The Mexican government announced the arrest of Juan Jose Esparragoza Monzon, aka El Negro, on January 19 in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state.
Monzon is reportedly the son of Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, aka El Azul, perhaps the most reclusive and shadowy of the top three figures in the powerful Sinaloa cartel, alongside Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the latter of whom was recently extradited to the US.
Mexican National Security Commissioner Renato Sales said the anti-drug squad of the country’s federal-police force captured Monzon, 45, and that he “is likely responsible for coordinating a drug distribution network” and “is also likely responsible for administering financial resources of a criminal organisation.”
Monzon is also suspected of investing the those financial resources in purchasing property in the states of Baja California, Baja California Sur, Jalisco, Sinaloa, and Querétero, where he is also suspected of involvement in criminal activities, according to Proceso.
Sales also said that Monzon was accused of generating violence in the border cities of Mexicali and Tijuana, the latter of which is ground zero for an ongoing clash between the Sinaloa cartel and the ascendant Jalisco New Generation cartel.
Monzon is one of the 122 priority criminal suspects sought by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government. With his capture, 106 of those suspects have been arrested.
The arrest of Monzon, who was detained along with his body guard, comes nearly a year after the apprehension of Mauricio Sanchez Garza, a key Sinaloa cartel figure who is accused of laundering money on behalf of Juan Jose “El Azul” Esparragoza Moreno. Sanchez Garza was extradited to the US last summer.
Branded “El Azul,” which means “blue,” for the dark tone of his skin (“moreno” also means “dark-skinned” in Spanish), Moreno is thought to have been born on February 3, 1949, in a small community in Badiraguato municipality in Sinaloa state — the same municipality where Guzmán was born and raised.
Moreno has been jailed three times for drug-related offenses, the first time in 1970, followed by a short stint in the early 1980s.
Like “El Mayo” Zambada, Moreno is believed to have got his start with Amado Carrillo Fuentes, leader of the Juarez cartel nicknamed “Lord of the Skies” for his extensive use of planes to smuggle drugs.
From there, Moreno meet Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and Rafael Caro Quintero, two fellow smugglers from Sinaloa state working with the then powerful Guadalajara cartel.
He was jailed again from 1986 to 1993, a period during which the Guadalajara cartel broke up, but an alliance between the Juarez and newly formed Sinaloa cartel endured, known as the Federation, with Moreno partnering with Carillo Fuentes upon his release.
When Juarez-Sinaloa cartel relations broke down and turned to outright war in the mid- and late-2000s, Moreno, thanks to his closeness to Guzmán and Zambada, assumed a leadership role in the Sinaloa cartel.
While Moreno is thought to be a peer of Guzmán and “El Mayo” Zambada, he is much less well known.
Guzmán has long been considered the most brash of the three, with Zambada playing a more circumspect role.
Moreno, more reclusive, has also been seen to play a conciliatory role in the drug world.
Moreno reportedly organised a summit that led to the end of violent fighting between the Sinaloa, Juarez, Tijuana, and Gulf cartels. In the 1990s and 2000s, US authorities nicknamed him “the peacemaker” for his diplomatic prowess.
In 2003, Moreno was named as an important foreign drug trafficker by the US government.
He is accused of operating a network of businesses financed by drug-trafficking proceeds, and authorities have identified some of his family members as accomplices.
The Mexican government has offered a $1.4 million reward for him, while the US government has offered $5 million.
In 2014 rumours surfaced of his death, with relatives saying he was killed by a heart attack.
When Juan Jose Esparragoza Jimenez was arrested in Culiacan in August 2014, he said he “was son of the late Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno.” However, his death has never been confirmed.
“While other Mexican drug traffickers have attracted and sometimes sought more attention, Esparragoza Moreno has deliberately maintained a low profile, with the hope of avoiding scrutiny while he increases his influence and his ill-gotten gains,” Adam J. Szubin, then director of the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in 2012, according to Mexican news site Animal Politico.
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