Mexico's drug cartels are multi-billion dollar businesses run like major corporations with operations from Mexico to West Africa and Italy. They have grown into some of the most lucrative criminal enterprises ever. Here are some facts on the top traffickers:
* Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, the head of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, escaped from a top security prison in a laundry van in 2001. At just 5 feet tall, Guzman started a turf war against rival cartels in 2005. He is Mexico's most-wanted man, but a U.S. anti-drug official has described him as "almost untouchable." Police say he may have had plastic surgery. He is rumored to change cell phones after every conversation.
* Ismael Zambada, Guzman's right-hand man, has been a top trafficker for three decades and has never been captured. At 62, he is considered a sharp businessman and negotiator. A former farmer from Sinaloa state, he is believed to launder drug profits through a large milk company, real estate holdings and a bus line. Zambada has a $5 million bounty on his head in the United States.
* Heriberto "The Executioner" Lazcano is head of the Gulf cartel's armed wing, the Zetas. Once a member of Mexico's elite special forces, Lazcano switched sides in the late 1990s to join the Gulf cartel. Lazcano is armed with a huge arsenal of grenades, automatic weapons and even rocket launchers. He is feared for his brutality, beheading rivals, and is rumored to use big cats to scare victims or dispose of their bodies.
* Ezequiel Cardenas, brother of extradited former Gulf cartel leader Osiel, rose in importance after his brother's extradition in 2007 to Texas.
* Vicente Carrillo Fuentes is the long-time head of the Juarez cartel over the border from El Paso, Texas. Brother of drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who flew airliners full of Colombian cocaine into Mexico in the 1970s, Vicente took over the cartel after Amado's death during a clandestine plastic surgery operation.
* Evangelical Christian Nazario Moreno, who calls himself "The Craziest One," leads "La Familia" (The Family), a cartel in the western state of Michoacan. He preaches Bible scripture mixed with self-help slogans to gang members and has tried to promote a mystique unique among Mexican gangs by claiming to protect the local population.
* Fernando Sanchez Arellano is fighting for control of the weakened Arellano Felix cartel in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego. A nephew of the Arellano Felix brothers who shipped tonnes of cocaine into California in the 1990s, Fernando has emerged as leader after other brothers were arrested and one was killed in a shootout with police. He has the help of his accountant aunt Enedina Arellano Felix.
by Robin Emmott
January 14, 2010
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Factbox: Mexico's top drug traffickers