A prominent Italian author and mafia expert has claimed Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada was behind the capture of the Mexico cartel’s top leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, raising further questions about possible tensions within the organization.
In an interview, Roberto Saviano, author of the award-winning Italian mafia book Gomorrah, told Excelsior: “In my opinion, El Mayo had responsibility in the capture of El Chapo. I’m not sure if he sold him out, but it’s certain that he was no longer protecting him. He left him to his luck.”
Saviano's analysis was based on a conversation between the two cartel leaders that he had gained access to in recent months, in which Zambada apparently asked Guzman to cede his leadership to new generations of drug traffickers within the Sinaloa Cartel.
“If we don’t do it, if we don’t give them control, they will take it on their own terms and at their own risk,” said Zambada.
Saviano also said he considered El Chapo to be the “Steve Jobs” of drug trafficking, and for this reason found it unlikely the arrest was due to a simple misstep on the part of the world’s most wanted drug trafficker. He said the fact the cartel leader was taken while visiting his wife and kids, “gives me the impression that he felt secure," which would come with thinking someone was guaranteeing his safety.
He discounted the possibility that El Chapo turned himself in, saying the cartel leader was unlikely to have been willing to accept the possibility of extradition.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Mexican officials have said Guzman’s capture late on the night of February 21, 2014 was the result of high-technology intelligence work carried out in collaboration with the United States, many were shocked that such a prominent figure was taken without a struggle.
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Saviano’s analysis regarding El Chapo’s capture is based on one conversation of unclear origins, and must be seen as just one possibility. It is entirely plausible Guzman simply made an error in judgment -- this is what began to occur with Colombia’s most famous trafficker, Pablo Escobar as security forces closed in on him towards the end of his life. Guzman had already experienced recent near captures.
However, there have also been signs of tensions within the Sinaloa Cartel leadership. The take down of several members of El Mayo's faction of the group in the months leading to Guzman's arrest was posited as a possible indication that El Chapo was moving against his partner.
While this now seems unlikely, following Guzman's capture, it is still possible that a split existed between them and that the arrest was linked to a betrayal.