08/18/12 – Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa cartel took a hit this month when four members were arrested in Spain for drug trafficking with the intention of establishing a cartel presence in Europe. On August 9, Spain’s National Police (Policía Nacional) captured four Mexican natives–Jesús Gutiérrez Guzmán, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, Samuel Zazueta Valenzuela, and Jesús Gonzalo Palazuelos Soto–in connection to an intercepted cocaine shipment that Spanish authorities seized in late July. The boat carried 373 kilograms of cocaine (pictured right), and was stopped at the Spanish Port of Algeciras after having departed from Brazil. Just two weeks later, police arrested the four individuals near a hotel in Madrid, Spain, in which they were staying. According to El Universal, authorities found $500,000 (USD), almost 3,000 euros, and 4,000 Mexican pesos in cash in the suspects’ rooms.
The arrests earlier this month are important for a number of reasons. Perhaps most notably, one of the suspects, Gutiérrez Guzmán, is the cousin of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, Mexico’s most wanted person and whom the U.S. Treasury Department named as the world’s most powerful drug dealer in January of this year. The arrest of Gutiérrez Guzmán is yet another step for authorities in their pursuit of El Chapo and their fight against the Sinaloa cartel, which authorities seem to have placed a lot of pressure on recently. The Spain incident comes on the heels of the August 7 extradition of Dolly “La Meno” Cifuentes Villa from Colombia to the United States for drug trafficking charges in connection with the Sinaloa cartel; and just prior to that was the July 29 arrest of a Sinaloa cartel informant working inside Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación). Earlier in July, a Sinaloa cell based in Arizona was dismantled as part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) Operation Nayarit; and in June, El Chapo’s ex-wife and son were both blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department and had their accounts frozen.
Despite these advances, however, the arrests conversely signify the expansion of the Sinaloa cartel at an international level. Spain’s Ministry of the Interior noted that his country “was going to be used as a point of entry for large shipments of narcotics,” which would then be trafficked throughout Europe. “Analysts say it was only a matter of time before the cartel tried to expand into Europe, and Spain was the natural choice as an entry point, given the common language and its sea ports,” elaborated BBC News. Despite the recent blows to the Sinaloa cartel, it nevertheless remains one of the most dominating organized crime groups in the Western Hemisphere, and will likely continue seeking trafficking routes worldwide.
Finally, the August arrests in Spain highlight the collaboration and cooperative efforts between U.S. and Spanish authorities at an international level, especially considering the case involves Mexican suspects. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had been working closely with Spanish National Police as part of Operation Dark Waters, which began in May 2009 to track the efforts of El Chapo and his cartel, as well as to search for the four individuals apprehended for their alleged previous involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering in the United States. El Universal reports that it was not until October 2010 that authorities learned of the suspects’ plan to establish a European presence, and five months later the individuals traveled to Spain to begin setting up their base, which U.S. and Spanish officials tracked until they intercepted the cocaine shipment in late July of this year. Such joint efforts are reflective of the international nature of both organized crime and the level of cooperation needed to implement anti-drug and security policies.