The arrest on Saturday morning of the Sinaloa cartel’s front man, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, was not just a victory for the Mexican government. It foretold the end of the mafia-esque era of “old school” drug cartels that characterized several decades in the history of Mexican drug trafficking. The future narco landscape is now littered with roughly 80 smaller gangs and mini cartels that are fighting to the death for their share of the multi-billion dollar illegal drug business.
Cartels like the Sinaloa Federation formerly run by El Chapo were a family business in the 1980s and 1990s. All of them go back to one main drug trafficking organization in Mexico known as the Guadalajara cartel. It was split up into a few pieces in 1987, and its remnants still exist today as the Tijuana, Juárez, and Sinaloa cartels. The Gulf cartel in the northeast corner of Mexico developed independently at around the same time frame, but is a shadow of its former self, much like the Tijuana and Juárez cartels.
The two bulwarks remaining today are Guzmán’s organization and Los Zetas, a group that started out as a private army for the Gulf cartel, but then went independent in 2010 as drug traffickers and bloodthirsty killers willing to target innocent people in their greedy quest for profits. But even Los Zetas, as large and powerful as they are, have started to show some major cracks, and the Sinaloa Federation has been hit particularly hard by the Mexican government in recent weeks.
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