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More than any of their competitors, the Sinaloa Cartel has countered the decline by opening new markets for cocaine overseas. Guzman started shipping cocaine to Europe via West Africa. The markup is two or three times what it would be in the United States and business has been brisk, the DEA official said.
But Europe is not the end of the line. Sinaloa Cartel cocaine permeates Asia, from Dubai to Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore — "anyplace where there’s a lot of people with disposable income," the DEA official said.
Secrets of a successful entrepreneur » While corporate outsourcing and cost-cutting often are described as "cutthroat," murder is not an acceptable tactic in the rest of the business world.
But the cartels do it with impunity, costing the lives of 50,000 or more Mexicans since former President Felipe Calderon brought in the military to fight the drug lords in 2006.
Cartels like the Zetas use murder to terrorize and intimidate, cutting off faces, heads or limbs, or hanging victims’ remains from bridges.
The Sinaloa Cartel also has used violence to achieve its goals, vanquishing rivals in a battle for the lucrative smuggling "plaza" through Juarez and El Paso, a conflict that resulted in 5,000 or more deaths.
But Guzman and his associates were said to view violence as bad for business and notably refrained from the kind of grotesque dismemberment that marked Zetas killings.
"Body dumps, going after U.S. law enforcement, kidnapping peasants — those sort of things attract unwanted attention," Longmire said. "Image turns out to be a very important part of the drug business."
Succsession planning » Experts in and out of law enforcement agree the Sinaloa Cartel’s business is unlikely to be affected by Guzman’s arrest, as long as his No. 2, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, remains at large. Zambada is 66, a decade older than Guzman. He is said to be a family man and more of an old-school drug lord who told Mexico’s Proceso magazine in 2010 that he would rather commit suicide than be captured.
But even if Zambada is arrested, enough seasoned replacements stand in the wings to assure the cartel’s survival — as long as there’s still money to be made.
Mexican authorities would have to detain several levels of cartel operatives to have an impact, the DEA official said.
But the arrest of Guzman is bound to cause some dislocation. "There’s no contracts in this world," the official said. "A lot of things are done on a handshake."
Guzman "had his pet turtles, people he’s taking care of that El Mayo didn’t care for," the official said. "He may replace or reduce them as he puts his own people in place. It’s an international corporation, so it operates on the same principles."
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