Mexico: El Chapo's Arrest Poses New Risks of Violence

3 MINS READFeb 22, 2014 | 17:45 GMT
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera.
(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

The Mexican military and U.S. authorities captured a top leader of the Sinaloa Federation, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, in an unnamed hotel in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, sometime during the night of Feb. 21. Guzman, who has long eluded authorities, faces several federal drug trafficking indictments and is on the Drug Enforcement Administration's most-wanted list. Reportedly, the hotel had been under surveillance for five weeks prior to the arrest, but Guzman had arrived in Mazatlan only days earlier, fleeing military operations in Culiacan.

El Chapo was partly responsible for the expansion of the Sinaloa Federation into the territories of rival Mexican transnational criminal organizations, commonly referred to as cartels. He also helped oversee the expansion of Sinaloa Federation operations beyond Mexico, most notably drug trafficking routes into Europe and Asia. Since December, however, the Sinaloa Federation has suffered from a series of substantial arrests, impacting the cartel wing led by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia. The cartel has also faced rising challenges in its areas of operations by regional crime networks as well as other transnational criminal organizations. The tempo and success of operations targeting top Sinaloa Federation leaders will severely hamper the cartel's ability to defend its operations in northwestern Mexico, possibly leading to substantial violence in several areas as rival criminal organizations seek to exploit the cartel's new vulnerabilities.

Like most of Mexico's major transnational criminal organizations, the Sinaloa Federation is led by a collection of crime bosses, each with their own network, operating under a common banner. In addition to Guzman, other notable top-tier leaders include Zambada and Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza Moreno. These leaders guide the Sinaloa Federation's overall strategy and activity throughout Mexico, as well as its transnational operations. With Guzman now in custody, the remaining top bosses, along with several less-prominent leaders, will look to maintain the Sinaloa Federation's control over Guzman's network. This could spark a wave of violence throughout northwestern Mexico if internal shifts evolve into intra-cartel conflict.

A more likely source of violence — one that could occur alongside an internal Sinaloa Federation feud — would be a push by the Sinaloa Federation's rivals for control over drug trafficking operations in current Sinaloa Federation territories, including Baja California, Sonora, Durango, Chihuahua and Sinaloa states. Should Guzman's arrest effectively create opportunities for rivals to pursue territorial gains at the expense of the Sinaloa Federation, Stratfor would expect to see an increase in intercartel violence on some scale, as well as a military response to contain or even preempt possible violence, in any area of the aforementioned states.

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