US authorities have launched a sweeping action against the Sinaloa Cartel, targeting its fentanyl trafficking operations and individuals connected to Chinese chemical firms. The four sons of the cartel’s notorious leader, Joaquin Guzman Loera, also known as “El Chapo”, were among those targeted. Ivan Guzman Salazar, Alfredo Guzman Salazar, Joaquin Guzman Lopez, and Ovidio Guzman Lopez were charged with fentanyl trafficking, weapons and money laundering, among other charges. Three of the sons remain at large, while Ovidio was arrested by Mexican authorities in January and is awaiting extradition to the US.
The US Attorney General Merrick Garland described the Sinaloa Cartel as the “largest, most violent, and most prolific fentanyl trafficking operation in the world”. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the indictments “target every element of the Sinaloa Cartel’s trafficking network” as part of a “relentless campaign to disrupt the production, distribution, and trafficking of fentanyl”.
The US government has identified fentanyl as the “leading cause of death for Americans ages 18 to 49”. Fatal overdoses have increased by about 94% between 2019 and 2021. The drug has fuelled an opioid epidemic in the country. The Sinaloa Cartel expanded into the fentanyl trade when El Chapo’s sons took over, according to US Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Anne Milgram. She said the Chapitos pioneered the manufacture and trafficking of the deadliest drug the country has ever faced and are responsible for the massive influx of fentanyl into the US.
Milgram detailed what she described as a brutal campaign by the Chapitos to boost business and “get Americans hooked”, including adding the drug to cocaine, heroin, or illegal methamphetamines, or disguising it as pills similar to prescription drugs. “To dominate the fentanyl supply chain, the Chapitos kill, kidnap and torture anyone who gets in the way,” Milgram said. “In Mexico, they fed their enemies alive to tigers, electrocuted them, waterboarded them, and shot them at close range with a 50-calibre machine gun.”
The DOJ indictments were accompanied by the latest series of sanctions against Chinese firms and individuals identified as chemical suppliers to fentanyl makers. The Department of the Treasury named two China-based firms that contributed or attempted to contribute to “activities or transactions that have materially contributed to, or pose a significant risk of materially contributing to, the international proliferation of illicit drugs or their means of production”. Ana Gabriela Rubio Zea, a Guatemala-based broker of the chemical precursor, was among those sanctioned. She was also charged in the DOJ indictment.
The Department of State announced rewards of up to $56m for information leading to the capture of the accused. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that the actions demonstrate the resolve of the US to promote accountability for criminals who perpetuate illicit fentanyl activity.