The disputes have turned Sinaloa, a long sliver of pine-clad mountains and Pacific coast beaches, into one of Mexico’s most violent states in 2017. But the shock waves have been felt across the country.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán it is said to have combined brutality, hard nosed business savvy and showmanship to build a multibillion-dollar international drug trafficking empire. Guzmán, reportedly rose from an impoverished orange seller to ascend the narco ranks up to an apex of fame and fortune. For him, it came toa halt late in 2016 after he was recaptured by Mexican marines after months on the run and extradited to the U.S.
He is currently on trial on a 17-count indictment in Brooklyn Federal Court.
In the past decade, the Sinaloa cartel outshone Mexican rivals and marginalized Colombian cartels to become the world’s leading drug trafficker, using huge profits to run an “army” of gunmen and corrupt government officials of all ranks.
It grew into a violent, international multi-billion-dollar drug trafficking empire that continues to ship tonnes of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana across U.S. borders.
A mugshot of Ivan Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, Guzman’s second son – narco heir apparent?
Guzman’s older son Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, [ right], shown here in a 2012 arrest photo with accomplice Kevin Daniel Beltran, [left], was one of six Sinaloa cartel members kidnapped when gunmen stormed an upscale restaurant and kidnapped the six men in September of 2016. He now appears to be running the business with his brother Ivan
The highly feared Guzmán’s empire was built on non-compromising enforced control through violence and intimidation with an army of foot soldiers and hit squads ready to war with competitors and anyone deemed to be a traitor.
Now that boss is out of the region, if not necessarily out of the picture, there is insipid jockeying for cartel leadership and overarching control of narco trade in the country.
Early this month, a former prison security chief and one time Guzmán accomplice was arrested in Mexico City, after reportedly clashing with El Chapo’s sons.
Federal officials say Dámaso López Núñez, who once helped El Chapo’s escape from prison, had sought to partner with the upstart Jalisco New Generation cartel, which has disputed Sinaloa cartel territories along the Pacific coast.
López has made the U-turn. Once considered “El Chapo” Guzmán’s top lieutenant, more recently he has been in opposing camps with the heirs to the Guzman drug conglomerate. Both camps are locked in a violent and deadly power struggle.
One time Guzman henchman, former policeman, Dámaso Lopez, accused of being drug kingpin is escorted by police officers after he was arrested in Mexico City.
López is now believed to be engaged in a bitter dispute with Guzmán’s sons – Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, 31, and his younger brother Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, known collectively as Los Chapitos.
The standoff is believed to be the catalyst for a wave of violence in Sinaloa and Baja California Sur, as they battle for control of the cartel’s territories, especially in its heartland of Sinaloa state, where violence has surged to record levels since the cartel leader’s recapture and extradition to the U.S.
The old beards presently controlling the Sinaloa cartel operations with Guzmán now in the US, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García and Rafael Caro Quintero, are understood to have stayed on the sidelines of the dispute between López and “Los Chapitos”.
Guzman was born in the mountains of the Sierra Madre, where he growing up there before becoming one of the most powerful figures in the Sinaloa cartel.
Th e region is his unquestioned domain. However, with Guzmán locked up in a New York high-security unit, rival crime groups are now making brazen incursions.
Last year, gunmen from the smaller Beltrán Leyva cartel looted the home of Guzmán’s elderly mother in the hamlet of La Tuna.
More recently, violence has focused on the agricultural valleys around Culiacán and at the crossroads town of Villa Juárez, where rival factions are fighting over local drug sales.
Mayhem as the only two powerful cartels left’ clash in Sinaloa, Mexico
In one incident this February, a convoy of trucks, including one with a .50 calibre machine mounted in a rotating turret, descended on into Villa Juárez and opened fire at a Pemex gas station.
Four people, including a pregnant woman, were killed. To date no one has been arrested and locals are still unwilling to speak up, for fear of reprisals. “I don’t want to get involved in it,” said an employee of the gas station against a backdrop of a jaunty narcocorrido – a song lionizing drug lords, pounding out in the background.
“All the violence,” said the employee, “It’s like being in Afghanistan or something.”
As he spoke, he kept an eye on the steady stream of motorcycles that buzzed past, the preferred mode of transport for cartel soldiers.
Bently, Masarati, Ferrari. While El Chapo was on the lam, one of his sons shows of a selection of keys to his auto keys
The next generation bosses of the cartel world, but first stop racers. In Culiacán these were most probably the children of some of Mexico’s most powerful crime bosses according to local sources
The wave of violence indicates if, any thing that whatever plans El Chapo had for succession, it will not pass unchallenged.
Savvy cartel observers say that Iván and Jesús Alfredo Guzman are neither seasoned in the craft nor ready to fill their father’s shoes. “The only thing they’re good at is spending El Chapo’s money,” said Mike Vigil, former DEA head of international operations. “They’ve never had to get their hands dirty. They’re not street smart like El Chapo.”
Pointing to a brazen incident last August, in which Jesús Alfredo was seized by gunmen, suspected to be affiliated to the rival CJNG, from a restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, before being released after an apparent deal.
“They’re very lucky to be alive,” Vigil said.
Locals, however, say that Iván Guzman retains one important advantage over the CNJG and the remnants of López’s faction: the lingering affection for his father felt by many in the state, where among the state’s rural and poor population El Chapo is revered as a Robin Hood figure who thumbed his nose at the authorities even as he doled out patronage and charity.
“He owns this town,” said a journalist covering organized crime in Culiacán. He said that Iván Guzmán is thought to have an “army” of hitmen in Culiacán, along with spies in all parts – everyone from youngsters on motorcycles to people washing windshields at intersections to employees at hotels.
Locals are of the opinion that “It’s [the violence] going to get worse,” after López was arrested, and the fact that former henchman was in Mexico City, not Sinaloa, suggested Guzmán’s sons were gaining the upper hand.
“The war now is inside Dámaso’s faction. Internal disputes are always much more violent than when they fight rival groups,” they noted.
Mexican authorities said that López was in the capital to seek an alliance with another cartel, although they did not say which one.
The battle between them has brought bloodshed to Sinaloa, which registered 142 homicides in March, the most violence month there since 2011.
As it stands, Iván Guzman isn’t shy about showing off. He tweets to flash his fancy cars, trips on private planes and exotic animals in his keep. He also rails against the government and denounces the “many who have turned on us”.
Locals say that the younger Guzmán is fond of racing a red Ferrari through Culiacán, a city of around 900,000 that is home to the kind of premium auto dealerships and luxury shops seldom seen in provincial Mexican cities, but few doubt that the Guzmáns’ word is law in the city.