Peña Nieto has backed away from the Kingpin Strategy and toned down the war rhetoric accordingly. The White House
Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime
still calls for targeting kingpins but also seeks to address root causes such as arms sales, corruption and the American demand for drugs. The White House
notes that drug trafficking organizations have "developed into versatile, loose networks that cooperate intermittently but maintain their independence."
Chapo's cartel is a very much a loosely allied network of gangs that sometimes more aptly described as the Sinaloa Federation. According to Beith, Guzmán
holds enough sway over this cabal to keep the violence in check when it suits his interests. "When Chapo issues an order in Sinaloa people listen," Beith
says. "Without that commanding voice, there will be mayhem within the organization for awhile."
After warring for control of Juarez, Guzmán's forces have reportedly emerged victorious and murders there have since dropped precipitously. If Chapo dies, the calm is jeopardized.
Chapo has also reportedly forged alliances with the Gulf Cartel and other groups to combat Los Zetas. Make no mistake: Guzmán is directly responsible for
thousands of murders and countless atrocities. But given the choice between him and Los Zetas, the Sinaloan is perhaps the lesser of two evils. Calderón
was suspected of favoring the Sinaloa cartel (an
allegation his administration repeatedly denied) and reports suggest Chapo
fed American law enforcement information
that helped topple the Tijuana and Beltrán-Leyva cartels.
As for the inner workings of the Sinaloa cartel, Chapo partners with Ismael "El Mayo" Zamabada and Juan Jose " El Azul" Esparragoza. This formidable duo is poised to
assume greater control of the organization in Chapo's absence, but the line of succession is complicated, according to Jeremy McDermott, co-director of
InSight Crime, a group that tracks organized crime in Latin America.
"It's not if El Mayo or El Azul could take over the Chapo Guzmán faction, but if whoever is slotted to take over within that faction could continue to work
with the other Sinaloa Federation members," McDermott says. "What we've found in organized crime is, even if it's another leader in the same federation,
it's not easy to absorb the leadership of another [faction], often because they're geographically distinct."
McDermott speculates that Chapo's death could further accelerate the fragmentation of the major Mexican cartels, which is not necessarily a good thing.
While Colombia has had great success dismantling its once-mighty cartels with the help of the United States, the unintended consequences have included
increased domestic drug consumption and distribution, and expansion to neighboring countries.
"[Organized crime] follows the path of least resistance, and there's a lot of resistance in Colombia so it's moving abroad," McDermott says. "We're already
seeing that in Mexico as well with Los Zetas in Guatemala. The squeeze is definitely moving operations in Latin America, and it's certainly contributing to
the record murder rates in Honduras."