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.


  1. How come the Mexican media can day after day show pictures of death, but they can't show any pictures of the area, neighborhood or house.

    I read your book Last Narco and enjoyed it. Is there an English version for Hasta El Ultimo Dia?

    P.S. Please consider doing a book on La Barbie (I look forward to buying the book).


    1. hasta el ultimo dia is only in spanish, sorry. won't be doing a book on la Barbie, although his story is indeed fascinating and tragic at the same time, largely because I don't think he deserves the fame a book might bestow upon him. not sure why most mexican media don't show pictures of the area, i assume it's a conscious editorial decision not to defame an entire neighborhood or something – that said, Notimex, the state-owned news agency, always includes the address and shows pictures etc etc.

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  2. Dear mr Beith,
    I started reading "The Last Narco" a few days ago. I was wondering if you plan to visit Europe (The Netherlands) anywhere soon for public appearances.

    Best regards,
    F. Jaycee