The US is offering $20 million for El Chapo's sons, but they're not the only 'narcojuniors' on the rise in Mexico's most powerful cartel

The US is offering $20 million for El Chapo's sons, but they're not the only 'narcojuniors' on the rise in Mexico's most powerful cartel
·6 min read
El Chapo Guzman home town
A roast chicken restaurant near the main plaza of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's hometown in Sinaloa state, July 17, 2015.REUTERS/Roberto Armenta
  • In December, the US government announced a reward of up to $5 million apiece for four of "El Chapo" Guzmán's sons.

  • It's the US's highest offer for the group known as Los Chapitos, who have taken on larger roles in the Sinaloa Cartel.

  • But they are only a few of the "narcojuniors" who are rising to power in Mexico's biggest criminal group.

Sinaloa, MEXICO — The US government is offering up to $5 million apiece for information leading to the capture of four of jailed kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's sons.

After the elder Guzmán's arrest in January 2016 and extradition to the US a year later, the sons known as "Los Chapitos" — Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, 38, Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, 38, Ovidio Guzmán López, 31, and Joaquín Guzmán López, 35 — have taken larger leadership roles in the cartel.

This is the first time the US has offered a reward of $5 million for each of the sons. The US announcement accuses them of being "high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel."

The Guzmán-Salazar brothers have "expanded their enterprise with sophisticated fentanyl laboratories" and increased their use of maritime and air transportation for smuggling, according to the US State Department.

El Chapo
Guzmán is escorted from a plane in New York during his extradition to the US in January 2017.AP

The Guzmán-López brothers have "high-level command and control roles" in a faction of the cartel and oversee roughly 11 labs in Sinaloa state that the US says produce 3,000 pounds to 5,000 pounds of meth a month, according to the US.

Iván Archivaldo is also well known for showing off cars, money, and ostentatious belongings on social media. Ovidio gained international notoriety in 2019 after Mexican authorities attempted to arrest him, prompting cartel retaliation that led to his release.

"Other information indicates that Ovidio Guzmán-López has ordered the murders of informants, a drug trafficker, and a popular Mexican singer who had refused to sing at his wedding," the reward offer says.

Operating out of Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa state and the cartel's home turf, the Guzmans are the most notorious of Mexico's cartel scions, but a new litter of "narcojuniors" is rising alongside them.

A family affair

Sinaloa cartel leadership chart
A November 2015 Sinaloa Cartel leadership chart with "El Chapo" Guzmán and two of his sons, Ivan Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar and Jesus Alfredo Guzmán Salazar.US Treasury Department

While all eyes have been on Los Chapitos, sons of other notorious Sinaloa drug lords are believed to be behind the cartel's operations.

Last week, a video of a shootout in a popular Culiacan club, called Casanova, put El Chapo's nephew, Aureliano Guzmán Araujo, in the spotlight.

The video shows several men opening fire inside the club. One man who appears to be Guzmán Araujo aims at another man but fires into the ceiling after a third man pulls his hands up. Behind him, another man fires on another man who then drops to the floor.

Guzmán Araujo is the son of Aureliano Guzmán Loera and is known to be a violent member of a new group of leaders in the cartel, according to sources in Culiacán.

The elder Aureliano, nicknamed "El Guano," is El Chapo's brother and is believed to be vying for control of the cartel. Guzmán Araujo is also known as El Guanillo, a diminutive form of his father's nickname.

"El Guanillo is very violent. He's known for several killings inside clubs and [for] ordering people killed around Culiacán," a source in the city told Insider, requesting anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

Mexico Sinaloa cartel Ovidio Guzman
Ovidio Guzman Lopez during his brief capture on October 17, 2019.Mexican government

At the club, Guzmán Araujo "aimed for the head of the man he was fighting against, but another friend of his lifted his hand," the source said. "Otherwise he would've killed that man, not giving a fuck in front of everyone."

The US has offered a $5 million reward for Aureliano Guzmán Loera, accusing him of running a faction of the cartel responsible for producing and transporting poppy, marijuana, heroin, fentanyl, meth, and cocaine.

"These juniors, sons of the Guzmans but also descendants of other drug bosses, are using their names to operate openly in Sinaloa without any consequence," the source in Culiacán said. "They are a new litter, smarter but also more violent. They grew up around guns and killings, and it's showing."

Another so-called narcojunior, as members of the generation are known, is Jesús Alfredo Beltrán Guzmán, who is known as "El Mochomito" after his father, Sinaloa Cartel associate-turned-rival Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, who was called "El Mochomo."

El Mochomito, who is also El Chapo's nephew, was freed from a Mexican prison without fanfare in September after serving five years of a 10-year sentence for drug trafficking.

Sources say the sons of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, a shadowy figure considered a peer to El Chapo, are also part of a new crop of leaders in Sinaloa.

After Ismael Zambada Imperial, known as "Mayito Gordo," was convicted in April, his half-brother, Ismael Zambada Sicairos, known as "Mayito Flaco" or "Caballero," stepped up to help his father run the strongest of the cartel's factions.

Sinaloa cartel leaders El Chapo Guzman El Mayo Zambada
A US Justice Department chart of Sinaloa Cartel leadership, including "El Mayo" Zambada, "El Chapo" Guzmán and several of their sons.US Justice Department

"El Mayito Flaco is his dad's right-hand. Contrary to the Guzmán family, he also keeps a low profile, but his name is very respected here in Culiacán. Whenever he is seen in the city he travels with a lot of security," the source in Culiacán said.

Another Zambada son, Serafín Zambada Ortiz, also known as "El Sera," was captured by the DEA in November 2013 in Nogales, Arizona. He was released in 2018. El Sera is a US citizen, but his whereabouts are unknown, although a source inside the cartel said he is active in the organization.

The Zambadas "are very shadowy," the source said, and it is "really unknown where they are, although their names keep popping up as being everywhere."

"We receive orders from the viejón [El Mayo Zambada] through radios, and sometimes we hear about his sons helping in operations around the [US] border," the source added.

New fighting in an old war

Culiacan Sinaloa Mexico mural violence
A woman walks by a mural that reads, in Spanish, "wave of violence and blood" in Culiacan, May 15, 2008.AP Photo/Guillermo Arias

Mexican media reported in late 2020 that more than 17 factions were fighting for control of the Sinaloa Cartel, generally considered one of the most powerful criminal groups in the world.

Another source within the cartel told Insider that the Guzmán Loera family is already fighting El Mayo's family in some parts of Mexico.

Mexico has worked closely with the US for decades to capture or kill cartel leaders. That approach has caused many major cartels to splinter, and the number of armed groups in Mexico has proliferated as a result.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been critical of that strategy and has tried to move away from a confrontational approach to the drug war.

At his daily press conference on the day the rewards were announced, López Obrador said that if Los Chapitos were in Mexico, Mexico should capture them.

It is "our responsibility to capture them, and we will not allow any foreign enforcement to act against this issue or any other," Lopez Obrador said.

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