Sun, Apr 11, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Sinaloa cartel winning Juarez turf

TRAFFICKINGSince ‘El Chapo’ Guzman escaped from prison a decade ago, the Sinaloa cartel has strengthened and is thought to control key smuggling routes to the US

AP , CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO

After a two-year battle that has killed more than 5,000 people, Mexico’s most powerful kingpin now controls the coveted trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez. That conclusion by US intelligence adds to evidence that Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel is winning Mexico’s drug war.

The assessment was made based on information from confidential informants with direct ties to Mexican drug gangs and other intelligence, said a US federal agent who sometimes works undercover, insisting on anonymity because of his role in ongoing drug investigations.

The agent said those sources have led US authorities to believe that the Sinaloa cartel has edged out the rival Juarez gang for control over trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez, ground zero in the drug war.

Other officials corroborated pieces of the assessment. Andrea Simmons, an FBI spokeswoman in El Paso, confirmed that the majority of drug loads arriving from Juarez now belong to Guzman. Mexican federal police chief Facundo Rosas said that while authorities are still working to confirm the US assessment, “these are valid theories. If you control the city [Ciudad Juarez], you control the drugs,” the federal agent said. “And it appears to be Chapo.”

The twin border cities of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas, are a primary crossing point for drugs smuggled into the US.

Control of drug routes in Chihuahua, the state along New Mexico and west Texas where Juarez is located, is vital to Guzman’s efforts to grow his massive drug cartel’s operations.

Already, the Sinaloa cartel is the world’s largest, and Guzman last year made Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s top billionaires.

His cartel moved in on the city in 2008 in an attempt to wrest it from the Juarez cartel led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes. The fighting prompted Mexican President Felipe Calderon to send thousands of army troops to the city, but the fighting has killed more than 5,000 people, making Juarez one of the world’s deadliest cities.

A Guzman victory may not immediately halt the gang warfare in Juarez’s streets. But those gangs “are fighting over crumbs. They’re fighting over the retail sales in Juarez,” Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said.

And the US agent warned that Carrillo Fuentes is unlikely to give up the fight entirely as long as he is alive and free.

The Sinaloa cartel has grown steadily more powerful since Guzman escaped from a Mexican federal prison a decade ago by hiding in a laundry truck, even as successive Mexican governments — including that of Calderon — have faced accusations that they have not pursued the Sinaloa cartel as aggressively as other gangs.

“We’ve certainly seen them get stronger,” said a US law enforcement official in Mexico, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security reasons. “The Sinaloa cartel is “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world.”

Several of Guzman’s rival kingpins have been taken down by Calderon’s intensified, military-led crackdown on drug trafficking, including Arturo Beltran Leyva, who was killed in a shootout with Mexican marines in December, a year after his gang is believed to have split with the Sinaloa cartel.

At a news conference on Friday, Calderon insisted his government “fights all the criminal groups that operate in the country equally.”

The Sinaloa cartel has been steadily moving in on the lucrative smuggling routes into the US, which consumes more drugs than any other country.

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