The leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel has suffered a new setback. José Guadalupe Tapia Quintero, one of the highest-ranking bosses of the criminal group, has been arrested near Culiacán during the early hours of this Thursday in a National Guard operation with the support of the Army, as confirmed by the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena).
Tapia Quintero, alias El Lupe, has been considered by the United States Department of the Treasury since 2014 as the main logistics manager for the organization led by Ismael El Mayo Zambada, one of the two strongest factions of the cartel, in conflict with the Chapitos: the children of Zambada’s former partner, Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, sentenced to life imprisonment by US justice.
The US Department of the Treasury described El Lupe on January 16, 2014, as a “senior lieutenant” of the Sinaloa Cartel for “his role in the drug trafficking of Ismael El Mayo Zambada” and for “playing a significant role in international drug trafficking”, reads a statement from the US government.
“Tapia Quintero oversees the transportation of cocaine and marijuana for the Zambada organization and is responsible for coordinating the acquisition and transportation of cocaine and methamphetamine from Sinaloa to the United States, specifically Arizona and California, on a monthly basis,” the document continues.
In that statement, the agency also identified Tapia Quintero as an operator for “a cell affiliated with Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán,” which moved methamphetamine from Sinaloa to Tijuana and Baja California hidden inside trailers. A year later, in 2015, El Chapo was arrested and extradited to the United States, where he is serving a sentence. His arrest started a war between the two most powerful factions of the Sinaloa Cartel: Los Chapitos or Los Menores, commanded by three of Guzmán’s sons, Iván Archivaldo, Jesús Alfredo, and Ovidio, arrested in early January; and the one led by El Mayo, the only historical capo of Mexican drug trafficking who, at over 70 years of age, has never set foot in jail.
El Lupe, according to the local press, was arrested by an operation that included helicopters in Tacuichamona, a rural town where some sources indicate that he is from. The place is located in the surroundings of Culiacán, one of the nerve centers of the cartel. In August of last year, the authorities had already managed to arrest the son of the capo, Heibar Josué Tapia, also involved in the criminal organization. The governor of Sinaloa, Rubén Rocha Moya, has confirmed that the drug trafficker is already in Mexico City and celebrated that his capture was more peaceful than that of Ovidio Guzmán a month earlier.
Ovidio’s arrest unleashed an extreme response from the cartel, which left hundreds of burnt-out vehicles and a city, Culiacán, raised in arms and drug blockades, with images reminiscent of countries in open war. It was not the first time that the authorities tried to arrest the drug trafficker: in 2019, on a day remembered by the population as Black Thursday or Culiacanazo, the Government decided to release the son of El Chapo after a few hours in captivity to stop the spiral of violence deployed by his henchmen.
The fall of El Chapito fueled the widespread feeling among the population that the authorities benefit the faction of El Mayo, a capo never arrested, hiding for years somewhere in the Sinaloan mountains, according to experts. The arrest of Tapia Quintero now helps balance the scales. His arrest occurs while, thousands of kilometers away, a New York court is judging Genaro García Luna, the former Secretary of Public Security during the Government of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), one of the architects of the strategy known as “war against the narco” and accused by the US justice of being a paid collaborator of the Sinaloa Cartel.
The highest-ranking Mexican official to stand trial across the border faces three drug trafficking charges, one for organized crime and one for making false statements. In one of the trial sessions, the former Nayarit prosecutor, Édgar Veytia, alias El Diablo and also convicted in the United States for drug trafficking, assured that García Luna and Calderón gave the order to protect El Chapo and his collaborators —at a time when the one that El Mayo and Guzmán were partners— against the rest of the Mexican bosses, in the midst of a war between cartels for control of the territory.
According to reports, El Lupe had a series of front transportation and moving companies that he actually used to smuggle drugs across the border. The companies are being investigated. Tapia Quintero was also a municipal police officer and took advantage of his position to climb the hierarchy of the cartel, until reaching the position of power that he held until his arrest. Now his future will be decided in court. It only remains to be clarified if he will be in the Mexicans or, like many of his and García Luna’s former partners, on the other side of the border.