Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NPR "investigates"

Ahead of Calderon's visit to Washington, NPR has done an investigation into the widespread allegations that Mexico is favoring the Sinaloa cartel. It's the best piece I've read on the subject, but because it's so bad, it only serves to show how bad the other pieces were. So I'm going to do my own investigation of the data available, and will write something up in the next week or so.
Here are some of my observations about the NPR piece, for now (i'll add more as I analyze it more and do my own research):

First person quoted in the piece is "a woman in stretch pants and sneakers" who peddles CD of narco-corridos."La Linea is from here. It's the Juarez cartel," the woman says. "Chapo wants to take over Juarez, but those with La Linea don't want to give it up. This is why there's so much killing."
Hardly a reliable source, particularly coming just a paragraph after NPR said it based its investigation on "court testimony, current and former law enforcement officials, and an NPR analysis of cartel arrests." If that's what you based your investigation on, then lead with that.

The next bit of "evidence": "Everywhere in Juarez, people whisper the story about how the Mexican army and federal police are helping Guzman's gangs of assassins capture the city."
Well, yeah, people have been whispering that since October, but that doesn't make it true. It's good color, and belongs in the story, but again, this is supposed to be an "investigation."

Next, the accusations: "The presence of the army and the federal police has not resolved the problem," says Manuel Espino, former congressman from Juarez and former head of the National Action Party, the president's party. "On the contrary, it's gotten worse. El Chapo comes to town to take over the territory. It makes us believe there's a complicity with the federal government. Veteran journalists in Juarez see it, too."

Espino has been on the outs with Calderon for some time; maybe it would have been worth noting that, and a brief summary of their history? I think Manuel Clouthier, another vocal PAN critic of alleged leniency on the Sinaloa cartel, would have been a better source here, but of course, he's from Sinaloa, not Chihuahua.

The quotes from the former Juarez police commander are good. But not strong enough to be proof. "The intention of the army is to try and get rid of the Juarez cartel, so that Chapo's cartel is the strongest," says the ex-commander. "...during those three weeks, Chapo's people contacted the army and figured out what they were doing and how much money they wanted. They started to pay them off, and the Sinaloans just kept working."

This guy is most likely telling the truth in some respects. I've been with the army up in Ciudad Juarez, I know how they work. They are not all in the pockets of the Sinaloa cartel, but I'm sure some are. What is basically happening is that they pay informants, informants offer them information, and they act on it. The result is a bidding war. If the Juarez cartel gives more info, then the army will go after Sinaloa members. If the Sinaloa cartel offers better info, then they go after Juarez guys. At the same time, I don't doubt that some soldiers/mililtary intelligence folks make arrangements whereby they get info, turn a blind eye to the informants' business, and maybe make some extra cash while they're at it. Corruption exists everywhere, and everyone is corruptible. How corrupt and how high up it goes is really the key question at this point.

Then there's also the obvious logic, which a DEA official explains later in the piece: the Juarez cartel is based in Juarez, therefore will be the main and easier target.
"La Linea has controlled the [smuggling] corridor so there are more [Juarez cartel] operators in this corridor than any other cartel. Therefore, you're going to see more people from [that cartel] being arrested," Joe Arabit spells out.

My last quibble (for now): "In an effort to get a more precise picture of who the authorities are pursuing in Juarez, an NPR News investigation analyzed thousands of news releases posted on the website of Mexico's federal attorney general's office, the Procuraduria General de la Republica. The news releases document every arrest of a cartel member charged with organized crime, weapons or drug offenses."

I don't believe this for a second. Firstly, because I've read the PGR bulletins every day for the past three years, and am not even convinced that there are "thousands" of bulletins regarding arrests in Juarez. (I'll check when I have time.) Secondly, Sedena (military) arrests are not always registered on the PGR web site, so what about those? This is good reason to criticize Mexico for poor inter-agency sharing of information, but it's not enough to accuse the government of collusion with the Sinaloa cartel.

I've expressed my doubts about Sinaloa cartel favoritism before, mainly because I still believe in everyone being innocent until proven guilty, and that includes the government. I don't doubt that favors are being traded all over the place in the drug war, because that's how the drug war works. I think NPR should have done a better job before launching these accusations; especially as it's one of the only media outlets remaining that I still trust. Watergate, this investigation ain't.