Regardless of the arrest, extradition and now conviction of narco-lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, his Sinaloa cartel marches on — and the proof is in large, multi-drug shipments detected on the border in latest weeks.

These heaping luggage of fentanyl and plastic tubs of crystal meth, heroin and cocaine supply no signal that the cartel has been weakened, misplaced sway over its conventional territory in northwestern Mexico or seen its worldwide attain curtailed by the lack of its infamous chief.

“It is nonetheless a serious, main drive within the Mexican legal underworld,” Mexican safety analyst Alejandro Hope mentioned.

The cartel nonetheless controls a worldwide net of contacts that may transfer Colombian cocaine to Cameroon and Mexican meth cooks to Malaysia. It additionally controls seaports to get medicine and precursor chemical substances shipped in from across the globe; employs labs and chemists to course of them; bribes corrupt cops to make sure the medicine will be moved to the border; has engineered multimillion-dollar tunnels to smuggle tons of marijuana and cocaine below the frontier; and pays “mules” to ferry shipments in vehicles and vans.

That does not even rely the armies of hitmen and enforcers who moonlight in extortion and kidnapping, plus the cash launderers, entrance firms and political contacts. There’s additionally a world of pros similar to architects, jewelers and even musical teams, who present leisure and launder cash.

Maybe most necessary, Sinaloa continues to regulate what’s known as the “final mile” in the USA, utilizing its wholesale distribution community to get medicine into the fingers of native gangs and avenue sellers.

“All 23 of our divisions have an investigation at the least on the native stage that ties again to the Sinaloa cartel,” mentioned Will Glaspy, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent in control of the Houston division who has held posts alongside the U.S.-Mexico border from California to Texas. “Their distribution community is that effectively established in the USA.”

So on the cartel’s stronghold within the mountains of Sinaloa state, it is enterprise as ordinary for Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who has helped run the cartel because it was based over three many years in the past. He has a fame as a level-headed, old-style capo recognized extra for negotiating than for bloodshed.

“El Mayo continues to be thought of the primary participant on the desk,” Glaspy mentioned.

A succession combat that broke out after Guzman’s third detention, in 2016, was finally resolved by the arrest of Damaso Lopez Nunez and his son Damaso Lopez Serrano, who led a rival faction. As we speak the cartel is seen as firmly below the command of Zambada in partnership with Guzman’s sons Ivan, Archivaldo and Alfredo, recognized collectively as “los Chapitos,” or “the little Chapos.”

Ismael Bojorquez, director of the Riodoce newspaper within the Sinaloa state capital of Culiacan, mentioned the Chapitos “management street-level drug dealing, particularly in Culiacan, and the protection operations, the weapons,” whereas “El Mayo takes care of the large offers.”

Guzman, whose conviction Tuesday in New York possible means he’ll spend many years behind bars in the USA, is legendary for twice pulling off brazen escapes from maximum-security prisons, incomes him worldwide notoriety maybe rivaled solely by the late Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. He’s mentioned to have a voracious urge for food for luxurious items and ladies, marrying a number of instances, together with to an 18-year-old magnificence queen in 2007.

Zambada has confirmed extra elusive, just by staying in his rural stronghold the place the cartel holds sway.

If Guzman had achieved like Zambada “and simply stayed up within the mountains, maybe he would nonetheless be a free man,” mentioned Mike Vigil, former chief of worldwide operations for the DEA. “His obsession with girls created his downfall.”

In the meantime, the brand new authorities that took cost Dec. 1 in Mexico says it’s not within the enterprise of searching down drug lords.

“We have not arrested capos, as a result of that’s not our most important perform,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador mentioned Jan. 30. “The federal government’s most important perform is to ensure public security, and the technique is not to hold out raids to seize capos.” He added, “Formally there is not a struggle anymore.”

Some in Mexico imagine that authorities and even U.S. officers choose the continued reign of a comparatively secure, old-school boss like Zambada, somewhat than the confusion and bloodshed that may get away if he have been gone.

“El Mayo stays king. He has by no means been captured or pursued as a lot” as Guzman, mentioned creator Jose Reveles, who writes in regards to the cartels.

The cartel is greatest understood as “extra of a federation of various clans than as a corporate-like construction,” Hope mentioned.

So whereas the seize and trial of Guzman “was an excellent ethical victory for the rule of legislation, it did little or no to have a damaging influence on the Sinaloa cartel,” Vigil mentioned.

Throughout Guzman’s absence, the cartel has continued to develop a extremely profitable profit-center in fentanyl. The artificial opioid will be purchased for $9,000 per kilogram in China, reduce to 1 % purity, pressed into faux OxyContin tablets and marketed in the USA for practically pure revenue.

In line with Ray Donovan, head of the DEA’s New York workplace, Guzman was on the forefront of the fentanyl menace. Way back to the early 2010s, his cartel started spiking Mexican-produced heroin with fentanyl to spice up its efficiency so it might compete with heroin from different areas, Donovan mentioned.

However the cartel isn’t good at mixing and measuring, and the quantity of fentanyl in counterfeit tablets can fluctuate from 0.03 to 1.99 milligrams per pill — in different phrases, from nearly none to a deadly dose.

That’s in all probability one of many two greatest threats to the Sinaloa cartel: It is actually killing its clients.

The opposite is the upstart Jalisco New Technology cartel, which has tried to stage incursions into Sinaloa territory, sparking bloody turf battles in locations like Tijuana. The border metropolis throughout from San Diego has change into one of many world’s deadliest cities.

However, Bojorquez famous, Sinaloa has been largely in a position to combat off its rival.

“The medicine preserve flowing,” he mentioned, “and the enterprise goes on.”


Related Press writers Christopher Sherman and Peter Orsi in Mexico Metropolis and Tom Hays in New York contributed to this report.


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