A Brief on the Sinaloa Cartel & El Chapo

Popular entertainment networks, major news networks, and filmmakers have all been focused on a sole organization, and particularly a single person, for the past couple of years. This is especially true in the past couple of months, during which, the man accredited for running the entire organization and who allegedly pocketed nearly $14 billion, was tried in New York City. While we all know his name and the general story of what exactly it was that led up to this trial, a lot of us still aren’t sure on the history of the cartel and what led up to this moment. 

It was in the 1960s and 70s that farming families living in rural parts of Sinaloa, a Mexican state that would later become the center of the largest powerful drug trafficking organization in the West, would begin moving from contraband trades to drug cultivation and distribution. This was particularly due to the fact that there was incredibly limited job opportunities in the area and similar states. In Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera's interview with Sean Penn for Rolling Stonehe mentions the economic and cultural climate that led to his need to turn towards marijuana and poppy cultivating at the mere age of 15. At the age of 15, Joaquín Guzmán Loera was introduced to the drug business by Pedro Aviles, the father of one of his friends. (Schuppe, 2015). 

It was in 1978 that Aviles would be killed in a shootout with local police in 1978. During those later years in the 70s, the various farming families who had been cultivating opium poppy and marijuana would further move to begin moving cocaine in conjunction with Columbian and Central American cartels. Due to this, the operation center was moved to the state of Jalisco, where new leaders rose quickly in the ranks and made business deals with Columbian, Central American, and other Mexican cartels. Patterns of drug trafficking were established, the routes perfected, and the reach of the cartel spread. 

After the murder of undercover DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985, the cartel’s message was clear: they were not here to play. At this point in time, the cartel was named the Guadalajara Cartel, after the city in Jalisco in which they were based. The United States created pressure on Mexican officials to act, they obliged, and the leaders of the Guadalajara Cartel skipped town. It was then that the remaining leaders established various different organizations in three different locations: The Arrellano Felix brothers in Tijuana, the Carrillo Fuentes family in Juarez, and the infamous pair, El Chapo and Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, set up shop in Sinaloa. This is where they would set up the humble beginnings of the Sinaloa Cartel. 

Obviously, where there is opportunity in markets, there will be competition. Due to this, battles between the three separate organizations ensued almost immediately after their establishments. In 1992, El Chapo sent gunmen to raid a party being thrown by the Tijuana Cartel, during which nine people were killed. The following year, El Chapo was at the Guadalajara airport when the Tijuana Cartel retaliated and attempted to murder him. They failed miserably and instead killed a Mexican cardinal who just happened to be at the airport. Guzman Loera escaped to Guatemala and was arrested within two weeks of his arrival. 

Operations continued, and like the story we all know goes, El Chapo maintained communication and control from prison, passing notes and messages through his attorneys. In 2001, he escaped prison and resumed the leadership role we know him for today. The most interesting part of the story, that which most of us know him for, is that he was recaptured by the Mexican government in 2014, and escaped. The escape was through an underground tunnel that the cartel had already made plans for. During his trial, stories were told of the infamous escape, during which he and his wife ran through the tunnel naked, just trying to get away from the prison. 

And if things couldn’t get any crazier, former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto was ousted for taking a $100 Million bribe during the trial. Alex Cifuentes Villa, a Columbian drug lord who had worked closely with the Sinaloa Cartel for 6 years, told attorneys and the judge about the first encounter Peña Nieto and El Chapo had had in late 2012, directly after his being elected president, asking for $250 Million in order to call off a national manhunt. El Chapo made a counteroffer, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

This, however, is not something new in the drug trafficking world. The Sinaloa Cartel simply learned from Columbia’s Cali Cartel and established connections with Mexico’s economic, social, and political elite. The cartel has made powerful contacts, clearly, and has been favored over its major rival cartel, the Zetas, who they have been in a bloody war with in recent years over the basis of territory and market control.                                                        

In 2017, El Chapo was extradited to the United States. Just over a week ago, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera pled guilty and was found guilty on all ten counts against him. 

  1. Engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise. 
  2. International cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana manufacture and distribution conspiracy.
  3. Cocaine Importation Conspiracy
  4. Cocaine Distribution Conspiracy
  5. International Distribution of Cocaine 
  6. International Distribution of Cocaine 
  7. International Distribution of Cocaine 
  8. International Distribution of Cocaine 
  9. Use of Firearms 
  10. Conspiracy to Launder Narcotics Proceeds 

He will be sentenced on June 25. He is facing a minimum sentence of life in prison. However, his defense attorney plans on waging a vigorous defense and plan to file an appeal on a number of issues, one particular issue being the cooperating witnesses that were brought forward, which were made up of drug traffickers, sex traffickers, firearm dealers, and other criminals.

This sentence is clearly seen as a “victory for every family who has lost a loved one to the black hole of addiction”. His conviction is seen as a symbol of victory in the war on drugs, according to the US attorney for the Eastern district of New York. 


Photo Sources: 1, 2