MEXICO CITY — The U.S. government just offered a $5 million reward to anyone with information that could lead to the capture of each of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera’s sons.
Commonly known as Los Chapitos, the men are infamous for their brash and ostentatious behavior and displays on social media. One of them—Ovidio Guzmán López—was captured but released by the Mexican government in 2019 in an incident that proved a national embarrassment for the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The announcement from the Biden administration came on the heels of a similar bounty placed on the head of El Chapo’s brother, Aureliano Guzmán Loera aka Guano, and the tripling of the reward for his former Sinaloa Cartel partner Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada to $15 million.
After El Chapo’s arrest and extradition in 2017, his sons—Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar, Ovidio Guzmán López, and Joaquín Guzmán López—are believed to have become prominent leaders of a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel. The fresh bounty on each of their heads puts the young Guzmáns in a tier with some of Mexico's other most wanted criminals.
“All four are high-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel and are each subject to a federal indictment for their involvement in the illicit drug trade,” said the U.S. Department of State when announcing the reward.
The eldest brother, Iván Archivaldo, first made headlines in the early 2000s after the death of a Canadian exchange student in Guadalajara. Kristen Deyell left a nightclub with a man named César Pulido, who had reportedly been involved in a fight inside the club over the Canadian student. The two were ambushed outside and shot to death. Iván Archivaldo was the prime suspect and spent the next few years in and out of prison battling charges over the murder, along with money laundering and organized crime allegations. He was eventually freed in 2008 and Deyell and Pulido's murders remain unsolved.
Both Iván Archivaldo and his younger brother Jesús Alfredo started making waves for their use of social media, with unverified accounts linked to the brothers regularly posting photos and videos of guns, money, and women. But as the hunt for El Chapo increased during the mid-2010s, the sons tempered their social media use as they reportedly became more involved in the family business. The original accounts have been removed from Twitter.
El Chapo escaped prison in 2001, allegedly in a laundry cart, and ran the business while on the lam until finally being arrested in 2014. He escaped prison again in 2015, and was recaptured six months later. The kingpin was soon extradited to the U.S. and found guilty in 2019 in a New York court. El Chapo is currently serving a life sentence on drug, weapons, and money laundering charges at a Colorado supermax penitentiary.
With El Chapo's January 2016 arrest and extradition on the horizon, the power vacuum began to cause conflict between different factions within the Sinaloa Cartel, and other cartels also tried to take advantage of the situation. The fighting directly hit the brothers when Iván Archivaldo and Jesús Alfredo were kidnapped in August 2016 by members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG for its Spanish acronym). The brothers were released within a week after members of the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG reportedly brokered their release in exchange for guaranteeing the protection of the incarcerated son of Nemesio Oseguera, alias El Mencho, the boss of the CJNG.
But Los Chapitos truly entered the public consciousness after the arrest of a third Guzmán brother, Ovidio, in October 2019. Mexican soldiers attempted to arrest Ovidio in a house in Culiacán, the capital of the state of Sinaloa and family stronghold, but were soon fought off by cartel gunmen. Ovidio's brothers reportedly sent hundreds of cartel foot soldiers onto the streets of the city who engaged in hours of gunfights with state forces that left at least eight people dead and many injured. Cartel gunmen also entered a military housing complex and threatened the families of Mexican soldiers stationed in Sinaloa.
Mexican President López Obrador promptly ordered the release of Ovidio to stop the bloodshed, but his capture and release was seen as a sign of the state's inability to combat organized crime.
López Obrador answered questions about the bumbling of the 2019 arrest Thursday morning, the day after the U.S. rewards were announced, and said the government was committed to capturing Los Chapitos.
“We did not want more people to lose their lives,” López Obrador said at a press conference. “If we did well or did wrong, history will tell. I was the one who made the decision to stop the operation.”
Since the extradition of their father, Los Chapitos have been rumored to have engaged in conflicts not only with other cartels, but with other factions of the Sinaloa Cartel and even their uncle—El Guano.
El Guano, the elder brother of El Chapo, is believed to control much of the area surrounding the small town in the Sinaloan sierra where the Guzmán Loera family hails from. In November, the U.S. announced a $5 million dollar bounty on his head as well.
There have been reports of conflicts between El Guano and his nephews, Los Chapitos, with two videos of gunfights between the two factions emerging from March and April 2021. However, a source close to the Guzmán family told VICE World News that recently the uncle and nephews have buried the hatchet and are no longer feuding. VICE World News could not independently verify that claim.
But the family continues to make headlines.
On Wednesday, a video went viral of the alleged cousin of Los Chapitos and Guano's son—Aureliano Guzmán Araujo—firing a gun into the air inside a bar in Culiacán. He was reportedly detained afterward, then released by authorities.
The children of drug lords are commonly called Narco Juniors and have often tried to imitate the success of their parents in the criminal underworld. While all four of El Chapo's sons are believed to have become important players in the Sinaloa cartel, others haven't been so lucky. Another of El Chapo’s sons, Édgar Guzmán López, was gunned down in Culiacán in 2008 amid his father’s feud with the Beltrán Leyva faction of the Sinaloa cartel.
El Mayo Zambada, the long-time partner of El Chapo, has had three sons arrested and imprisoned for their involvement in the drug trade. El Mayo has gained fame for being able to maintain his status as one of the biggest drug traffickers in the world, and never being arrested. In October, the U.S. government tripled the bounty on his head from $5 million to $15 million, hoping to change that.
Keegan Hamilton contributed reporting.