“El Chapo”‘s escape likely to change cocaine trafficking system

After the recent escape of Sinaloa cartel boss, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, from a maximum security prison located on the outskirts of Mexico City, the Mexican drug trafficking structure is likely to reconfigure. Mainly known for trafficking drugs from Mexico to the US, Guzman and the Sinaloa cartel have wide connections reaching Central and South America, with Colombia at the top of the list.

In the past, the close connections of the Sinaloa cartel with the narco-groups of the Rastrojos, the Libertadores de Vichada and with the guerrilla movement of the FARC could guarantee the passage of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico. Nevertheless, with the beginning of the peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government and the weakening of the old narco-families, Guzman’s organisation had reportedly started buying drug franchises from the FARC and becoming more involved in the earlier stages of cocaine production – even establishing and managing processing laboratories on the border between Colombia and Ecuador. In fact, following the increasing success of law enforcement operations, the quality of cocaine reaching Mexico has reportedly decreased. With deeper and more direct participation in the processes of cocaine production, the cartel could thus limit the number of intermediaries in cocaine transport and smuggle, assuring the delivery of a high-quality product.

Following the arrest of El Chapo in 2014, the Sinaloa cartel has suffered a lack of clarity over its organisation. Although cocaine trafficking remained central to the cartel’s business, the narcos started diversifying, increasingly engaging in the smuggling and traffic of methamphetamines and other synthetic drugs and decreasing their presence in Colombia. Moreover, Colombian groups have been deepening their relations with criminal bands operating in Central America, taking control of drug routes once dominated by the Sinaloa cartel. With the return of El Chapo, the Sinaloa cartel is likely to regain stability, as Guzmán was not so much the boss of bosses as the highest profile figure in a triumvirate of veterans that once was the cartel’s leadership. Accordingly, changes are also likely to occur  in the Colombian drug trafficking establishment.