Tuesday, January 12, 2016

"El Chapo" Fallout (Jan 12, 2015)

Newly recaptured Sinaloa Cartel drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán has provided years of entertaining theatrics and serves as a Robin Hood hero figure in his native state where his cartel is credited with keeping a "pax mafiosa" order that is much appreciated in violence ridden Mexico. (See yesterday's briefs.)

What the impact will be on Mexico's cartel scene is key. Ed Vulliamy explores some of the possibilities in a piece in the Guardian -- including the chilling possibility that the newest arrest presages the end of old-school criminal organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel. 

"It is possible that the advance of the Zetas and their allies forms part of the backstage behind Guzmán's arrest, that Guzmán can no longer be relied upon to deliver the pax mafiosa, that elements of the state controlled by or loyal to Guzmán now find that this is no protection. The deep trouble exploded in 2006 when the plaza was contested (by the Gulf cartel and Zetas in the north-east, and La Familia in Michoacan) and the state decided to become a player in the game; and the more the sands shift, the more the violence intensifies. If the advance of these new, Zeta-led cartels in the narco-nightmare is part of the story behind the arrest, then it can only get worse before it gets better – if it ever does," he wrote.

But after all the pages of analysis dedicated to his elaborate tunnel engineering and whether or not Sean Penn's interview played a role in leading authorities to El Chapo's hiding spot, the fact is that his prison escapes "were undoubtedly carried out in collusion with very senior figures right at the top of the Mexican government, people controlled by El Chapo's Sinaloa cartel. After his escape last summer, 87% of Mexicans believed that even the president must have known something," notes documentary maker Angus Macqueen in a Guardian opinion piece. And El Chapo's recapture, and likely extradition to the U.S. will likely mean a violent battle to succeed his leadership and little impact on the illicit drug supply, he warns.

After the Mexican government confirmed extradition, the question remains which U.S. attorney’s office, of the half dozen with indictments against Guzmán will get to prosecute, reports the Associated Press. But not so fast, the process could take as long as six years, and Guzmán's lawyers already filed an injunction and won a temporary suspension against a potential extradition, reports Animal Político.

The U.S. and Mexico have drawn closer together after Guzmán's escape last year, reports the New York Times, "creating a sense of shared urgency that had not existed in years."

Actors Sean Penn and Kate del Castillo, who met with the then-fugitive drug lord in October are under investigation by Mexican authorities for potentially abetting a fugitive or obstructing justice, reports Animal Político/El Daily Post. The Hollywood plot twist: the cartel leader who fell because of his interest in presenting his story on the silver screen is just too good to be true. Apparently Mexican authorities were tracking Castillo and her meetings with cartel representatives, and found that in the second half of last year scriptwriters and directors from the United States, Argentina and Spain were seeking out del Castillo with the intention of making a film about El Chapo.

(If you're overwhelmed by the controversial Sean Penn Rolling Stone article itself, and the plethora of pieces commenting on it, the New York Times has piece summing up everything.)

In keeping with the drama of El Chapo's escapes and recaptures, video from the successful operation that caught him this weekend shows how 17 Marines stormed the safe house in Los Mochis where he was hiding. His henchmen put up a fight that allowed Guzmán to escape via tunnel to a city storm-sewer, but he was caught after emerging and stealing two cars, reports the Associated Press.

All told, five people were killed during the encounter at about 4:30 a.m. on Friday, reports the New York Times.

The tunnel was hidden behind a closet mirror, featured a secret switch hidden in the ceiling, and had electricity and wooden planks covering the walls, the images showed. Marines took nearly 90 minutes to find the tunnel and open the access, giving him a big head start, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Of course, why would the movie end now? What if he escapes again while being held in the same maximum security Altiplano prison he fled last year? Alejandro Hope at El Daily Post says it's a real possibility. He notes that the underlying problems of the prison system -- including overcrowding, under funding and weak internal controls -- all remain firmly in place. 

News Briefs

  • With Guzmán back behind bars, the extensive Sinaloa drug-trafficking empire is headed by his more discreet partner, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, reports Reuters. He is the most senior capo still standing after Mexican security forces have captured or killed almost all the leading kingpins in recent years.
  • A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that efforts to contain illicit gun trafficking from the U.S. to Mexico has been hampered by a lack of cooperation between the two countries' officials, reports Reuters. The report also criticized U.S. law enforcement agencies for not ensuring they are effectively working together to fight arms smuggling by Mexico’s ruthless drug cartels.
  • But Mexico's considerable gun problem is not only due to gunrunning. "In fact, at least 50 countries have exported military-grade weapons and associated materiel to Mexico over the past five decades — with well over half of them exceeding $1 million in sales over the period. There has been a steady uptick in sales since 2006, and especially since former President Felipe Calderon ratcheted up the drug war," according to Robert Muggah and Nathan Thompson writing in the Global Post.
  • Venezuela's government branches are on a direct collision course: The country's Supreme Court ruled that the National Assembly was in contempt of court after it swore in three legislators whose elections were questioned. The court ruling declares any laws and other actions the body takes to be null and void, reports the Los Angeles Times. In response the opposition alleges that the move constitutes a judicial coup. The three disputed legislators are accused of vote-buying, an allegation dismissed by the opposition who say the government is maneuvering to deprive the opposition of a supermajority and the special powers that go along with it. 
  • Chile is all set to go ahead with free higher education this year for students from poor households – a measure which is set to benefit some 165,000 students in 2016, reports EFE. Tuition-free higher education was one of the main demands of the students who began taking to the streets in 2011 to press for an overhaul of an educational system still marked by the legacy of Chile’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship, explains the Latin American Herald Tribune. Yesterday President Michelle Bachelet said that tuition-free university education will make Chile a "more just and supportive country for all."
  • Argentina expects to resume long-awaited debt talks in New York with U.S. hedge funds suing the country over defaulted sovereign bonds tomorrow, according to Reuters. The government's strategy will be to cool the passions regarding the negotiation, "removing it from the nationalist melodrama," said presidential Chief of Staff Marcos Peña. A successful resolution to the negotiation (which is not expected before March) could allow Argentina to emit debt at low interest rates, explains La Nación.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri's succession of presidential decrees in his first month in office is drawing ire from across the political spectrum, reports Uki Goñi in the Guardian. "The new justice minister, Germán Garavano, defended the decrees as 'emergency measures' while the country's congress was on its summer recess, but they have been roundly criticized as anti-democratic." (See yesterday's post.)
  • Three of the decrees, modifying the 2009 Broadcast Media Law (see yesterday's post) were temporarily suspended yesterday by two judges considering the constitutionality of the measures, reports La Nación.
  • A bit late on my part, but the Washington Post had an interesting analysis of Macri's devaluation a few weeks ago. Stephen C. Nelson and David A. Steinberg note that the sudden liberalization of capital controls is a politically risky move in the current economic situation that features high inflation, budget deficits and low foreign currency reserves. But Macri was pushed by his voters, who overwhelmingly favored their elimination, despite the potential economic impact, they explain, based on survey data collected last year. 
  • Gunmen killed six people Sunday in Honduras, the first mass killing of the year in one of the world's most violent countries, reports AFP.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales says a campaign against a bid to modify his country's constitution to allow him a fourth re-election is funded from the United States, reports TeleSur. Bolivians will vote on the question in a referendum next month. 
  • Austerity even for carnaval: Brazil's famed samba schools are feeling the bite of the country's recession in everything from higher prices for imported materials to reduced corporate sponsorship, reports the Guardian.
  • An innovative adaptive learning system launched in Brazil by by a São Paulo startup is making waves, reports the Guardian. Geekie Labs delivers the entire high-school syllabus in hundreds of digital lessons incorporating text, images, videos and exercises, and also evaluates the students' performance at every step, feeding real-time data to teachers and the school. A separate, widely accessible app, Geekie Games, has the same components, bar the institutional integration. The program's content and study plans are aimed at equipping students for Brazil’s national ENEM exams, held annually for final-year high-school students and doubling as an entrance exam for many universities, as well as providing proof of achievement for school-leavers.

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