The widespread conspiracy theory in Mexico holds that the country's most powerful narco-syndicate, the Sinaloa Cartel, is being protected by the government and the DEA. Sinaloa operatives are occasionally busted, but kingpin Joaquin Guzman AKA "El Chapo" remains at large -- despite a multi-million dollar price on his head by both the Mexican and US governments.
The theory says that lower-level bosses are sacrificed for appearances' sake, while El Chapo has impunity. Last year there was a change of government in Mexico, with the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) voted out after 12 years in power and the government returning to the once-entrenched machine of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Many were wondering if the change would break up the suspected alliance between the government and El Chapo's network. Although there are some mixed signals, the general prognosis is negative.
Three apparent Sinaloa operatives -- accused of conspiring to distribute 1,000 kilograms of cocaine in the US and Europe -- now face trial in a federal court in Concord, New Hampshire, after being extradited from Spain. The men were apprehended in the Spanish port of Algeciras in August 2012 -- just after Mexico's elections. There's reason to believe these are high-level figures in the syndicate. One defendant, Manuel Jesús Gutiérrez Guzmán, has been identified as a cousin of El Chapo. Another, Rafael Humberto Celaya Valenzuela, had recently been a candidate for public office in San Luis Río Colorado, Sonora -- with the PRI.
The US Justice Department charges that the Sinaloa Cartel has repeatedly tried to buy high-powered weaponry, including surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank weapons, which suggests that Mexico's most powerful syndicate is seeking a quantum leap in its paramilitary capacity. This is presumably a bid to out-gun the Zetas, a rival narco-paramilitary network that controls much of Mexico's Gulf Coast (while the Sinaloa Cartel is most powerful on the Pacific coast). According to Mexico's El Universal, in three of 25 cases detailed, undercover agents with the US Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco (ATF) bureau managed to prevent Sinaloa operatives from procuring weapons -- including Stinger missiles. The arms trafficking cells reported busted by the ATF operated out of Texas, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico and California.
Despite all this activity, we still get only confused and elusive rumors about the whereabouts of El Chapo -- and even whether he is dead or alive. In February, Guatemala's Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez recanted his claim that Guzman had been killed in a clash with national police troops. Two Mexican traffickers were apparently killed in the clash at San Francisco village in remote Petén rainforest. Minister Lopez initially said that one of the dead "resembles El Chapo," but later said it was a "misunderstanding" and that he could not confirm that police forces were involved in the incident. Local villagers told the press that a shoot out began when a convoy of vehicles was attacked on a road through the jungle. Despite an open investigation, the incident has still not been clarified.