MEXICO CITY — The U.S. government is beefing up its search for high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel, including the brother of incarcerated kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.
The move comes as fentanyl overdoses in the U.S. continue to surge, and seizures in Mexico spike. Mexico’s criminal organizations are major producers of illegal fentanyl.
The State Department announced a new $5 million bounty for information leading to the arrest of Aureliano Guzmán Loera, known by his alias El Guano. The older brother of El Chapo is believed to control much of the territory in the Sinaloan sierra around the Guzmán Loera family's hometown of Badiraguato.
Along with El Guano, the U.S. announced similar rewards for three members of the Salgueiro Nevarez family who are alleged to be members of the Sinaloa Cartel. El Guano and the three Salgueiro Nevarez brothers—Ruperto, José, and Heriberto—are charged in U.S. indictments with international conspiracies related to the distribution of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl.
El Guano is reportedly three years older than El Chapo, although he maintained a much lower profile working below his younger sibling in the Sinaloa Cartel. After El Chapo’s 2016 arrest and extradition a few years later to the U.S., El Guano took on a more prominent role in the cartel. El Chapo’s sons, known as Los Chapitos, also expanded their presence in the criminal syndicate, and there have been reports of friction between El Guano and his nephews. Two videos of gunfights from March and April 2021 are believed to be between separate factions connected to El Guano and Los Chapitos, respectively. At least four of El Chapo's sons—Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, Joaquín Guzmán López, and Ovidio Guzmán López—are wanted by U.S. authorities as well.
The Salgueiro Nervarez brothers—also targeted in the unsealed indictment—reportedly hail from the Guadalupe y Calvo municipality in the south of Chihuahua state, near the border with Sinaloa. They have allegedly been longtime operators within the Sinaloa Cartel. In 2011, a fourth brother, Noel Salgueiro Nervarez aka El Flaco, was arrested by Mexican forces. Mexican authorities at the time stated that El Flaco Salgueiro was the founder and leader of a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel called the Gente Nueva, that operated under the orders of El Chapo Guzmán. El Flaco Salgueiro reportedly led the Sinaloa Cartel’s war at the time with members of the Juarez Cartel in the border state of Chihuahua prior to his arrest. El Flaco Salgueiro was extradited to the United States in 2019.
The unsealing of the indictments against El Guano Guzmán and the three Salgueiro Nevarez brothers came just days after the Mexican army made a massive drug bust in Culiacan, the capital city of Sinaloa. Mexican authorities shut down a laboratory on October 28 and arrested five alleged traffickers along with 260 pounds of pure fentanyl, a synthetic opioid about 50 times more potent than heroin. The Defense Department called the fentanyl seizure “the largest in history.”
Mexico reported the seizure of 1,225 kilos of fentanyl in the first nine months of 2021—a staggering increase compared to the 1,523 kilos seized in the previous two years combined.
The U.S. government has made other recent moves to escalate its hunt for Sinaloa Cartel members. In September, they unsealed a 2018 indictment against eight alleged Sinaloa Cartel members in the border state of Sonora for their involvement in the transportation and importation of methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl. That same day, the U.S. State Department announced that they had tripled the reward for infamous Sinaloa Cartel boss Ismael Zambada García, aka El Mayo, from $5 million to $15 million. El Mayo is alleged to have worked side by side with El Chapo for decades, but unlike his partner, he’s never been arrested.