What the Trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Revealed About The Inner Workings of the Sinaloa Cartel

 

"El Chapo" at his trial, Courtroom sketch by Christine Cornell

Sketch by Christine Cornell

03/19/19- (written by Aitanna Ferrez) Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán was convicted in the Southern District of New York on Tuesday, February 12, 2019 on all counts brought against him for his role in directing the Sinaloa Cartel since roughly the 1980s. The trial revealed significant details about the Sinaloa Cartel, how it works, who is involved and where their business is conducted, providing a greater understanding of how this specific cartel has contributed to corruption and violence in Mexico. In the wake of his arrest and extradition to the United States, business of the cartel seems to be carrying on as usual, there is an ongoing epidemic of U.S. drug overdoses, and violence in Mexico has reached record levels. Understanding the impact of the Sinaloa Cartel and where it may be headed in Guzman’s absence requires a careful review of what we now know about the organization.

Background on the Sinaloa Cartel

According to InSight Crime, the Sinaloa Cartel began as a small group of farming families who switched to drug trafficking in the 1960s and 70s. In the 1980s, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán officially founded the Sinaloa Cartel. Up until his arrest in January 2016, Guzmán served with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia as what has been perceived as head of the drug trafficking organization.

The Sinaloa Cartel achieved success in part because of its relatively decentralized structure, with different geographic divisions of the network working together as “separate but cooperating organizations.” Indeed, though identified as the organization’s formal leaders in principal, InSight Crime reports that both Guzmán and Zambada Garcia historically maintained their own individual organizational structures within the Sinaloa Cartel. Meanwhile, many of the Sinaloa Cartel’s activities and operations in Mexico and internationally were “outsourced” to local suppliers, distributors, and other partners.

According to Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, in an interview with ABC News, it was “El Chapo” Guzmán’s ability to “institutionalize power systems and relationships” that largely enabled the cartel to expand. According to Bret Hamilton, assistant special agent for Alabama’s sector of the DEA, the Sinaloa cartel is said to control about one-fourth of the drug traffic within the Mexican Region, with an even larger reach and hold on the United States.”

The effect of the reach of the Sinaloa Cartel and its network of contraband trade has had translates directly into its ability to, as InSight affirms, “successfully [penetrate] government and security forces wherever it operates.” As stated in a June 2018 CRS report, the Sinaloa Cartel has “successfully corrupted public officials from the local to the national level inside Mexico and abroad to operate in some 50 countries,” allowing it to become the top supplier of illicit psychotropic substances in the United States.

What We Learned from the Guzmán Trial

The trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán was a lesson in and of itself on how the Sinaloa Cartel’s success has been contingent upon the high level of corruption within the Mexican police, military, and government. Witness testimony during the trial brought to the surface countless allegations against Guzmán and the Sinaloa Cartel, and corruption was arguably the prominent theme that emerged throughout.

As revealed in a VICE News podcast, the corruption of the Sinaloa Cartel is practically embedded in all aspects of life in Mexico. Two testimonies in particular – one delivered by a former government official Lucero Sanchez Lopez, who became a mistress of Guzmán and the other by Alex Cifuentes, a relative of one of Guzmán’s primary cocaine suppliers in Colombia – brought to light the degree of high-level corruption of the Mexican government by the Sinaloa Cartel. In addition, according to the New York Times following the final presentation of evidence, reports delivered the prosecution revealed possibly the most shocking claims against Mr. Guzmán, accusing the crime lord of “routinely rap[ing] girls as young as 13 years old.”

The first witness’ testimony illustrated the way that government officials fell under Guzmán’s sway even as they were sworn to enforce the law. Cifuentes, meanwhile, alleged that the cartel was able to bribe officials even at the highest levels of office, including then-president Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), who allegedly accepted a bribe of $100 million to protect the Sinaloa Cartel from authorities.

Looking Ahead

The Sinaloa Cartel, though constantly challenged within Mexico by other drug trafficking organizations, seems to prosper well due to its significant international network, even after the guilty verdict of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. In an interview with PBS Newshour, Mike Vigil, the former chief of international operations for the DEA, comments that capturing and convicting Guzmán “was a great moral victory for the rule of law, [but] it did very little to have a negative impact on the Sinaloa Cartel.” With the drugs continuing to be shipped, the Mexican government no longer hunting down drug lords, and Guzmán’s fate of little importance, the Sinaloa Cartel seems to continue to persist with business as usual.

 

Sources:

 

Beittel, June. “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations.” Congressional Research Service, 3 July 2018, pp. 1–28. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R41576.pdf.

Feuer, Alan. “El Chapo Drugged and Raped 13-Year-Old Girls, Witness Claims.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Feb. 2019. www.nytimes.com/2019/02/02/nyregion/el-chapo-trial.html.

 

Keneally, Meghan. “How El Chapo’s Sinaloa Drug Cartel Spread Its Reach Across US.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 13 July 2015. www.abcnews.go.com/International/el-chapos-sinaloa-drug-cartel-spread-reach-us/story?id=32421054.

 

Robinson, Carol. “Mexico’s Sinaloa Drug Cartel Leaving Deadly Mark on Alabama.” AL.com, Advance Local Media LLC., 23 July 2018. www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2018/07/what_is_the_sinaloa_mexican_dr.html.

 

“Sinaloa Cartel.” InSight Crime, 30 Jan. 2018. www.insightcrime.org/mexico-organized-crime-news/sinaloa-cartel-profile/.

 

“The Verdict.” Chapo: Kingpin on Trial. VICE News/Spotify. 19 February 2019. https://open.spotify.com/show/3iZGZfoQX9kfzdZtAYi2s2?si=wxEH63CcQD2B50avZt8XJg.

 

Verza, Maria, and Mark Stevenson. “After El Chapo Conviction, Sinaloa Drug Cartel Carries On.” PBS, KPBS, 12 Feb. 2019. www.pbs.org/newshour/world/after-el-chapo-conviction-sinaloa-drug-cartel-carries-on.

 

Verza, Maria, and Mark Stevenson. “Despite ‘El Chapo’ Arrest, Mexico’s Powerful Sinaloa Drug Cartel Still Raking in Cash around the World.” The Japan Times, 13 Feb. 2019. www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2019/02/13/world/crime-legal-world/despite-el-chapo-arrest-mexicos-powerful-sinaloa-drug-cartel-still-raking-cash-around-world/#.XGxRBc9KigQ.

 

 

 

 

New Policy Brief: The New Generation—Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat

The New Generation: Mexico's emerging Organized Crime Threat03/19/18 (written by dshirk) – Over the past decade, more than 200,000 people have been murdered in Mexico, including the record 29,000 murders that occurred in 2017 alone. According to a new Justice in Mexico policy brief by Lucy La Rosa and David A. Shirk, the recent increase in violence is one of the unintended consequences of the Mexican government’s strategy to target top organized crime figures for arrest and extradition. In the policy brief, titled “The New Generation: Mexico’s Emerging Organized Crime Threat,” the authors contend that the “kingpin strategy” that led to the downfall of famed drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán has now given rise to a new organized crime syndicate known as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG).

The authors provide a detailed history of the CJNG, an offshoot of the Milenio and Sinaloa Cartels. As recounted in the new report, the CJNG has managed to re-brand itself, consolidate splintered criminal networks, and emerge as one of the most powerful drug trafficking organizations in Mexico. Based in Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco, the CJNG has a widespread and growing presence that authorities say spans two thirds of the country. The CJNG is headed by Ruben “El Mencho” Oseguera, a small time drug trafficker who was convicted in California, deported to Mexico, and emerged as a ruthless and shrewd drug cartel leader.

The authors contend that the CJNG offers a timely case study of how organized crime groups adapt following the disruption of leadership structures, and the limits of the so-called “kingpin” strategy to combat organized crime, which has contributed to the splintering, transformation, and diversification of Mexican organized crime groups and a shift in drug trafficking into new product areas, including heroin, methamphetamines, and other synthetic drugs.

The authors offer three main policy recommendations. First, the authors argue that U.S. State Department and their Mexican partners must continue working earnestly to bolster the capacity of Mexican law enforcement to conduct long-term, wide-reaching criminal investigations and more effective prosecutions targeting not only drug kingpins but all levels of a criminal enterprise, including corrupt politicians and private sector money laundering operations. Second, the authors argue that U.S. authorities must work more carefully when returning convicted criminals back to Mexico, since deported criminal offenders like CJNG leader Oseguera are prime candidates to join the ranks of Mexican organized crime. Third, and finally, the authors contend that further drug policy reforms are urgently needed to properly regulate the production, distribution, and consumption of not only marijuana but also more potent drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine.

 

 

 

February 2018: News Brief

 

03/08/18 (written by Genesis Lopez)

Discover the important headlines in Mexico from February 2018.

13 Police Officers Arrested in Veracruz

 

Picture by Victor Camacho. La Jornada

Picture by Victor Camacho. La Jornada.

On the morning of February 8, 2018 in Xalapa, Veracruz, 13 police officers were taken into custody due to allegations of involvement in over 54 forced disappearances. These forced disappearances were instances of imprisonment by the government that predominantly occurred during the tenure of former Veracruz governor, Javier Duarte (La Jornada). Duarte is currently detained and accused of being involved in organized crime, embezzlement and corruption. Previous to his arrest on April 16, 2017, he was hiding in Guatemala for almost six months (BBC).

Moreover, there are reports of an elite police force in Veracruz, headed by former director of Veracruz State Police, Roberto González Meza, that illegally detained civilians suspected of being involved with “Los Zetas”(Proceso). Among the 13 police officers arrested was former Veracruz Public Security Secretariat (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública, SSP), Nava Holguín and Arturo Bermúdez Zurita. It has been reported that during Duarte’s six-year term there were up to 200 cases of forced disappearances in Veracruz (La Jornada).

 

Sources:

Fugitive Mexican governor Javier Duarte arrested in Guatemala.” BBC News. April 16, 2017.

Gómez, Eirinet, “Detienen a 13 policías de Veracruz vinculados con Javier Duarte.” La Jornada. February 8, 2018.

López, Lourdes, “Implican a exfuncionarios de Veracruz en delitos desaparición forzada.” Excelsior. February 8, 2018.

Pérez, Edgar, “Investigan a ex mando de seguridad de Javier Duarte por desaparición forzada de 15 personas.” El Universal. February 8, 2018.

Zavaleta, Noé, “Policia élite de Javier Duarte: perseguía a Zetas, levantaba a civiles.” Proceso. February 10, 2018.

 

Current Leader of Cartél de Tláhuac is arrested

 

Picture by Cua Rtoscuro. El Universal.

Picture by Cua Rtoscuro. El Universal.

On February 16, 2018, José Eduardo Zamora “El Cholo” was arrested for being linked to the Tláhuac Cartel in the municipality of San José de Iturbide in the state of Guanajuato (Milenio). Zamora was captured in a joint operation between the Investigative Police (Policía de Investigación, PDI) and local police department (Excelsior). He is the alleged successor of Felipe de Jesús Pérez Luna “El Ojos”, the previous leader of the Tláhuac Cartel, who died in November of 2017.

Zamora was detained in 2013 and 2016, respectively for street-level drug dealing and destruction of property. In both cases, he was released on a judge’s order. Authorities say that Zamora held a significant role in the  distribution of drugs in the southeast region of Mexico’s capital. In addition, Zamora is allegedly linked to the homicide of an ex-commander of the Mexico City municipal police in Iztapalapa in February of 2016. As of August 2016, 74 people involved with the Tláhuac Cartel have been arrested (El Universal).

 

Sources:

Detienen en Guanajuato a operador de cártel de Tláhuac.” Milenio, February 16, 2018.

Roa, Wendy, “Fue capturado ‘El Cholo’, jefe de sicarios del Cártel de Tláhuac.” Excelsior. February 16, 2018.

Suárez, Gerardo, “Aprehenden a ‘El Cholo’ ligado a Cártel de Tlahuac.” El Universal. February 17, 2018.

 

 

Anonymous Jury is ordered for “El Chapo’s” Trial

 

Photo by U.S Law Enforcement. New York Times .

Photo by U.S Law Enforcement. New York Times.

New York federal judge Brian M. Cogan has ordered that the jury taking part in Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán’s upcoming trial in September will be anonymous and partly sequestered, citing potential danger to the jurors. Guzmán is facing 17 charges, which include leading a criminal enterprise, producing and exporting wholesale amounts of narcotics across the U.S.-Mexico border, and ordering the targeted assassinations of people associated with  rival organized crime groups (LA Times).

Cogan cited Guzman’s history of violence as the main reason concealing the identities of the jurors. In addition, the selected jury will be under the protection of federal marshals throughout the duration of the trial, which is anticipated to last three to four months (NY Times). Guzmán’s lawyer, A. Eduardo Balarezo, countered that the judge’s order would give the jurors an unfairly perceive Guzman as a threat. Balarezo believes that keeping the jury anonymous will undermine the presumption of innocence, causing them to form a prejudiced opinion before listening to any evidence. “El Chapo” has a history of interference with the judicial processes in Mexico, prompting strict legal procedures following his extradition to the  United States (NY Times).

 

Sources:

Agrawal, Nina, “Citing potential danger, judge orders anonymous jury in ‘El Chapo’ trial.” Los Angeles Times. February 6, 2018.

Feuer, Alan, “El Chapo Jurors Will Be Anonymous During Trial.” The New York Times. February 6, 2018.

 

 

 

 

El Chapo extradited to United States

El Chapo's extradition

Seen here, El Chapo was extradited to the United States on January 19, 2017. Photo: Associated Press.

01/24/17 (written by kheinle) – One year after the arrest of Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán on January 8, 2016, the Mexican government extradited the notorious drug lord to the United States. Guzmán landed in Long Island, New York on Thursday, January 19, 2017 where he faces charges of organized crime, murder, and drug trafficking, as well as illegal use of firearms, money-laundering, and torture, among others.

Although seven U.S. jurisdictions have charges open against him, including Southern California and Chicago, Guzmán will be prosecuted in Brooklyn, NY in the state’s Eastern District Court on a 17-count indictment. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), “the indictment alleges that between January 1989 and December 2014, Guzman Loera led a continuing criminal enterprise responsible for importing into the United States and distributing massive amounts of illegal narcotics and conspiring to murder persons who posed a threat to Guzman Loera’s narcotics enterprise.”

The Road to Extradition

The DOJ has sought Guzmán’s extradition for years, but the Mexican government did not agree to do so until the requests for the kingpin’s turnover until it approved the most recent application on May 11, 2016, putting the process officially in motion. The decision to approve the extradition was likely influenced by Guzmán’s repeated ability to evade the Mexican government, having escaped from prison in 2001 and again in 2015. Mexico’s inability to securely hold Guzmán was not only a source of public ridicule, but it also undermined rule of law in a country working to establish a stronger judicial system and solidify democratic practices. Still, the extradition came as a surprise on both sides of the border. According to The New York Times, the U.S. government, for example, was reportedly not aware of Guzmán’s extradition until hours before his arrival in NY. Guzmán’s lawyer, José Refugio Rodríguez, was also unaware of his client’s departure, having arrived to the Mexican prison where Guzmán was detained to meet with his client only to find his extradition already underway. “I was supposed to visit him today,” said Refugio. “I know nothing about this.”

El Chapo's extradition

El Chapo was arraigned in the Eastern District Court in New York following his extradition. Photo: Univisión.

Some speculate that the secretive nature surrounding the extradition may be part of a bigger political message being sent from Mexico to the United States. In fact, Guzmán landed in NY just hours before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, meaning he was technically extradited to the United States under President Barak Obama, who was seen in Mexico as a strong ally. A U.S. law enforcement official told The New York Times that the extradition’s last minute timing was possibly “politically motivated.” In early January, Justice in Mexico Director David Shirk told the Dallas Morning Times that “Mexico’s willingness to extradite Chapo Guzmán is going to diminish on January 21” once Trump was in the Oval Office. Jorge Chabat, a security expert at Mexico’s Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, CIDE), noted that Mexico may have been trying to underscore the benefits of cooperation. “By not waiting to send [Guzmán] to Trump after the inauguration,” he said, “it is a subtle statement saying, ‘We could this for you, too, in the future, if we have a good relationship.” Nevertheless, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) denied such claims. “It has nothing to do with [U.S. presidential turnover,” said PGR Director Alberto Elías Beltrán. He continued, “Everything was handled through terms following international law because we had to promptly make the delivery of the person requested by the United States. Had we not, we would have been out of compliance with international treaties.”

Regardless of the motivation, Guzmán’s extradition is a significant milestone in the war on drugs and the overall U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship.

Sources:

Dresser, Denise. “El Chapo(teadero).” Reforma. January 11, 2016.

“The legal battle over El Chapo’s potential extradition.” Justice in Mexico. January 23, 2016.

Levinson, Jonathan. “NAFTA benefits more than just trade, but it needs to be changed,” Dallas Morning News, January 10, 2017.

Ahmed, Azam. “El Chapo, Mexcan Drug Kingpin, Is Extradited to U.S.” The New York Times. January 19, 2017.

“Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán es extraditado a Estados Unidos.” Univisión. January 19, 2017.

Office of Public Affairs. “Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera Faces Charges in New York for Leading a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and other Drug-Related Charges.” U.S. Department of Justice. January 20, 2017.

U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York. “Memorandum of Law in Support of Pretrial Detention.” U.S. Department of Justice. January 20, 2017.

The legal battle over El Chapo’s potential extradition

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán arrested on January 8, 2016 in Sinaloa. Photo: Alfredo Dominguez, La Jornada.

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán arrested on January 8, 2016 in Sinaloa. Photo: Alfredo Dominguez, La Jornada.

01/23/16 (written by kheinle) — Just two weeks after the January 8th arrest of the world’s most wanted drug lord, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, much has been speculated about how his case will unfold. This is the third time El Chapo, head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, has been captured, having twice before broken out of prison in Mexico, once in 2001 and again in 2015. After the most recent arrest, El Chapo returned to the maximum-security prison, Altiplano, from where he escaped in 2015 via an underground tunnel below his cell that stretched nearly a mile long leading away from prison grounds.

When news broke of El Chapo’s arrest in 2016, many took to social media, reacting with questions of how long until he would escape again and how long until another mishandling of a high profile case would embarrass the Peña Nieto administration. Although Mexican authorities reiterated Guzmán is securely detained, many have demanded on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border that El Chapo be extradited to the United States, not only because he faces charges in seven U.S. jurisdictions for organized crime, murder, and drug trafficking, but also to ensure the Mexican judiciary system does not permit another escape. Mexico’s justice system is perceived as being notoriously corrupt, a label it is working to overturn through its implementation of the New Criminal Justice System (Nuevo Sistema de Justicia Penal, NSJP). While that system continues to be rolled out, however, critics are quick to note the government’s inability to securely hold El Chapo not once, but twice. For her part, Political Analyst Denise Dresser called for El Chapo’s immediate extradition to the United States “before his legal battle ensnares that possibility… Catching [El Chapo] again,” Dresser continued, “doesn’t mean recognizing or remedying or reforming. So many systems failed during the second escape that it’s too big to be circumstantial. The coincidence is too coincidental. That’s why he should be taken out of a prison, security, information, and criminal investigation systems that has repeatedly shown its weaknesses, even if the President and his team deny it.”

Although the Mexican Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) did begin the extradition process on January 9, a day after El Chapo’s arrest, that could take anywhere from six months to a year or more. There is also the real possibility that extradition never happens if El Chapo’s legal team, led by Mexican Attorney Juan Pablo Badillo, succeeds in filing motions and injunctions (amparos) to suspend the requests for extradition. Doing so means El Chapo’s case must first be heard before a judge to determine his eligibility for extradition, a process that could be expedited if the Peña Nieto administration intervened, reports El País. However, opponents of Dresser’s calls for immediate extradition argue that doing so would reflect poorly on the Mexican government and its ability to function effectively. “It would be an error to extradite him now,” commented Eduardo Guerrero, a national security analyst and former intelligence analyst for President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). “It would show that Mexico is very vulnerable.” Nevertheless, Guerrero said, the PGR needs to tread carefully in El Chapo’s case to ensure there are no legal missteps.

While the legal battle continues, the three key U.S. jurisdictions pursuing his extradition—San Diego, Chicago, and New York City—continue to vie for position to have his case heard. According to a former high-ranking official in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Carl Pike, the case will likely go to the jurisdiction with “the highest chance of success.”

Sources:

“Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera Recaptured by Mexican Marines.” Justice in Mexico. January 8, 2016.

Beauregard, Luis Pablo. “México no extraditará a ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán en el corto plazo.” El País. January 10, 2016.

Bennett, Brian and Deborah Bonello. “Prosecutors in these seven U.S. courtrooms want ‘El Chapo.’” The Los Angeles Times. January 11, 2016.

Dresser, Denise. “El Chapo(teadero).” Reforma. January 11, 2016.

Translation by Izar-Shea, Ruby. “Mexico Drug War: Arrest of ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Doesn’t End Government Complicity with Criminals.” Mexico Voices. January 11, 2016.

“Mexico starts proceedings to extradite Guzman to US.” The Associated Press. January 11, 2016.

Press Release: Comunicado 020/16. “Como parte del procedimiento de extradición de Joaquín Guzmán Loera, la Procuraduría General de la República informa.” Procuraduría General de la República. January 11, 2016. 

The Associated Press. “Mexico Begins Legal Process Against Guzman’s Security Chief.” ABC News. January 14, 2016.