HomeNewsAnalysisDid El Chapo Betray Top Hitman to Mexican Govt?
ANALYSIS

Did El Chapo Betray Top Hitman to Mexican Govt?

EL CHAPO / 20 FEB 2013 BY ELYSSA PACHICO EN

A Mexican investigative news outlet questions whether a recently-arrested top Sinaloa Cartel hitman was handed over by cartel bosses, perhaps in order to uphold a pact to keep violence in the area at a minimum.

RioDoce, which covers news in Mexico's Sinaloa state, reports that the recent capture of Jonathan Salas Aviles, alias "El Fantasma" ("The Ghost"), may have come about thanks to an agreement with the Sinaloa Cartel. El Fantasma is accused of working as a hitman and bodyguard for the Sinaloa Cartel, and earned his nickname thanks to the precautions he took to protect his identity, according to the report. 

He had previously evaded capture by authorities twice, including one incident in which he was mistakenly reported to have been killed by the security forces. When he was arrested in Februrary, 200 soldiers and three marine helicopters participated in the operation, trapping him in a house 30 minutes south of Sinaloa capital Culiacan.

RioDoce theorizes that the operation -- in which not a single shot was fired -- was actually a surrender negotiated by the Sinaloa Cartel. The publication argues that Sinaloa Cartel leaders Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia viewed El Fantasma as a risky employee, as he was being tracked by military intelligence. El Fantasma also had a reputation as a violent and volatile gunman, who terrorized the locals in the small towns outside of Culiacan, beating up civilians and municipal police officers and interrupting private parties while brandishing weapons. Such behavior meant El Mayo received plenty of complaints from local communities about El Fantasma, RioDoce asserts.

However, even if El Chapo and El Mayo stopped seeing their top gunman as an asset to the Sinaloa Cartel, this may not have been their only motive for giving him up. A previous report by RioDoce cited a military intelligence document as saying that the Sinaloa Cartel had committed to keeping violent actions in Sinaloa to a minimum, pledging to launch attacks only in response to rivals the Beltran Leyva Organization and the group run by drug trafficker Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, alias "Chapito Isidro."

If such an agreement with the authorities is indeed in place, this would also help explain why the Sinaloa Cartel would be so willing to surrender El Fantasma: in order to respect this pact and keep Sinaloa state relatively peaceful.

InSight Crime Analysis

RioDoce's reporting feeds into suspicions that have long surrounded the Sinaloa Cartel: that President Felipe Calderon's administration had some kind of agreement with the criminal organization, allowing the cartel's leaders to operate in peace, while focusing on pursuing its rivals. Calderon's administration always strongly denied such assertions, though some observers -- including NPR, in a 2010 report -- found evidence that, at times, the government appeared to favor the Sinaloa Cartel.

The July 2012 military intelligence report seen by RioDoce may further support such theories. According to RioDoce, at no point did the report -- which included a list of recommendations for Calderon and his security cabinet -- mention taking armed action against the Sinaloa Cartel. Instead, the report recommended focusing efforts against smaller criminal organizations like Chapito Isidro's, dubbed "satellite cells." These smaller groups are responsible for much of the violence of Mexico, and thus merit particular attention, the briefing reportedly added.

Some of RioDoce's interpretations deserve questioning. It is possible that El Fantasma was captured without a single shot fired simply because the security force operation was too overwhelming -- and too quick -- for him to react. Additionally, the July 2012 military briefing was only a list of recommendations: it would be difficult to prove whether the Calderon administration actually decided to follow them, and start pursuing the "satellite" criminal groups at the expense of the larger cartels. And, going by RioDoce's reporting, the intelligence briefing does not explicitly state whether the Sinaloa Cartel negotiated its alleged pledge with the military, another branch of the government, or a rival criminal group, casting some doubt on the nature of the pact.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of precedent for the Sinaloa Cartel giving up operatives deemed too risky to keep on board. Beltran Leyva Organization leader Alfredo Beltran, captured in 2008, is just one example. It would not be surprising if El Chapo and El Mayo decided to surrender El Fantasma despite his many years of service. However, the question of whether they did so in order to comply with a non-violence pact with the authorities is more difficult to answer.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

BRAZIL / 24 MAR 2022

The 2021 ranking of the world's most violent cities predictably features a heavy presence by Latin American and Caribbean population…

EXTORTION / 28 JAN 2022

Cartels are known for shakedowns of avocado growers, but lime farmers have been unnoticed victims of similar extortion schemes in…

GUATEMALA / 20 DEC 2022

Increased security on land borders is forcing more migrants to enter Mexico from Guatemala by sea, running the risk of…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…