Some heavy reading: the Sinaloa drug cartel


Thanks to – a truly terrific and free site for anyone with an interest in in-depth, deep-background, 10,000-plus word epic reporting – I’ve discovered a fascinating New York Times article titled “Cocaine Incorporated,” about the organizational activities of the “diversified and vertically integrated” Sinaloa drug cartel, of Sinaloa, Mexico. The most famous name in cocaine is probably Pablo Escobar, but Sinaloa’s CEO, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, has by this point both outsold him – “according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chapo sells more drugs today than Escobar did at the height of his career” – and outlived him – “when Pablo Escobar was Chapo’s age, he had been dead for more than a decade,” making Guzman “55, which in narco-years is about 150.” The article makes the point that the transactional nature of the drug business usually extends, metaphysically, to its leaders, in that “the implicit bargain of a life in the drug trade” is that “careers are glittering but brief and always terminate in prison or the grave.” So far, Guzman has avoided holding up his end of the bargain.

The cons and tragedies of the drug trafficking industry are common headline fodder, but there is actually a great deal more than brutality to behold.

The drug war in Mexico has claimed more than 50,000 lives since 2006. But what tends to get lost amid coverage of this epic bloodletting is just how effective the drug business has become. A close study of the Sinaloa cartel, based on thousands of pages of trial records and dozens of interviews with convicted drug traffickers and current and former officials in Mexico and the United States, reveals an operation that is global (it is active in more than a dozen countries) yet also very nimble and, above all, staggeringly complex. Sinaloa didn’t merely survive the recession — it has thrived in recent years. And after prevailing in some recent mass-casualty clashes, it now controls more territory along the border than ever.

“Chapo always talks about the drug business, wherever he is,” one erstwhile confidant told a jury several years ago, describing a driven, even obsessive entrepreneur with a proclivity for micromanagement. From the remote mountain redoubt where he is believed to be hiding, surrounded at all times by a battery of gunmen, Chapo oversees a logistical network that is as sophisticated, in some ways, as that of Amazon or U.P.S. — doubly sophisticated, when you think about it, because traffickers must move both their product and their profits in secret, and constantly maneuver to avoid death or arrest. As a mirror image of a legal commodities business, the Sinaloa cartel brings to mind that old line about Ginger Rogers doing all the same moves as Fred Astaire, only backward and in heels. In its longevity, profitability and scope, it might be the most successful criminal enterprise in history.

This article goes past the headlines, past the body count, and examines the Sinaloa cartel as a business, revealing instances of both brilliance and depravity in unexpected places. I highly recommend it.


A couple years ago, I was forwarded an email that included some truly incredible pictures of a drug smuggler caught while driving a truck outfitted and decal-ed to look exactly like a Texas DOT truck – except that is was packed with drugs and cash – by a vigilant Texas State Trooper, and the even more incredible drug bust it led to. Also included was this:

Drug dealers no longer count their money, they weigh it. One million dollars in 100 [dollar] bills weighs 37.4 lbs. And in fifties it weighs 74.8 lbs.

I’ve found the same pictures and setup on a message board here. Be ready to have your mind blown.


  1. Big Chairs said:

    The bottom line to all of this is MONEY! The war on drugs as been and will always be a HUGE failure. So why does America keep on keepin on? Money. The war on drugs is to big to fail. To much money and to many jobs are tied to this insanity.

    • kipp said:

      I think you’re exactly right, the war on drugs is “too big to fail.” Too many people are employed by it, too many branches of law enforcement are funded by it, and it is in the best interest of none of these institutions for drugs to either become legal or actually be eradicated. The opposition is just as dependent on drug sales as cartels are. We’ve created a catch-22-style black hole that money gets poured is now poured in to, and have allowed law enforcement to become addicted to and dependent on that money in much the same way the people they’re arresting are.

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