DSK — Sarkozy Did It

Let’s get this right. The former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is arguing that “political enemies” linked to Nicolas Sarkozy and the French President’s ruling UMP party choreographed the scandal triggered by his alleged assault on a hotel maid.

The basis for his accusation? Evidence, he says, that his cell phone and text messages were being monitored by his political enemies and a “victory dance” two employees at New York’s Sofitel hotel were caught doing when the police were summoned.

He now says he doesn’t believe that the “incident” with Nafissatou Diallo was a setup but he argues that the subsequent “escalation of the events”, including his arrest and imprisonment were “orchestrated” by political opponents.

Let’s unpack some of that. According to journalist Edward Jay Epstein writing in The Guardian, DSK “accuses operatives linked to Sarkozy of intercepting phone calls and making sure Diallo went to the New York police, thus sparking an international scandal.”

The only evidence he provides for this is a warning from an unnamed friend that a copy of an email his wife, French broadcaster Anne Sinclair, had sent him had been found by a sympathizer inside the UMP party headquarters in Paris.

That’s the only evidence on the monitoring side of the accusation that he provides: an unnamed friend and one email (not a cell phone text message).

And the dance? What on earth could two male employees being doing a jig about? It could be anything at all and nothing connected with DSK, of course. One of them could have got laid the night before, got engaged or won the lottery! Got a great deal on a car! Secured promotion, got a new job. Anything. Or maybe they were celebrating the fact that the police were called in to investigate a nasty assault on a maid by a rich, powerful, arrogant SOB, who thinks women are just “material.” And they didn’t need to feel this way because they were in the service or pay of the French Secret Service.

None of what DSK says passes the laugh test. And what his attitude conveys is this: that there had to be foul play because the law doesn’t, or shouldn’t, apply to the powerful; the law is for the little people.

Los Zetas — Most Powerful Crime Group in Guatemala

Los Zetas has been on an arms-buying spree and a recruitment drive in Guatemala and is now the most powerful crime group operating in the Central American country.

According to the Guatemalan Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla, no indigenous crime organization can now compete with the Mexican cartel and Los Zetas, which first moved into the country four years ago, is recruiting from the ranks of Guatemalan gangs and “have extended their operating power.”

The minister acknowledges that Los Zetas has been helped inadvertently with its expansion as an indirect consequence of law-enforcement success against Guatemalan crime groups. “The capture of key Guatemalan drug traffickers has allowed the Mexican cartel Los Zetas to strengthen and expand its operations throughout the country, to stand as the largest criminal group in the country,” says López Bonilla.

Los Zetas hasn’t been shy in flaunting its sway. In a move that Guatemalan officials say is meant to intimidate rivals and attract recruits, the cartel has been using a marketing tool they and other Mexican crime groups employ in Mexico – namely, displaying narco-mantas (drug banners) containing clear messages, from threats to appeals.

Last month, narco-mantas purportedly placed by Los Zetas appeared in Guatemala City and in San Benito, a town in Petén , the largest province in Guatemala and which borders Mexico. The banners in San Benito were thought to have been placed as a response by Los Zetas to the March 19 arrest of Gustavo Adolfo Colindres Arreaga, nicknamed “El Rochoy”, a Guatemalan who oversaw some operations for Los Zetas.  Rochoy was captured in the nearby town of town of Poptun after a 15-day joint military-police operation and he was seized along with three other alleged Los Zetas members. Handguns and ammunition were impounded in the raid.

The San Benito banners threatened Los Zetas retaliation, if Guatemalan authorities continue to pursue the cartel.

The banner read: “To all civil and military authorities and the population in general stop persecution of the race or we will start killing. We will throw grenades into discos and shopping centers in Petén … because this is ‘Z’ territory we don’t want a war against the government this is a warning. Z200.”

Petén Governor Henry Amezquita said at a press conference that he believed the banner was placed to intimidate and to “destabilize,” Prensa Libre newspaper reported.

Last May, Los Zetas massacred and beheaded 27 migrant farm workers in a village near San Benito. Three children and two women were among the victims of the attack, which was carried out by about 40 armed men. Authorities believe that the main target of the assault was the farm owner, who was away at the time.

“After the murder of the campesinos no one here is taking their threat lightly,” says local hospital worker Jose Miguel Monterroso. “The banner caused panic,” he adds.

The banners in Guatemala were less menacing and congratulated mockingly President Otto Pérez Molina for his recent raising of the issue of possible policy alternatives to the war on drugs, including decriminalization of narcotics, as a way to deprive the cartels of their profits. The banners urged also the government to pursue street gangs such as the Maras.

One of the Guatemala City banners read: “Pérez and (Vice President Roxana) Baldetti, go through with legalizing drugs, and we support fighting the maras … Zeta 200” and “A thousand thanks general Otto Pérez and Roxana Baldetti for legalizing drugs … Zeta 200.”

The push by Los Zetas into Guatemala is prompting rising alarm across the region. Los Zetas are seeking to stamp total control on lucrative trafficking corridors through northern Guatemala and have seized farms to use as staging posts for drugs and weapons. A spike in violence last December prompted the Guatemalan government to declare a month-long “state of siege” in the northern department of Alta Verapaz.

Expansion and diversification has led not only Los Zetas but also the Sinaloa Federation, to establish operations in the countries of the northern isthmus of Central America. “The ‘northern triangle’ of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador has become greatly destabilized, and appears to be undergoing a rapid transformation into the new frontier for dangerous Mexican cartels,” Lauren Mathae concluded in a paper for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs published last October.

Last year, the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) highlighted in its annual report the incursion of Mexican cartels into Central America, too, noting that as the expansion continues apace the cartels are forming alliances with indigenous crime groups, in a bid to exploit Central and Latin American markets for drug sales.

And they are using also Central America as a transit point for supplying more narcotics to Europe and Australia via Africa, the INCB reported.

The expanded cocaine supply chains entails greater risk of loss along the extended supply routes, but the potential profits are great, too.

Los Zetas has been in recent months seeking to secure more weaponry, say Guatemalan and Mexican officials. Mexican police have arrested Guatemalans smuggling guns into Mexico through the border with its southern neighbor.

According to a report from the commanders of Mexico’s 4th Military Region which covers the states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi, Los Zetas has been purchasing heavy weapons in Central America, especially in Guatemala. The weapons they have been able to purchase have included leftovers from armed conflicts in the region in the 1980s and are available on the black market.

Mexican analysts say that Los Zetas needs to replenish their arsenals because of weapons seizures in Mexico and because they need more guns to fend off challenges from rivals, including the Sinaloa Federation. But they need more weapons to help expand as well. “Los Zetas are arming themselves because they are growing their market and penetrating other territories, specially in the states of Yucatán and Jalisco where they now have a foothold,” says security expert Alberto Islas, a former adviser in the Zedillo administration.

Last December, Guatemalan security forces seized 150 AK-47 assault rifles in Alta Verapaz as well as four armor-plated vehicles along with 10 alleged Los Zetas members.

In recent weeks, the Guatemalan authorities have scored some success in their efforts to combat Los Zetas. The biggest development came on April 3 with the capture of Overdick Horst Walter Mejia, alias “El Tigre”, a key figure for the Mexican cartel in Guatemala. At a press conference in Guatemala City, deputy interior minister Julio Claveria announced the arrest of Overdick Mejia, who was seized in the western province of Sacatepequez. Guatemalan officials say his ties with Los Zetas go back to 2008 and that he was crucial for the Mexican cartel’s expansion into the country.

A wealthy landowner from the northern province of Alta Verapaz, Overdick Mejia was arrested in 2004 on charges of cocaine trafficking, but he avoided jail. There have been accusations that he managed to bribe the judges.

His wife, Mercedes Barrios, and son were arrested in November 2008 in Alta Verapaz on suspicion of drug smuggling. A court freed them later because of lack of evidence.  The United States is seeking to extradite Overdick Mejia on trafficking charges. On April 5 a court in Guatemala City started to hear the extradition request. Amongst the evidence presented were videos showing the Guatemalan with known Los Zetas gunmen at a fiesta on July 12, 2011 at the Finca Santa Marta, in Ixcán, Quiché.

Sleight Of Hand Reporting On Murdoch

The Guardian is running a big story today on how U.S. shareholders are “deeply troubled” by the testimonies provided by Rupert and James Murdoch before the Leveson Inquiry.

“U.S. shareholders are said to be worried that the Murdochs’ testimony this week has raised new questions about the management of the company and posed potential threats to other areas of its media empire,” the report claims.

And then it goes on to quote from a “senior policy analyst with Change To Win (CtW), a U.S. advisory group that works with pension funds with over $200bn in assets.”

According to the analyst, Michael Pryce-Jones, the Murdochs’ testimony raised two immediate concerns for shareholders: the future of the firm’s control of broadcaster BSkyB and the ethics of top management.

I am sure some shareholders are nervous about what is unfolding in the UK vis-à-vis phone hacking, public inquiries and the on-going investigation by broadcast watchdog Ofcom. But are they the immediately relevant shareholders?

The Guardian should have explained who Change To Win is? It isn’t just some kind of neutral advisory group. It was founded in 2006 as the CtW Investment Group and, as the organization explains, it “works with pension funds sponsored by unions affiliated with Change to Win, a federation of unions representing nearly 5.5 million members, to enhance long-term shareholder returns through active ownership.”

The leadership council of the Change To Win federation consists of Joseph Hansen of the United Food and Commercial Workers; James P. Hoffa of the Teamsters; Geralyn Lutty of the United Food and Commercial Workers; Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union; Arturo Rodriguez of the United Farm Workers of America; Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees Union; and Tom Woodruff of the Service Employees International Union.

So, I think, we can take it that there is no love lost for Rupert M. from such an organization. Does that mean their views should be discounted? Of course not. If the union pension funds have investments in the Murdoch media empire, they have every right to voice their opinion and concerns. But it would have been more honest journalism for The Guardian to explain exactly who Change To Win is and where they might be coming from.

Of course, if the paper had done so, then the story would have been weakened. Maybe that explains the omission. And also why the report glides over as quickly as it can this bit of contradiction: “Nonetheless News Corp shares rose during the three days of testimony, rising 0.7% to $19.76 on Thursday.”

Hmm. In the end, the only important News Corp. shareholders are the top five in voting terms: the Murdoch family and Rupert Murdoch, who control 39.74 percent of the votes in News Corp.; Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud (7.04 percent); Invesco (1.8 percent); Bank of New York Mellon (1.19 percent); and Taube Hodson Stonex (1.07percent).

 

Changing Nature Of Drug Cartels

Last night, I had a conversation with academic Edgardo Buscaglia, a lawyer and economist at ITAM, a Mexico City university. Buscaglia is a knowledgeable man about Mexico’s drug trade and cartel wars, and provides, unlike many others, details to support his thinking.

Back in 2010, for example, he estimated that the Sinaloa Federation was responsible for almost half the drug trade in Mexico, about 45 percent, of the drug trade in Mexico, and using statistics from the country’s security forces calculated that only 941 of the 53,174 people arrested for organized crime in the previous six years were associated with Sinaloa.

That, of course, gave fuel to those who argue that the Mexican authorities in the war on drugs favors Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán  and is seeking to diminish or terminate the other cartels. As the theories go, the authorities are either in cahoots with the Sinaloa Federation or plan to allow the cartel to expand and at a later date negotiate a deal with El Chapo for a decrease in violence.

Buscaglia himself isn’t so sure. And I don’t subscribe myself to either the cahoots theory or the more Machiavellian theory that the Calderon administration is keen to protect the Sinaloa Federation so that things can be returned to the old ways of a dominant cartel keeping everything stable.

I see no hard evidence that the Calderon administration is going easy on the Sinaloa Federation or that it wants to boost the power of El Chapo, although it wouldn’t surprise me if the next administration, especially if it is formed by Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, may try to pull off a deal with the Sinaloans.

It seems to me that the Calderon administration really is trying to capture El Chapo, even though their best chance to date was bungled in February (see post below).

So why the discrepancy? Why does the Sinaloa Federation suffer fewer arrests than the other cartels?

There are several answers.

First, the Sinaloa Federation is a much harder cartel to penetrate compared to, say, Los Zetas. It is built around families while Los Zetas isn’t. Second, it is less exposed and forced to compete in hostile environments because it is less concerned about expanding its geographical territory. It already controls considerable territory and as a producer of drugs much of what it has to do is transactional and deal-making.

Third, it has been at the game longer and is more efficient. And fourth, and this is where there is an element of truth to the cahoots theory, it is has more local and state politicians and law-enforcement officials in its pocket and so is the beneficiary of tip-offs.

But to return to Buscaglia. Since 2003 he and his team have been analyzing case files and indictments at the federal level and from 17 of Mexico’s states. And what they have found in their sampling is how the nature of the cartels and their criminal activities have been changing in the past seven years as the war on drugs has intensified. Only about half of the cartels’ manpower, resources and time is spent on drug trafficking.

The picture he sees is one of smart and determined diversification, prompting him to argue that calling these crime syndicates drug cartels is missing the point. They are now broad, diversified transnational crime organizations and are as much involved in other crimes as narcotics trafficking.

What other crimes? High on the list is trading in counterfeit and pirated goods. Human trafficking, extortion and kidnapping also figure prominently. And until the state takes on the economic underpinning of the cartels, then it will lose in its confrontation with the crime organizations,  Buscaglia argues.

“The state will have to start dismantling in a methodical way the economic infrastructure of the cartels, to seize their assets in terms of property, businesses, storage facilities, transportation, etc,” he says.

The Digger And Leveson

Day 2 of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s testimony before the Leveson Inquiry. What a difference in appearance and manner from last summer when he testified before a House of Commons committee. The Guardian described his Commons testimony in July as a “complex performance of shame, wryness and amnesia.”

I saw something else – a man in shock, and an old man at that who just didn’t look like he was altogther there. Was that an act to garner sympathy and wrong-foot his pursuers? Murdoch-haters would say it was, but I am not so sure.

This time round the wryness is still there and so is the shame but the amnesia seems on the whole to have gone. He looks fitter and much more together. And his frankness is appealing, especially when it comes to his relationships with prime ministers.

And he is utterly right about government regulation of the press when he says the laws as they stand now are “perfectly adequate” but “lack of enforcement” is the problem. Do we really want the political elite to have control of what papers say or more importantly don’t say?

But was he convincing on whether there was or was not a cover-up at senior levels at News International of the phone-hacking scandal? He places all the blame with management at the News of the World. But having worked at News International, I find it hard to believe that James Murdoch and other corporate executives were so in the dark. And if they were, then there was monumental incompetence.

Government Subsidies For Local Newspapers?

Government subsidies for the local press? Government encouraged or supported community media trusts? Of course, my American libertarian friends would throw their hands up in horror at such ideas. But UK Conservative MP Louise Mensch is pushing the government to do such things.

Mensch is worried rightly about the consequences of the decline in the UK of the local press and what it means for local government accountability and democracy. She wants a serious review and is calling on the government to introduce subsidies and tax advantages for local newspapers.

And she has a point about trying to create a level playing field for local newspapers. The country is awash with local Pravda-type propaganda newsheets put out by local authorities and financed by council taxpayers. Local newspapers have to compete also with regional BBC television, again funded by the public.

Britain’s local press is dominated by a handful of newspapers groups — Johnston Press, Newsquest and Northcliffe. And they have been slashing away at their properties. Newsquest’s ownership of the Herald Group in Glasgow has been nothing short of a disaster and both the Glasgow Herald and the Sunday Herald are pain shadows of what they once were. Johnstone has failed to revive the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. Down south there have staff cuts, papers getting thinner or being shifted from daily publication to weekly.

Of course, in these straitened times the big newspaper groups have suffered dramatic falls in advertising revenue and huge drops in profits. But there has been a marked lack of thought and creativity by managements as well.

Citizen journalism isn’t filling the gap.

So would government subsides bring government control? That doesn’t have to be the case. And there are examples of where it has worked — in Italy for instance.

 

 

El Chapo Starts Beheading Los Zetas

Federal and state authorities in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas are bracing themselves for a new phase of inter-cartel violence following public threats against Los Zetas from Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Banners bearing the threats from the head of the Sinaloa Federation have appeared in the border town of Nuevo Laredo—along with the mutilated bodies of six Los Zetas members.

One of the banners stated: “This is how you do away with dumb [expletive] people, cutting them to pieces, all of those rats that rob and dedicate themselves to kidnapping and killing innocent people, I’m going to show you how I manage my cartel that is 30 years old, not like you people who were shoe-shiners and car-washers and got to where you are through betrayal. Sincerely, El Chapo.”

Independent experts believe the narco-messages from Mexico’s most powerful drug boss and the bodies herald a new phase in the struggle for mastery between the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. And they say by having his name associated with the banners, El Chapo is demonstrating a determination to disrupt Los Zetas in their home-state of Tamaulipas, which they have dominated since splitting in 2010 from the Gulf cartel.

“Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo are controlled by the Zetas but the border cities of Reynosa and Matamoros are still in the hands of the Gulf cartel,” says José Luis Valdés-Ugalde of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.  “The Zetas objective is to take control of all of the Gulf cartel’s territories.”

He adds: “The Gulf cartel could lose control of Reynosa, if they fail to receive support from the Sinaloa cartel. The Zetas can maintain control of Monterrey, if there is no major pressure from the government or from the Gulf cartel and/or Sinaloa Federation.”

The six bodies, which were found on March 23, by soldiers on patrol, had been dismembered, said a spokesman for 8th Military Zone. He said they were discovered on a road in the Valle Hermoso district. Five of the bodies—four of them men’s and the fifth a woman – had been decapitated. Three of the victims had been bound and another that was found wrapped in a sheet was in an advanced state of decay.

Several of the narco-banners openly challenged and insulted the top Los Zetas leaders Heriberto Lazcano, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales and his brother Omar Trevino, accusing them of being rats and garbage and sneering at their social backgrounds and intelligence.

The day before another six bodies (three men and three women) were found by soldiers on a road near Ciudad Victoria, the state capital. A spokesman for the state attorney General’s office says those bodies were thought to have been the handiwork of Los Zetas

Mexico’s two most powerful cartels – Guzmán’s Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas – have been locked in a struggle for mastery that has left thousands of foot-soldiers dead. The competition between the two crime organizations that’s triggered massacres and assassinations is dominating the criminal landscape in Mexico. Other cartels and crime gangs are being squeezed by Los Zetas and the Sinaloans and forced to align themselves with one or other.

But barring a devastating blow against the Sinaloa Federation or an internecine blow-up, the Sinaloans are better placed and more efficiently organized to win the struggle for the upper hand, argues Alberto Islas Torres, the founder of Risk Evaluation, a risk management company, and a former adviser in the presidential administration of Ernesto Zedilllo. “The Sinaloa cartel is more entrenched in society,” he says.

Nevertheless, Los Zetas last year managed to pile up significant geographical gains. A map breaking down cartel dominance and presence released by Mexico’s Office of Special Investigations into Organized Crime (OFDI) at a forum for crime experts earlier this year at the National Institute of Penal Sciences suggested that Los Zetas is now operating in 17 Mexican states. The Sinaloa Federation is operating in 16 states. Four years ago, the Sinaloa Federation controlled 23 states.

The two top cartels have raised the ante in their competition with grislier slayings and even more torture tactics – a move apparently signaling their resolve to one-up each other and to force smaller gangs into submission.

While Los Zetas may be operating now in more states than the Sinaloa Federation, the latter is not only the oldest – a point stressed in the narco-banners in Tamaulipas—but still the largest cartel with tens of thousands of operatives and gang members under its sway. El Chapo’s organization dominates most of western Mexico and controls Ciudad Juarez, a crucial drug plaza, and is more effective at arranging and maintaining alliances.

El Chapo has tried before to stamp his authority on Tamaulipas. He launched an effort after the 2003 arrest of then Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas but failed to make much headway. Since 2010, the Gulf cartel has been weakened considerably by its struggle with Los Zetas and forced as a consequence into an alliance with El Chapo.

Last summer, Guzmán launched through an allied gang, New Generation (Gente Nueva), an offensive against Los Zetas in the Gulf state of Veracruz. As in Tamaulipas in March, the offensive started with a massacre and menacing narco-banners. Thirty-five semi-nude bodies – all showing signs of torture—were dumped from two trucks at the height of rush-hour traffic in front of horrified motorists. Photographs released subsequently by the Mexican Interior Ministry showed that some of the bodies were marked with a “Z” on their torsos.

The Sinaloa-linked group that claimed responsibility for the massacre, Los Mata Zetas, or The Zeta Killers, claimed in narco-banners that they were acting on behalf of the people and acting against the murderous rampages of Los Zetas. “We don’t extort, don’t kidnap,” they said, claims echoed in the narco-banners from El Chapo in Tamaulipas.

Valdés-Ugalde believes the Sinaloa cartel attack in Veracruz was a retaliation for Los Zetas moves on Guadalajara, which placed pressure on allies of the Sinaloa cartel. Likewise, El Chapo’s move now comes at a time his Gulf cartel allies are under considerable threat.

The Sinaloa attack on Los Zetas in Tamaulipas coincides with some recent Los Zetas setbacks in the state dealt them by federal and state authorities. On March 14 a senior Los Zetas leader in Nuevo Laredo was captured following several shootouts in the border city, according to the Secretaria de Defensa Nacional  (SEDENA).
 Carlos Alejandro Guiterrez Escobedo, alias “El Fabiruchis” was detained soldiers after six of his armed accomplices were killed.

The brother of the alleged perpetrator of the massacre of 72 Central American immigrants in the municipality of San Fernando, Guiterrez Escobedo was considered the head of the Nuevo Laredo plaza and, according to a SEDENA statement, received direct orders from Miguel Angel Trevino Morales.

 

“Check This Out Buddy –You’re Fired”

Is this a one-off as the Secret Service insists or are there more revelations to come about the culture of an elite agency that’s entrusted with protecting America’s leaders?

What is particularly disturbing about the case is that veteran supervisors were involved in the partying in Cartagena just before President Obama arrived for the Summit of the Americas last weekend.

That in istelf suggests there is more here than if it had been only junior agents blowing off steam and may well reflect a casualness throughout the agency.

If supervisors thought it was okay to party with escorts while on travel duty, then it suggests that they may have felt they had some immunity or that this would not get them into trouble with higher-ups.

In all eleven Secret Service agents and nine military servicemen are under investigation for hiring 20 or 21 hookers in Cartagena last week. The two veterans were named first by CBS as Greg Stokes and David Chaney.

Chaney, who has been forced into retriement, is the son of a George Chaney, who had himself a long career with the Secret Service and was on the LBJ detail. Stokes, an assistant special agent in charge of the K9 division, has been removed for cause, i.e. fired, but has an opportunity to appeal the dismissal during the 30-day notice period.

Chaney’s lack of discretion comes through on his Facebook page where, according to the Washington Post,  he posted a photo of himself showing him behind Sarah Palin during the 2008 campaign with the comment, “I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean?”

“Well, check this out, buddy — you’re fired!” Sarah Palin has taunted in a TV interview.

From my experience of the Secret Service while covering Capitol Hill and the White House for several years, agents are highly professional but they do have a tendency to drink hard in the evenings at the various Capitol Hill watering holes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIP Dick Clark

Sorry to hear of Dick Clark’s death. Back in March 1998 I was on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect show on ABC with Clark – the other guests were Kathy Griffin and Michael Bolton. I assumed Clark wouldn’t be that alert when it came to politics and international affairs. Boy, was I wrong. Not only was he sharp as a tack, he was also charming and just plain good fun.