Calderon Targets Narco-Juniors

By Jamie Dettmer

It is becoming increasingly perilous to be a narco-junior and Mexican authorities appear determined to emphasize the dangers by targeting the sons, nephews and cousins of cartel bosses.

The latest strike against narco-juniors came in Tijuana on April 25 when Mexican soldiers in a joint operation with the border city’s municipal police detained two nephews of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, a top Sinaloa cartel leader and the closest confidant of the crime organization’s boss, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Authorities identified the two El Mayo nephews as Omar Ismael Zambada, aged 23, and Sergio Rodolfo Cazares Zambada, aged 28. The former is the son of Jesus Reynaldo Zambada Garcia, alias “El Rey”, who was extradited to the United States on trafficking charges earlier in April. Cazares is the son of Agueda Zambada Garcia, a sister of Jesus and El Mayo.

A few days before the Zambada nephews were arrested along with two of their bodyguards U.S. federal authorities unveiled a major indictment of Guzman and “El Mayo”. The United States is offering a $5 million reward for information leading to arrest of each of the Sinaloa cartel’s top two leaders.

Mexican officials say targeting alleged narco-juniors like the Zambada nephews is becoming a key part of President Felipe Calderon’s strategy against drug-trafficking organizations and the families that run them. Officials from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office briefed journalists in the wake of the arrests, saying that going after narco-juniors is “part of the offensive against drug kingpins.”

“You could say it amounts to a form of psychological warfare,” says newspaper columnist Jose Carreño.

He adds: “When a narco-junior gets arrested it can be emotionally draining for the crime family. But it is not gratuitous. Many of the youngsters play major roles in cartel operations.”

El Mayo’s nephews were captured as they were driving on Avenida Revolucion in downtown Tijuana in a Dodge Avenger. The drugs were in 13 packages. A PGR spokesman said no shots were fired and the detainees “were transferred by the military to the Morelos barracks in Tijuana and then were delivered to the Office of Special Investigations into Organized Crime (OFDI) in Mexico City.”

On May 1, a federal judge ordered that El Mayo’s two nephews be held for 40 days while a federal investigation seeks to discover the level of their involvement in cartel operations.

Neither of the nephews has been especially high profile in public or socially.

The public image of nacro-juniors is one thing, the reality another. Previous generations of narco-juniors have been flashy and willing to flaunt their wealth and were less educated compared to the current crop of narco-juniors, who have attended private schools and graduated often from top universities in Mexico and overseas.

“It isn’t that they won’t get their hands dirty – some of the narco-juniors go over to the operational side and others they will veer more to the money-laundering and asset management side,” says security expert Alberto Islas, who served in the Zedillo administration. “But they are disciplined and talented and in another environment they could well be top corporate executives and even CEOs.”

He adds: “They don’t flaunt who they are.”

And since the Mexican authorities made it clear with a series of arrests of narco-juniors in 2009 that they are focusing on the heirs of the cartels as much as the bosses, the scions of cartel capos have become more circumspect about how they live and play.

Mexican cartels have always been family affairs, with sons following fathers into the business. Los Zetas is the exception.

“Unlike the most traditional drug cartels in Mexico, which tend to be centered on the family, the organization base of the Zetas is a meritocracy and recruits move up to leadership positions,” says José Luis Valdés-Ugalde, a professor at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

But other cartels – the Sinaloa Federation, the Juarez cartel as well as the Arellano Felix group in Tijuana and the Beltran-Leyva cartel – are all close-knit organizations at their top levels and revolve around family with sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews involved in some capacity or other in the family business.

The Sinaloa Federation led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán has included at various times at leadership levels all four of his brothers as well as his five sons.

In 2009 federal authorities nabbed three narco-juniors. The first to be arrested was Vicente “El Vicentillo” Zambada, the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, considered a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel, who was seized on March 9 before dawn at his home in the elite Mexico City neighborhood of Lomas del Pedregal.

For the Mexican public the arrest came as a shock – not only had someone high up in the Sinaloa cartel been arrested but also Vicente Zambada didn’t fit the public image of a narco-junior. At the press conference after his arrest where he was paraded before the cameras the clean-cut 33-year-old narco-junior appeared the epitome of an urban professional dressed in a black blazer and dark blue jeans and well-coiffed hair.

Not quite the figure associated with running logistics for a cartel and, according to Gen. Luis Arturo Oliver, the Mexican Defense Department’s deputy chief of operations, a man having the authority within the cartel to order assassinations of rivals and government officials.

As with other narco-juniors, Zambada was apparently expected to rise through the ranks but was on what in the corporate world would be called a fast-track executive program. According to the Mexican indictment he began by supervising the unloading of cocaine from ships off the Mexican coast and verifying quantities coming from Colombia before being promoted to the top ranks.

The second surprise for the narco-juniors came on March 24 2009 when federal authorities captured Hector Huerta, who authorities said oversaw the flow of drugs through the northern city of Monterrey for the Beltran-Leyva cartel. He was detained in a Monterrey suburb, along with four men identified as his bodyguards. Soldiers also seized assault rifles and four grenades. He was arrested at a luxury car dealership he ran in a Monterrey suburb.

And then a third surprise on April 2 when police grabbed Vicente Carrillo Leyva as he exercised in a city park. Carrillo Leyva inherited a top position in the Juarez cartel from his father Amado Carrillo Fuentes, considered Mexico’s No. 1 drug trafficker when he died in 1997 while undergoing plastic surgery.

Prosecutors said the then 32-year-old Carrillo Leyva was second only to his uncle Vicente Carrillo Fuentes in the cartel. Again this narco-junior came across as an established urban professional: he was paraded at the press conference to announce his arrest in the running clothes he was wearing when seized by police – a white Abercrombie & Fitch jogging suit set off with trendy dark-framed glasses.

Carrillo Leyva had been educated in Europe and is fluent in French and English. At the time of his arrest a Mexican City newspaper quoted a neighbor as saying: “The young man went out running in the morning and his wife was very nice. They didn’t have loud parties or anything.”

Narco-juniors not only have to look over their shoulders for law-enforcement. As inter-cartel rivalry has become more savage, they have also to look out for rivals. One of the most dramatic slayings of a narco-junior came on May 8 2008 when gunmen from a rival cartel gunned down El Chapo’s then 22-year-old son Edgar Guzman Lopez as he walked to his car from a shopping mall with bodyguards in Culiacan.

Police investigators collected subsequently more than 500 shell-cases from the scene. At the time of his slaying, Edgar was studying business administration at the Autonomous University of Sinaloa and was himself a family man with a two-year-old from a common-law wife, Frida Munoz Roman.

A popular narco-corrido entitled El Hijo de La Tuna written from the viewpoint of El Chapo following the killing of his son and sung by Roberto Tapia has the opening lines: “My sons are my sources of happiness as well as my sadness. Edgar I will miss you.”

Mother’s Day Massacre: Los Zetas and Sinaloa Behead, Hack and Taunt

By Jamie Dettmer

The struggle between Los Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel for control of north-east Mexico took another macabre turn during Mother’s Day weekend with the discovery of dozens decapitated bodies on the highway east of Cadereyta.

The bodies were found on May 13. Initially, the authorities said they had found 49 bodies in garbage bags with their heads, hands and feet cut off. But officials said the death toll could reach 70.

Investigators are working to match the parts and identify the victims. At least six of the victims were women.

A narco-message left near the bodies was signed by Los Zetas but police believe that the Gulf cartel, a Sinaloa Federation ally, may have been responsible and have arrested eight Gulf members. The bodies were found near the 47 km marker on Highway 40. That road leads to Reynosa, an area that Los Zetas have been challenging the Gulf Cartel for control.

Officials from the Mexican Defense Department said the men were captured in the Nuevo Leon municipality of China and that soldiers seized a kilo of cocaine, four rifles, a handgun, ammunition, and three hand grenades.

Los Zetas in the wake of the dumping of the bodies posted banners denying any part in the incident. One the of the banners stated, “[W]hen we hang banners we say ‘Las Golfas,’ and they say ‘Golfo.’”

Mexico’s interior and justice ministries are scrambling to provide beefed-up federal assistance to state authorities in Tamaulipas following the discovery of another 23 bodies in the embattled border city of Nuevo Laredo on May 4.

The escalation of cartel-related violence in the city has prompted federal and state forces assigned to a joint Regional Coordination Group to be placed on maximum alert. The Army took over a year ago security work in Nuevo Laredo after the municipal police force was disbanded.

The Secretary of the Interior, Alejandro Poiré Romero, held meetings on May 5 with the governor of Tamaulipas, Egidio Torre Cantú, and said he would have the full support of federal forces “to assist in the security of the state.”

In a statement released by the Interior Ministry, Poiré said federal and state authorities would “continue fighting in close collaboration and coordination, the criminals responsible for the violence that has occurred in Nuevo Laredo.”

The bodies dangling from a bridge or dismembered and stuffed in ice chests and trash bags marks a further gruesome escalation in the struggle between the country’s two largest cartels, the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas, for dominance of lucrative drug trafficking routes in northeast Mexico into the U.S.

Nine of the bodies – five men and four women—were found hanging from a highway overpass at the junction of National Road and Boulevard Luis Donaldo Colosio and bore clear signs of torture.

The State prosecutor, Victor Almanza, told Agora that most of the victims wore jeans, shirts and but had no shoes on and “all had their hands tied behind their backs and had bullet wounds in different parts of their bodies.” Some were blindfolded and the victims had no identification on them but appeared to be between 25 and 30 years old.

The bodies were accompanied by a crude, profanity-filled narco-banner draped nearby and apparently from Los Zetas. Addressed to the Gulf cartel, an ally of the Sinaloa Federation, it warned: “F******(Golfas) whores, this is how I’m going to finish off every f*****you send to heat up the plaza. You have to f*** up sometime and that’s when I’m gonna put you in your place…See you around f******.”

Just hours after police found 14 decapitated bodies in black trash bags in a parked truck behind a government customs building. The missing heads were stuffed in three ice chests and left near the office of the city mayor. All 14 victims were men and in their twenties, said state prosecutors.

A narco-message was placed near the ice coolers, this time apparently from Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the Sinaloa Federation’s boss, consisting of threats against the mayor of Nuevo Laredo, Benjamin Galvan, and state and municipal public safety officials.

The mayor was likened to the character Willy Wonka from the film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the message was a direct response to a claim Galvan made on April 24 that the Sinaloa Federation doesn’t have a presence in the city. “They want credibility that I work here (?),” the message mockingly enquired.

The message promised that while the mayor continued to live in a world of chocolate “saying that nothing is happening here and all is well” heads will keep rolling. The message signed off: “All who died in Nuevo Laredo is pure scum or Z!! Attn: Your father Joaquin El Chapo Guzman.”

This is the second time that El Chapo has responded to the mayor’s insistence on April 24 that the Sinaloa Federation isn’t operational in Nuevo Laredo. The day after Galvan made the claim a car bomb was exploded outside the city’s Ministry of Public Security.

The narco-message left by Los Zetas with the nine bodies hanging from the overpass on May 4 blamed the Sinaloa Federation for the bombing, according to El Norte newspaper.

The Attorney General of Tamaulipas state, Bolivar Hernandez Garza, says investigators are having “difficulties in identifying the bodies”. He added: “The identification and investigations of events of this nature are very demanding work for the experts,” he said. “In 14 cases the bodies were separated from the head, and this makes the work on identification even more challenging,” he added.

The federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) dispatched a team of prosecutors, forensic experts and crime of scene coordinators from Mexico City to assist state authorities in the investigation as well as to help to identify the victims. The prosecutors from the Office of Special Investigations into Organized Crime are being charged with opening an organized crime case. “The goal is to work collaboratively to expedite the investigation and to trace the perpetrators,” says a PGR spokesman.

The increased tempo and brutality of tit-for-tat slayings in the confrontation between El Chapo and Los Zetas has prompted widespread horror in Mexico. The killings have ranged across the north of the country.

At least 20 suspected drug gang members, a police officer and a soldier have been killed in six confrontations in Sinaloa since April 28, a spokesman for local prosecutors there said.

But the worst of the violence since April has taken place in the states of Tamaulipas and Chihuahua.

The two cartels have been trading insults via narco-banners, goading and taunting each other as the bodies have piled up. The worst incidents in April included:

  • The discovery on April 10 of the dismembered bodies of five young men near a primary school in Culiacan. A narco-banner nearby accused the Sinaloa cartel leader of being in league with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and was signed “Los Zetas”.
  • The butchering on April 17 in Nuevo Laredo of 14 alleged Zetas by the Sinaloa Federation. The mangled and mutilated corpses were grouped in two rows underneath a banner proclaiming that “El Chapo” will clean out Los Zetas. The banner also boasted: “We have begun to clear Nuevo Laredo of Zetas.” and
  • The killing of 17 people on April 20 by gunmen dressed in black tactical gear with skull patches on their sleeves who burst into a neighborhood bar in the city of Chihuahua and opened fire, according to state and city authorities.

According to international consultancy, Stratfor, El Chapo is relying on an allied cartel for many of the Sinaloa Federation attacks in Tamaulipas. The consultancy said in an April report that New Generation Jalisco Cartel (CJNG) has become a real force within El Chapo’s Sinaloa Federation and that the group has developed tactical capabilities that make it a “formidable opponent” for the well-trained and armed Los Zetas.

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.

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.

 

Ban on the Band: Los Tigres del Norte Silenced

The long-running effort to silence bands performing narcocorridos has taken a major turn with authorities in the capital of Mexico’s Chihuahua state indefinitely banning one of the most famous norteno groups, Los Tigres del Norte, from playing in the city.

The move came four days before gunmen in the western Mexican state of Sinaloa killed a member of another well-known band specializing in songs lauding the exploits of drug lords and lamenting their travails.

Chihuahua city’s ban on Los Tigres del Norte, the dominant norteno band for the last 30 years, was in response to a recent concert performed by the band during which they sang some of their most famous drug ballads, including “Queen of the Pacific,” which praises Sandra Avila Beltran, a female trafficker currently held in jail on drug charges. That song reached the number one spot in the Billboard Magazine Latin chart in 2002.

In announcing the ban on March 12, the city authorities said in a statement that by singing three drug ballads at a concert two days previously the band had violated a three-month-old city statute which forbids songs that glamorize narcotics trafficking and drug lords.

Los Tigres del Norte “will not get permits for future shows in the city limits, until such time as authorities decide otherwise,” the city said in its statement. The city government has imposed a 20,000 pesos fine on the concert organizers.

City Governance Director Javier Torres Cardona says, “we ask concert organizers and artists themselves to think about the difficult situation the country is in.”

In a Twitter posting in response to the ban, Los Tigres del Norte denied knowledge of the city statute forbidding live performances of narcocorridos. But the band, one of the most successful norteno groups that has received a slew of music awards in both Mexico and the United States and has a huge following in Central America, is no stranger to controversy — nor is it unfamiliar with bans.

In 2009, the organizers of a music awards ceremony told the group that they couldn’t perform one of their hit ballads “La Granja” or “The Farm.”  Los Tigres del Norte responded by canceling their appearance. In 2002 Los Tigres del Norte had to drop plans to release a single of a new corrido entitled, “Cronica de un Cambio,” which was critical of the administration of President Fox, because national radio chains warned they would not play the song.

Los Tigres albums sell in the millions, and Los Tigres concerts can draw upwards of 100,000 fans.

Since 2002, there have been many moves to ban narcocorridos. Mexican President Vicente Fox proposed a blanket federal ban, and the Mexican Senate looked at the possibility of a nationwide prohibition in 2001, but freedom of speech legislation blocked the possibility of such a ban.

Instead, the Senate urged individual states to curtail narcocorridos, arguing that the songs “create a virtual justification for drug traffickers.”  Several senators have continued over the years to call for a national ban.

And several states and cities have imposed live performance bans of narcocorridos, including the city of Tijuana and the states of Nuevo Leon and Baja California Norte. Mario Enrique Mayans Concha of the Baja California branch of Mexico’s Chamber of Radio and Television Industry says that “narco-ballads are an apology for violence and supports a narco-culture that influences the young.”

Last year in May, Sinaloa Gov. Mario Lopez Valdez issued a decree barring narcocorridos in bars, nightclubs and banquet halls. The governor argued that the songs in effect advocate and condone violence and crime. Establishments in the state that allow narcocorridos to be played risk having their liquor licenses rescinded.

Other jurisdictions have negotiated or encouraged voluntary bans. In Baja California local radio stations agreed a black-out on drug ballads.

Despite the moves to silence the music, narcocorridos remain highly popular and some music observers question whether the bans may be having a reverse effect by highlighting the drug ballads.

Narcocorridos are rooted in Mexican history and can be traced in tradition back to the 1930s when corridos that focused on drug smugglers were first written. The first non-narco corridos go back as far as the 1910 Mexican Revolution when ballads were sung in praise of revolutionary fighters.

Musician and critic Elijah Wald, the author of the book “Narcocorrido: A Journey into the Music of Drugs, Guns and Guerrillas, is critical of the ban, arguing that it would be like banning the Rolling Stones in the U.S. or Britain. He says this ban is significant for two reasons. First because of the importance of the band. And second because these are old songs. “They have been banned for singing drug-related songs that are old and have been made into movies.”

He told Agora that the ban imposed in Tijuana in 2010 on the band Los Tucanes de Tijuana was “probably the best thing that had happened to them in PR terms in the past five years.”

But PRD politician César Flores Maldonado  believes “it is necessary to stop the growth of the genre which glorifies criminals.” He adds: “This is about Mexican national health and these songs need to be regulated.”

At times narcocorrido bands have censored themselves. In an interview with Billboard magazine, Mario Quintero, composer and lead guitarist of Los Tucanes de Tijuana, said he exercised restraint with his lyrics after the murder in November 2006 in Reynosa of the singer Valentín Elizalde, who was thought to have been killed by gunmen linked to the Gulf cartel in retaliation for songs supportive of the Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

Certainly being a narcocorrido singer can be dangerous. That was emphasized again on March 16 when Rodolfo Gomez Valenzuela, a member of the band Cartel de Sinaloa group was slain while rehearsing  in a house in the town of San Pedro. His brother, drummer Roberto Clemente Gomez Valenzuela, was also hit in the attack and remains hospitalized in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, according to state police. The gunmen opened fire on everyone in the band after they burst into the house. Police found at the scene at least six .45-caliber shell casings and security forces launched an search for the killers.

This is the second time that Cartel de Sinaloa has been attacked. On September 26, 2009 band member José Antonio Sánchez Velázquez was slain, one of more than a dozen Mexican musicians  killed since 2006.

The most prominent of those murdered include Valentin Elizalde and Sergio Gomez, the singer of the band K-Paz de la Sierra. On June 26 2010 Sergio Vega was shot dead in Sinaloa state. Other music industry figures killed include Javier Morales Gómez of Los Implacables del Norte, four members of Tecno Banda Fugaz and four members of Los Padrinos de la Sierra.

 

Mexican Cartels Expanding To Dominican Republic

 

Read All About It

SANTO DOMINGO — At first glance, Marino Vinicio Castillo RodrÌguez doesn’t look the warrior. Dressed in an impeccable, tailored suit, he’s the epitome of a successful second-generation attorney and grandfather.

But when Castillo talks about his fears for his country of nine million inhabitants, the humor drains from his eyes. He said the Dominican Republic is at risk of being overwhelmed by organized crime syndicates from Colombia, Mexico and even Europe.

As a leading law-and-order crusader and now the anti-narcotics adviser to President Leonel Fernández Reyna, Castillo has been monitoring and assessing the country’s shifting crime landscape since the early 1990s when Colombian traffickers were using the Caribbean to channel drugs into Florida.

“We have clear evidence that the Sinaloa cartel is developing a structure here and we have representatives of European crime groups including from Russia, Ukraine, the Balkans and Italy,” said Castillo, interviewed at his office in Santo Domingo. “Our situation is becoming very grave. The crackdown on the cartels in Mexico and Colombia has pushed the problem to the little islands of the Caribbean, and the cartels are using us as a bridge for smuggling narcotics into America and Europe.”

Judging by the record drugs seizures and the rise in drug-related homicides, the problem is growing. Dominican authorities appear to have largely halted drug loads being flown into the country and dumped from low-flying light aircraft for pickup — a preferred delivery method for many years.

They Should have Other Things On Their Minds

 

In February, the Dominican Republic’s ambassador in Washington, Anibal de Castro, trumpeted that air interdiction success before a Senate committee, saying “releases of drugs from aircraft in the country” had virtually been eliminated.

The decisive factor, said the diplomat, had been the deployment of an OH-58 helicopter equipped with night vision and eight Brazilian-made Embraer Super Tucano patrol aircraft, bought with the assistance of a $93.7 million loan from Brazil’s government development bank.

Roberto Lebron Jimenez, spokesman for the Direccion Nacional de Control de Drogas (DNCD), said that before the Dominican military took possession of the new aircraft, authorities reported about 200 clandestine drug-running flights into the country per year. Now, he estimates there are just a handful.

However, the drug traffickers have shifted to the sea, exploiting 1,100 miles of Dominican coastline and taking advantage of the country’s strategic role as a container-traffic hub linking the United States, Latin America and Europe.

The coastline is hard to lock up. Traffickers use private leisure craft, fishing vessels and often speedboats capable of carrying more than 4,000 pounds of cocaine at a time. Drugs are brought in from Central and Latin America, then dispersed to the United States — often via Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands — or to Europe in commercial maritime traffic. Smaller loads are smuggled out by “mules” or in air cargo.

“We are a haven for international tourism, have five major international airports and seven major commercial seaports all with a huge amount of container traffic. And we share the island with Haiti, which is a failed state and where the Colombian cartels have been operating for a quarter of a century,” Castillo said. “It is impossible for us to search each and every container. The volume is just too great.”

Recent seizures illustrate the growing problem. In 2011, Dominican authorities confiscated 6,715 kilograms of cocaine — a 48 percent jump from the 4,527 kilos seized the year before. During a two-week period in December 2011, according to official statistics, DNCD police intercepted 1.3 tons in four shipments of cocaine.

The international flavor and the mixing of crime syndicates come through frequently with each major seizure and raid. On Feb. 7, Dominican anti-drug authorities arrested 29 people, including five Puerto Ricans and 17 Russians as well as Colombians and Dominicans, and seized 122 kilos of cocaine tagged to be shipped to Puerto Rico.

Two luxury villas, several apartments, a cargo ship, a speedboat and an airplane were confiscated as well. The cocaine, found in a villa located in the exclusive Casa de Campo resort near La Romana, was to be loaded onto the Carib Vision, a vessel ostensibly used to transport molasses. The load was destined for Puerto Rico when it was intercepted, the DNCD’s Lebron said.

On Dec. 15, anti-drug police seized 1,077 kilos of cocaine from a 24-seat Challenger jet about to take off from La Romana on the southeast coast. The aircraft had registered a flight plan for the Belgian city of Antwerp. This time, the police arrested Dutch citizen Johannes Nicolass and British citizen Edgar Rowson, right before the scheduled takeoff.

And last October, DNCD members confiscated 1,098 kilos of cocaine hidden in medical equipment bound for Le Havre, France, from a vessel at the port of Caucedo.

The amounts of cocaine being seized — thought to be only a fraction of what gets through — are worrying enough. What weighs heavily on Castillo’s mind are signs that the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s largest crime syndicate, has targeted the country for expansion. “We are not in a position to cope with this,” he said.

Dominican officials blame the Sinaloans for the slaying last August of three Colombians and a Venezuelan in Santiago, 96 miles north of Santo Domingo. The killings were thought to be a reprisal, and the corpses were found in the upscale district of Cerro de Gurabo near where a Spaniard had been killed a few days earlier.

Castillo confirms a link to the murders with the Sinaloa cartel, but declined to go into details. He said the presence of the Sinaloans was brought home to authorities when a Mexican national, LuÌs Fernando Bertolucci Castillo — also arrested last August — acknowledged he was a member of that cartel and was in direct contact with drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

The first public acknowledgment by the Dominican government of the Sinaloa presence came in February when Anibal de Castro told the U.S. Senate, “the Sinaloa cartel is seeking to create a route to Europe using the Dominican Republic.”

The Mexican crime presence is not new entirely, Castillo said. In December 1999, Dominican police seized three drug transport planes owned by Mexican drug lord LuÌs Horacio Cano.

Castillo said he’s now aware that the Sinaloa cartel controlled a company which in 1999 bought (and has since sold) four state-owned sugar mills during a privatization process. The mills — at Haina, Boca Chica, San LuÌs and Consuello — were all located near seaports, and had access to landing strips.

What’s different now is the level of activity, the alliances being formed with local crime gangs, and indications that the Sinaloa cartel intends to operate locally. “They are buying property, from oceanfront residences to hotels and businesses,” Castillo said.

DNCD officials said the main focus of the Sinaloa cartel is in El Cibao, the northern region that’s home to nearly half the country’s population as well as its second-largest city, Santiago de los Caballeros.

The officials claim that local crime groups, including the Samana crime gang led by Avelino Matias Castro — currently wanted for allegedly ordering the assassination of a Dominican journalist — provide logistical support while helping the Sinaloa cartel to secure precursor chemicals needed for the production of amphetamines.

The Mexican presence introduces a new dangerous element, said Castillo, noting the Sinaloa cartel’s notoriously violent history as well as its ability to corrupt.

Like its Caribbean neighbors, the Dominican Republic has seen a jump in violent crime and homicides in recent years. From 2001 to 2009, the country’s homicide rate nearly doubled to 23 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. In addition, drug addiction among Dominicans is growing — a consequence, officials believe, of local crime groups being paid by Colombian and Mexican cartels in cocaine as well as cash. Last year, the country recorded 4,173 seizures of crack cocaine alone.

For Castillo, the battle is on. “But we need a lot more help,” he said.

 

How The Mexican Police Bungled The Manhunt for El Chapo — Exclusive

Earlier this month, Mexican officials leaked to AP an exclusive on the hunt for the world’s most powerful drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, the elusive head of the Sinaloa cartel.

They boasted that they had come close to capturing him in late February in Baja California at a resort in Los Cabos where a day earlier U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton held meetings with foreign ministers from the G20.

Jose Cuitláhuac Salinas Martinez, Mexico’s assistant attorney general in charge of organized crime investigations, said it was a near miss in the government’s efforts to arrest the man who has become one of the world’s top fugitives since he escaped from a Mexican prison in a laundry truck in 2001.

The official angled his comments to fuel speculation that authorities are near to capturing Guzmán, something President Felipe Calderón  would dearly love to accomplish before he leaves office at the end of the year. “When asked if authorities are close, he just smiled,” according to the AP dispatch.

But AP was told only half the story by Jose Cuitláhuac Salinas Martinez. Mexican and US security sources tell me that the interview was an attempt to muddy the waters and to obscure the reasons why Mexican police failed to get El Chapo in Los Cabos.

They say it was a preemptive strike to head off any potential bad press from the near miss.

Poor Mexico. So Close To The United States; So Far From God.

And since that March 12 AP story Mexican officials – notably the Secretary for Public Security, Genaro Luna Garcia – have continued to do their best to mislead by leaking, for example, a claim to Reforma newspaper and Univision that a prostitute’s period saved the drug boss from being arrested.

According to that story one of Guzmán’s men hired the prostitute for the billionaire drug lord. The Mexican daily Reforma said the prostitute was blindfolded and taken to a rented home in Los Cabos without being told who her client would be.

And Cuitláhuac Salinas Martinez, told the paper that when El Chapo arrived the hooker couldn’t “perform the services she was hired for because she was menstruating.” El Chapo left the house with the intention of returning, and it was while he was away Mexican authorities raided the house.

According to Univision, “Salinas Martinez suggested that had it not been for the postponed encounter, authorities might have finally arrested Guzmán.”

This isn’t what Mexican security sources tell me. The operation, they say, was bungled from the start and the fault rests with the federal police.

AP speculated in the original dispatch that El Chapo’s narrow escape raises the suspicion that he was tipped off. He was, U.S. and Mexican security sources told me, but not by some corrupt official or paid off cop. The federal police alerted El Chapo inadvertently, to the fury of the Americans, by making two major mistakes.

Mexican police chiefs bungled the opportunity handed them by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who through cell phone monitoring by the National Security Agency provided the electronic intelligence that for the first time in years pinpointed El Chapo’s exact whereabouts — in this case Los Cabos.

“This was the first time that we knew exactly where Guzmán was,” says a senior Mexican security source. “All the other occasions when we have been close it was only after the fact that we realized we had come close to El Chapo,” he adds. “On those other occasions, we have raided a property but only knew in advance that there was a high-value Sinaloa cartel target but we didn’t know that it was El Chapo – we hoped it was, but weren’t sure. This time we knew it was him and this was our best chance in years to get him.”

El Chapo is as careful as Osama bin Laden was in using cell phones, knowing full well that the U.S. has tremendous capability to pinpoint targets through voice recognition and honing in on particular phone numbers. Like other cartels, the Sinaloa Federation uses pre-paid cell phones and cartel members change their phones several times a day to evade the American eavesdroppers.

On this occasion one of El Chapo’s lieutenants held on to a phone for too long and security sources tell me that Guzmán phoned him. As a result the NSA’s voice-recognition systems that had been eavesdropping on that mobile phone identified El Chapo’s voice and traced the phone the drug lord was using. “He called one of his lieutenants, whose phone was being monitored,” says a U.S. source. “That guy presumably was being lazy and keeping a cell phone for way too long.”

The NSA alerted DEA intelligence chiefs, who in turn informed the Mexicans. The sources say there was then an argument between the Mexican federal police and the Mexican military over who would take the lead in the security operation to seize El Chapo.

Secretary for Public Security, Genaro Luna Garcia, who will leave office with Calderón, insisted this was a federal police matter. “He saw this as his triumphant moment, too,” says a Mexican source. “He won the argument by appealing to Calderón ,” he adds.

The operation was placed in the hands of Mexico’s federal police chief, Maribel Cervantes Guerrero, the first woman to hold the position. She was only promoted to the job eleven days before the DEA alerted the Mexicans that they’d picked up Guzmán talking with a subordinate.

Last autumn, President Calderón disclosed, “the Mexican Army “probably a couple of times has been in the place where hours before Chapo was.”  He added: “Sooner or later he will fall.”

And the moment seemed to have arrived in Los Cabos.

But from the start, U.S. and Mexican sources say, the planning was clumsy by Cervantes and that she was more focused on keeping the military subordinate and distant from the operation. She was supported in this by her boss, Luna Garcia, who saw the capture of El Chapo as the perfect end to his ministerial career and he didn’t intend to share any of the kudos with the military, say the sources.

“A number of things went wrong right from the being,” says a U.S. source. “First off, they were too obvious on the ground.”

But the biggest blunder came when the Mexican police inadvertently called both the subordinate’s phone and the one El Chapo was using to get a final confirmation of their exact whereabouts just hours before the raid was scheduled to unfold. “This was enough to tip off El Chapo that something was amiss,” says the U.S. source. “He fled shortly before the operation was launched.”

The botched operation ignited a firestorm of recriminations behind the scenes between the Americans and Mexicans with formal protests being lodged by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his Obama Cabinet colleague, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Mexican and U.S. sources say.

“Those guys were shouting at each other,” says a Mexican source.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials stationed at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City met shortly after the failed operation with President Calderón to complain.

They expressed their frustration at the poor planning and questionable oversight that led to El Chapo’s flight before federal police could nab him at the mansion in the exclusive Punta Ballena district overlooking the Gulf of California.

The failure to nab El Chapo has undermined the trust that was being built up between U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement and has seriously undermined capturing Guzmán in the near future, say the sources. “This near miss is just going to make him even more cautious,” says a DEA source. “It turns out that recently he has been less in Durango and Sinaloa, where we assumed he was mainly hiding, and has been moving in a triangle between Tijuana, Baja California and Mexicali. Now he will change everything.”

Forbes magazine ranks Guzmán as one of the world’s richest men and estimates that he’s worth more than $1bn.  He has a $7m bounty on his head but yet again El Chapo has managed to elude a manhunt every bit as high-tech and intense as the one mounted for Al Qaeda’s leader.

It is an escape that has seriously impacted on the what has developed into fairly good cooperation between Mexican federal law enforcement and the DEA over the years of Calderón’s administration.

With the Americans on the warpath over the bungling, Genaro Luna Garcia added oil to the fire by leaking – yet again to Reforma – a story about how the DEA had screwed up an operation and laundered some cash for El Chapo—a kind of money-laundering Fast and Furious, a gun-tracking operation launched by the Americans that has backfired badly.

The background on the recent hunt for El Chapo is in my detailed report for Agora published last month.

El Chapo Talking with US Claim

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox has put the cat among the pigeons today in an interview with Milenio, claiming that the US is negotiating with the country’s top drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

According to Fox, the negotiations revolve around terms for El Chapo’s surrender and the US is offering reduced a prison term to the head of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s largest crime organization, if he throws in the towel.

The claim, of course, will embarrass President Felipe Calderon, who has insisted that his government will never negotiate with drug lords and who rejected a proposal from Fox last summer that the government should sit down with cartels and hammer out an agreement to reduce violence.

If there are negotiations underway – Fox doesn’t cite any sources for his claims or go into details about the what, where or how – it wouldn’t be that surprising. Contacts between the DEA and drug lords have been known to take place, and the son of El Chapo’s second-in-command, Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, who was extradited in 2009 to the US, has claimed in his court case that US officials had an agreement with the cartel to reduce pressure on the Sinaloans in return for information about rival cartels.

But who is using who here?

 

 

 

El Chapo or Los Zetas?

Which cartel will prevail? The Sinaloa cartel and the upstart Los Zetas are locked in a vicious fight to be the top dog. I discussed this with a good friend of mine, Mexican journalist Jose Carreño, over dinner the other day in Mexico City. He said: “The most remarkable thing about Los Zetas is how quickly they have grown and expanded since they broke with the Gulf Cartel and they have done so by sheer barbaric violence but what allowed them to expand so quickly is what will result in their downfall. The Sinaloa Federation is confrontational too but it is willing to form alliances and to compromise and to deal. Los Zetas isn’t and no one can afford to tolerate their survival – not the Mexican establishment, not the U.S. government and not rival cartels.”

Mexico’s two most powerful cartels – Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas – appear deadlocked in their efforts to gain the upper hand but in the longer term the Sinaloans are likely to remain Mexico’s largest crime organization and emerge as the clear top dog.

The struggle for mastery has left hundreds of foot-soldiers dead and comes at a time that Mexican authorities are redoubling their efforts to hunt down the cartel leaders but, barring a devastating blow against the Sinaloa Federation or an internecine blow-up, experts say the Sinaloans are better established, more rooted and better organized.

“The Sinaloa cartel is more entrenched in society and Los Zetas are barely starting to build a social base founded on intimidation and corruption,” says Alberto Islas Torres, the founder of Risk Evaluation, a risk management company, and a former adviser in the presidential administration of Ernesto Zedilllo.

José Luis Valdés-Ugalde , a political scientist at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, agrees that in the longer term the Sinaloans will prevail. “Both organizations are very strong and cross national borders. Los Zetas have shown tremendous ability in a short period of time and great strength to break away from the Gulf cartel. But the Sinaloa cartel has a dominant position and over time that will increase,” he says.

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.

In recent months, Mexican authorities have pulled off some significant operations against both cartels with a series of arrests and fatal shootings of top lieutenants, including the Sinaloa Federation’s Cabrera Sarabia brothers and Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, the alleged leader of the Gente Nueva gang, a Sinaloan enforcement group.

And Sinaloan production of methamphetamine has been disrupted by several significant seizures of precursor chemicals in west coast ports.

Political scientist José Luis Valdés-Ugalde believes the government’s offensive against the cartels has fallen more heavily on Los Zetas than the Sinaloa Federation. “Federal operations against los Zetas in the states of Veracruz, Zacatecas, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi and Quintana Roo, have  involved the capture of 17 of its leaders and plaza heads. Based on the number of detainees, I estimate that the group of key senior members has been greatly reduced,” he says.

The capture of El Chapo or of Los Zetas’s top leader Heriberto Lazcano could be a game-changer. But the arrest of Lazcano would likely be more damaging for Los Zetas than the capture of El Chapo would be for the Sinaloa Federation, says Islas in an interview with Agora.

He says the Sinaloa Federation is a maturer organization and with its horizontal leadership structure would better absorb the challenge of the loss of El Chapo than Los Zetas with its pyramid structure would if Lazcano were captured.

He notes “board member disputes” could hurt the federation as was seen in the fallout of the quarrel between the Sinaloan leaders and their allies the Beltran Leyva brothers. But the federation has a basic strength  “because it is based on family connections and alliances through marriages and kinship.”

Last year saw significant geographical gains for Los Zetas in the struggle for mastery.

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 at the National Institute of Penal Sciences suggests that Los Zetas is now operating in 17 Mexican states. The Sinaloa Federation is operating in 16 states. Four years ago, the Sinaloa Federation was operating in 23 states.

Heriberto Lazcano’s crime organization maintains a presence in Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, San Luis Potosi, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tabasco , Chiapas, Yucatan and Quintana Roo. The Sinaloa Federation operates in Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, Durango, Sinaloa, Guanajuato, Queretaro, Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Baja California, Sonora, Jalisco, Colima and Guerrero.

According to OFDI, the major flashpoints in terms of the struggle for mastery between the two cartels are in the states of Durango, Coahuila, Sonora, Zacatecas and San Luis Potosí.

While Los Zetas may be operating now in more states than the Sinaloa Federation, the latter is not only the oldest 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.

Further, aside from the differences in command structure and membership, Los Zetas, who are primarily dealers, are in many ways less rooted in the drug business. “The Sinaloans are farmers – marijuana and heroin will always be grown by them,” says Islas. “They are producers and that is why they where able to develop the meth market.”

He believes that Los Zetas’ greatest weakness lies in its membership base. “Their recruitment process is based on recommendations and this is why they are easier to infiltrate.” It is a vulnerability the cartel seems aware of:  the cartel has a “counterintelligence apparatus to detect intruders and is more violent (than the Sinaloan Federation)” in order to enforce loyalty.

Both cartels are expansionary further afield in Central America and the Caribbean. Central America offers vulnerable states with underfunded and ill-equipped armed forces and high levels of poverty, and Los Zetas has exploited that visibly in Guatemala, triggering alarm across the region.

But of the two, say Mexican and Central American officials, the Sinaloa cartel is making more headway overseas, despite the publicity that has followed Los Zetas’ entry into Guatemala.

According to PGR officials El Chapo is searching constantly to develop more international alliances and has highly developed ties and pacts across Latin America, Asia and West Africa. Since 2005 the Sinaloa Federation has pursued and cultivated ties in China, Thailand and India to secure precursor chemicals.

In the last two years a series of arrests of Sinaloa operatives in the cocaine-producing states of Peru and Bolivia suggests that the Sinaloans are not nervous about moving into territory traditionally considered the preserve of Colombian organized crime.

And that includes Colombia itself, where in 2009 more than seventy properties worth more than $50 million were seized by authorities linked to the Sinaloa Federation. At the time of the asset seizures, the Colombian police chief Oscar Naranjo said: “We have evidence of Mexicans sitting in Medellin, sitting in Cali, sitting in Pereira, in Barranquilla.”

And El Chapo has increased the federation’s presence in the Caribbean, where authorities in the Dominican Republic say they have detected in the north of the island the presence of the Sinaloa cartel. Anibal de Castro, the Caribbean country’s ambassador to the United States, told a U.S. Senate hearing earlier this that the Sinaloa cartel “seeks to create a route to Europe via the Dominican Republic.”

In the struggle for mastery, Los Zetas may go in for more gruesome and headline-catching violence, but according to a federal government study called  “Information on the Phenomenon of Crime in Mexico,” until August 2010 at least the Sinaloa cartel was behind 84 percent of the drug-related slayings in Mexico.

 

 

El Chapo Prostitute Claims

The Mexican authorities – notably the Secretary for Public Security, Genaro Luna Garcia – are doing their best to obscure the reasons why they failed to capture Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, the boss of the Sinaloa cartel, when he was staying in late February at a mansion in a resort at Los Cabos, where a day earlier Hillary Clinton had been meeting with other foreign ministers.

Reforma newspaper is running yet another leak from Luna Garcia explaining why El Chapo wasn’t at the mansion when federal police raided. According to the paper El Chapo left early because a prostitute hired for him was having her period.

This isn’t what Mexican security sources tell me. The operation, they say, was bungled from the start and the fault rests with the federal police. I will be writing about the bungled operation shortly.

Why on earth AP decided to pick up this story is beyond me. Even on the face of it, and without knowing why the operation failed, it doesn’t make sense. El Chapo has been married three times and has a young wife now, is one of the world’s wealthiest men and lauded as a folk hero in several Mexican states. Does he really need his men to procure a prostitute for him sight unseen? Would the security-conscious El Chapo add a risk to his visit to Los Cabos?

Of course, the leak has two purposes: to muddy the waters about the operation and to humiliate El Chapo.