The origin story: Since its inception in the 1980s, the Sinaloa cartel has undoubtedly been the most prominent and fearsome criminal organization in Mexico. The cartel's current leader, Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, is public enemy number one in both Mexico and the United States.
The main players: Sinaloa was formed by Pedro Avilés, Miguel Félix Gallardo and Héctor Luis "El Güero" Palma Salazar. Sinaloa is currently governed by Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán. Forbes has called Guzmán "the biggest druglord of all time."
Captured in Guatemala on June 9, 1993, El Chapo was extradited to Mexico and sent to the high security prison of Puente Grande, in Jalisco. With the aid of at least 78 insiders, he escaped on January 19, 2001. He subsequently recovered control of Sinaloa cartel and went on to become the most wanted and rich cartel chief in the world.
The territory: As the name indicates, the cartel originates and operates from the state of Sinaloa, in the north of Mexico. As well as Sinaloa, El Chapo Guzmán's organization also controls the states of Colima, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durando, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, San Luis Potosí, Tabasco, Sonora, Veracruz and Zacatecas.
The allies: The allies of the Sinaloa cartel are members of its old arch enemy, the Golfo cartel, the Familia Michoacana, and the recently created group, Los Caballeros Templarios. They have international allies as well. In the United States they have alliances with La Mafia Mexicana, and in Colombia their partners are the Cali and Medellín cartels, from whom they receive the cocaine they distribute in the United States and Mexico.
The rivals: Due to the great drug demand existing in Mexico and the United States, the Sinaloa cartel has many competitors with whom it remains in a constant battle for control over the areas where illegal drugs are distributed. So far its most bitter enemy is the Los Zetas cartel, created by the fearsome Osiel Cárdenas, who was once previously the leader of the Golfo cartel, a cartel formed with the intention of killing El Chapo. However, time has gone by and things have changed and now the members of the Golfo cartel have joined the Sinaloa cartel in order to create the most powerful cartel in Mexico.
Other rivals include the Juárez, Tijuana and Los Beltrán Leyva cartels, whose members had previously been partners of the Sinaloa cartel but have now broken away and who are also fighting for turf on which to distribute drugs.
The trademarks: The Sinaloa cartel have used both light aircrafts and 747 planes, motorboats, buses, railroad containers, and small submarines, but it is the underground tunnels, constructed using the most advanced technology of the moment, that they are known for. The construction of these multi-million dollar tunnels could only be accomplished by El Chapo. He is the only person with the resources and economic power of the criminal organizations capable of building these tunnels.
Sinaloa is credited with being the first cartel to decapitate its rivals as a way of instilling fear and proving that they are the most powerful cartel in Mexico. Obviously, its opponents do not lag behind and there are increasingly more horrific events happening in Mexico everyday.
The origin story:: Golfo began in the 1930s. The Golfo cartel is the oldest organization in Mexico. During Prohibition in the 30's, Golfo started trafficking alcohol into the United States. It was not until the 1970's when Juan Nepomuceno Guerra and Juan Farcía Ábrego started trafficking cocaine.
The main players: After García Ábrego was captured and extradited to the United States, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén created Los Zetas, its military arm, in order to fight against the Sinaloa cartel. Subsequently, the Los Zetas cartel became independent and fought against the same Golfo cartel to gain the control over turf in the area of the Gulf of Mexico.
Jorge Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla Sánchez has been governing the cartel since the 2010 death of Antonio Cárdenas Guillén, Osiel's brother. El Coss has 12 outstanding charges in the United States for drug trafficking.
The territory: This criminal organization mainly controls the state of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León and Veracruz.
The rivals: The Sinaloa cartel, Los Zetas, La Familia Michoacana and Los Caballeros Templarios.
The trademarks:: Apart from the drug trafficking, the Golfo cartel carries out kidnapping, extortion, money laundering and weapon trafficking.
The territory: Also known as Los Arellano Félix, it operates mainly from Tijuana and was governed for many years by Ramón Arellano Félix, to whom more than a thousand deaths are attributed to and who was, for a long time, one of the most wanted criminals by the FBI.
The rivals: The Tijuana cartel fights against the Sinaloa cartel for control over turf in the north of the country, and for this reason it established an alliance with the Golfo cartel.
The main players: After the capture and death of the Arellano Félix brothers, and the recent arrest of their nephew Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano "El Ingeniero", their sister Enedida now allegedly controls the cartel. If this is the case, she is the only woman recognized as a chief.
The trademarks: Among the most notable criminal offenses of Tijuana cartel is the death of the cardinal Juan Jesús Pozadas Ocampo in 1993 who, in Guadalajara airport, Jalisco, was mistaken for El Chapo Guzmán, the intended target on that occasion.
In 1997, the journalist Jesús Blancornelas, editor of the weekly magazine Zeta, was attacked by the Tijuana cartel after he made repeated accusations against them in his magazine. Despite The the four AK-47 chest wounds he received, he managed to survive.
The origin story: The Juárez cartel was founded in the 1970s.
The main players: Juárez was formed by Rafael Aguilar Guajardo and handed over to Amado Carrillo Fuentes "El Señor de los Cielos" in 1993, whose nickname stands for the fact that he transported drugs into the United States in small light aircrafts. After the death of Amado during a plastic surgery procedure in Mexico City in 1997, his brother Vicente Carrillo (left) became the leader of the organization which is said to have lost power due to the empire created by its arch enemy El Chapo Guzmán, despite previously being his allies in the north of the country.
The territory: Together, Rafael Aguilar Guajardo and Amado Carrillo created the "Golden Triangle," which controls Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa. From these areas they send mainly cocaine to the United States securing a profit of millions of dollars.
The rivals: The Juárez cartel has allies in some shock troops known as La Línea and Los Aztecas. Juárez uses them to fight against its rivals from Sinaloa and Tijuana.
The trademarks: Its main way of operating is to bribe all levels of police officers, including federal, state and municipal officers, in order to obtain information on the operations against them and to release drugs seized in such operations.
Translated by Rosa Gregori. Images courtesy of Alarma!, PGR (Procuraduría General de la República).