MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Joaquin El Chapo Guzman has been arrested, extradited, now convicted. Mexico's most notorious drug lord may spend the rest of his life in prison after a guilty verdict yesterday in a Brooklyn courtroom. But El Chapo's cartel, the whole criminal underworld in which he flourished, remains intact. To talk about the Sinaloa cartel today, we're joined by Leon Krauze of Univision and Slate. Hey there.
LEON KRAUZE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Hi. So he ran - El Chapo ran the Sinaloa cartel for decades. How can this guilty verdict yesterday - meaning he'll be off the scene - how can that not have a huge impact on the organization he ran?
KRAUZE: Well, it hasn't had any noticeable impact. I think it's important to understand that Joaquin Guzman was certainly the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, but the Sinaloa cartel wasn't just Joaquin Guzman. I mean, after his arrest, the cartel has continued to function, and it will likely do so after his conviction as well. There is really no indication that the cartel's operations have been weakened by his absence. You just take a look at the drug smuggling shipments detected recently along the border - heroin, cocaine, fentanyl. The cartel is still in business. It also has a very sophisticated distribution network at the local level in the United States, so...
KRAUZE: ...Even without Joaquin Guzman, it's really business as usual for them.
KELLY: And give us a sense of how big an organization it is and how global its reach is.
KRAUZE: It is global. There are other, more recent, criminal organizations in Mexico, like the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. But everything suggests that the Sinaloa cartel is still the most relevant criminal network in the region. And part of it has to do with the way it has been structured for the longest time. It's not only one single criminal organization but a collection of different groups, different clans. And Joaquin Guzman and his partner in crime, quite literally, Mayo Zambada, Ismael Zambada, who now runs the cartel, have managed to keep everyone in line and has adapted to the market's demands. It has successfully expanded its business now to fentanyl, for example. It's maddening to say, but this is truly a savvy, very perverse business organization that we're talking about.
KELLY: And you mentioned Zambada as the man now running it. Who is he? What do we know about him?
KRAUZE: He's now running the business. He's Guzman's business partner and closest associate, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. He has been there from the very beginning of the organization, and he runs the cartel now. But there's also, you know, the next generation of the Guzman family. Joaquin...
KELLY: Right, El Chapo has sons.
KRAUZE: Yes, he has three sons. Apparently, they have taken control of local distribution for the cartel, among other things. And...
KELLY: Were they being groomed to be the heirs?
KRAUZE: Well, it's quite likely since now they are part of the organization. They are more vocal, more visible. But Zambada, who has been the de facto leader of the cartel for a while, has proven to be very elusive. He only granted one interview that I can recall. He has been very careful. Guzman was always very careful not to expose himself too much, but Zambada is quite literally a ghost, and that makes him even more dangerous.
KELLY: How hard is the Mexican government going after him or the Guzman sons? Is there a strategy to try to counter the cartel at this point?
KRAUZE: That's a great question, especially with the Lopez Obrador administration...
KELLY: The new president of Mexico.
KRAUZE: The new president of Mexico has recently said in one of his daily press conferences that the war is over, that the government will no longer go after these organizations, these drug lords, which was the main strategy for the last 12 years. He has declared the war over. Of course, the war is not over. Crime in Mexico and the activities of these criminal organizations are still going on as we clearly see, but Lopez Obrador says he wants peace. His strategy is different. So at least, if we believe the president, the strategy will shift, but there's no way but go after these criminal organizations because they are as active as ever, even if one of the main characters in this very dramatic plot is now about to go to jail for the rest of his life.
KELLY: Leon Krauze - he's an anchor for Univision and a columnist for Slate. Thanks so much.
KRAUZE: Thank you so much.
(SOUNDBITE OF STEPHANE WREMBEL TRIO'S "BIG BROTHER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.