- Ismael Zambada Garcia, known as “El Mayo,” is a top leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and the only capo of the criminal “old guard” who has never been arrested.
- Recently, a previously unpublished portrait of “El Mayo” was released as part of an investigation into the Sinaloa Cartel, which is now divided into at least three factions.
- “El Mayo” is currently wanted by the Mexican and US governments, with a $15 million reward for information leading to his arrest. He is considered “the biggest drug trafficker in Mexico for decades” and has reportedly maintained power within the Sinaloa Cartel through negotiation rather than violence.
Ismael Zambada Garcia, better known as “El Mayo,” is one of the top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel (CDS) and the only capo of the criminal “old guard” who has never set foot in jail.
“They can catch me at any moment… or never,” he told journalist Julio Scherer in 2010 in the only interview he has given during his long criminal career.
For decades, his whereabouts have been a mystery, and so was his image for a long time. As is often the case with high-profile criminal bosses, photographs showing his face are rare, but in recent days an apparently unpublished portrait of him was released.
As part of an investigation into the Sinaloa Cartel, now divided into at least three factions, Contralínea had access to part of the documents hacked from the Mexican Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena), which included a photograph showing what “El Mayo” looked like in recent years.
According to the media outlet, the military reports were made jointly by the Sedena, the Naval Intelligence Unit of the Mexican Ministry of the Navy (Semar), and the Mexican National Intelligence Center (CNI).
In 34 documents produced between 2016 and 2022, the corporations unraveled the functioning of the CDS, as well as its organization and main conflicts with rival groups.
One of the files, classified as “confidential,” specified that after the arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in 2016, the division of the Sinaloa Cartel into four groups was accentuated:
- Los Chapitos, or Los Menores, led by Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar and his brothers.
- Rafael Caro Quintero‘s group.
- Los Mayos, under the command of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
- Los Guanos, headed by Aureliano Guzmán Loera, alias “El Guano,” brother of “Chapo.”
This document, titled “Cuatro Campos de Poder. Sinaloa” (Four Fields of Power. Sinaloa), was produced in March 2022 (months before Caro Quintero was captured in the municipality of Choix) and showed what would be the first known photo of “El Mayo” wearing glasses.
Although neither the date nor the context in which the portrait was taken is specified, it offers a notoriously more recent image than those previously published.
As of the time of this publication, “El Mayo” is 75 years old (he was born on January 1, 1948, according to US government data), and there are multiple rumors regarding his health, as it is presumed that he has been strongly affected by ailments such as diabetes.
This illness and his age have sparked debates about his strength within the Sinaloa Cartel. Military documents identify the Los Mayos cell as the most “discreet” of the cartel, as it favors negotiation over violence.
“He continues with his negotiation strategy to avoid internal conflicts, intending to position himself as the hegemonic leader,” reads one of the files, according to the media.
Considered “the biggest drug trafficker in Mexico for decades” (in the words of Jeffrey Lichtman, “Chapo’s” lawyer), “El Mayo” is currently wanted by the Mexican and US governments.
Authorities now working under the Joe Biden administration were offering $5 million for information leading to the arrest of the criminal leader. However, this amount tripled in September 2021, bringing the current reward to $15 million. The total amount offered by the US government to catch the main narcos figures went up to $45 million, which is hard to ignore.
“El Mayo” began his career as a drug trafficker between the 1980s and 1990s with the Juarez Cartel. After the death of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, alias “El Señor De Los Cielos,” Zambada García opted to form his own organization, with which he gained ground thanks to the gradual disappearance of the Tijuana Cartel.