A nephew of captured Gulf Cartel boss Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who was hiding out in the US to avoid rivals in the group, has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in a US district court.

Rafael Cardenas Vela, alias "El Junior," (see photo, left) acted as a plaza boss for the cartel, according to prosecutors, managing operations in the city of Matamoros, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.

When he was arrested in 2011, Cardenas Vela was hiding out from a former Gulf associate in Texas, according to US prosecutors. He fled Mexico due to a dispute over who would take power after the death of Osiel Cardenas Guillen's brother, Antonio, alias "Tony Tormenta," in December 2010.

InSight Crime Analysis

The fact that Cardenas Vela was living in the US to escape his rivals while continuing his operations is unusual, as Mexican traffickers usually prefer to run things from the relative safety of their home country. His move to the US, which has far stronger law enforcement, suggests that he must have perceived the threat from his Gulf rivals as extremely serious.

InSight Crime recently reported on a similar case, in which a faction of the Tijuana Cartel (Arellano Felix Organization) based themselves in San Diego after splitting from the Tijuana bosses.

The arrest and trial of Cardenas Vela, and the fact that he was hiding out from internal strife in the US, point to the declining clout of the Gulf Cartel. Since they split from their enforcer arm the Zetas in 2010, their territory has been shrinking.

Cardenas Vela's uncle Osiel Cardenas Guillen was arrested in Mexico in 2003, extradited to the United States in 2007, and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2010.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.