Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
The botched and bloody Mexican operation to capture one of El Chapo’s sons Thursday puts the international spotlight on the drug kingpin’s grown children, who’ve taken on key roles in the Sinaloa Cartel since their father’s been behind bars.
Culiacán, a stronghold of the cartel, broke out in violence Thursday as Mexican authorities captured 28-year-old Ovidio Guzmán López — who’s wanted in both Mexico and the United States — and then released him amid a full-scale shootout with cartel members in broad daylight that left cars burning and civilians running for cover.
The local cops reportedly stumbled upon Ovidio at a Culiacán house and moved in to try to capture him without military support, and were ill-prepared for the firefight that ensued, said Mexico’s top army general. Another of Chapo’s sons, Iván Archivaldo Guzmán, was also rumored to have been captured and released, but his situation remains unconfirmed amid the chaos.
Ovidio and Ivan are just two of Chapo’s sons, known collectively as “Los Chapitos” — or “Los Menores,” The Minors — who’ve become targets for U.S. and Mexican authorities. The Department of Justice charged Ovidio and Joaquín Guzman López with drug trafficking in February and have been trying to track them down ever since.
El Chapo has a lot of sons: The official count is 15, but up to 24 people are rumored to be his offspring. Most of them aren't in the cartel business, but at least four are said to be key players — and they’ve been continuously staving off challenges to their power since their dad’s imprisonment. They’re thought to control the local drug trade in Culiacán, Mazatlán, Guamúchil, and other Sinaloan cities, and they use groups of gunmen, notably one called “Los Demonios,” or the Demons, to enforce their rule.
Still, the top dog in the cartel remains Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada García, who ran it in partnership with Chapo.
“When Chapo Guzmán was extradited to the U.S., the Chaptios wanted to manage the Sinaloa Cartel, but they were prevented from doing so by Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada because he knew that the cartel would be decimated,” Mike Vigil, the former chief of International Operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, told VICE News.
“Gúzman’s sons have never gotten their hands dirty. They were very good at spending their father’s money buying luxurious cars, gold-plated AK-47s, running around with girlfriends,” he added. “They don’t really have the respect of the rank-and-file of the Sinaloa Cartel.”
Here’s what you need to know about Los Chapitos.
Ovidio Guzmán López
Nicknamed “El Ratón” (the mouse), the child of Chapo’s second marriage is at the center of the Culiacán mayhem, reportedly captured by authorities. He’s been wanted for years.
After the cartel opened fire on authorities in the streets, the Mexican government deemed the threat of violence to civilians too high. And they let him go.
Iván Archivaldo Guzmán
He’s El Chapo’s eldest son at 39 years old, a key Chapito who’s reportedly been trying to wrest power from former Sinaloa Cartel leaders, some of whom are now the Chapitos’ rivals.
There were conflicting reports Friday about whether he’d been captured in the raid that ensnared brother Ovidio.
Ivan and another brother, Alfredo, were briefly taken hostage by the rival Jalisco New Generation cartel while their dad was still running the show from prison in 2016.
Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar
Generally referred to as Alfredo or “Alfredillo,” he’s on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s most wanted list, the only one of Chapo’s kids to have that distinction.
He’s believed to be running parts of the cartel with brother Iván. And he’s not doing it humbly.
Afredo’s become known for his lavish lifestyle, which he flaunts without reservation on social media, despite being one of the DEA’s most wanted. He was reportedly partying a lot rather than taking his drug trafficking job seriously while being groomed to take a leadership role in the cartel when he was kidnapped by the Jalisco New Generation cartel in 2016 with Iván.
Joaquín Guzmán López
Little is known about Joaquín. He’s kept a relatively low profile compared to his brothers, but he does appear to be directly involved in cartel operations.
The Department of Justice charged him, along with Iván, with drug trafficking back in February.
Correction 10/19 7:11 p.m.: A previous version of this article included a photo of a man the Mexican marines incorrectly identified as Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar in 2012. It has been replaced.
Keegan Hamilton contributed reporting.
Cover: Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar (Image via DEA's "most wanted fugitives" list)