A group of gunmen stormed a restaurant in the Mexican west-coast resort city of Puerto Vallarta early on Monday morning, abducting six people who had been celebrating there.
In the hours since, state officials have reported that one of the abductees may be Ivan Archivaldo Guzmán, 32, one of the sons of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
It remains unclear who orchestrated the kidnapping or for what reason, but the possibility that one of the sons of Guzmán, believed to be one of the most powerful kingpins in the world, was abducted suggests that Mexico’s cartel landscape is getting messier — continuing a trend that has already had deadly consequences.
Officials in the western state of Jalisco said that around 1 a.m. local time on Monday, armed men entered a restaurant called La Leche on Puerto Vallarta’s main boulevard, hustled the victims into SUVs, and drove off, leaving behind several women who had been dining with the victims and several vehicles that appear to have belonged to the abductees.
At a press conference, Eduardo Almaguer, the Jalisco state prosecutor, said preliminary results of the investigation indicated that all of those abducted were members of criminal groups, but he did not say which groups.
“They were not tourists or residents who work in legal activities,” Almaguer said. “They were people tied to a criminal group we can very clearly presume.” They were all from the western states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and Sinaloa, he said.
On Tuesday morning, Almaguer reported that the younger Guzmán may have been among those taken from the restaurant.
“There is a possibility that Ivan Guzman is among the kidnapped,” he told a local radio station. But Almaguer stressed that was not certain, as false ID cards were found at the scene.
Police were reviewing the scene — taking fingerprints, examining security-camera footage, and checking information related to the vehicles left behind. One vehicle was found to have Jalisco state license plates but false registration.
Almaguer indicated that, based on information found in the cars left at the scene, one of the victims may have been a businessman from the central part of the country with operations in Jalisco and Sinaloa, while another may have been a bodyguard for the former governor of Jalisco state during his administration.
The largest criminal group operating in Jalisco is the Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG), though it’s known that both the CJNG and Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel have operations up and down Mexico’s west coast, and that they’ve clashed in some areas.
If the target of the abduction was in fact the younger Guzmán, it’s possible that it’s the result of internal strife rather than external competition. According to the Associated Press, after Guzmán’s arrest in January, Ivan Archivaldo took over some of his father’s duties for the cartel, which is better understood as a confederation of factions, rather than a traditional hierarchical cartel structure.
And, in a move that could stir bad blood within the Sinaloa cartel, Ivan Archivaldo has reportedly been dealing roughly with allies in his father’s business.
While not much is know about the Sinaloa cartel’s operations, its leadership, and its current state of affairs, such reports would fit with Ivan Archivaldo’s previous behavior, which saw him implicated in killings and charged with money laundering and organized-crime offenses.
A psychological profile obtained by Mexican newspaper Sin Embargo described Ivan Archivaldo as “Anxious, suspicious, reserved and evasive, with veiled hostility. He becomes sensitive” and said that he could display “psychological violence” toward people not on his “socio-economic level.”
If the CJNG felt bold enough to abduct the younger Guzmán, it could be a sign that the Jalisco cartel is stepping up its campaign against the Sinaloa cartel, its only real rival on Mexico’s narco scene.
If members of the Sinaloa cartel abducted Ivan Archivaldo, it could indicate that intra-cartel feuding has broken out into the open and may yield further violence among Sinaloa cartel members and within the cartel’s territory.
That the group was apparently abducted without any gunfire, meaning the kidnappers may have been people they recognized, could bolster the second theory.
“It’s a bit surprising that in effect they were drug traffickers but didn’t have any security,” Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope told the Associated Press.
Either scenario would be worrisome for Mexico, where both competition between criminal organizations and the fragmentation of large criminal organizations have helped push violence in the country up to new highs. The first half of this year saw 10,301 homicides, about 57 a day and the highest total over that period since 2012.
The younger Guzmán saw Jalisco as his territory, a Guadalajara police source told Vice News, and “confrontations and killings” could come if he was in fact kidnapped. When another one of “El Chapo” Guzmán’s sons was killed in 2008, fighting broke out between Guzmán’s allies and former associates in the Beltran Leyva Organization.
Sinaloa feuding with the BLO is believed to be behind recent violence in Sinaloa state.
Local officials seem to have already taken steps to head off any related violence. The governor of Nayarit ordered his state’s border with Jalisco “reinforced” ahead of “the possible entry of members of organized crime.” And the Jalisco governor said officials were mounting an air and ground search for the victims and their captors.
“I want to assure you that up until today, up until this moment of today there has yet to be any direct fallout from this event,” Almaguer said, according to Vice News.
The kidnapping will also be disconcerting news for “El Chapo” for another reason. The Sinaloa cartel chief — currently languishing in a northern Mexican prison, surrounded by hundreds of guards as he awaits his likely extradition — is likely well aware of how his power and influence may be slipping away.