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What’s next for drug lord “El Chapo” and the Sinaloa Cartel?

By David Amoruso

Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has definitely cemented his criminal legacy. He was placed on Forbes’ richest billionaires in the world list, became one of the most powerful crime bosses in the history of the world - not to mention one of the most (in)famous - and he executed two successful prison breaks. But after the rise comes the fall, and for Guzman it happened when he set foot on United States soil to face justice for a lifetime filled with violence and drugs.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR “SHORTY”?

After his arrival in the United States on January 19, 2017, the diminutive drug boss had little time to mull over his new – temporary - home. A day later, prosecutors were in court charging him with leading a “a continuing criminal enterprise” from January of 1989 to December of 2014 “responsible for importing into the United States and distributing massive amounts of illegal narcotics and conspiring to murder persons who posed a threat to Guzman Loera’s narcotics enterprise.”

The 59-year-old is also charged with laundering more than $14 billion in cash proceeds from narcotics sales throughout the United States and Canada. As part of this investigation, authorities seized nearly 200,000 kilograms of cocaine linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. They are thus seeking a forfeiture of more than $14 billion in illicit monies.

According to the indictment, the Sinaloa Cartel shared drug transportation routes and obtained drugs from various Colombian drug trafficking organizations, in particular, the Colombian Norte del Valle Cartel, the Don Lucho Organization, and the Cifuentes-Villa Organization. The cocaine was transported from Colombia via planes, boats, and submarines into ports the groups controlled in Southern Mexico and other locations throughout Central America. From there, it was shipped through Mexico to distribution hubs in the United States.

As one of the principal leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, Guzman allegedly also oversaw the cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana smuggling activities by the Sinaloa Cartel to wholesale distributors in Atlanta, Chicago, Miami, New York, as well as in various locations in Arizona, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The billions of dollars generated from drug sales in the United States were then clandestinely transported back to Mexico.

To evade law enforcement and protect the enterprise’s narcotics distribution activities, Guzman and his Sinaloa Cartel allegedly used “sicarios,” or hit men, who carried out hundreds of acts of violence in Mexico, including murder, to collect drug debts, silence potential witnesses, and prevent public officials from taking action against the cartel.

To intimidate and eliminate his rivals, during the Sinaloa Cartel’s internecine war for territory with the Juarez Cartel from approximately 2007 through 2011, Guzman directed these assassins to kill thousands of drug trafficking competitors, during which many of his victims were beheaded.

“This extradition is a tremendous victory for the citizens of Mexico and of the United States,” DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg told media. “Two principles stand out: No one is above the law and we simply do not quit in the pursuit of justice.”

To bolster their case, prosecutors will use a large coterie of witnesses – men who once worked closely with “El Chapo” and the Sinaloa Cartel and have now joined Team USA, testifying against former associates in hopes of a sentence reduction.

A reduced sentence doesn’t seem even slightly possible for Guzman. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has made it to the end of his criminal career. As most of you know, such a career has only three endings: The Witness Protection Program; death; or prison. Guzman has arrived at lucky number three, an American prison. If found guilty, he will spend the rest of his life in a cell, no doubt in a maximum-security facility.

FUTURE OF THE SINALOA CARTEL BACK IN MEXICO?

With its grand leader rotting away in an American prison, how will his multi-billion-dollar organization continue? Under Guzman’s leadership, the Sinaloa Cartel firmly established its place at the top of the Mexican underworld. Can they maintain that spot without his guidance?

Asked what the impact of Guzman’s arrest was on the Sinaloa Cartel, former DEA agent Mike Vigil was very clear. “It really didn't have an impact because the Sinaloa Cartel is very different than most cartels that operate in Mexico,” he told NPR. “Most cartels have a vertical structure, but the Sinaloa Cartel functions like a global corporation. It has a horizontal structure where they have subsidiaries throughout many parts of the world. And these subsidiaries are semi-autonomous. In other words, they have the ability to make decisions. And as a result of that, it's very difficult to dismantle a cartel like the Sinaloa Cartel. Secondly, they have great leadership. There's an individual by the name of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada who has been running the Sinaloa Cartel during Chapo's incarceration.”

Vigil’s views are corroborated by VICE News, which sent a team down to the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico, where the Sinaloa Cartel controls large fields on which marijuana and poppy are grown. The VICE crew spotted various tell-tale signs of the infamous Cartel’s presence. “Young men sport caps with the number 701, a reference to the ranking Chapo once held on the Forbes list of billionaires,” their report reads. “Clandestine airstrips cut out indiscriminate swaths of surrounding forest. Crosses mark the spot of cartel killings.”

With America’s thirst for heroin on the rise due to its prescription pill addiction, Mexican Cartels have found another one of its products – heroin - in high demand, creating yet another cash cow. Though Guzman is no longer in charge, these drug farmers still need to earn a living, as do all the individuals spread throughout the smuggling chain. From the farmers to those who process the raw materials into the finished product to those who smuggle it to the next location. From the men who guard the product at various stops along the way to the men at the top who set up the deals and partnerships, the men who run the logistics and bribe authorities, those that launder all the ill-gotten profits.

It’s a never-ending cycle that will continue as long as there are junkies demanding their high. “El Chapo” falls down and “El Mayo” steps up. All the while it’s business as usual. And business is more booming than ever.

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