El Chapo's kidnapped sons have been released, reports say

The unconfirmed reports go some way to easing fears of the imminent outbreak of a major war — either within factions of the Sinaloa cartel, or between this group and the rapidly expanding Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
August 22, 2016, 8:40pm
Gouvernement fédéral mexicain via AP

The abducted sons of the incarcerated leader of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, have been released, according to reports from the group's bastion in the Pacific state of Sinaloa.

The authorities had confirmed that gunmen kidnapped Alfredo Guzmán from a high-end restaurant in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta a week ago, along with five other men. They have not confirmed or denied the widespread version of events that claims the victims also included Alfredo's elder brother Iván, who is reputed to be El Chapo's chosen successor to run the trafficking organization he left behind when he was recaptured in January.

The authorities, who blamed the abduction on the rapidly expanding Jalisco New Generation Cartel, have also not commented on the newest reports that all six kidnap victims have now been released unharmed.

The first one appeared in the reputable Rio Doce newspaper based in the Sinaloan capital of Culiacán on Saturday. The paper's director, Ismael Bojórquez, said on Monday that the version came from three separate credible sources. He gave more details in a column published on Monday in which he said the release came thanks to negotiations headed by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada.

Now in his late 60s, El Mayo Zambada is a long-time ally of El Chapo and one of the very few veteran drug lords associated with Sinaloa who are still alive, and not behind bars.

The leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, aka El Mencho, belongs to the new generation of kingpins who are reputedly less cautious about provoking the kind of turf wars that are currently raging around the country.

El Mencho founded the cartel around 2010 and quickly turned it into one of the largest criminal organizations in the country. The cartel maintained close connections to the Sinaloa cartel for several years, before recently making incursions into their territory.

A well-informed source in Sinaloa — who said he also had information that Alfredo and Iván were both kidnapped and both released and that El Mayo played a key role in the negotiation — said the abduction of Chapo's sons also involved the faction of the Sinaloa cartel led by Dámaso López, known as "El Mini Lic." The source requested that their name not be printed for fear of reprisals for speaking to the media about internal cartel matters.

El Mini Lic is the son of Dámaso López Sr., a long time partner of El Chapo who is alleged to have been instrumental in his first escape from maximum-security prison in 2001 — this came 13 years before the infamous drug lord was first recaptured and held for 17 months before he escaped again in July 2015.

El Mini Lic is believed to have emerged as a direct challenger to the efforts of Guzmán's sons to lay claim on their father's trafficking legacy now that he is awaiting almost certain extradition, and is very unlikely to escape for a third time.

The source said the alliance also involved the Carrillo Fuentes trafficking clan. The Carrillo Fuentes family, another of the Sinaloa criminal dynasties, lost a particularly vicious turf war to El Chapo's Sinaloa cartel in the border city of Juárez at the turn of the decade.

This Monday, Radio Fórmula also reported the release of Chapo's sons citing unnamed members within the family, as well as sources in the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

The kidnapping of at least one of Chapo's sons triggered concern about the imminent outbreak of a major war — either within factions of the Sinaloa cartel, or between this group and the rapidly expanding Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The reported release appears to be easing some of those fears.

Jo Tuckman contributed to this report

Related: El Chapo's legacy hangs in the balance after his son's abduction

Follow Nathaniel Janowitz on Twitter: @ngjanowitz