Gangland-style murders are a daily event in Culiacán, the capital of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, where businesses close early, schools suspend classes and people must take precautions to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.
The extradition of Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the United States in January was supposed to curb the violent drug wars raging south of the border. Instead, rival factions of Guzmán’s organization have ignited a new deadly turf war for control of the drug lord’s rudderless empire.
“It is a nightmare but one we have lived many times before,” said Rosita Méndez, a mother of two young children who lives in Culiacán.
Mexican Defense Secretary Salvador Cienfuegos acknowledged at a recent news conference that Guzmán’s criminal organization “is fighting an internal struggle for control of the organization due to the absence of its leader.”
A rival faction within the cartel headed by a former lieutenant of El Chapo, former state police official Dámaso López, aka “El Licenciado” or “the Graduate,” is believed to have killed Guzmán’s sister and wounded his two adult sons in a shootout in western Mexico earlier in February.
“It appears that we are seeing a generational transition from El Chapo to his sons,” said Alejandro Hope, an independent security expert in Mexico City. “It is the greatest such power shift within the organization for many years, and all hell is breaking loose.”