Saturday, September 29, 2012

It's been a while since I last blogged, my apologies to those who follow, I'm currently enrolled in a Master's degree course on War Studies. I will start blogging on subjects pertaining to my studies in the coming weeks; in the meantime, I'm going to post daily about some of the victims of the drug war in recent years, whose stories I've come across in my research. Jan. 1, 2008 Mia Alvarado Rodriguez was tucked up in her bed in her parents' house in Ciudad Juarez, asleep. It was five minutes past midnight. Her father heard a cry. He ran to the bedroom Mia shared with her three siblings. Mia was standing up, or at least, trying to. Blood was streaming down her front. She had been hit by a stray bullet from an AK-47. Mia would die six days later. She was only three years old.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Chapo's son – or not

Apologies for not posting for some time, I've been busy working on other projects. Just wanted to offer a quick opinion regarding the arrest of Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, one of Chapo's sons. Or not one of his sons. It appears that the young man arrested in Zapopan on Thursday was actually Felix Beltran and not Chapo’s son, according to his attorney, Veronica Guerrero. He was, however, found with a large cache of weapons and $160,000 in cash. Everyone's jumping to criticize the authorities, who apparently were acting on intelligence provided by the DEA. My initial reaction, given the mistakes made in this drug war, are to do the same. HOWEVER... every news report I've read seems to take the attorney's word for it. Given that this young man had weapons and vast amounts of cash on him, there is reason enough to believe he's guilty of something. And while I'm not gonna say that this guy is Chapo's son, I have little doubt that Chapo's son has a nice little alibi ready – fake ID in hand – in case of arrest, and an attorney ready to step in (as well as, in this case, someone to come and claim she is his mother). If he doesn't, then the Sinaloa cartel is not run the way I believe it is. I'm not saying this is all a show and an effort to manipulate the media, public opinion and the authorities, but it could well be. So, I'm gonna wait and see with this story before pronouncing judgment. I should also mention that the authorities are investigating whether the marines involved in the arrest may have planted the weapons on Felix Beltran. If so, that is a huge blow to US-Mexican cooperation, in my mind. The marines, and SEMAR (the navy) are far more trusted than the army. US agents have been turning to them more and more in recent years, due to trust issues, and if the marines are screwing things up, then that does not bode well for intelligence-sharing and joint ops. I sincerely hope this was not the case. Stay tuned... PS - Meantime, here's a link to a recent Newsweek International article on Mexico's generals and their side of the war on organized crime.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Close but no cigar

Apologies, it's been a while since I last blogged. Been busy, studying up on counterinsurgency and how it might be applied to Mexico. Also finished writing another book: Hasta El Ultimo Dia (Ediciones B, Mexico) which should now be on sale in Mexico only (at most bookstores.)

My thoughts on the latest news about Chapo: There was a close call, apparently, near Los Cabos, in late February. According to the Associated Press, Chapo was recently at a private residence between the Cabo San Lucas Highway and the beach, in Baja California Sur.

Two men and two women were arrested at the house.Jose Cuitlahuac Salinas, Mexico's assistant attorney general in charge of organized crime investigations, told the AP: "We know he (Chapo) was there."

But when, exactly?

The operation to raid the home, one of several multi-million dollar exclusive properties along that route, apparently started on Feb. 21. The operativo apparently took a few days. (a few days – to raid a house ?????)

Then, to quote the AP: "Salinas said he didn't know if this time Guzman was in the house with only four other people and lacked the expected entourage of bodyguards and surveillance equipment, which reportedly normally includes helicopters. He would not give details of how the operation was carried out or what the four may have told authorities.

"That's classified information," he said.

This time? So, when was Chapo in this house then? This month? Last year? The guy has hundreds of houses throughout Mexico. More details please.

* * *

I'm not saying the authorities are lying, but some have in the past just to get the feds off their backs. As for Chapo, well, he is a master of misinformation and manipulation, as can be expected of such a powerful and elusive drug trafficker. A close call during his wedding in the mountains in 2007 was not a close call; according to my reporting, he deliberately disseminated a fake wedding date so the authorities would come, after he had already gotten married. He could easily have told the people in the house to tell the authorities he was there while he was basking in the sun in Mazatlan.

This latest raid is not clearly a sign that the authorities are really going after Chapo, in my mind.

"We're still searching," Salinas told the AP. When asked if the authorities are close, he just smiled, the AP reported.

This last bit is interesting. The Mexican authorities usually get prickly when asked questions about failing to catch Chapo; they've been fielding these questions for over a decade now, after all, and the frustration is understandable, given that he is just one man in a massive equation. Salinas' smile doesn't really mean anything necessarily, but it does make you wonder whether something is up. A press conference by Interior Secretary Alejandro Poire following the raid, in which he mentioned Chapo, also adds to the sense of wonder: is something going on?

Everyone knows capturing Chapo won't end the war on drugs. But it would silence Calderon's critics, and give the PAN good momentum going into the July elections. So lots of people are talking about a so-called October Surprise. Thankfully, the PAN has already silenced those conspiracy-minded critics who said the Sinaloa cartel was being protected. There have been so many arrests of high-ranking Sinaloa members since 2009 that few would dare say the PAN was protecting Sinaloa now.

(That said, the conspiracy theories do continue on account of Chapo's corruption network, and the allegations that he played a role in turning on his comrades when they were no longer useful to him. But that doesn't make the government complicit in any way.)

I do believe Chapo's days are numbered. But not because the authorities say so. I believe it because I believe Chapo and his cronies believe it.

On Jan. 30, 2009, according to DEA agent testimony coming out of the Vicente Zambada-Niebla trial, three DEA agents met with a source in Mexico City. The source allegedly told them that he had been instructed by Chapo to meet with Vicente Zambada-Niebla; Chapo and El Mayo, apparently, were interested in having the heir to the Sinaloa throne cooperate with the DEA in order to expunge his existing US charges.
DEA agent Manuel Castanon testified that he told the source that they would consider the possibility of a meeting with Zambada-Niebla, but no promises were made.

On March 17, 2009, DEA agent Castanon allegedly arrived in Mexico City and met with another agent at the Sheraton Hotel on Paseo de la Reforma, just down the street from the U.S. Embassy, they met up with Agent Fraga and several other DEA agents operating out of Mexico City.

At 12:30 pm that night, Zambada-Niebla allegedly arrived. The DEA agents allegedly talked to him, but made no promises. They were unable to make promises without clearance from their superiors; they were also unable to make an arrest as they don't operate in Mexico in that capacity. They allegedly discussed the possibility of setting up a meeting in another country, maybe even the United States.

Zambada-Niebla left.

Just a few hours later, he was arrested by the military and federal police in Colonia Jardines del Pedregal, outside of a home located at número 269, Calle Lluvia.

He is now on trial in Chicago.

Please buy Hasta El Ultimo Dia to find out more.