HomeNewsAnalysisWhat Would Chapo Guzman's Death Mean for Mexico?
ANALYSIS

What Would Chapo Guzman's Death Mean for Mexico?

EL CHAPO / 22 FEB 2013 BY HANNAH STONE EN

Guatemalan authorities say that a man resembling Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Latin America’s biggest drug trafficker, has been killed by security forces. The reports are likely false, but raise questions about what Chapo's fall would mean for Mexico.

On February 21, rumors began circulating in Guatemala that the police or army had killed two men in a firefight in the northern province of Peten -- and that one of the dead was El Chapo himself. The country’s Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez confirmed that there had been two confrontations, and said that one victim "looked like" El Chapo.

The news remains confused -- a Guatemalan army spokesman said that troops had arrived at one of the sites where a clash supposedly took place, but that there was no sign of a confrontation (see map of the two sites, below). Agents from Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR) are reportedly going to Guatemala to carry out DNA tests on the body.

InSight Crime Analysis

Chapo has been brought down in Guatemala before. He was arrested in that country in 1993, after going there to lie low following the murder of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, which prompted a government crackdown on organized crime. Once arrested, El Chapo was sent back to Mexico, where he was held in prison until escaping in 2001.

However, the context has changed greatly since then. Since 2010, Chapo’s rivals, the Zetas, have been building a strong presence in Guatemala, based in the province of Peten, to the far north. The Sinaloa Cartel's influence in Guatemala, meanwhile, is mostly concentrated in the country's west, according to recent statements by President Otto Perez. Malcolm Beith, author of "The Last Narco," told InSight Crime that it was highly unlikely that Chapo would venture to Peten for any reason. “He has no protection there to speak of -- the local authorities are not in his pocket, and neither is the local population.”

Indeed, Chapo’s arrest in 1993 took place after he was betrayed by his protector in the Guatemalan Army, and he would likely be extremely wary about putting himself at risk in the country again, as Beith points out. Chapo is thought to have been able to evade capture for so long in part because of his ability to lay low in the mountains of Mexico's Durango state, where he can hide among a broadly compliant local population.

There have been previous rumors of Chapo traveling across the region, to Guatemala, Argentina, Honduras, and Bolivia, but prior reports of his death or capture have always proved false.

Perhaps the biggest winner in the scenario of Chapo’s death would be the new government of Enrique Peña Nieto. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won back the presidency last year after 12 years of absence, and Peña Nieto took office in December. The previous government of Felipe Calderon was dogged by rumors that it was complicit with El Chapo, with some arguing that the government chose to persecute the cartel's rivals at the expense of bringing down the country's biggest transnational criminal group -- accusations strongly denied by the Calderon government.

If El Chapo was indeed captured or killed in just the third month of Peña Nieto's administration, it would boost the president's claim that he is ushering in a new era in crime policy, and could reflect badly on Calderon. El Chapo's demise would also help squash suspicions that the PRI's return to power would mean a return to appeasing Mexico’s drug cartels.

Chapo’s death would be a severe jolt to Mexico's underworld, as he has dominated the drug business for more than 20 years. However, Mexico has captured or killed many of the country’s biggest capos over the last few years, with no appreciable impact on the amount of drugs moving through the country, as new leaders simply rise to replace them.

The immediate impact of the removal of any major kingpin in Mexico is generally to cause more violence in the short term, as those lower-down in the organization jostle for influence.

However, Chapo directs the Sinaloa Cartel alongside two other extremely powerful, and low-profile, figures -- Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza. These men might be able step in and ensure that much of the day-to-day running of the Sinaloa’s operations went on as usual, as InSight Crime has commented previously.

Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and member of InSight Crime's board of directors, says that if Chapo was removed, El Mayo would initially be able to take uncontested control of the organization. However, Hope points out that the kingpin is in his sixties, and allegedly suffers from poor health, meaning that this take-over would only slow the gradual atomization of the organization.

If the Sinaloa federation dissolved, and the groups that worked under its umbrella opted to start up independent operations, this would simply be an acceleration of the Mexican underworld’s current trend towards decentralization and fragmentation, with the break-up of the old, large cartels and rise of increasingly powerful but localized street gangs, according to Samuel Logan, of risk analysis firm Southern Pulse. Logan also points to the impact that the break-up of the Sinaloa Cartel would have on its international subsidiaries in places like China, India, Australia, Spain, and Chicago.

It remains unlikely that Chapo Guzman is currently lying dead in Guatemala, but the reports are a reminder that the Sinaloa Cartel boss will likely meet some kind of ugly demise in the coming years.


View Clashes in Guatemala, with El Chapo reported dead in a larger map

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

ELITES AND CRIME / 12 MAY 2021

Time appears to be running out for the governor of the US-Mexico border state of Tamaulipas – after lawmakers stripped…

FENTANYL / 14 JAN 2021

Trafficking of the deadly opioid fentanyl skyrocketed in 2020 throughout Mexico, solidifying the synthetic drug's status as a top criminal…

CHILE / 25 AUG 2021

A series of seizures and drug raids across Latin America have revealed how previously niche high-strength marijuana products are establishing…

About InSight Crime

WORK WITH US

Open Position: Full Stack WordPress Developer

28 NOV 2022

As Full Stack WordPress Developer You Will: Work collaboratively with other developers and designers to maintain and improve organizational standards.Demonstrate a high level of attention to detail, and implement best…

THE ORGANIZATION

Join Us This #GivingTuesday in Exposing Organized Crime

24 NOV 2022

For over twelve years, InSight Crime has contributed to the global dialogue on organized crime and corruption. Our work has provided policymakers, analysts, academics, journalists, and the general public with…

THE ORGANIZATION

Like Crime, Our Coverage Knows No Borders

18 NOV 2022

The nature of global organized crime means that while InSight Crime focuses on Latin America, we also follow criminal dynamics worldwide. InSight Crime investigator Alessandro Ford covers the connections between Latin American and European…

THE ORGANIZATION

Using Data to Expose Crime

11 NOV 2022

Co-director Jeremy McDermott made a virtual presentation at a conference hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The ‘Sixth International Conference on Governance, Crime, and Justice…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime ON AIR

4 NOV 2022

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley was interviewed for the podcast The Rosenberg Case: A Tale of Murder, Corruption, and Conspiracy in Guatemala, which explores the potential involvement of then president, Álvaro Colom,…