Mexican prosecutors say they have arrested a feared head of the Sinaloa Cartel, who was engaged in a bloody struggle for control of the gang following the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in January, 2016. NBC News reports Mexican authorities apprehended Damaso Lopez Nunez, 51, at his luxury apartment in Mexico City Tuesday morning. Considered El Chapo’s right-hand man, Nunez is believed to have aided in his boss’ 2001 prison break, yet is now battling with Guzman’s sons in a violent turf war.
Known by the nickname "El Licenciado" — a reference to his a college degrees and career as a lawyer – Lopez was "one of the main instigators of violence in Sinaloa and the southern part of Baja California," according to Omar Garcia Harfuch, head of Mexico's federal detectives' agency. As reported by ABC News, Lopez was caught in possesion of methamphetamines, and faces organized crime charges in Mexico, as well as a provisional extradition request from the United States. A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia indicted Lopez in 2011 on charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine and conspiring to commit money laundering.
The administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been criticized for going soft on the drug cartels, and Lopez’s arrest was meant to show that the government is serious about fighting the drug trade. According to the Los Angeles Times, the capture was which was part of a larger operation with multiple raid sites and arrests. Nieto even took to Twitter to brag about the endeavor, calling it “the detention of another key objective in the battle against criminality.”
What Lopez’s arrest means to the ongoing drug war within the Sinaloa Cartel is up for debate. While former D.E.A. chief of international operations Mike Vigil called the arrest “a big deal because it may stave off an internal war within the Sinaloa cartel,” others fear it will bring retaliatory violence. Both El Chapo and El Licenciado's progeny, who make up the main rival factions, are known for their flashy lifestyle and willingness to engage in brazen bloodshed. “The only thing they know is violence,” says Vigil. “They want to people to fear them.”