03:38 GMT17 June 2021
Listen Live
    Latin America
    Get short URL

    Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has been found guilty of drug smuggling and faces life in a US supermax prison. Sputnik looks at the rise and fall of other Mexican cartel bosses.

    For years the Sinaloa Cartel's "jefe" (chief) had escaped justice in his native Mexico but on Tuesday, 12 February, El Chapo finally reached what appears to be the end of the road when a federal jury in New York convicted him on all 10 counts at his drug trafficking trial.

    After the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993, the Colombian cartels began losing ground to Mexican syndicates who had previously been no more than middlemen.

    Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo 

    Series Four of the popular Netflix show Narcos showed the rise of Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, known as El Padrino (The Godfather).

    Gallardo was born in Sinaloa — the same impoverished largely rural state as Guzman — and later episodes of Series Four showed El Chapo effectively working for him.

    ​Gallardo (played by Diego Luna in Narcos) began trafficking cannabis to the US. He was based in northern Mexico's biggest city and therefore his gang became known as the Guadalajara Cartel.

    He got his big break when he made contact with the Colombians and agreed to ship their cocaine to the US.

    But he was arrested in 1989 and eventually jailed for his involvement in the kidnap, torture and murder of Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, a DEA agent who had been a major thorn in the cartel's side.

    Benjamin and Ramon Arellano-Felix

    The Arellano-Felix brothers were originally employees of Gallardo, based in the border city of Tijuana.

    It was their job to store the cannabis and cocaine, hide it in various trucks and cars and get it over the border into California.

    But when Gallardo went into hiding after the death of Kiki Camarena, he began to lose his power and the Tijuana Cartel began to emerge, doing deals directly with the Colombians to source the cocaine.

    Benjamin, known as El Min, and his brother Ramon, began to introduce violent reprisals to scare their enemies.

    Ramon ordered the 1997 massacre in Ensenada of 12 relatives of a drug dealer who owed the cartel money.

    Live by the sword, die by the sword — Ramon was gunned down in Mazatlan in 2002 after being stopped by a Mexican police officer. It was later claimed that he had been set up by El Chapo.

    ​His brother was one of the first foreigners targeted by the US after the Kingpin Act was passed in 2000 and in March 2002 he was seized by the Mexican army when he made a secret trip to visit his eldest daughter.

    El Min was extradited to the US in 2011, pleaded guilty to racketeering the following year and will be eligible for parole in 2027.

    He is currently in a high security prison in Pennsylvania.

    Amado Carrillo Fuentes

    A cartel was founded in the border city of Ciudad Juarez — just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas — in the 1970s but it only became a major player in the early 1990s when it was run by Amado Carrillo Fuentes, a nephew of Don Neto, a Guadalajara Cartel boss.

    Carrillo Fuentes — played by actor Jose Maria Yazpik in Narcos — began to specialise in transporting drugs by air.

    He hired a fleet of planes and pilots to bring cocaine from South America and then took over the body at Juarez.

    ​This earned him the nickname El Señor de Los Cielos (The Lord of the Skies).

    But in July 1997, in a desperate attempt to disguise himself, he underwent extensive plastic surgery at a hospital in Mexico City.

    The two surgeons who had performed the secret operation were tortured to death in November 1997.

    His brother Vicente took over the Juarez Cartel but it rapidly lost power to rivals, such as the Sinaloa Cartel.

    Alfredo Beltran Leyva

    For years the Beltran Leyva brothers — Alfredo, Hector, Arturo and Carlos — worked as hired muscle for the Sinaloa Cartel.

    But in 2008 Alfredo — known as El Mochomo (The Desert Ant) was captured by the Mexican Army in the capital of Sinaloa, Culiacan.

    His brothers smelt a rat.

    ​They were convinced he had been set up by El Chapo and they decided to break away from the Sinaloa Cartel.

    Alfredo was extradited to the US in 2014 and three years later was jailed for life and ordered to cough up US$539 million.

    In 2009 Arturo and three associates were killed by Mexican commandos in Cuernavaca.

    Hector died of a heart attack in November 2018, as he awaited trial in a Mexican prison, and Carlos is also in jail in Mexico.

    Osiel Cárdenas Guillén 

    While most of the media's attention has been on Mexican drug cartel's based on the Pacific coast of the country, many of the trafficking routes are along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

    These routes date right back to the Prohibition era, when tequila, rum and other alcohol was smuggled into the US from Mexico.

    In the late 1980s Juan Garcia Abrego formed the Gulf Cartel and began bringing in a far more lucrative product — cocaine.

    ​He was captured in 1996 but Osiel Cardenas Guillen took over the cartel after assassinating a rival who had also been a close friend.

    It was Cardenas Guillen who made the fateful decision to go and recruit trained commandos from the Mexican Army's special forces, who were tempted to become mercenaries by the much higher wages on offer.

    They became known as Los Zetas. But more on them later.

    In March 2003 Cardenas Guillen was arrested after a shootout between Gulf Cartel gunmen and soldiers.

    Four years later he was extradited to the US and in 2010 he was jailed for 25 years in a locked courtroom.

    He remains in isolation in the world's most secure prison — the Florence ADX supermax jail in Colorado, which is the most likely destination for El Chapo.

    Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano

    Remember those ex-special forces troops who went to work for the Gulf Cartel?

    Well in February 2010 Los Zetas — which means literally The Z's — decided to stop following orders and form their own cartel.

    They based themselves in Nuevo Laredo — right opposite the Texan city of Laredo — and upped the violence as they sought to gain the upper hand over their former employers.

    The three founders of Los Zetas were Arturo Guzmán Decena or Z1, Rogelio González Pizaña (Z2) and Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano (Z3).

    ​Z1 was gunned down in 2002, aged just 26, and Z2 was assassinated by the Gulf Cartel in 2015, aged 41.

    But it was Z3 who was to be the most influential leader of Los Zetas.

    Known as "El Verdugo" (The Executioner), he revelled in torture and was known to feed his victims to pet lions and tigers he kept on his ranch in Tamaulipas state.

    Lazcano ordered many others to be decapitated and also disposed of others in acid baths.

    Unlike many cartel leaders, who seemed to have been motivated by greed, Lazcano's main motivation seemed to be power.

    In 2012 he died in a shootout with Mexican Navy commandos.

    Few mourned his death.

    Ismael Zambada

    Last but not least is the man who, according to El Chapo and his lawyers, is the real leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.

    Throughout El Chapo's trial his attorneys insisted he had been set up by Ismael Zambada García, a shadowy figure known as El Mayo.

    Undated handout photograph of drug lord Joaquin El Chapo Guzman distributed by Mexico's Attorney General's Office July 13, 2015.
    © REUTERS / PGR - Attorney General's Office/
    Undated handout photograph of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman distributed by Mexico's Attorney General's Office July 13, 2015.

    "He's blamed for being the leader while the real leaders are living freely and openly in Mexico. In truth he controlled nothing. Mayo Zambada did," El Chapo's attorney Jeffrey Lichtman said at the start of the trial.

    El Mayo, who is now 71, is a former farmer who worked for both the Guadalajara Cartel and the Juarez Cartel before setting up the Sinaloa Cartel with El Chapo (Shorty).

    While Guzman enjoyed the spotlight, El Mayo stayed in the background.

    His brother Jesus "El Rey" (The King) Zambada was captured in 2008 and his son Vicente testified against El Chapo at his trial.


    Mexican Drug Lord El Chapo Found Guilty by NY Jury
    El Chapo Accused of Paedophilia, Poisoning Underage Girls With Drugs
    ‘Sweetheart Deals’: El Chapo’s Lawyer Says Case Built on Testimonies of ‘Liars’
    El Chapo Once Escaped Through Tunnel Under Bathtub While Naked, Mistress Says
    smuggling, cocaine, cannabis, drugs, Sinaloa Cartel, El Chapo, US, Colombia, Mexico
    Community standardsDiscussion