Monday, May 30, 2011

A few media quibbles

I figured I'd blog today about a few things worth clarifying in the media that I continually read that are wrong...

1) There is no concrete figure pertaining to Chapo Guzman's worth. Forbes listed him as worth $1 billion, but there was no methodology used to figure that out. The number was pulled from thin air.

2) The 90-percent-of-guns-used-by-Mexican cartels-come-from-the-US figure comes from a tracing program enacted for about a year between the ATF and PGR. There were a few thousands guns used in homicides in Mexico traced back to the US. That's where this number comes from, it's an estimate extrapolated from the results tracing program.

3) Proceso claims that Chapo was married in Durango, El Mayo Zambada claims that story is untrue. You decide who to believe.

4) El Chapo is not in Liverpool, contrary to headlines of stories quoting me quoting a source saying the Sinaloa cartel is believed to be shipping drugs there.

5) Badiraguato, the town, is different from Badiraguato, the county. Chapo is from Badiraguato, the county, not the town.

6) I was a General Editor at Newsweek, not THE editor. Mexican newspapers don't tend to distinguish between the two, but there is a big difference, and well worth noting.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chapo in Argentina

Proceso has a good story this week about Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel's empire establishing itself in Argentina. One of the notable parts is expert Edgardo Buscaglia talking about why the Sinaloa cartel would set up production and distribution networks in the southern cone. The reason, Buscaglia tells Proceso, is to "diversify" and "minimize risk."

Indeed, this is what the Mexican cartels, not just Chapo and Sinaloa, have been doing in recent years. As early as 2006, they were getting meth precursors like ephedrine (by then, illegal in Mexico) shipped to Argentina and then brought all the way up north to make meth. Ephedrine imports to Argentina rose from 5.5 tons in 2006 to 28.5 tons in 2007, according to the DEA.

In addition, there were some major arrests on Argentine shores. On one occasion, two Mexican men who had recently entered the country were arrested with 750 kilos of cocaine. A judge investigating their case believed they were working for the Sinaloa cartel. They were allegedly planning to smuggle the cocaine to Spain, where it would have a street value of $27 million.

Another raid outside Buenos Aires had netted twenty-three Sinaloa-linked Mexicans and a meth lab in 2008: already then, the cartels were thinking of producing in Argentina rather than just using it as a transshipment point.

Violence has also accompanied the arrival of the Mexican cartels in Argentina. In 2009, three Argentines were found in a ditch outside Buenos Aires, their corpses riddled with bullets, their hands bound. The killing had all the hallmarks of a Mexican cartel-related execution. According to a retired DEA agent working in Argentina, the young men had tried to rip off their Mexican counterparts.

We'll see if violence increases in Argentina with these new reports of Chapo's people working there. Meanwhile, an Argentine press report that cites an anonymous official talking about Chapo having lived in Argentina in 2010, before heading to Paraguay, Colombia and then Europe, is likely BS. Patrick Corcoran has a nice piece on it at, but I am not quite sure this story warrants any attention whatsoever. While it is possible Chapo has traveled in recent years, I'm not convinced it would be that easy for him to just jet around as the article implies. And from conversations with people who know way more about this than an anonymous Argentine official, I'm pretty convinced he's still holed up in Durango and Sinaloa, where he's safe and powerful. He can send envoys to Argentina and the like, rather than risk a visit himself.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Corruption at its worst

When we think of corruption, we tend to think of politicians, drug cartels, police etc. We don't usually think of soccer. But ahead of the FIFA election campaign, it's worth remembering Sepp Blatter and his FIFA empire. Rob Hughes has a great article on the subject of corruption within the FIFA ranks here:

(Link is also in title of the post)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Banning narcocorridos

Sinaloa Gov. Mario López Valdez has introduced a reform to ban narcocorridos in his state, a state where corridos are hugely popular among the young and old, and which sometimes, and I emphasize sometimes, highlight the exploits of criminal elements like El Chapo Guzman.

Under the new law, establishments who allow narcocorridos to be played or performed by bands will lose their licenses.

This isn't the first time the authorities have sought to ban narcocorridos in Mexico. According to Sinaloan writer Elihah Wald, who has researched narcocorridos extensively and written at least one book about them, there have been calls for censorship of corridos associated with drug trafficking or the crime world ever since Los Tigres del Norte hit with 'Contrabando y Traición' and 'La Banda del Carro Rojo' in the 1970s.

Calls to ban narcocorridos have "intensified in recent years," according to Wald. On his web site, (link in title of post) he lists the many attempts to crack down on this brand of music. He also expresses some interesting opinions on the crackdowns. Some of them I agree with.

The authorities are sorely misled if they believe that narcocorridos are in any way related to the deep-rooted issues they apparently don't want to address. Narcocorridos do not turn young people into narcos, they simply celebrate rebellion and people who make a living in a world where the government and ordinary business don't allow them to operate or succeed. Banning the songs won't make the kids think of getting an education or a job; providing them with genuine opportunities and jobs will. The Sinaloan government is wasting its time in this moral battle, when it could be trying to think up positive ways to improve Sinaloan society, the economy, education, etc etc.

The Sinaloan government is also taking a risk with its ban on narcocorridos. It is outlawing one of the few freedoms of expression young people have, essentially a way of voicing their discontent with their situation without actually resorting to violence or crime. Take that away from them, what will they be left with? Nothing.

Lastly, banning narcocorridos is a mistake because many narcocorridos are often not just odes to crime bosses, but to the people, to the reality of what is happening around them. In many parts of Sinaloa, bands perform tributes to the deceased; they write and sing about what is happening around them, as journalists do. Take Omar Meza, for instance, a local from Badiraguato who I met a few years ago while there researching The Last Narco. Omar sings about what's going on around him. He doesn't really glorify the narcos, but he sometimes does mention them in his tunes, because they are involved in the events occurring.

Here's one of his corridos, or ballads. Will the authorities decide to ban this one, because it talks about them in a bad light?

‘Tragedy in Santiago de los Caballeros’ by Omar 'El Comandante' Meza

People of Badiraguato, the blood flows again
For the four lives who couldn’t defend themselves
Their families and friends couldn’t believe it
They were heading to a party when the soldiers came out of nowhere
Without any motive they fired their rifles
And how surprised were they the men were unarmed
Sinaloa is in mourning for this situation
La Joya de los Martinez already lived the same terror
Reckless soldiers
more dangerous than a lion
Assassins through error, there will be a simple repercussion
These are published news stories on the radio and in print
All we ask for is justice assassins without conscience
This is your farewell
goodbye Geovany my friend
because that’s how he wanted your destiny to be
Grandmother, mother and brothers never forget that I love you
And that I’ll protect you when I find myself in heaven
I will continue on the path of my father and my grandfather

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rapper glorifies El Chapo

So the New York rapper, Tony Yayo, has decided to put El Chapo on the cover of his new album. (It's on itunes, called "El Chapo" if you want to not buy it.)

I used to sympathize a little with rappers who wrote about drugs and dealers, the street life they had grown up in, because it drew attention to the plight of many young minorities in the United States. But this is pushing it way beyond the limit.

There's a lyric in Yayo's song "Orange and black caviar" which goes: "A little drug money never hurt nobody, El Chapo 18 cars..." (I think it's cars, or he could be referring to carats, as in gold, not sure)

A little drug money never hurt nobody? Really? 40,000 people dead and climbing. Beheadings on a daily basis. Hundreds of migrants kidnapped and executed at a time. Top police commanders killed. Innocent teenagers and children killed intentionally and in crossfires. I could continue...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Good piece on Tamaulipas

Alfredo Corchado has an excellent story in the Dallas Morning News from Nuevo Laredo. (Link in title of post.) As always, his reporting is top notch.

What's most interesting about the article to me is once again, the role perception plays in this whole drug war. The people of Nuevo Laredo, and other parts of Mexico, increasingly see the cartels as in control of government, or as "virtual parallel governments," as Corchado describes it.

I've found this to be true in various parts of Mexico, from Sinaloa to Michoacan to Chipas to my own neighborhood in Mexico City, where local PRIistas took advantage of local proprietors whenever they had the opportunity.

Of course, they weren't armed, vicious thugs calling themselves Zetas and running into town beheading people. But once again, I think perception is the biggest problem. When there is no clear law and order, when the authorities can't be trusted to keep order and peace let alone leave the public alone, you get a sense that everything is falling apart and in the words of one US official I talked to a while back about Tamaulipas, that there is "no law."

Anyway, read the Corchado piece. It's solid stuff.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who's most-wanted now?

Following the fall of Osama bin Laden, is Chapo Guzman now the world's most-wanted man?

Well, to clarify all the chatter, there really is no such thing. Forbes named him the 2nd most-wanted fugitive in the world a while back, but that doesn't mean US authorities are now scrambling to find the gomero's son from Sinaloa. Chapo isn't even on the FBI's 10 most-wanted list. Through the US State Dept., the DEA did issue a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture in 2004; that order still stands.

As a face of the enemy, as Sam Keen might have put it, Chapo is probably now the most-wanted man in the world. The Australian authorities are talking about him as if he was personally responsible for delivering all the drugs consumed in their country, and throughout Europe, his name is starting to become known. In the US, people know about him and I've even encountered some folks who believe he's a rebel of sorts, to be admired – they've made t-shirts and painted canvases of his face.

But I don't anticipate a massive push to catch or kill him, except for what the authorities are doing right now. The authorities know full well that his death or capture won't end the drug trade or drug war. They also know that, like bin Laden, Chapo is now more of a symbol than hands-on leader. His people work in his name, and put up narco-mantas from Culiacan to Juarez declaring his might, but even if he were gone tomorrow, they'd keep trafficking drugs, keep killing their rivals and innocent people, and disrupting the social order.

Still, catching Chapo would be a massive political boon for Calderon. Like Obama, he would gain ground in polls; he would be able to quiet critics who say he's made a pact with Sinaloa. Calderon would not be able to claim an end to the drug war, but he'd be able to close a chapter on it, as I've said before. So all in all, it'd be well worth going after him ahead of the 2012 elections, rather than letting him retire in peace.