[El Chapo was convicted. Here’s what happens next.]
But several security experts said that convicting and imprisoning the kingpin for the most part sends a symbolic message.
“Catching Chapo is important because it is a signal but nothing else,” said Christian Ehrlich, who works for Riskop, a risk analysis firm in Monterrey, Mexico. “In terms of logistics, there may be a superficial change, but these organizations know how to adapt very quickly.”
Even before Mr. Guzmán’s arrest in 2014 at a hotel in Mazatlán, Mexico, and his eventual recapture in 2016 after a prison break, the approach of hunting for and prosecuting top drug criminals — the so-called kingpin strategy — did not halt violence or drug trafficking in the country. In recent years, collaboration between the United States and Mexico succeeded in killing or jailing many of Mexico’s best-known narco lords, including Mr. Guzmán’s cousin, Alfredo Beltrán-Leyva, and the heir apparent to his empire, Vicente Zambada Niebla, along with dozens of their lieutenants — all with little measurable effect.
Instead, fragmented groups have battled over smuggling routes and moved into new businesses, leading to a record 33,341 murders in Mexico last year. “In the same territory there are small and large organizations,” said Eduardo Guerrero, a security expert for Lantia Consultores, a Mexico City-based consulting firm. “The large try to absorb the small, and the small try to remain independent. This is very unstable.”
The American authorities say the Sinaloa cartel’s most notable current rival is the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which Mr. Guzmán once used as his front-line soldiers in a war against another rival group, Los Zetas. After breaking from Mr. Guzmán several years ago, Jalisco New Generation started branching out into activities such as extortion, kidnapping, migrant smuggling and gasoline theft — a crime that has cost Mexico as much as $3 billion a year, government officials say.