guatemala. In the early 1990s, CDS utilized existing business connections in Columbia and Central America to expand their areas of influence and global drug trafficking networks. Colombian Cartels were in decline in the early 1990s due to the deaths of various drug lords, notably Pablo Escobar in 1993, and the US crackdown on drug trafficking in the Caribbean that posed other barriers to illicit trade.
Guzman Loera oversaw the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations for most of the 1990s and his influence and reputation grew exponentially following his incarceration in Guatemala June of 1993, extradition to a Mexican maximum.-security prison, and escape from prison on January 19th, 2001.2 Following the escape, Guzman proposed the creation of a federation of drug cartels to fight against the Arellanos, but all of the other cartels refused; however, they promised they would join if he was successful in eliminating the two brothers. The early 2000s were characterized by bloodshed, corrupt politicians and betrayal. By 2002, Guzman bribed the leader of a special forces team to track down Benjamin Arellano Felix in exchange for $30,000 a month. Conrado Higuera Sol, a corrupt politician with ties to CDS, was operational director of Mexico’s federal police at the time, and oversaw the operation that led to Arellano Felix’s capture.
The downfall of the Arellano Felix brothers made way for Guzman’s Federation- to which the Gulf Cartel declined membership- and the Sinaloa Cartel consolidated itself into what became the most powerful organization by sea and land. The Gulf’s rejection angered Guzman and made the cartel a top enemy of his; one which he declared war on in 2003. The conflict led to a spike in violence in areas of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa as the Sinaloa Cartel attempted to move in and take territory from the crumbling Gulf Cartel, who was on the verge of breaking up. While the Sinaloa Cartel’s fight for territory in Tijuana had officially ended with the capturing of the Arellano Felix brothers, clashes in the Tijuana-Sonora area sporadically continued, CDS battled the Gulf Cartel throughout the early 2000s, and a bloody war with the formerly allied Juarez cartel began in 2007. In 2008 the Juarez Cartel and Beltrán-Leyva brothers broke apart from the Sinaloa Cartel. While this conflict proved more hindersome to the Beltran-Leyva’s organization than it did to Guzman, it signified the unraveling of the federation and was a major contributing factor to the state of unresolved conflicts that Mexico is currently experiencing.
After the arrest of El Chapo, the cartel is now headed by Ismael Zambada García (“El Mayo”). Dámaso López Núñez (“el Licenciado”) is a prominent figure of the Sinaloa Cartel who was the closest associate to El Chapo and presumably his replacement, was arrested in May 2017, and extradited to the US in July 2018. Nonetheless, a select few of Guzman's sons- Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, Ovidio Guzmán López, and Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, referred to as “Los Chapitos'' still had a influential role in central core of the organization and reportedly took over part of the drug-trafficking organization, but El Mayo went on as the official leader on the Sinaloa Cartel.
Stark internal divisions within the Sinaloa Cartel became apparent after El Mayo Zambada failed to respond to El Chaptios’ operators request to provide support for Ovidio Guzman after his capture in Culiacan, Sinaloa in October of 2019. In a struggle for more influence and operational control, Los Chapitos seized territories originally run by Ismael El “Mayo” Zambada, started demanding taxes, and assassinating low-tier, non-conforming dealers in Mexicali. Between 2019-2020, two things are certain- Los Chapitos wants more operational control, and leadership responsibilities, yet El Mayo is not willing to promote Guzman’s sons, who have a somewhat flashy style and high profiles. It is still unclear who Zambada will choose to follow in his place after his death. The Sinaloa’s leader is over the age of seventy and must soon choose who will carry on as CDS’ leader.
It was revealed that Zambada had been willing to give former top Mexican drug lords Rafael and Miguel Caro Quintero high ranking positions in the Sinaloa Cartel if they agreed to join. However, the effort to recruit the Caro Quintero brothers faltered as Zambada's health declined and CDS’ infighting expanded.
The Cártel de Sinaloa (CDS) has a horizontal leadership structure that is currently experiencing a decentralization of central power. Regional CDS factions are controlled by semi-independent “plaza bosses” of CDS designated territories. The cartel became increasingly decentralized after El Chapo’s arrest in 2014 and the internal battle for power that ensued. Their cellular structure is spread across many businesses, cartel and non-affiliated cartel subgroups, yet its small team structure nurtures entrepreneurial zeal, while the cellular structure allows them to protect their leadership and efficiently conduct operations.
The Sinaloa Cartel is a confederation of criminal organizations based on regional culture, and deep, shared blood ties that have been generated during decades of endogenous practice. At its core, leadership is firm but horizontal in nature and works as a sort of "board of directors." The lower-tier structures of the Sinaloa Federation, such as the subgroups operating in Chihuahua, Sonora, and Baja California states, have recently grown more independent from the cartel's remaining top-tier crime bosses. Foreign criminal groups from Mexican-American gangs in the prison system in the United States or in the neighborhoods of Chicago to the traditional "transportista" organizations in Central America are partners. And the cartel does not get involved in the leadership of its partners. So what affects the cartel "headquarters" does not necessarily affect the "subsidiaries" because there is no fragmentation on the edges when there is turnover at the top.
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