Monday, November 5, 2012
The Real 'El Chapo' and his Barbaric Mexican Drug Cartel
By Scott Stewart
A widely propagated myth would have
us believe that Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera and his Sinaloa Federation are less violent than
many of their competitors. Statements from journalists and analysts allege that Sinaloa is more businesslike than Los Zetas,
whose reputation for brutality is well-documented, and that this business savvy somehow renders the group relatively benign.
In turn, this has led many to believe that the Mexican government could broker a deal with the leader of one of Mexico's
largest criminal organizations.
However, a close examination of Sinaloa's
evolution demonstrates the group is hardly the hallmark of civility. In fact, the history of Mexico's cartel wars over
the past decade reveals that Guzman, his Sinaloa Federation and the various cartels with which they partner have been more
territorially aggressive than any other Mexican cartel.
Sinaloa incursions upset the balance of power that Miguel Angel "El Padrino" Felix Gallardo established in the late 1980s when he appropriated criminal territories to Guzman and his other
lieutenants. Tens of thousands of people have died from the wars that arose from this imbalance.
This is because Guzman's expansion efforts necessarily entailed encroaching on a rival's turf. In the early
1990s, he sent forces from Sinaloa state into Tijuana, Baja California state -- controlled at the time by the Arellano Felix
brothers -- to buy stash houses and construct a tunnel for moving drugs across the border. In response, the brothers tortured
and killed Sinaloa operatives in Tijuana; they even tried to assassinate Guzman. Sinaloa retaliated in November 1992, when
its operatives tried to kill Francisco Javier and Ramon Arellano Felix in a Puerto Vallarta nightclub.
The Sinaloa-Arellano Felix brothers war marked the beginning of an escalation in Mexico's
cartel war. Cartels began to hire police officers to work as enforcers. Eventually, the Gulf cartel formed Los Zetas, a group
largely composed of former soldiers from Mexican Airmobile Special Forces. Cartel warfare thus was militarized. Enforcer groups were no longer untrained thugs with guns; they were trained fire
teams that knew how to maneuver and use their weapons.
from the Arellano Felix brothers, Guzman fled to Guatemala but was arrested in June of 1993. He was extradited to Mexico,
where he continued to run his criminal enterprises from the safety of a prison cell until he escaped in January 2001.
When Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen was arrested in March 2003, Guzman saw an
opportunity to make a move on the Gulf cartel's territory, especially the lucrative plaza of Nuevo Laredo, the busiest point of entry for trucks into the United States from Mexico that provides
direct access to the Interstate Highway 35 corridor.
into Nuevo Laredo was spearheaded by the Beltran Leyva brothers, who convinced local gangs such as Los Chachos to turn against
the Gulf cartel. Beltran Leyva gunmen aided local forces, and eventually a hybrid group was formed when a U.S. citizen and
member of Los Chachos named Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villarreal assumed command of Sinaloa enforcer group Los Negros.
Los Zetas responded strongly to the Sinaloa incursion into Nuevo Laredo and a bloody struggle
erupted for control of the city. By mid-2005, law and order had almost completely broken down in Nuevo Laredo, and then-President Vicente Fox deployed federal police and army units to take control of the town. But even these forces proved insufficient to stop the
violence, which persisted for three years until it became evident that Los Zetas were not going to be defeated. By that time,
Guzman had begun focusing on other places to expand.
A Boss of
On Sept. 11, 2004, Sinaloa hit men gunned down Rodolfo
Carrillo Fuentes, a leader of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization, also known as the Juarez cartel, as he left a theater
in Culiacan, Sinaloa state. Rodolfo's brother Vicente retaliated by having Guzman's brother murdered in prison. This
chain of events set off a war between the two organizations for control of the Juarez and Chihuahua City plazas that continues
to this day. (While the Juarez cartel is just a shadow of its former self -- Sinaloa has all but consolidated control of Chihuahua
state -- Chihuahua nonetheless remains the second-deadliest state in Mexico because of this struggle.)
Sinaloa meanwhile had resumed its efforts to control Tijuana. A string of arrests and the deaths of the Arellano Felix brothers, who constituted
the core leadership of the Arellano Felix Organization, severely degraded the group's operational capability. In early
2008, internal fighting between the faction loyal to the Arellano Felix brothers' successor, Luis Fernando "El Ingeniero"
Sanchez Arellano, and those loyal to the group's top enforcer, Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental, further degraded
the organization. This conflict sparked marked levels of violence in the region until Mexican federal police dismantled the
Desperate for support against Sanchez Arellano, Garcia
sought protection from the Sinaloa Federation, which he knew had been trying to claim Tijuana for years. Ultimately the strategy
failed, but the protracted battle left the Sanchez Arellano faction of the AFO extremely weak. In the latter half of 2010,
the Sinaloa Federation used the opening afforded by Garcia to solidify control over parts of western Baja California state,
namely the Tecate and Mexicali regions, positioning itself to seize Tijuana.
it could not withstand another lengthy battle against a much larger and resourceful group, the AFO struck a deal with Sinaloa
whereby both groups would operate independently and abide by a non-aggression pact. With Tijuana secured, Sinaloa controlled
the plazas from Juarez west to Tijuana.
In a similar scenario, the Gulf
cartel turned to Sinaloa and La Familia Michoacana for help against Los Zetas, which had broken off from its parent group
in early 2010. The three groups formed an alliance that referred to itself as the New Federation. Guzman's attention once again was
drawn to the lucrative smuggling corridors in the northeast. With help from Sinaloa and La Familia Michoacana gunmen, the
Gulf cartel was able to push Los Zetas out of Reynosa, and by mid-2010, Los Zetas were under heavy pressure from the forces
of the New Federation. However, several events that year, including the July 29 death of Guzman's close ally, Ignacio
"El Nacho" Coronel, and the Dec. 10 death of La Familia Michoacana leader Nazario "El Mas Loco" Moreno
Gonzalez, gave Los Zetas an opportunity to recover.
In 2011, Sinaloa undertook
another major incursion into Los Zetas territory, this time targeting Veracruz. In doing so, it used another proxy group as
muscle -- the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, comprising the remnants of Coronel's organization that traveled across
Mexico from their home turf in Guadalajara. Sometimes operating under the moniker Los Matazetas, the CJNG began killing Los
Zetas -- and people it believed to be Los Zetas supporters -- in Veracruz. In late September and early October of 2011, the
CJNG conducted several high-profile body dumps of individuals deemed Los Zetas. In one incident on Sept. 20, 2011, 35 bodies were dumped on a street in heavy traffic. It was later determined that most of these victims were not members of Los Zetas.
As the CJNG shows, the Sinaloa cartel has formed several enforcer groups over the past decade.
These groups have included Los Negros, the CJNG, La Gente Nueva (also known as Los Chapos) and Los Antrax. Such organizations
operate under their own names, just as Los Zetas did when they were the armed wing of the Gulf cartel. But like Los Zetas,
who acted on behalf on the Gulf cartel, Sinaloa enforcers act at the behest of Guzman and his lieutenants.
Instances of Sinaloa brutality abound. Los Negros leader Valdez tortured and executed four
Los Zetas members in a video sent to the Dallas Morning News; the CJNG dumped 35 bodies in downtown Veracruz; and Sinaloa
enforcers left groups of dismembered bodies in Nuevo Laredo accompanied by narcomantas signed "El Chapo" on several occasions between March and May of 2012. These are actions of the Sinaloa
cartel, and they are every bit as vicious as the actions of other groups.
believe that peace ensues once the Sinaloa cartel asserts its control over an area, but that is not necessarily true. Violence
decreased in Juarez after Sinaloa wrested control of the plaza, but Chihuahua continues to struggle with violence. In fact,
three of the four most violent states in Mexico -- Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Guerrero -- are in Sinaloa's area of control.
There are no quick solutions to Mexico's violence, and there is no reason to believe a government pact with Guzman would
"The Real 'El Chapo'" was first published in "Security Weekly" (Nov. 1, 2012), by Stratfor. "Security Weekly" is one of three free publications offered by Stratfor, a privately owned publisher of geopolitical analysis where analysts use a unique,
intel-based approach to study world affairs.
Scott Stewart, VP of Analysis,
oversees Stratfor's security team and its analytic efforts on issues around the globe. He also oversees Stratfor's
extensive coverage of the security environment in Mexico, and closely monitors Mexican drug cartels, their areas of influence
and their drug trafficking routes.
Reprinted with permission.