Mexico: more Sinaloa Cartel kingpins busted —but still not El Chapo

Mexican federal police on Dec. 28 announced the arrest at Mexico City’s international airport of Luis Rodríguez Olivera AKA "El Guero" (Blondie)—a narcotics kingpin who has collaborated with various of Mexico's warring cartels, and who was indicted in US federal court in 2009. U.S. authorities offered a reward of up to $5 million for Rodríguez Olivera, who with his brother Esteban (extradited to the US in March) is accused of smuggling tons of cocaine and methamphetamine into the United States and Europe, mainly through Texas. In a statement, Mexican police said Rodríguez Olivera and his brothers led a gang called Los Gueritos (The Blondies) that formed temporary alliances with the Gulf Cartel and Zetas, but worked between 1996 and 2008 for the Sinaloa Cartel, the country's most powerful. He is being held until a hearing on a US extradition request. (BNO News, Dec. 29; AP, Reuters, Dec. 28)

Three days earlier, Mexico's Defense Secretariat announced the capture by military troops in Durango state of Felipe Cabrera Sarabia AKA "El Inge" (The Engineer)—allegedly regional operations chief for the Sinaloa Cartel in the states of Durango and Chihuahua. Authorities say his organization, the Cartel del Pacifico which was aligned with fugitive Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzmán AKA "El Chapo" and waged war against a breakaway Sinaloa faction known as the "Los Ms." Federal forces have found 14 mass graves containing 287 bodies in Durango state since April.

The notorious El Chapo, Mexico's top drug lord, is believed to be hiding in the mountains of Durango. Forbes magazine has included him on its list of the world’s richest men, reportedly worth more than $1 billion. He has eluded authorities since his 2001 escape from prison in a laundry truck, and has a $7 million price on his head. Authorities say he rules his criminal network from a remote redoubt in the Sierra Madre Occidental, protected by a private army of gunmen and the loyalty of local residents who refer to him as "El Señor"—The Lord.

Army spokesman Gen. Ricardo Trevilla, who announced the arrest of El Inge, offered no information about the hunt for El Chapo. He only said that Cabrera's capture "will affect the structure and leadership of the Sinaloa cartel." (AP, Univision,, Dec. 25)

After years of growing violence, Mexico's narco trade now appears divided into two great rival alliances—one dominated by the Zetas on the Gulf Coast, and one by the Sinaloa Cartel on the Pacific coast and in the Sierra Madre Occidental. Mexican federal forces—and even the DEA—are widely suspected of tilting to the Sinaloa Cartel in the bloody narco wars.

In a response to co-optation of local police, the Mexican navy is now taking over responsibility for law enforcement in one of the country's largest cities. But the move comes in Veracruz state—on the Zetas' turf. The entire 900-strong municipal police force of the Gulf Coast port of Veracruz-Boca del Rio Mexico has been disbanded. The move comes three months after 35 bodies were found dumped on a main road in the municipality, which includes part of the city of Veracruz. "All those who belong to the now defunct Veracruz-Boca del Rio force can join the police again once they have passed the tests of trustworthiness demanded by the national system of public security," said Veracruz state governor Javier Duarte. (BBC News, Dec. 21)

Following revelations of US complicity in trafficking arms to the Mexican cartels come new revelations of that undercover US agents have laundered or smuggled millions of dollars in drug proceeds. According to anonymous "current and former federal law enforcement officials" who spoke to the New York Times, the agents, primarily with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), "have handled shipments of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal cash across borders" in an ostensible effort "to identify how criminal organizations move their money, where they keep their assets and, most important, who their leaders are."

One source who spoke on the record was Michael S. Vigil, a former senior DEA official who currently works for a private contracting company called Mission Essential Personnel. He said, "We tried to make sure there was always close supervision of these operations so that we were accomplishing our objectives, and agents weren't laundering money for the sake of laundering money." An anonymous ex-DEA official said, "My rule was that if we are going to launder money, we better show results. Otherwise, the DEA could wind up being the largest money launderer in the business, and that money results in violence and deaths."

But the DEA clearly was a significant money launderer. The Times wrote that "the former officials said that federal law enforcement agencies had to seek Justice Department approval to launder amounts greater than $10 million in any single operation. But they said that the cap was treated more as a guideline than a rule, and that it had been waived on many occasions to attract the interest of high-value targets."

"They tell you they're bringing you $250,000, and they bring you a million," one anonymous ex-agent said of the traffickers. "What's the agent supposed to do then, tell them no, he can't do it? They'll kill him." (NYT, Dec. 3)

See our last post on Mexico's narco wars.