The brother of a jailed former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel has been arrested by US authorities, raising further questions about the future of the once-dominant crime group as its top leaders continue to fall from power.
On August 17, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents at the Nogales, Arizona port of entry along the US-Mexico border arrested Álvaro López Nuñez, the brother of former Sinaloa Cartel leader Dámaso López Núñez, alias "Licenciado," according to a Justice Department press release.
In August 2016, López Nuñez was indicted by US authorities in California on drug and money laundering charges with Licenciado, his nephew Damáso López Serrano, alias "Mini Lic," and the pair's alleged financial operator, Nahúm Abraham Sicairos Montalvo, alias "El Quinceañero."
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Licenciado -- who reportedly assumed leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel while the group's former leader, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, was in prison between 2014 and 2015 -- was arrested by authorities in Mexico City in May of this year.
Shortly thereafter, Mini Lic surrendered to US authorities in July at the Calexico, California border crossing, later entering a not guilty plea to the US charges. El Quinceañero was arrested by Mexican authorities in late July.
Efforts by the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) to expand their reach and the internal power struggle prompted by El Chapo's 2016 arrest and later extradition to the United States have since appeared to weaken the Sinaloa Cartel.
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The arrest of Álvaro López Nuñez comes amid speculation that his brother, Licenciado, may be negotiating a "package" deal with US authorities: the surrender of some of his top associates, who can provide information on other factions of the fractured Sinaloa Cartel, in exchange for judicial leniency.
Mike Vigil, a retired DEA agent, told InSight Crime that López Nuñez family members have a "very deep understanding and knowledge" of the Sinaloa Cartel.
"They have tremendous bargaining chips," he said. "They know all the ranking members, how the cartel operates, the corrupt officials that are protecting the cartel and potentially where some of the heroin and methamphetamine labs are."
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Still, Vigil believes that Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, one of the cartel's last remaining capos from the old guard, has the ability to ensure the Sinaloa Cartel's reign as Mexico's most dominant crime group, at least in the short term.
But, Vigil warned, "The minute that he gets too old or too sick, I think that will spell the death of the Sinaloa Cartel."