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The Sinaloa Cartel is a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Sinaloa, Mexico. The cartel was founded in 1989 when Mexican smugglers Héctor Palma Salazar, Juan José Esparragoza Moreno and Joaquín Guzmán Loera splintered from the Guadalajara Cartel.


Before Guadalajara Cartel[]

Sinaloa was one of the poorest Mexican states. Unemployment levels were high as a result of ignorance from the Mexican federal government, so in order to make a living, farmers began cultivating opium poppy and producing heroin; and hired smugglers to sell them for profit in the United States. One such smuggler was Pedro Avilés, who was Sinaloa's most powerful smuggler in the late 1970s, and had future drug lords Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Rafael Caro Quintero and Joaquín Guzmán Loera working under him.

In order to curb the marijuana smuggling into the United States, the Mexican Army launched Operation Condor in the late 1970s; which saw large-scale arrests of opium farmers and destruction of their farmland. Around the same time, Rafael Caro Quintero, one of the several farmers employed by Aviles develops sinsemilia, a strain of marijuana which could be grown without seeds. Caro's friend, a young ex-police officer Félix Gallardo suggests Avilés to move his business to the metropolitan city of Guadalajara, since the chances of the military conducting large scale operations in highly populated cities was less. As a result, Félix Gallardo established the Guadalajara cartel along with Caro Quintero and veteran Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo in 1980. Félix Gallardo killed Avilés and became the leader of the organization. He then proceeded to unite drug smugglers all across Mexico to monopolize marijuana trafficking.

Guadalajara Cartel[]

In the mid 1980s, Félix Gallardo appointed Héctor Palma Salazar; one of Pablo Acosta's men, as the leader of the Sinaloan plaza as a part of an organizational reshuffle. He also announced the decision to focus on the smuggling of cocaine, instead of marijuana, weakening the power of the Sinaloan plaza.

Since the state of Sinaloa lacked a land border with the United States, the Sinaloan traffickers used boats and rafts to smuggle their products into the United States. This inefficient method of smuggling lowered their profits, and made them weaker than the Tijuana and Juárez plazas. Félix Gallardo allowed the Sinaloans to overcome this by allowing them to smuggle their goods through the Tijuana plaza using the Arellano-Félix family's infrastructure. This angered the Tijuana smugglers, who protested against this to Félix Gallardo.

After Caro Quintero's arrest in 1985, Cochiloco became a high ranking member of the Sinaloa plaza, and was joined by Félix's former driver Joaquín "Chapo" Guzmán; who was made a junior partner in the late 1980s. Cochiloco and Chapo began deliberately leaving their cocaine in Benjamín Arellano Félix's warehouses, slowing the operations of the Tijuana plaza since they had to wait for months for the Sinaloans to remove their cocaine. The Sinaloans also began playfully commandeering Benjamín's trucks, and in one incident, left a wild pig in the cargo while handing it back to them, sparking a feud between both plazas.

Félix decided to settle the matter by imposing a tax of 10% on any products which the Sinaloans trafficked through Tijuana. Palma refused to pay the taxes, and ordered his men to retrieve their cocaine.

Chapo meanwhile had built a tunnel which ran under the U.S. - Mexican border, in order to secretly transport their cocaine through Tijuana without the Arellano-Félix brothers noticing and having to use rafts. However, the tunnel is discovered by DEA agents tailing their shipment, and under the suggestion of Mexican police commander Guillermo Calderoni, leak the existence of the tunnel to the Tijuana smugglers. Ramón Arellano Félix retaliated by blowing up the tunnel using explosives, and killing several of Palma's men as they hurried to escape from the tunnel caving in. In revenge, Chapo killed several of Ramón's men in an arcade. The spat turned into a full-blown feud, with each sides repeatedly killing each other. Upon Félix's insistence, Palma sent Cochiloco to Tijuana with a large sum of money to apologize.

Benjamín came to know of an ambush on Félix's car by the Gulf Cartel a few weeks prior, and threatens to leave the cartel unless Félix allows him to kill Cochiloco. Félix agreed, and Ramón's men ambush Cochiloco and fire over 70 shots into his torso as his car pulled up to an intersection.

After Cochiloco's death, Palma spoke to his former mentor Acosta, telling him that he felt that Félix was biased towards Tijuana and expressed an interest to leave the alliance. The conversation is recorded by Rafael Aguilar Guajardo, and is played to Félix Gallardo by Juan José Esparragoza Moreno. Félix, fearing that Palma could be an upstart, sent Esparragoza Moreno to kill Palma. However, Félix's driver, Rafael Enrique Clavel, overheard the conversation and warned Guadalupe Leija Serrano, Palma's wife about the impeding attack on her husband, as Clavel as involved in an affair with Guadalupe. Palma survived the attack, and escaped. Chapo became the de facto leader of the plaza after Palma's disappearance.


Months after Palma's disappearance, Chapo convinced Félix to allow Palma back into the business. Under Esparragoza Moreno's advice, Félix decided to allow Palma back provided he apologized for expressing interest to leave the Guadalajara Cartel. He also ordered Clavel to murder Palma's wife and her two children and drop their bodies off a bridge in order to instill fear in his employees.

Chapo is devastated by the attack on Palma's family; and is approached by Esparragoza Moreno who was disheartened by Félix's tyranny. In 1989, all plazas aided Félix in smuggling 65,000 kilos of cocaine for the Cali Cartel. However, Félix tips off the Americans about the cocaine, resulting in the Sylmar Warehouse Bust in which the Americans seize cocaine worth above U.S. $7 billion. Due to the warehouse bust, the Cali Cartel were unable to pay for the services of the Mexicans.

Soon after, Félix called for a meeting of the plaza bosses and announced that from that point onwards, the Cali Cartel would pay them kilo for kilo in cocaine, instead of cash. However since the plazas didn't receive their dues for a long time, Benjamín announced that he would be leaving the alliance. The Sinaloa and Juárez plaza leaders announced that they would be leaving as well, since they weren't satisfied with Miguel's vision and his undemocratic and tyrannical rule over the organization. After leaving the cartel, Chapo brought Palma back into the business.

After Félix Gallardo's arrest, the leaders of all the plazas meet with the Gulf Cartel leaders, and announced that they would work independently from that point and pledged to maintain peace. Chapo and Benjamín also promised peace between the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels.

While imprisoned, Félix Gallardo told DEA Agent Walt Breslin that no peace would exist between the cartels since they would immediately start competing for the best route and product from the Colombians.

Just as Félix predicted, the Sinaloa Cartel became embroiled in a conflict with the Tijuana Cartel in the early 90s. Amado Carrillo Fuentes of the Juárez Cartel acted as a mediator till his death in 1997, after which the conflict escalated into a full-blown war.