The capture of drug lord Joaquin Guzman may lead to an escalation in violence in Mexico. The news of Guzman’s capture was greeted with almost universal praise from law enforcement officials on both sides of the United States-Mexico border. It was particularly significant for Mexican President Pena Nieto who quickly issued formal congratulations to Mexican security forces for their efforts. Guzman was the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most influential and dangerous groups operating in Mexico. The violence associated with drug smuggling and other cartel related activity is believed to have claimed the lives of at least 80,000 people in both the U.S. and Mexico over the past seven years.
The capture of such a significant figure will certainly impede the activities of the Sinaloa Cartel, but some experts are warning that it may actually lead to an increase of violence on the U.S.-Mexico border. There will now be a power struggle within the Sinaloa Cartel in order to establish new leadership for the organization. Such groups do not disintegrate simply due to the loss of a single leader, even one as powerful as Guzman. This power struggle could spark additional violence as local “kingpins” and others seek greater control of the overall organization.
The cartels have already demonstrated in the past that they are perfectly willing to terrorize civilian populations in order to achieve their goals. Should a power struggle emerge in Guzman’s absence, the citizens of Mexico may find themselves as the target. Kidnappings, beheadings, and other atrocities have become commonplace in Mexico over the past decade, and a power struggle within the Sinaloa Cartel may lead to a further increase in these tactics. It remains very possible that the capture of drug lord Joaquim Guzman may lead to an escalation of violence in Mexico.
Another factor that may lead to an increase in violence is competition between rival cartels. The Sinaloa Cartel itself did not begin as the powerful force that it became under Guzman’s leadership. The possibility exists that another smaller group will take advantage of the perceived weakness in the Sinaloa Cartel to assert itself as the new, dominant criminal organization in Mexico. Such an effort would require attacks not only against the existing Sinaloa infrastructure, but also against the Mexican government and law enforcement. As noted previously, these attacks will likely involve Mexican and American civilians.
A third and final factor that may lead to more violence is retaliatory attacks by the Sinaloa Cartel against Mexican and U.S. law enforcement. The cartel may seek revenge for the capture of Guzman and therefore target not only the police and the military, but civilians in Mexico as well. This would serve not only the purpose of revenge for their “fallen” leader, but it could also discourage potential rivals from assuming the Sinaloa Cartel is weakened and unable to continue in its position as the dominant cartel.
The capture of such a significant figure as Guzman certainly is good news for the state of Mexico. It has struggled with issues of legitimacy and corruption for years after the ascendance of the cartels. It may be premature to conclude that Guzman’s capture is an entirely positive development, however. It remains highly possible that the capture of this drug lord will instead lead to an escalation of violence in Mexico.
Editorial by Christopher V. Spencer