18 | NOV | 2019
Los Chapitos, El Chapo Guzmán's sons, are becoming increasingly powerful
“El Chapo” Guzmán's son launched an operation to release Ovidio Guzmán after he was arrested - Photo: Jesús Bustamante/REUTERS

Los Chapitos, El Chapo Guzmán's sons, are becoming increasingly powerful

24/10/2019
15:03
Reuters
Mexico City
David Alire Garcia
-A +A
Although it is believed that “El Mayo” Zambada controls the Sinaloa cartel, “Los Chapitos” are gaining power

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After soothing and blockades in the northern city of Culiacán, a picture of Ovidio Guzmán, El Chapo's son began to circulate online. In the mugshot, he oozed defiance and resembles his infamous father, jailed drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

He had reason to be overconfident. In response to his capture in an upscale neighborhood, hundreds of heavily-armed Sinaloa Cartel gunmen arrived in Culiacán, briefly taking over the city. A few hours later, the gunmen forced authorities to release Ovidio Guzmán.

It was like nothing Mexico had seen before, a military-style operation that outmatched and outnumbered security forces, leaving the city shocked and smoldering. The show of strength revealed that the Sinaloa cartel was not seriously weakened by the life sentence “El Chapo” Guzmán received in the United States.

The new Guzmán generation, collectively known as "Los Chapitos," are keeping their family’s near-mythical outlaw reputation alive, especially through the operation launched to free Ovidio Guzmán.

“We’re facing a new generation of organized crime that doesn’t respect civilians,” Cristóbal Castañeda, head of Sinaloa state security, told Reuters after the attacks.

Four sons of “El Chapo” are regulars in Culiacán’s nightclubs and restaurants, despite U.S. indictments against them, before last Thursday’s dramatic armed insurrection.

None of the four are older than their mid-thirties. They have already survived kidnappings, arrest attempts, and cartel feuds to establish themselves as the city’s most prominent drug traffickers, with the support of cartel elders.

Ovidio Guzmán, El Chapo's son, was arrested and released by Mexican forces.

The Culiacán attack on October 17 showed they were capable of taking on the Mexican army, state police, and National Guard. Using a mixture of firepower, speed, discipline, and the underlying threat of mass civilian deaths, and as a result, they won.

Castañeda pointed to how over several hours, Sinaloa cartel gunmen stormed into businesses and sprayed police with bullets in crowded areas, on a scale unprecedented in the country’s long-running drug war. Remarkably, the government says just 13 people were killed, including a soldier and several cartel gunmen.

Finally, the Mexican government was forced to order Ovidio Guzmán’s release, in order to prevent a bloodier confrontation that officials later said could have claimed hundreds of lives.

 

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For many, Ovidio’s new-found celebrity elevated him, along with his brothers, to the status of Sinaloa Cartel heavyweights, with Ovidio’s exploits placing just him just below his father in the pantheon of narcos who outsmarted the government.

A so-called narcocorrido, a style of song about the drug trade set to upbeat tuba and accordion rhythms, was released by Sunday, celebrating Ovidio as a “beast” and proclaiming that “the government was mistaken/they don’t know who they messed with.”

Despite the high profile antics, it is unclear exactly how much influence the Guzmáns have over the cartel their father helped found decades ago.

Nevertheless, it's known that “Los Chapitos” control drug sales in Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, including the growing trade in methamphetamine, according to one official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Earlier this year, a fentanyl laboratory was found in the city, suggesting that the Guzmáns also have their eye on the lucrative U.S. opiate business.

But the cartel’s bigger interests are still believed to be handled by El Chapo’s former partner, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a discrete capo in his early 70s who has never been arrested.

The businesses Zambada handles move billions of dollars, U.S. authorities say and are diversified across many sectors in dozens of countries, including even niche markets like wildlife and timber smuggling.

Edgardo Buscaglia, an organized crime expert at Columbia University, agrees that Zambada probably still controls the cartel. He described the new generation as more reckless, but certainly not as powerful.

In recent years, the relationship between the Guzmán family and Zambada has been fraught, with his son testifying against “El Chapo” at his U.S. trial. In turn, the defense argued Zambada was the real head of the cartel, not “El Chapo.”

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However, Zambada, who is said to be Ovidio’s godfather, apparently supported the assault to release him. On Tuesday, a statement issued under the cartel’s C.D.S insignia was intended as a show of unity between the factions, Buscaglia said.
 

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In one crackly recording circulating online, purportedly of internal Sinaloa Cartel radio communications on Thursday, a supposed gunman celebrates that Zambada was supporting the battle to release Ovidio.

Thursday’s antics showed Ovidio commanded sufficient loyalty in the organization for fighters to risk their lives to save him, Buscaglia said. And despite the cartel’s head-on fight with the state to release him, he predicted that “Los Chapitos” were smart enough to avoid a sustained confrontation with security forces.

“They know they would lose in the long term,” he said.

Up until last week, Iván Archivaldo estimated to be 35, and Jesús Alfredo were El Chapo’s better-known sons. Locals say both could be spotted in the city’s trendy nightclubs and restaurants clustered around Culiacán’s upscale Tres Ríos neighborhood, where Ovidio was briefly detained by a force of about 35 soldiers.

Far from hiding in safe houses, “Los Chapitos” and their friends are known to enjoy tearing through Culiacán’s nearby hills in all-terrain vehicles, two people said.

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“Yeah, a lot of people here know who they are and see them out and about,” said a young clerk at a clothing shop, asking that her name not be used for fear of reprisals.

In 2017, Iván Archivaldo and Jesús Alfredo were believed to be behind an attack on then-rival Damaso López, a high-level Sinaloa Cartel leader once rumored to be El Chapo’s successor, in the dusty town of Villa Juárez just outside Culiacán.

“It was crazy. The shootout lasted more than two hours. Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta,” said a local witness, mimicking the sound of gunfire and pointing to where bullet holes remain visible. Two people died, including a pregnant woman.

More than a decade ago, Iván Archivaldo was arrested and jailed, but he was released in 2008 due to what a judge called a lack of evidence. That same year, El Chapo’s eldest son, Édgar Guzmán, was gunned down in a supermarket parking lot in Culiacán, the spot now marked by a stone cross.

Following the footsteps of “El Chapo,” who staged two spectacular prison breaks and eluded capture multiple times, Iván Archivaldo dodged an imminent arrest in 2014 by dressing as a waiter and fleeing through the kitchen of a high-end seafood restaurant in Culiacán, government sources told a Mexican newspaper.
 

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“It will always be like this,” Iván Archivaldo said in an interview published last year in Belgian magazine Knack, when asked if there was a war between the cartel and the state.

“It is the government’s job to fight us, by mandate, they have to fight drug cartels,” he said, adding: “There’s a lot of people who protect me and my family.”

The Culiacán bloodshed explained.

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