When one considers the capture of a Most-Wanted Drug Lord, one may imagine a blaze of glory. Like, have you seen Scarface? In the case of Joaquín Guzmán Loera—known as El Chapo, meaning “Shorty”—who has repeatedly evaded apprehension for over thirteen years since escaping from prison, there was no such blaze of glory in his arrest. The operation, known as Operation Dark Water, makes this whole arrest seem badass. No shots were fired, but violence ensued. El Chapo appeared to have a minor cut on his face.

Image courtesy of Adb Allah Foteih © 2014, some rights reserved

Image courtesy of Adb Allah Foteih © 2014, some rights reserved

El Chapo is world renowned for presiding over a transnational, multibillion-dollar empire, the Sinaloa Cartel, which was responsible for providing almost fifty percent of all cocaine and marijuana to the United States of America.[1] El Chapo revels in legendary status due to the prolonged mystery of his whereabouts, with rumours putting him in Guatemala, Argentina, the United States, and Bolivia. El Chapo maintained a secure spot on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people since 2009. He was known to pick up the tab for entire restaurants so his whereabouts would be kept secret. Furthermore, he apparently employed an entourage of 300-armed guards.[2] The man, the myth, the legend – and the bust. This article hopes to explore the implications of his arrest and the “targeting-up” method of organized crime control, while providing strange facts about the mysterious life of El Chapo.

Sinaloa Cartel is internationally considered to be the biggest and mightiest drug trafficking organization in the world, leading to the United States putting a $5 million bounty on information leading to the capture of El Chapo. The United States hoped that with his arrest, the organisation would experience a major blow, leading to decreased flow of drugs into the country. The following definition of organised crime has proved very useful:

Organized crime is the product of a self-perpetuating criminal conspiracy to wring exorbitant profits from our society by any means—fair and foul, legal and illegal. Despite personnel changes, the conspiratorial entity continues. It is a malignant parasite, which fattens on human weakness. It survives on fear and corruption. By one or another means, it obtains a high degree of immunity from law. It is totalitarian in its organization.[3]

This definition provides a series of characteristics of an organized criminal group: specialisation in market-based crimes, hierarchical and lasting structure, use of violence and corruption to achieve and maintain a monopoly, high profits, and capital flow into the legal economy. Combating organised crime has been a thorn in the side of the legal system in the United States for many years. Significant public concern in 1960s America inspired the government to launch a three-tiered response to the issue known as the Organized Crime Control Act (1970), which included the Bank Secrecy Act, the Continuing Criminal Enterprises Act, and the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Statue (RICO). The last act, RICO, allowed for the charging of criminal syndicates not only for crimes they committed, but also for crimes they ordered, giving it a reputation as the Kingpin Law.[4]

Furthermore, RICO allowed for major class action suits against individuals. RICO is a clear example of what was called the “targeting-up” method of dealing with organised crime. It refers to the act of going after kingpins, instead of wasting time on the lowest rung of an organised criminal group. This method has proved unsuccessful and has been ultimately replaced by a “follow the money” strategy. A change in the nature of organised criminal groups is what made this policy unsuccessful. Where criminal groups used to be hierarchical, the transnational nature of business has widened the formal, ethnically similar pyramid-structure to include members of all nationalities as a way to expand the market. It is for this reason that the arrest of El Chapo is even less dramatic than we imagined. In an organized criminal group, several well-trained replacements are built into the structure for preparations sake. In other words, the nature of organized crime has changed to allow for several kingpins, as opposed to just one terrifying leader. I believe that in the case of the Sinaloa Cartel, this means that a new leader will assume his position seamlessly, allowing for business as usual. Professor George Grayson at the College of William and Mary agrees with me, offering that: “The takedown of Chapo Guzmán is a thorn in the side of the Sinaloa Cartel, but not a dagger in its heart.”[5]

The kicker of this arrest is simple: authorities seized a significant arsenal of weaponry from his property—finding 97 large guns, 36 handguns, 2 grenade launchers, a rocket launcher, and 43 vehicles (some armored). This man took self-preservation very seriously, calling into question how not a single shot was fired at his arrest. While I do not believe his arrest will seriously affect the everyday operations of the Sinaloa Cartel, I do think this is a symbolic win for the Mexican police and marines, and the United States’ own Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Ultimately, the business of the cartel transcends their mysterious leader, has become highly efficient in trafficking drugs and has formed many alliances with other organized criminal groups, such as Cosa Nostra in Sicily. The Sinaloa Cartel in this way mirrors a legitimate firm: they have diversified their practice, have a solid base of subcontractors, and can operate easily outside the formal bounds of the state and the economy. Fortunately for El Chapo, he was apprehended not long after throwing a magnificent party in Mazatlán. If his arrest is anything to go on, that party probably wasn’t even fun.


[1] Keefe, Patrick Radden. “Cocaine Incorporated.” The New York Times. 15 June, 2012.

[2] Archibold, Randal C. and Ginger Thompson. “El Chapo, Most-Wanted Drug Lord, Is Captured in Mexico.” The New York Times. 22 February, 2014.

[3] Combating Organized Crime: A Report of the 1965 Oyster Bay, New York, Conferences on Combating Organized Crime. Albany, NY: Office of the Counsel to the Governor, 1966.

[4] Naylor, R. T. Wages of Crime: Black Markets, Illegal Finance, and the Underworld Economy. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2002. 16.

[5] Archibold, Randal C. and Ginger Thompson. “El Chapo, Most-Wanted Drug Lord, Is Captured in Mexico.” The New York Times. 22 February, 2014.