Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Narco Peace: The Sinaloa pax mafiosa? (July 21, 2015)

Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's legendary escape has been a source of citizen outrage against the Mexican government, disruption between U.S. officials and their Mexican counterparts, and of general thrill for those who see El Chapo as a sort of Robin Hood.

But one story questions the very premise of the narrative -- recasting Guzmán as Don Vito Corleone instead. El Chapo was released back into the drug world to restore order, writes Ginger Thompson inProPublica. Her sources, include a cartel operative -- who once brokered deals between cartel leaders and Mexican governors -- a senior Mexican intelligence officer and an American counternarcotics agent.

"When I first heard the news, I thought this is either a good thing or a bad thing," said the cartel operative. "Either this is a sign of how far things in Mexico are out of control. Or this shows that the government is willing to risk a certain amount of international embarrassment in order to restore peace for Mexican people."

Thompson's sources review the past year of increasing drug violence in Mexico since Guzmán's capture, noting attacks by the Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel against security forces, including a rocket attack which downed a military helicopter and a rampage against police that left 15 officers dead in a day.

"Chapo ... was forged in the early years of the drug war. He was old-school. And for all his lunacy and willingness to do whatever it took to build his empire, he had been a kind of mitigating force — killing when he was betrayed, but staying away as much as possible from attacks against the government as long as the government allowed his business to operate. If he were allowed to get back to business, the breakfast bunch said, he’d take care of El Mencho [leader of New Generation Jalisco Cartel] — most likely in a spate of violence that, while painful, would be quietly treated by Mexican authorities as a necessary evil. And whichever cartel leaders remained standing would be much weakened."

Thompson's source says the criticism from U.S. officials and the nationalistic denials from Mexican officials following Chapo's escape is "just a lot of predictable posturing." And explains that authorities from both countries find themselves dealing with drug traffickers in a far more complex manner than a clear-cut all out battle. "There's no real fight against drugs," he said. "It's all a perverse game of interests."

Yet, Thompson notes that a deal with El Chapo strain's credulity, and seems to have damaged cooperation between the Mexican government and U.S. counternarcotics officials.

A piece in The Guardian examines the transformation of Ciudad Juárez, former murder capital of the world -- and makes a similar point about Guzmán's potentially calming influence.

There are many theories regarding the exponential drop in homicides since 2010, including the "official narrative," that the heavy handed policing of Julian Leyzaola, who supposedly purged security forces of corruption and links to the drug trade, took effect  (see May 27th's post).

But The Guardian piece, by Ed Vulliamy, refers to "... a second, more common, explanation: that the battle which tore Juárez apart – for the domestic drug market and narco-export routes to the US – has been won: by the Sinaloa cartel of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán ..."

And those who believe the second theory, he writes, usually also believe that the Sinaloa Cartel's victory was achieved with some sort of support from the Mexican government, which viewed it as a way to keep order. 

"So that behind the calm lurks menace, and what prevails in Juárez is the chilling notion of what Italians call Pax Mafiosa ... under control of a single cartel. The commentator on matters narco, Adrián López, based in Sinaloa, calls it paz narca, narco peace."

News Briefs

  • Is the Spanish construction firm OHL the Mexican Enron, asks an El Daily Post investigation. Forensic accounts examinations suggest that the company has exaggerated spending reports for a State of Mexico toll road project for the past five years, perhaps defrauding investors and the state government of more then 20 billion pesos as of December 2014, reports the piece.
  • One 12-year-old boy died and several children were victims of a shootout between unarmed civilians and the Mexican army this weekend, reports El Daily Post. The incident occurred in a rural village of Michoacán, where locals had organized a protest after hearing of the arrest of regional community defense leader Semeí Verdía Zepeda by the army. Investigators from Mexico's National Human Rights Commission are looking into the incident reports theAssociated Press.
  • Peruvian prosecutors plan to visit Brazil this month to gather evidence of bribery on a transcontinental highway project, Peru's attorney general said in an interview with Reuters, adding to regional fallout from the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil's history. It is the most public sign yet of international cooperation on a case that has jailed heads of major Brazilian engineering groups as police comb bank records for evidence of a cartel. Regional interest in the probe exploded last month, when Brazilian police arrested the chief executive of Odebrecht SA, Latin America's biggest construction company. Ecuadorian authorities are auditing local Odebrecht contracts and Panamanian, and U.S. authorities are collaborating with the Brazilian investigation. Colombia's vice president warned that the company could be banned from public bids for decades. (See June 5th's post on the data from the Brazilian state development bank, and June 11th's briefs on the Peruvian fallout. Convoca has an in-depth investigation into alleged corruption on the transcontinental highway project.)
  • Three executives of Brazil's Camargo Correa group were convicted yesterday on money laundering, corruption and other charges, the first construction-industry executives to be sentenced in a giant price fixing and bribery scandal involving Petrobras, the state-run oil company, reports Reuters.
  • Police involvement is suspected in a killing spree that has left 35 people dead this weekend in Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon reports the New York Times. Police officers may have organized a death squad to carry out a wave of execution-style killings in retaliation for the recent fatal shooting of a police officer. Many of the fatal shootings were efficiently carried out by gunmen wearing balaclavas and using ammunition normally available only to police officers.
  • As many as 300,000 pupils at state schools have been without classes for seven weeks in Chile, as teachers wage their longest strike in nearly fifty years to protest plans to make their evaluations more stringent, reports Bloomberg. The prolonged fight collides with a push from President Michelle Bachelet to improve education, including the biggest tax increases in almost half a century to raise teachers’ wages and eliminate education fees. The piece notes that the struggle mirrors clashes elsewhere in the hemisphere: Teachers in Mexico went on strike last month to protest an education overhaul. And educators in Chicago, Washington and New York City have also fought against teacher evaluations.
  • And Bachelet's attempt to relax abortion laws in socially conservative Chile has caused a rift inside of her ruling coalition party. Key elements of the reform, which would allow an abortion if a mother's life is in danger, if a fetus is unviable or when a pregnancy is a result of rape, are likely to be scratched, reports The Guardian. Chile is one of only six countries in the world with an outright ban on abortion. Apparently many lawmakers have their doubts regarding abortion in the case of rape. (A pro-abortion campaign that satirically showed women going to great lengths to "accidentally" get rid of pregnancies -- such as flinging oneself down a long flight of stairs -- caused waves earlier this year.)
  • Venezuela's government has ordered companies to distribute food staples to a network of state-run supermarkets in an attempt to lessen the impact of chronic food shortages, reports the Associated Press. Federal authorities ordered producers of milk, pasta, oil, rice, sugar and flour to supply between 30 percent and 100 percent of their products to the state stores according to a local food industry group, which warned that the move could cause major supply problems.
  • Uruguay will continue to receive Syrian refugees who are fleeing from civil war, the foreign minister said yesterday, overriding concerns about the South American country's budget, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE, has called for a national "uprising" for Aug. 10, and said they will join the national strike planned for Aug. 13 organized by trade unionists and opposition leaders. But the move has been rejected by many indigenous organizations, who have instead opted to participate in the dialogue initiated by the national government to reach a consensus on wealth redistribution and concerns regarding the state of the nation, reports TeleSur.
  • The deputy chief of El Salvador's national police said yesterday that the force won't negotiate with street gangs, in response to a letter sent last month by street gangs asking for a dialogue "due to the high rate of violence in the country," reports EFE. The force will continue to do preventative work, said the official.
  • Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez urged Obama yesterday to use executive powers to dismantle the economic embargo, the main stumbling block to full normalization of ties between the U.S. and Cuba, on the historic occasion of the reopening of Cuba's embassy in Washington (see yesterday's post). The Obama administration emphasized human rights issues in return, reports Reuters.
  • Celebrating the ongoing diplomatic thaw, the Associated Press has a feature on U.S. references in Havana.
  • And a Reuters piece echoes a Miami Herald point yesterday about the newly relaxed stance of the Cuban-American community towards Havana.
  • Latin American currencies are at multiyear lows against the dollar reports the Wall Street Journal, which says the dip is due to the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates and the decline in global commodities prices. The piece makes special reference to the Mexican, Colombian and Chilean pesos, and the Peruvian sol.
  • Bolivia, currently an associate member of the Mercosur trade bloc, inched closer toward full membership on last week, but President Evo Morales chided the bloc for the lengthy process which has taken over three years reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. On a separate note, the piece says Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff shattered the formality of the event by breaking into tears as she pointed out that the Mercosur meeting in Brasilia would probably be the last to include her "comrade and friend," Argentine head of state Cristina Fernandez, whose second and final term ends in December.

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