Outside Pressure, Internal Dissent Roils Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel
A mysterious attack which killed five soldiers signals turmoil
by TRISTAN CLAVEL
Recent reports point to disorder within the leadership of Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel, as pressure from security forces and competing organizations as well as internal rivalries appear to be furthering the crime group’s fragmentation.
According to unnamed federal government sources cited by El Universal, a Sept. 30 attack on security forces in the town of Culiacán in Sinaloa state was orchestrated by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García, one of the top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Initial reports suggested that the attack, which left five soldiers dead, was intended to free Julio Óscar Ortiz Vega, alias “Kevin,” a suspected cartel member being transported by the military.
However, El Universal’s sources say El Mayo orchestrated the attack to appear as though it were carried out by the sons of imprisoned Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, in order to focus the attention of security forces on El Chapo’s faction of the crime group.
On Oct. 30 in Culiacán, federal security forces confronted several members of the armed wing of El Mayo’s faction, known as Los Ántrax, El País reported. The alleged leader of the group, René Velázquez alias “El Phoenix,” was killed during the incident along with two of his subordinates.
The military operation was seen as of particular importance as it indicated that the authorities could be closing in on El Mayo, who has generally maintained a much lower profile than his counterpart El Chapo.
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Authorities have not officially confirmed El Universal’s version of the Sept. 30 ambush. But it is not impossible that El Mayo could be moving against El Chapo’s faction of the cartel given both the organization’s current situation and its history of internal dissent.
Disagreements between El Mayo and El Chapo had been reported before the latter’s recapture and incarceration in January of this year.
As InSight Crime previously wrote, signs of rising tensions between the two had surfaced over whether to give the reins of power over to younger generations, amidst a string of arrests of prominent figures close to El Mayo. Although unconfirmed, El Chapo’s prior arrest in 2014 may also have been facilitated by El Mayo’s decision to cease protecting his associate.
In a more recent turn of events, El Chapo’s looming extradition to the United States seems to have weakened the Sinaloa Cartel and prompted rival groups to go on the offensive.
An attack targeting the house of El Chapo’s mother in June may have resulted from an alliance between the Beltrán Leyva Organization and the Jalisco Cartel-New Generation. The latter has also reportedly joined with elements of the Tijuana Cartel in an attempt to usurp the Sinaloa Cartel’s operations in Tijuana and in Baja California Sur.
All of these factors are likely to contribute to the fragmentation of the cartel, a pattern that has been seen in other Mexican crime groups in recent years.