Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Repercussions of El Chapo's escape (July 14, 2015)

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's image is very dented by the escape, note several stories. The New York Times says that for many Mexicans the escape of the notorious drug cartel leader from a maximum security prison -- together with property scandals regarding his family and increasing human rights violations scandals -- has left many doubting in the president's narrative of reform. The "breakout has become a symbol of the president’s inability to overcome the deeply rooted ills of corruption, impunity and gaping holes in the rule of law."

(See yesterday's post.)

The escape of Mexico’s most notorious crime boss deepens the cynicism that most Mexicans have toward their government, especially when it comes to issues of corruption, policing and a prison system that is widely believed to be in the hands of criminals rather than wardens, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Mexican media headlines reflected anger at the government yesterday, reports the Los Angeles Times.

One social-media post making the rounds in Mexico City showed a thick wad of dollar bills rolled up, and said: “The tunnel through which El Chapo escaped.” Other posts likened Mr. Guzmán’s burrowing skills to those of Super Mario or Bugs Bunny.

U.S. authorities immediately pledged to help Mexico recapture him, but some American law-enforcement officials believe the escape should prompt changes in how the two countries coordinate on anti cartel efforts, and a stronger push by U.S. diplomats to quickly extradite senior cartel bosses when they are captured, reports the Wall Street Journal.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency documents obtained by the AP show that Guzmán began to plot his escape almost as soon as he was captured last year. The DEA alerted Mexican authorities 16 months ago about the plans, said a U.S. official briefed on the investigation. Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong denied Monday night that authorities in Mexico were ever informed of potential escapes.

In another piece, the Wall Street Journal also reports that U.S. authorities said there were numerous warnings that Guzmán’s organization was planning to break him out. They cautioned they didn’t have advance notice of the specific tunneling method used to free him, but said much of the frustration on the U.S. side comes from a sense that the agencies fighting the cartels on both sides of the border knew he would try to escape, and Mexican authorities were still unable to prevent it.

The AP piece also notes that the DEA documents show that Guzmán continued to direct the Sinaloa Cartel's operations from prison, using the attorneys who visited him and possibly using a cell-phone provided by corrupt prison guards.
The Mexican government announced that it is offering a 60 million-peso ($3.8 million) reward for Guzman's recapture and that it has fired three prison system officials, including the director of the prison where Guzman escaped. Forty-nine people have been questioned by the government's organized crime unit, including 32 prison employees.

In a separate AP piece Osorio Chong said the 1.5-kilometer (1-mile) tunnel had been dug 19 meters (about 62 feet) below the surface and called it a "high-tech" breach of the prison's extensive security measures, including 750 cameras and 26 security filters.

In recent months, neighbors of the maximum security prison holding him witnessed dump trucks carting away thousands of tons of rubble from a humble house set in a nearby pasture notes the Wall Street Journal.

A tunnel of such sophistication — with lights, air venting, and a customized motorcycle rigged up on a rail line — would normally take 18 months to two years to complete, said Jim Dinkins, former head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations told the AP.

Not to mention, of course, the Twitter advance warning. An account widely believed to belong to the crime lord’s son assured followers in May that the "General will soon be back."

News Briefs

  • The New York Times has a feature on the "two Colombias," one of a sophisticated elite growing rich off of international trade and the other of crushing poverty -- and looks at the notoriously violent (though newly pacified) port city of Buenaventura as an example of the challenges faced by the country.
  • The AP reports on the continuing exodus of Haitian migrants and Dominican born people of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic, though there are no updated statistics on how many people have left since the deadline to apply for legal residency passed last month. The Dominican government says nearly 40,000 people had left as of July 6. (See June 17th's post and July 2nd's briefs.)
  • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff faces a conundrum in the upcoming days: she must decide whether to sign a bill raising workers salaries -- risking a credit downgrade for her country -- or veto it and face backlash from her leftist supporters. Rousseff faces a rebellion in Congress, while also feeling pressure from credit agencies and investors to slash spending and shrink Brazil’s debt, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Mexico will auction rights to explore for oil in 14 shallow-water blocks in the Gulf of Mexico. The winning bidders will sign production-sharing contracts with the government. Subsequent auctions this year and next will offer opportunities in proven and probable oil reserves, natural gas, extra-heavy crude fields, shale and deep-water exploration. Mary O'Grady at the Wall Street Journal argues that "This is the biggest economic moment for Mexico since the 1993 signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Allowing companies to take ownership and profit from their oil and gas production breaks a 55-year Mexican prohibition on private participation in energy—and a cultural taboo. Fresh capital will boost oil and gas output, generate wealth and increase competitiveness, all welcome developments for the slow-growing economy."
  • U.S. Senator Marco Rubio invited the State Department's special Haiti coordinator, in an attempt to assess how U.S. funds are being spent in Haiti five years after it suffered a devastating earthquake. He also wants to know if the country will be able to pull off balloting to elect 130 parliamentarians as well as a scheduled Oct. 25 presidential election, reports the Miami Herald. Last month, Rubio pushed through several Haiti election-related amendments in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The amendments condition U.S. assistance to Haiti on the State Department’s reporting on elections being free, fair, and responsive to the Haitian people and on “attempts to disqualify candidates” for "political reasons."
  • Inequality in Mexico: El Daily Post has a piece on education inequality in Mexico, which has the lowest high school graduation rate among OECD nations. Just over half of Mexicans between the ages of 25 and 34 finished high school. Last year, only 413,00 students graduated from college; roughly the same number of teenagers gave birth. And less than 40 percent of primary school students will finish high school. And Animal Político has a piece on 20 years of failed policies to combat poverty. Since 1990 development spending has tripled, according to the piece, but the country's poor population has only been reduced by two percentage points.

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