El Chapo May Be Out, But Little Has Changed in the Drug Trade

The infamous kingpin is back behind bars, but the drug trade hasn’t changed much in his absence.

By Alain StephensMarch 15, 2016 2:09 pm, ,

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is one of the most well-known drug kingpins in Mexico. He escaped a Mexican prison in 2014 and was recaptured earlier this year – this time to be extradited to the United States.

But this isn’t first time Mexican and US authorities have announced a crippling blow to the drug cartels. In fact, it seems that narrative is all too common. So will Guzmán’s capture have any impact at all on the drug trade?

Nathan Jones, a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University and an expert in cartel violence, says just because a kingpin with name recognition is behind bars doesn’t mean that operations within the Sinaloa Cartel will be much different.

“They have a lot of succession depth… Guzmán’s sons are widely reported to be taking on a larger role and have been taking on a larger role for quite some time,” Jones says. “I wouldn’t expect a huge disruption as a result.”

The arrest of El Chapo won’t likely cause a lot of destabilization within the organization, Jones says. While internal conflict could weaken the Sinaloa Cartel, there seem to be enough successors to take over the reigns.

“(There are) people who could fill in, and so I don’t expect a lot of infighting,” Jones says. “What I’m more concerned about is other cartels smelling weakness and trying to target the group.”

One of the biggest competitors, Jones says, is a newer cartel called Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación.

“They appear to be trying to make moves of late,” Jones says. “All the while, quietly there was this group … that had kind of been there moving drugs, you heard about them, you didn’t see much but you see kind of an uptick in violence in small-time retail drug distribution.”

Though El Chapo’s out of the game, drugs will still flow into the United States from Mexico, especially from up-and-coming cartels like the “relatively new” Jalisco cartel positioned to become more powerful in the trade, Jones says.

“A lot of analysts are saying they’re either the second most powerful, if not the most powerful group in Mexico,” he says.