The Sinaloa Cartel (Spanish: Cártel de Sinaloa) is an international drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime syndicate. Established during the mid-1980s, the Sinaloa Cartel is based primarily in the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa, with operations in the Mexican states of Baja California, Durango, Sonora, and Chihuahua. The cartel is also known as the Guzmán-Loera Organization and the Pacific Cartel, the latter due to the coast of Mexico from which it originated. The cartel has also been called the Federation and the Blood Alliance. The 'Federation' was partially splintered when the Beltrán-Leyva brothers broke apart from the Sinaloa Cartel.
The United States Intelligence Community considers the Sinaloa Cartel "the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world" and in 2011, the Los Angeles Times called it "Mexico's most powerful organized crime group." The Sinaloa Cartel is associated with the label "Golden Triangle", which refers to the states of Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua. The region is a major producer of Mexican opium and marijuana. According to the U.S. Attorney General, the Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for importing into the United States and distributing nearly 200 tons of cocaine and large amounts of heroin between 1990 and 2008. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, within the U.S. the Sinaloa Cartel is primarily involved in the distribution of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana and MDMA. It is the majority supplier of illicit fentanyl to North America.
As of 2017[update], the Sinaloa Cartel is the most active drug cartel involved in smuggling illicit drugs into the United States and trafficking them throughout the United States. After the arrest of Guzman, the cartel is now headed by Ismael Zambada Garcia (aka El Mayo) and Guzman's sons, Alfredo Guzman Salazar and Ivan Archivaldo Salazar.
Pedro Avilés Pérez was a pioneer drug lord in the Mexican state of Sinaloa in the late 1960s. He is considered to be the first generation of major Mexican drug smugglers of marijuana who marked the birth of large-scale Mexican drug trafficking. He also pioneered the use of aircraft to smuggle drugs to the United States.
Second generation Sinaloan traffickers such as Rafael Caro Quintero, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo and Avilés Pérez' nephew Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán would claim they learned all they knew about 'narcotraficantes' while serving in the Avilés organization. Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, who eventually founded the Guadalajara Cartel, was arrested in 1989 and, while incarcerated, he remained one of Mexico's major traffickers, maintaining contact with his organization via mobile phone until he was transferred to a new maximum security prison in the 1990s. At that point his nephews, the Arellano Félix brothers, left and created their own organization which came to be known as the Tijuana Cartel, while the Sinaloa Cartel continued to be run by former lieutenants Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, Adrián Gómez González and Joaquín Guzmán Loera (El Chapo).
The Sinaloa Cartel used to be known as La Alianza de Sangre ("Blood Alliance"). When Héctor Luis Palma Salazar (a.k.a. El Güero) was arrested on 23 June 1995, by the Mexican Army, his partner Joaquín Guzmán Loera took leadership of the cartel. Guzmán was captured in Guatemala on 9 June 1993, and extradited to Mexico, where he was jailed in a maximum security prison, but on 19 January 2001, Guzmán escaped and resumed his command of the Sinaloa Cartel. Guzmán has two close associates, Ismael Zambada García and Ignacio Coronel Villareal. Guzman and Zambada became Mexico's top drug kingpins in 2003, after the arrest of their rival Osiel Cardenas of the Gulf Cartel. Another close associate, Javier Torres Félix, was arrested and extradited to the U.S. in December 2006. On 29 July 2010, Ignacio Coronel was killed in a shootout with the Mexican military in Zapopan, Jalisco. Guzman was captured on 22 February 2014 overnight by American and Mexican authorities. On 11 July 2015, he escaped from the Federal Social Readaption Center No. 1, a maximum-security prison in the State of Mexico, through a tunnel in his prison cell. Guzman resumed his command of the Sinaloa Cartel, but on 8 January 2016, Guzman was captured again during a raid on a home in the city of Los Mochis, in Guzman's home state of Sinaloa. With the arrest of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, Ismael Zambada will most likely assume leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The Sinaloa Cartel has a presence in 17 of the 31 Mexican states, with important centers in Mexico City, Tepic, Toluca, Zacatecas, Guadalajara, and most of the state of Sinaloa. The cartel is primarily involved in the smuggling and distribution of Colombian cocaine, Mexican marijuana, methamphetamine and Mexican and Southeast Asian heroin into the United States. It is believed that a group known as the Herrera Organization would transport multi-ton quantities of cocaine from South America to Guatemala on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel. From there it is smuggled north to Mexico and later into the U.S. Other shipments of cocaine are believed to originate in Colombia from Cali and Medellín drug-trafficking groups from which the Sinaloa Cartel handle transportation across the U.S. border to distribution cells in Arizona, California, Illinois, Texas, New York, and Washington state.
Before his arrest, Vicente Zambada Niebla ("El Vicentillo"), son of Ismael Zambada García ("El Mayo"), played a key role in the Sinaloa Cartel. Vicente Zambada was responsible for coordinating multi-ton cocaine shipments from Central and South American countries, through Mexico, and into the United States for the Sinaloa Cartel. To accomplish this task he used every means available: Boeing 747 cargo aircraft, narco submarines, container ships, go-fast boats, fishing vessels, buses, rail cars, tractor trailers and automobiles. He was arrested by the Mexican Army on 18 March 2009 and extradited on 18 February 2010 to Chicago to face federal charges.
In the late 1980s, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration believed the Sinaloa Cartel was the largest drug trafficking organization operating in Mexico. By the mid-1990s, according to one court opinion, it was believed to be the size of the Medellín Cartel during its prime. The Sinaloa Cartel was believed to be linked to the Juárez Cartel in a strategic alliance following the partnership of their rivals, the Gulf Cartel and Tijuana Cartel. Following the discovery of a tunnel system used to smuggle drugs across the Mexican/US border, the group has been associated with such means of trafficking.
By 2005, the Beltrán-Leyva brothers, who were formerly aligned with the Sinaloa Cartel, had come to dominate drug trafficking across the border with Arizona. By 2006, the Sinaloa Cartel had eliminated all competition across the 528 km of Arizona border. The Milenio (Michoacan), Jalisco (Guadalajara), Sonora (Sonora), and Colima (Colima) cartels are now branches of the Sinaloa Cartel. At this time the organisation was laundering money at global scale, mainly through British bank HSBC.
In January 2008 the cartel allegedly split into a number of warring factions, which is a major cause of the epidemic of drug violence Mexico has seen in the last year. Murders by the cartel often involve beheadings or bodies dissolved in vats of alkali and are sometimes filmed and posted on the Internet as a warning to rival gangs.
As of 2013, the Sinaloa Cartel continues to dominate the Sonora-Arizona corridor, which extends for nearly 375 miles. It relies on eight "plaza" bosses, leaders of a specific geographic region along the corridor, to coordinate, direct, and support the flow of narcotics north into the United States. Key cities along the corridor include the Mexicali plaza, San Luis Rio Colorado plaza, Sonoyta plaza, Nogales plaza, and the Agua Prieta plaza.
The Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan areas are major trans-shipment and distribution points for the cartel in the US. To coordinate operations in the southeast US, Atlanta has emerged as a major distribution center and accounting hub and the presence of the Sinaloa Cartel there has brought ruthless violence to that area. Chicago continues to be a major Sinaloa distribution point for the Midwest, taking advantage of a strong local demand market and convergence of several major interstate systems that offer distribution throughout the US. The cartel also benefited for a long time of easiness in cash transactions and money laundering through banks with presence both in the US and Mexico like HSBC. In 2013, the Chicago Crime Commission named Joaquin "Chapo" Guzmán "Public Enemy No. 1" of a city Guzmán has never set foot in. He is the only individual to receive the title since Al Capone. The focal point for Sinaloa in Chicago is the city's "Little Village" neighborhood. From this strategic point, the cartel distributes their product at the wholesale level to dozens of local street gangs, as much as 2 metric tons a month, in a city with over 120,000 documented gang members. The Gangster Disciples are one of the local gangs most actively working with the cartel.
The Sinaloa Cartel has operations in the Philippines as a trans-shipment point for drugs smuggled into the United States. Since 2013, the cartel has been operating in the Philippines after a raid on a ranch in Lipa, Batangas, according to a statement by Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Arthur Cacdac, and have entered the country without notice. President Rodrigo Duterte further confirmed the presence of the Sinaloa Cartel in the Philippines, saying that the cartel uses the country as a trans-shipment point for drugs smuggled into the United States. The presence of the cartel in the Philippines has worsened the ongoing war between drug lords, drug cartels and the government in that country.
On 11 May 2008, Alfonso Gutiérrez Loera, cousin of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera, and 5 other drug traffickers were arrested after a shootout with Federal Police officers in Culiacan, Sinaloa. Along with the captured suspects, 16 assault rifles, 3 grenades, 102 magazines and 3,543 ammunition rounds were seized.
On 25 February 2009, the U.S. government announced the arrest of 750 members of the Sinaloa Cartel across the U.S. in Operation Xcellerator. They also announced the seizure of more than $59 million in cash and numerous vehicles, planes, and boats.
In March 2009, the Mexican Government announced the deployment of 1,000 Federal Police officers and 5,000 Mexican Army soldiers to restore order in Ciudad Juárez, which has suffered the highest number of casualties in the country.
On 20 August 2009, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) broke up a large Mexican drug operation in Chicago, and uncovered a major distribution network operated by the Flores crew led by twin brothers Margarito and Pedro Flores that operated there. The drug operation allegedly brought 1.5 to 2 tons of cocaine every month to Chicago from Mexico and shipped millions of dollars south of the border. The shipments were mostly bought from the Sinaloa Cartel and at times from the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel, and it is assumed that both cartels threatened the Flores crew with violence if they bought from other rival drug organizations.
The Mexican Secretary of National Defense (Sedena) reported the arrest of Jesús Alfredo Salazar Ramírez, alias "El Muñeco" or "El Pelos", who was identified as the current lieutenant of the South Pacific Cartel in the state of Sonora. As stated by Sedena, "El Muñeco" worked as an administrator under Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán and is believed to be responsible for the death of the activist Nepomuceno Moreno. Jesús Alfredo Salazar Ramírez was arrested 1 November 2012 in the municipality of Huixquilucan, by military personnel working with the Mexican Attorney General's office (PGR). "El Muñeco" is considered to be one of the most important lieutenants of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, evident from his control of the planting, production, and trafficking of drugs in Sonora and in the mountains of Chihuahua, which were sent predominantly to the US. He is linked to various homicides, among them the lawyer Rubén Alejandro Cepeda Leos, who was assassinated 20 December 2011 in the city of Chihuahua, Chihuahua. According to the Sedena he is the assumed assassin of activist Nepomuceno Moreno Núñez, which occurred 28 November 2011. Nepomuceno Moreno was an activist who sought justice for the disappearance of is son and joined the Mexican Indignados Movement, led by the poet Javier Sicilia.
José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa (alias "Chino Antrax") was a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel. He was a leader and founding member of Los Ántrax, an armed squadron formed to protect Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada García, founding member of the Sinaloa Cartel. He was arrested 30 December 2013 in the Amsterdam airport Schiphol in the Netherlands, at the petition of the United States of America, and with the help of Interpol arrested him with charges related to drug trafficking.
The Sinaloa cartel's loss of partners in Mexico does not appear to have affected its ability to smuggle drugs from South America to the USA. On the contrary, based on seizure reports, the Sinaloa cartel appears to be the most active smuggler of cocaine. The reports also demonstrated the cartels possess the ability to establish operations in previously unknown areas, such as Central America and South America, even as far south as Peru, Paraguay and Argentina. It also appears to be most active in diversifying its export markets; rather than relying solely on U.S. drug consumption, it has made an effort to supply distributors of drugs in Latin American and European countries.
On 19 December 2013, the Federal Police of Mexico killed Gonzalo "El Macho Prieto" Inzunza in a gun battle in Puerto Penasco, Sonora. Inzunza was believed to be one of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's chief cartel leaders.
In February 2014, "El Chapo" Guzmán was arrested. The capture of the Sinaloa Cartel's "El Chapo" Guzmán ignited a fight over the trial's location. Calls for his extradition to the United States started just hours after his arrest. Guzmán also faces federal indictment in several locations including San Diego, New York, and Texas, among other places.
On 11 July 2015 "El Chapo" escaped from a maximum security prison, which is his second successful jailbreak from a maximum security facility in 14 years.
On 8 January 2016, Guzman was arrested again during a raid on a home in the city of Los Mochis, in Guzman's home state of Sinaloa.
Since February 2010, the major cartels have aligned in two factions: one integrated by the Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel and Los Zetas; the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel. In addition to maintaining its anti-Zetas alliance with the Gulf cartel, Sinaloa in 2011 affiliated itself with the Knights Templar in Michoacan, and to counter Los Zetas in Jalisco state, Sinaloa affiliated itself with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
The Sinaloa Federation has formed alliances with two powerful Chinese Triads, Sun Yee On and the 14K Triad, to acquire the precursor chemicals needed in creating highly-addictive synthetic drugs like Methamphetamines. Operatives like local gangs pick up the chemicals from dropoff points and ship them to hidden labs. The resulting products are shipped to the United States and many South American countries.
In 1989, the Sinaloa Cartel dug its first drug tunnel between a house in Agua Prieta, Sonora to a warehouse located in Douglas, Arizona. The 300-foot tunnel was discovered in May, 1990. Following the discovery by U.S. Customs and Mexican Federal Police, the Sinaloa Cartel began to focus their smuggling operations towards Tijuana and Otay Mesa, San Diego where it acquired a warehouse in 1992. After the assassination of Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo and six others at the Guadalajara airport on 24 May 1993, the gunmen boarded a commercial jet. When the jet landed at the Tijuana airport, both police and military units failed to cordon of the aircraft and the gunmen escaped. On 31 May 1993, Mexican federal agents searching for the gunmen found a partially completed 1500-foot tunnel adjacent to the Tijuana airport and crossing under the U.S.-Mexico border to a warehouse on Otay Mesa in San Diego. It was discovered as Mexican and San Diego officials were discussing the creation of a cross-border airport between Tijuana and Otay Mesa which would have undermined the drug tunneling operations in the area (see History of the Cross Border Xpress). The tunnel was described by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in San Diego as the "Taj Mahal" of drug tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border and was linked to Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzmán. It was five times longer than the Agua Prieta-Douglas tunnel and became the first of a series of drug "super tunnels" in Otay Mesa originating in and around the Tijuana airport through the former Ejido Tampico. The "super tunnels" were equipped with power, ventilation and rail tracks to allow the efficient movement of large loads of narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border. As seen on image 1 Drug tunnel corridors the close proximity of the former Ejido Tampico to the Tijuana airport and U.S.-Mexico border made it an ideal staging area for smuggling operations into the United States.
The Mexican government's conflict with the former Ejido Tampico dated back to 1970, when they expropriated 320 hectares (790 acres) of the Ejido Tampico to build a new runway and passenger terminal at the Tijuana airport and agreed to pay the displaced ejidatarios (the communal farmers) $1.4 million pesos ($112,000 U.S. dollars in 1970). When the Mexican government failed to indemnify the ejidatarios for their lost farmland, they reoccupied a 79 hectares (200 acres) portion of the Tijuana airport and threatened armed conflict. As shown by image 2 Ejido Tampico, from 1970 to 2000, the occupied land at the Tijuana airport remained relatively undeveloped. In 1999, the Tijuana airport was privatized and became part of a 12 airport network known as Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico (Pacific Airport Group). In an attempt to resolve the dispute and remove the ejidatarios from the privatized Tijuana airport, the Mexican government established a value on the expropriated 320 hectares (790 acres) at $1.2 million pesos ($125,560 U.S. dollars in 1999) while the ejidatarios of the former Ejido Tampico taking into account the increase in property values from 1970 to 1999 and the privatization of the Tijuana airport established a commercial value on their lost land at $2.8 billion pesos ($294 million U.S. dollars). In 2002, Mexican President Vicente Fox, who had promised to resolved the issue, also failed. As shown image 2 Ejido Tampico comparison between 2000 and 2006, the ejidatarios then proceeded to commercially develop the 79 hectares (200 acres) area at the Tijuana airport by leasing buildings and parcels to trucking and storage companies. As shown by image 3 Drug Trafficking Tunnel, in 2006 the unpermitted development allowed the building of a 2,400-foot (730-meter) drug "super tunnel" originating from the former Ejido Tampico and adjacent to the Tijuana airport's runway. As prior drug tunnels, it crossed under the U.S.-Mexico border into a warehouse on Otay Mesa in San Diego with the capacity to move multi-ton loads of narcotics.
Similar to the "Taj Mahal" of drug tunnels discovered on Otay Mesa in 1993, the 2006 drug "super tunnel" was traced back to the Sinaloa Cartel. With unregulated trucking and warehouse operations, the former Ejido Tampico became a major distribution point for narcotics being moved into the United States. In the ensuing years, drug tunnels moving tons of narcotics were detected in and around the Tijuana airport. The former Ejido Tampico also continued to expand its unpermitted development and more drug tunnels were discovered operating within its boundary to warehouses located on Otay Mesa in San Diego, California. In 2011, at the westerly end of the Tijuana airport a 1,800-foot (550-meter) drug "super tunnel" was discovered dug under the airport's 10/28 runway from a warehouse located 980 feet (300 meters) from Mexico's 12th Military Air Base and 330 feet (100 meters) from a Mexican Federal Police station. As with prior "super tunnels", it was equipped with an elevator and electric rail cars to efficiently ferry narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border. In December 2016, one month prior Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán Loera's extradition to the U.S., two "super tunnels", one in operation while the other was under construction, were discovered by Mexican agents adjacent to the Tijuana airport/Ejido Tampico and the Otay Mesa border crossing. Both were associated with the Sinaloa Cartel. On 21 June 2017, Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán's "girlfriend" and former legislature of the state of Sinaloa, Lucero Guadalupe Sánchez López, was arrested at the Tijuana airport's Cross Border Xpress by CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) officers as she crossed into the U.S. She was charged with drug conspiracy and money laundering, and had been with Joaquín Guzmán when he escaped capture in 2014.
In May 2009, the U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) aired multiple reports alleging that the Mexican federal police and military were working in collusion with the Sinaloa Cartel. In particular, the report claimed the government was helping the Sinaloa Cartel to take control of the Juarez Valley area and destroy other cartels, especially the Juarez Cartel. NPR's reporters interviewed dozens of officials and ordinary people for the journalistic investigation. One report quotes a former Juarez police commander who claimed the entire department was working for the Sinaloa Cartel and helping it to fight other groups. He also claimed that the Sinaloa Cartel had bribed the military. Also quoted was a Mexican reporter who claimed hearing numerous times from the public that the military had been involved in murders. Another source in the story was the U.S. trial of Manuel Fierro-Mendez, an ex-Juarez police captain who admitted to working for the Sinaloa Cartel. He claimed that the Sinaloa Cartel influenced the Mexican government and military in order to gain control of the region. A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent in the same trial alleged that Fierro-Mendez had contacts with a Mexican military officer. The report also alleged, with support from an anthropologist who studies drug trafficking, that data on the low arrest rate of Sinaloa Cartel members (compared to other groups) was evidence of favoritism on the part of the authorities. A Mexican official denied the allegation of favoritism, and a DEA agent and a political scientist also had alternate explanations for the arrest data. Another report detailed numerous indications of corruption and influence that the cartel has within the Mexican government.
In March 2015, BBC TV programme This World broadcast an episode entitled "Secrets of Mexico's Drug War" which reported on the US government's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Operation Fast and Furious which had allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal buyers acting on behalf of Mexican drug cartel leaders, in particular the Sinaloa Cartel. The BBC also reported on Vicente Zambada Niebla's claims of immunity from prosecution under a deal between the Mexican and US governments and his claims that the Sinaloa Cartel's leaders had provided US federal agents with information about rival Mexican drug gangs. In the same documentary it is shown that the US Justice Department invoked national security reasons to prevent Humberto Loya Castro, the lawyer of the Sinaloa Syndicate, from being summoned as a witness to the trial against Vicente Zambada Niebla.
The Sinaloa Cartel has been waging a war against the Tijuana Cartel (Arellano-Félix Organization) over the Tijuana smuggling route to the border city of San Diego, California. The rivalry between the two cartels dates back to the Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo setup of Palma's family. Félix Gallardo, following his imprisonment, bestowed the Guadalajara Cartel to his nephews in the Tijuana Cartel. On 8 November 1992, Palma struck out against the Tijuana Cartel at a disco club in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, where eight Tijuana Cartel members were killed in the shootout, the Arellano-Félix brothers having successfully escaped from the location with the assistance of David "D" Barron, a member of the Logan Heights Gang.
In retaliation, the Tijuana Cartel attempted to set up Guzmán at Guadalajara airport on 24 May 1993. In the shootout that followed, six civilians were killed by the hired gunmen from Logan Heights. The dead included Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas Ocampo. The church hierarchy originally believed Posadas was targeted as revenge for his strong stance against the drug trade. However, Mexican officials believe Posadas just happened to be caught in cross fire. The Cardinal arrived at the airport in a white Mercury Grand Marquis town car, known to be popular amongst drug barons. Barron had received intelligence that Guzmán would be arriving in a white Mercury Grand Marquis town car. Evidence that runs counter to a mistake theory is that Posadas did not look anything like Guzmán, he was wearing a long black cassock and a large pectoral cross, and he was gunned down from only two feet away.
Recently, it is believed that the Tijuana Cartel, or at least a sizable majority of it, has been either absorbed or forced to ally with the Sinaloa Federation, in part due to a former high-ranking Tijuana member called Eduardo Teodoro Garcia Simental, alias "El Teo" or "Tres Letras" allying with the Federation.
Los Negros have been known to employ gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha to carry out murders and other illegal activities. The group is involved in fighting in the Nuevo Laredo region for control of the drug trafficking corridor. Following the 2003 arrest of Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas, it is believed the Sinaloa Cartel moved 200 men into the region to battle the Gulf Cartel for control. The Nuevo Laredo region is an important drug trafficking corridor into Laredo, Texas, where as much as 40% of all Mexican exports pass through into the U.S.
Following the 2004 assassination of journalist Roberto Javier Mora García from El Mañana newspaper, much of the local media has been cautious about their reporting of the fighting. The cartels have pressured reporters to send messages and wage a media war. The drug war has spread to various regions of Mexico, such as Guerrero, Mexico City, Michoacán and Tamaulipas.
Mexican TCOs pose the greatest criminal drug threat to the United States; no other group is currently positioned to challenge them. These Mexican poly-drug organizations traffic heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana throughout the United States, using established transportation routes and distribution networks. ... While all of these Mexican TCOs transport wholesale quantities of illicit drugs into the United States, the Sinaloa Cartel appears to be the most active supplier. The Sinaloa Cartel leverages its expansive resources and dominance in Mexico to facilitate the smuggling and transportation of drugs throughout the United States.
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