The Sinaloa Cartel was dealt another blow when one of its top bosses – José Guadalupe Tapia Quintero – was arrested near Culiacán early on January 9 by Mexico’s National Guard with the Army’s help, said the Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA) to EL PAÍS. According to the US Treasury Department, Tapia Quintero (alias “El Lupe”) has been one of the top logistical operators since 2014 for the group led by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, one of the two most powerful factions of the Sinaloa Cartel. Zambada’s organization competes directly with Los Chapitos, the faction led by the sons of Zambada’s former partner, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, who is serving a life sentence in a US prison.
In a January 2014 statement, the US Treasury Department described “El Lupe” as a “senior lieutenant” of the Sinaloa Cartel for “his role in the drug trafficking activities of Ismael ‘Mayo’ Zambada García and for playing a significant role in international drug trafficking… Tapia Quintero is responsible for coordinating the purchase and transportation of cocaine and methamphetamine from Sinaloa into the US, specifically Arizona and California, on a monthly basis.”
The US Treasury Department statement also said Tapia Quintero transports methamphetamine on behalf of a drug trafficking cell affiliated with Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera from Sinaloa to Tijuana, Baja California, via tractor-trailers. El Chapo was arrested a year later and extradited to the United States, where he is serving his prison sentence. His arrest started a war between the two most powerful factions of the Sinaloa Cartel. Los Chapitos or Los Menores (The Kids) is led by three of Guzmán’s sons, Iván Archivaldo, Jesús Alfredo and Ovidio. The competing faction is led by “El Mayo” Zambada, a longtime Mexican drug trafficker and the only major narco who has never spent time in prison, even though he is now over 70 years old.
According to local press reports, “El Lupe” was arrested in his hometown of Tacuichamona on the outskirts of Culiacán, one of the cartel’s nerve centers. In August 2022, Mexican authorities arrested his son, Heibar Josué Tapia, who was also involved in the criminal organization. According to Mexico news outlet Milenio, Sinaloa’s governor, Rubén Rocha Moya (MORENA party), confirmed that the drug lord is being held in Mexico City and expressed relief that his capture was more peaceful than the January arrest of Ovidio Guzmán.
Ovidio’s arrest unleashed a violent cartel response in Culiacán. They burned hundreds of vehicles, shot up the streets and threw up narco-blockades in scenes reminiscent of urban warfare. It was not the first attempt at arresting Ovidio. In 2019, on a day the locals called “Black Thursday” or “Culiacanazo,” Mexican authorities decided to release “El Chapo’s” son after a few hours in captivity to halt the escalating violence of his underlings.
Ovidio Guzmán’s arrest caused many to suspect that the authorities favored the elusive “El Mayo,” who supposedly has been hiding out for years in the Sinaloa highlands. Tapia Quintero’s arrest seems to have balanced things out. Thousands of miles away, in a New York court, Genaro García Luna is on trial for his drug trafficking role. The former Minister of Public Security during the Felipe Calderón administration (2006-2012) was one of the architects of Mexico’s war on drugs but now stands accused of being a paid collaborator of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The highest-ranking Mexican government official to be tried in the US, García Luna, faces three counts of drug trafficking and charges of organized crime and making false statements. Edgar Veytia (alias “El Diablo”), a former Nayarit state prosecutor and convicted drug trafficker, testified during the trial that García Luna and Calderón ordered protection for “El Chapo” and his collaborators at a time when Zambada and Guzmán were in the midst of a drug war with other Mexican narcos.
According to Milenio, “El Lupe” used several transportation and moving companies as fronts to traffic drugs across the border. These companies are now under investigation. Tapia Quintero was a former municipal police officer who used his position to reach the top rungs of the Sinaloa Cartel hierarchy. A court of law will now determine his future. Still, it remains to be seen whether he will be tried in Mexico or the US, like many of his former associates and García Luna.
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