MEXICO CITY – Mexican security forces on Tuesday arrested accused drug kingpin Damaso Lopez, who was believed to be locked in a bloody struggle for control of the Sinaloa Cartel against the sons of its captured leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
The attorney general’s office announced that its agents, with the help of the army, had captured Lopez, 51, one of the top-ranking figures in the world’s most successful drug cartel, which has been destabilized by the extradition of Guzman to the United States in January.
Guzman’s imprisonment triggered a violent power struggle that has led to daylight gunbattles involving truck-mounted machine guns in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, with Mexican officials attributing the bloodshed to a tussle between Lopez and Guzman’s sons.
Lopez “is considered one of the main drug traffickers and generators of violence in Sinaloa and the south of the Baja California Peninsula,” Omar Garcia, head of the Criminal Investigation Agency, told a news conference.
Last month the body of a man tossed from an airplane landed on a hospital roof in Lopez’s Sinaloan hometown, Eldorado, and shootings have become common this year around the tourist resorts of Baja California.
Lopez was believed to have been seeking a new alliance with the rival Jalisco New Generation Cartel, and his arrest will likely be a relief for Guzman’s family and their faction.
“This arrest reduces the possibility of an alliance that the detainee was seeking with another organized crime group that operates in several states of the country,” Garcia said.
Lopez, nicknamed “The Graduate,” was captured in an apartment in a middle-class Mexico City neighborhood in the early hours of Tuesday, a few weeks after a video emerged of him eating at a Mexico City restaurant.
He was held for several hours at the apartment, with a heavy army presence outside the building, before being sped in a convoy of white vehicles to a unit of the attorney general’s office.
Lopez is a former security official, believed to have studied at Sinaloa’s state university. Mexican officials say that before joining the cartel, he played a role in orchestrating Guzman’s first escape from prison in 2001.
The U.S. Treasury Department in 2013 called him Guzman’s “right-hand man” and froze his U.S. assets. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in the same year, accused of importing $280 million of drugs to the United States.
Guzman, who broke out twice from prison in Mexico, was recaptured in January 2016. One of the world’s most wanted drug lords, he was extradited to the United States to face charges there on Jan. 19, the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president.
Trump has vowed to break the power of transnational drug cartels and says his planned wall on the Mexican border would stem the flow of drugs into the United States. He has issued executive orders that aim to improve coordination between U.S. law enforcement agencies and their foreign partners.
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