Led by the Beltrán Leyva brothers, this Mexican drug trafficking organization worked with the Sinaloa Cartel before the two split and began a bloody war in 2008. Once one of Mexico's most powerful groups, the BLO is now defunct after numerous arrests and murders.
The Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) experienced a void in leadership, due to the death of Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, alias "H2," in 2017 during a shootout with Marines, and the 2014 arrest of Hector Beltrán Leyva, alias "El H." During his time as leader, El H strengthened an alliance with the Zetas in an effort to stave off elimination following a bloody battle with the Sinaloa Cartel. But by 2021, it is no longer a relevant player, although some splinter groups still lay claim to the name.
By most accounts, the Beltrán Leyva brothers began their criminal career working in their home state of Sinaloa with small-time opium poppy growers. The Sinaloa region was, and remains, the heart of poppy cultivation in Mexico. The brothers went on to work for Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias "Señor de los Cielos,"who employed them as hitmen and transporters. Carrillo Fuentes ran the powerful Juarez Cartel, which had established drug trafficking routes stretching south to Colombia and north into the United States.
Like their boss, the Beltrán Leyvas were ruthless and ambitious. Their home municipality, Badiraguato, is the same as that of Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias "El Chapo," and there is some evidence the men worked together as hitmen for the infamous Guadalajara Cartel. Through marriage, the Guzman Loera and Beltrán Leyva families became closer and more tightly aligned. This connection proved critical when Guzman was jailed in 1993 -- the Beltrán Leyva brothers helped Guzman's brother, Arturo, maintain the business and shuttled cash to their imprisoned Sinaloan "cousin," helping him escape in 2001.
Guzman's escape, the capture of his brother Arturo several months later, and the death of Carrillo Fuentes opened the door for the Beltrán Leyva brothers. After several meetings in 2002 with Guzman and his partners, Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias "El Azul," and Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias "El Mayo," the group formed what became known as the Federation, or the "Alianza de Sangre" (Blood Alliance). Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, alias "El Mochomo," married Guzman's cousin. Esparragoza married Guzman's sister-in-law. Guzman later married the niece of another partner, Ignacio Coronel.
As godfather to Amado Carrillo Fuentes' son, Esparragoza was also closely tied to the Carrillo Fuentes clan. The Juarez-based family was brought into the pact in 2002, but the relationship did not last. In 2004, Amado Carrillo Fuentes' brother, Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes, alias "El Niño de Oro," killed two of Guzman's operatives in Ciudad Juárez. Guzman had him assassinated. Faced with a choice, Zambada and Esparragoza picked Guzman's side, marking the beginning of a war between the Sinaloa and Juarez organizations that has raged ever since.
In the meantime, the Beltrán Leyva Organization (BLO) began to make their mark. Guzman charged them with forming a security team for the cartel to combat the rising power of their other rivals, the Gulf Cartel. A few years earlier, the Gulf Cartel had lured 31 special forces officers from the Mexican military to create a powerful, sophisticated and brutal armed wing that called themselves the Zetas. The BLO recruited their own security team. One operative, Edgar Valdez Villareal, alias "La Barbie," came from Laredo, across the river from the home base of the Zetas. Valdez's group, the Pelones, began to match the Zetas' brutality. Another group, the Negros, was led by a former police detective. At the top of the pyramid was Arturo Beltrán Leyva, alias "El Jefe de Jefes." Arturo created his own unit, which he called Arturo's Special Forces (Fuerzas Especiales de Arturo - FEDA). The war soon spread, as did the BLO's power and influence. By 2005, the BLO was reportedly operating in 10 states in addition to the Federal District (Mexico City).
Guzman also tasked the Beltrán Leyva clan with penetrating the security and political forces, which they did with alarming efficiency. In 2005, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recorded a conversation between Nahum Acosta, a close advisor to the Fox administration, and one of the Beltrán Leyvas, presumably Hector. Hector, alias "El H," was responsible for the payroll, which also allegedly included top members of the government's National Investigative Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigacion - AFI) and the country's drug czar at the time, Noe Ramirez Mandujano. Ramirez was jailed for allegedly receiving $450,000 per month from the organization, but the charges were thrown out in April 2013. Acosta was arrested but later exonerated.
The BLO clan was influential, but suffered from hubris. Their public profile steadily rose, as did their public appearances in extravagant parties in places like Cuernavaca, where their domain was undisputed. Their allies in the Sinaloa Cartel, meanwhile, appeared troubled. Added to this was a dispute over a distribution route in Chicago between the Sinaloa faction and the BLO. Tension boiled over when authorities arrested Alfredo Beltrán Leyva on January 21, 2008. After authorities released Guzman's son, Ivan Archivaldo, from jail on a technicality, Arturo Beltrán Leyva's fears were confirmed: Guzman had provided the information leading to the arrest of his younger brother, Alfredo.
War was declared, and one of the first victims was Edgar Guzman, Joaquin Guzman's son, who was killed when he left a Sinaloa shopping center with his bodyguards. The levels of bloodshed in Sinaloa shot up. The BLO allied themselves with their former archrivals, the Zetas. The Sinaloa Cartel reached working agreements with the Gulf Cartel and the Familia Michoacana, a ruthless group that had burst onto the scene in 2006. Throughout, Guzman, Zambada and Esparragoza remained aligned against the BLO. Using their contacts in the federal government, the Sinaloa Cartel wore down the BLO. Dozens of operatives were arrested or killed in 2009. And in December 2009, Mexican Marines killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva after he'd barricaded himself in an apartment in an upscale neighborhood in Cuernavaca.
The year 2010 was even worse for the BLO. Following the death of Arturo, Valdez Villareal split to form his own organization. Hector Beltrán Leyva regrouped what remained of the BLO and began calling his operation the South Pacific Cartel (Cartel del Pacifico Sur). However, the battles between the two factions left both vulnerable. Carlos Beltrán Leyva, a brother of Hector and Arturo, was arrested in January 2010. Valdez Villareal's top lieutenant was arrested in April, and Valdez Villareal himself was detained in August of that year. Hector's top security officer, Sergio Villareal, alias "El Grande," was arrested in September 2010. The BLO's remnants have strengthened their alliance with the Zetas in order to stay afloat.
But the group’s leadership has been further decimated in recent years. Mexican authorities arrested Hector Beltrán Leyva, alias “El H,” in October 2014 as well as Alfredo Beltrán Guzmán, alias “El Mochomito” -- another high-level BLO figure -- in December 2016. Juan Francisco Patrón Sánchez, alias "H2," who succeeded “El H” at the head of the organization, was killed during a shootout with members of Mexico’s Marines in February 2017. El H died in custody in November 2018.
The main BLO splinter groups are the Guerreros Unidos and Los Rojos. Both groups have been linked to the disappearances of 43 student students in Ayotzinapa, as well as high levels of violence in the states of Guerrero and Morelos.
The Guerreros Unidos, which operate primarily in Morelos and Guerrero, primarily fight with Los Rojos over the heroin trade. They are also made up of several splinter groups including Los Tequileros, a cell in Tierra Caliente that specializes in extorting politicians.
As for Los Rojos, they have become an important cell in the central and southeastern part of Mexico, especially the state of Guerrero. Accused of extortion, homicides, kidnappings, human trafficking and forced disappearances, they have been listed by DEA as an active heroin trafficking group with ties in the US and currently have an influence in the states of Morelos, Puebla, Mexico State and in the highlands of Guerrero.
In 2020, the US accused former Mexican Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda of working for the H-2 splinter of the BLO, before dropping all charges. The H-2 organization continues to operate as a drug trafficking group in Mexico.
The BLO was led by the Beltrán Leyva brothers, all of whom have been captured or killed.
The BLO formed in Mexico's Sinaloa state and operated in a number of different states, plus Mexico City, at the height of its power, including Guerrero, Morelos, Chiapas, Queretaro, Sinaloa, Jalisco, Quintana Roo, Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and the State of Mexico.
Allies and Enemies
The BLO's alliance with the Zetas was particularly fruitful: together, they were able to deal significant blows to the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico's Sierra Madre region. The group has additionally benefited from the assistance of long-time ally Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, alias "Chapito Isidro," considered an important drug trafficker by the United States.
In 2014, reports emerged that the BLO met with other major Mexican criminal groups -- including the Zetas, Juarez Cartel and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) -- in order to mutually commit to battling the Sinaloa Cartel, the BLO's main rival.
However, even their successors have been left behind by Sinaloa and CJNG and do not feature among Mexico’s foremost criminal threats.
With its leadership arrested or dead, the cartel is done as a functional criminal threat. However, some of its splinter groups, including the H-2, continue to play a part in Mexico's drug trafficking landscape, including connections with top Mexican military and political elites.