Three high-profile drug traffickers are in the process of being released from jail in the United States and Mexico, which analysts fear could inflame territorial disputes and trigger more violence.
Vicente Zambada Niebla, 46, and Eduardo Arellano Félix, 64, are being released from U.S. penitentiaries while Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, 80, was acquitted of his only standing charge last weekend as Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office could not prove he still had links to drug trafficking. The government has requested 48 hours to search for any pending charges.
Security experts said the release of the front-line drug traffickers could lead to acts of retribution, unsettling territorial borders and organizational hierarchies.
Manelich Castilla, a security consultant and former chief of the now-disbanded federal police, predicts internal struggles. “Rearrangements could be coming, disputes over territories and businesses that they claim as their own,” he said.
He warned that the violence between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel could intensify.
Francisco Rivas, director of the National Citizens’ Observatory (ONC), said the government should deploy more federal forces in the areas with the largest cartel operations.
“Problems between criminal groups become exacerbated and retaliation is carried out … The attacks are starting … [the government] should pay attention and move federal forces to areas that we know are under the operation and control of these groups,” he said.
Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, an early leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, was imprisoned in Jalisco 1995 and extradited to the United States in 2007 on drug trafficking charges. He was convicted and and jailed until 2016 when he was released and returned to Mexico where he was charged with the 1995 double homicide of two police officers.
Palma spent the next five years awaiting trial. After his acquittal last weekend he was released from prison this week only to be rearrested while justice officials search for outstanding charges. Salazar claims he is being illegally deprived of his liberty.
Vicente Zambada Niebla, also of the Sinaloa Cartel, was released by U.S. authorities as a collaborating witness to testify against other drug traffickers. In February 2020, his uncle Jesús “El Rey” Zambada was also freed to act as a witness against Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Eduardo Arellano Félix, of the Arellano Félix family cartel (CAF), also known as the Tijuana Cartel, was released having served an almost full term, convicted on a lesser charge of money laundering. There are concerns that the Tijuana based CAF will attempt to reclaim territory lost to the Sinaloa Cartel in his absence.