Monday, March 12, 2012

Mexican Government 'Almost' Captures Chapo Guzman

The Associated Press published an exclusive story today on a recent attempt by the Mexican government to capture notorious drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel. According to the AP, Mexican officials nearly arrested Guzman in a raid of a beachside mansion in Los Cabos, Baja California three weeks ago.

The operation was confirmed on Sunday by Deputy Attorney General Jose Cuitlahuac Salinas, who said that Mexican officials led the operation, but would not comment on whether there had been any US involvement. The AP claims that this incident “fuels growing speculation that authorities are closing in on Guzman, and that the government of President Felipe Calderon is determined to grab him before his six-year term ends in December.”

However, there is reason to doubt that the Mexican government is close to capturing “El Chapo.” For one thing, Los Cabos was also the site of last month’s G-20 meeting, and the failed operation against Guzman reportedly occurred just one day after the meeting. Considering the security apparatus that Mexican officials likely put in place in preparation for the summit, it seems ludicrous that they were unable to arrest him after discovering his whereabouts.

If President Calderon does manage to capture or kill Guzman, it could serve as a vindication of his security policies, which his critics say simply generates more violence with few results. It may even come as a boost to his National Action Party (PAN) ahead of the upcoming July presidential elections. Polls indicate that the PAN’s Josefina Vazquez Mota is currently trailing behind Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) by 15 points, but the capture of Guzman could give Vazquez the necessary bump to close that gap.

However, it is also important to recognize that Guzman’s arrest alone would not bring down his Sinaloa Cartel. The cartel is led by several other well-known kingpins (like Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and Juan Jose "El Azul" Esparragoza) who could step up and fill his shoes. Even if the Sinaloa Cartel was significantly weakened by Guzman’s capture or death, it would not have a major impact on the drug trade in Mexico, as smaller drug trafficking organizations would rush to take up whatever share of the market the Sinaloans abandoned. As InSight Crime’s Patrick Corcoran notes:

“[C]apos, even the most powerful ones, are merely cogs in a much larger machine. If one cog is removed, another can, and inevitably will, replace it. The machine, driven by an insatiable demand for recreational drugs, grinds on with whatever parts are available.”

News Briefs

·         In what seems like a familiar line, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced on Sunday that he is recovering well after his recent cancer surgery in Cuba, and plans to return home this week. He will need to undergo radiation therapy in the coming weeks, but it is unclear whether he will do so in Venezuela or travel to Cuba again for the treatment.

·         El Salvador’s conservative opposition won a narrow victory in yesterday’s general elections, with the ARENA party winning 33 of the 84 seats in the National Assembly, and the recently created GANA party taking 11 seats in its first-ever elections. The ruling FMLN party held on to 31 seats, losing four. More from the BBC and AFP.

·         The AP has an interesting article on the influence of American electioneering over Mexican political campaigns. While the same basic rules for managing a campaign apply in both countries, Mexico’s strict rules on negative advertisement and political fundraising make it difficult for high budget, media-geared, US-style campaigns to work.

·         Honduran journalist Fausto Elio Valle was murdered yesterday in the northern department of Colon. Honduras’ La Prensa reports that at least 24 journalists have been killed over the past three years in the country, and 19 of those cases are still unsolved.

·         The Mexican government discovered the remains of 167 people in a cave in the southern state of Chiapas over the weekend, but an analysis of the remains proved that they were at least 50 years old and not a “narcofosa.” Authorities have promised to investigate the matter, though there appears to be no sign of violence.  

·         A new report by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multi-Lateral Investment Fund claims that Latin American and Caribbean migrants working in the US and Europe sent $61 billion in remittances to their home countries last year, up 6 percent from 2010.

·         InSight Crime offers some analysis of law enforcement policies in Nicaragua, which remains relatively secure compared to its neighbors in Central America.

·         The Americas Quarterly blog with a look at recent tax reforms underway in Guatemala, a country with the lowest tax rates in Latin America and a staggering degree of income inequality.

·         The New York Times profiles the prevalence of the indigenous language of Guaraní in Paraguay. Although indigenous Paraguayans account for no more than 5 percent of the population, an estimated 90 percent of the country speaks Guaraní.

·         The AP’s Vivian Sequera and Frank Bajak take a look at the rising profile of LGBT politicians in Latin America. While these officials still face major social obstacles, they are becoming increasingly common in legislatures and cabinets across the region.

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