HomeNewsAnalysisSinaloa Cartel Succession in Mexico: More Political Intrigue than Violence
ANALYSIS

Sinaloa Cartel Succession in Mexico: More Political Intrigue than Violence

EL CHAPO / 27 FEB 2014 BY DAVID C. MARTÍNEZ-AMADOR AND STEVEN DUDLEY* EN

Succession in the Sinaloa Cartel does not necessarily mean more violence. Indeed, the arrest of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman could present more problems for his political and business accomplices than within his own criminal organization.

Beyond the names being mentioned as new heads of the cartel (such as Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and Damaso Lopez, alias "El Mini Lic"), it is important to keep in mind that succession in the underworld depends on the way an organization is structured. The Sinaloa Cartel is, first and foremost, a confederation of criminal organizations based on regional culture, and deep, shared blood ties that have been generated during decades of endogenous practice. Its top leadership is firm but horizontal in nature; it works as a sort of "board of directors."

The Sinaloa Cartel is also characterized by strategic alliances in the best sense of the word. Foreign criminal groups from Mexican-American gangs in the prison system in the United States or in the neighborhoods of Chicago to the traditional "transportista" organizations in Central America are partners. And the cartel does not get involved in the leadership of its partners. So what affects the cartel "headquarters" does not necessarily affect the "subsidiaries" because there is no fragmentation on the edges when there is turnover at the top.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of El Chapo

In comparison, other organizations like the Zetas -- a group that was forged by former military cadres -- have less that bind them to the leaders who must therefore be stronger and employ more discipline to keep the pieces together. In other words, they are more likely to fragment and divide because their organization is so dependent on having strong leadership at the 'headquarters.' When there is change or disputes at the top, this generates imbalance throughout the organization because there are no institutionalized mechanisms of succession, and the pieces are more prone to seek independence.

Such is the case for this "garrison" turned cartel. The rivalry between the leaders of the Zetas -- Miguel Angel Treviño, alias "Z40," and Heriberto Lazcano, alias "Z3" -- fragmented them, and the once powerful paramilitary organization has become, at least in Mexico, a group severely limited in capabilities that survives more because of extortion, kidnapping and hired killings than because of its transportation business.

This same structural weakness has been transferred from the Zetas in Mexico to their subsidiaries in Guatemala and Honduras. This is in part because groups like the Zetas are less likely to outsource and feel the need to undertake their own recruiting and training of personnel, practically creating from scratch the organization with which they will work outside of Mexico. This means that what happens in Mexico affects these subsidiaries far more.

To be sure, in the case of the Sinaloa Cartel, the process runs the risk of a slow succession, and that can lead to violence, but mostly affects the home state of Sinaloa and other strongholds in Mexico more than partners abroad since organizations in Central America and in particular in Guatemala (the Mendoza clan and the remaining structure Juan Chamale, to name a few) are more independent.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Sinaloa Cartel

Now these partners have two options: 1) hold on to or move their merchandise more slowly to the border while they await their marching orders; 2) sell these goods to other Mexican organizations. When power vacuums happen, everyone will "hang on to their ticket" because they do not know who to give it to, but they also do not seek a fight.

The point is that the leadership succession in the Sinaloa Cartel is, above all, an economic and not a military question. It requires quick decisions to generate stability among partners and subsidiaries throughout the continent, but it does not require a complete overhaul of the organization.

What's more, we must consider the possibility that Guzman -- who was the public face of a multinational company -- voluntarily surrendered (we would not be the first to note this possibility) or was simply expendable.

Not a single bullet was fired during his capture, and there was no violence after his arrest (there have been some symbolic protests). In other words, it is possible that the process of succession had occurred some time ago. Remember, the Sinaloa Cartel has always been an incredibly good negotiator of power and placed its emphasis on the "business" side of the relationship.

In reality, the risk that comes with Guzman's arrest may become more apparent when he starts speaking to authorities, exposing the wide net of corruption and complicity that protected him and his organization both inside and outside of Mexico. More than succession within the cartel, this process could wreak havoc within the political and business classes that desperately need to protect themselves from his testimony.

This is why he will probably never be extradited to any country outside of Mexico. Indeed, given his status as chancellor of the regional drug trafficking industry, Guzman could be the most important and powerful political blackmailer in history. Even now, as he enters custody, you have to wonder who has the keys to that jail.

*Martínez-Amador is a university professor who teaches about blood rituals in secret societies, cults, sects, fraternities and the mafia. Dudley is co-director of InSight Crime.

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

ARGENTINA / 30 JUL 2018

Human trafficking remains one of world’s most profitable criminal industries, but recent initiatives show governments and activists across the Americas…

MEXICO / 19 JUL 2013

Alejandro "Omar" Treviño Morales, alias "Z42," was a member of criminal organization the Zetas and brother to former Zetas leader…

DRUG POLICY / 23 OCT 2012

The United States' top drug policy diplomat believes that it is “the beginning of the end” for Mexico’s…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Who Are Memo Fantasma and Sergio Roberto de Carvalho?

24 JUN 2022

Inside the criminal career of Memo Fantasma  In March 2020, InSight Crime revealed the identity and whereabouts of Memo Fantasma, a paramilitary commander and drug trafficker living in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Environmental and Academic Praise

17 JUN 2022

InSight Crime’s six-part series on the plunder of the Peruvian Amazon continues to inform the debate on environmental security in the region. Our Environmental Crimes Project Manager, María Fernanda Ramírez,…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Series on Plunder of Peru’s Amazon Makes Headlines

10 JUN 2022

Since launching on June 2, InSight Crime’s six-part series on environmental crime in Peru’s Amazon has been well-received. Detailing the shocking impunity enjoyed by those plundering the rainforest, the investigation…

THE ORGANIZATION

Duarte’s Death Makes Waves

3 JUN 2022

The announcement of the death of Gentil Duarte, one of the top dissident commanders of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), continues to reverberate in Venezuela and Colombia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Cattle Trafficking Acclaim, Investigation into Peru’s Amazon 

27 MAY 2022

On May 18, InSight Crime launched its most recent investigation into cattle trafficking between Central America and Mexico. It showed precisely how beef, illicitly produced in Honduras, Guatemala…