By Malcolm Beith and Nacha Cattan
Mexico’s government is waiting for results of DNA tests that would confirm the death of Juan Jose Esparragoza, known as “El Azul,” the second most-wanted leader of the Sinaloa cartel at large, according to a Mexican official.
The death was reported June 8 by RioDoce, a Sinaloa state-based news weekly. The Mexican official, who asked not to be named because the government has yet to confirm the death, said the authorities suspect Esparragoza died of a heart attack. The Interior Ministry’s press office said it had no additional comment after Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said June 9 that the government couldn’t confirm the death of Esparragoza at that time.
Mike Vigil, a retired former head of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said Mexican federal security sources told him they contacted family members who confirmed Esparragoza’s death.
Esparragoza was the most-wanted Sinaloa cartel member at large after Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, according to a 2009 list distributed by the government of then-President Felipe Calderon. His death, if confirmed, comes three months after the capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who gained fame after escaping from a high-security prison and building up the Sinaloa cartel, named after his home state and known for beheading enemies or hanging their bodies in public places. ‘Solid Organization’ Esparragoza “has been a leader of the Sinaloa cartel for many years,” Alejandro Schtulmann, president and head of research at Mexico City-based political risk consulting firm EMPRA, said in a phone interview.
“The Sinaloa cartel is a very solid organization, and these three guys are the tip of the iceberg. There are many more people behind it.” The heart attack occurred following a car accident, Vigil said in a phone interview from Washington, citing the Mexican sources.