Barack Obama has praised the capture of Zetas boss Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, alias “Z-40,” as proof of the effectiveness of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto's strategy for taking on drug cartels, but the approach bears a striking resemblance to the failed policies of his predecessor.
In a Tuesday interview with Los Angeles’ Univision affiliate, the U.S. president said Treviño’s arrest proved his Mexican counterpart was serious about going after drug trafficking organizations. “What it shows is that the new administration of President Peña Nieto is serious about continuing the efforts to break up these transnational drug operations,” Obama said. “And there had been some question about that, I think early on during his campaign, and immediately after his election.” As Reuters points out, this appears to have been a reference to Peña Nieto’s decision to scale back cooperation with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement in its fight against cartels.
Today’s New York Times also features praise for the arrest, calling it a potential “crossroads” for Mexico. According to the NYT: “Treviño’s arrest, the killing of the previous Zeta commander in October and the recent capture of several other lieutenants have rocked the trafficking organizations that did the most to damage Mexico’s image and instill the most fear among the people.”
It’s true that the Zetas’ familiarity with military maneuvers and penchant for ultraviolent acts of revenge made them widely feared, but there is reason to be skeptical of their reputation as the “most violent” criminal group in Mexico (as the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Foreign Policy’s Elias Groll all describe them). While the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, has achieved its status as the largest and most powerful Mexican cartel through a series of strategic alliances with officials and security forces, it is not above using similarly brutal tactics. A 2010 Reforma report based on government statistics found that, from December 2006 and June 2010, the Sinaloa Cartel could be linked to some 70 percent of the crime-linked homicides in the country.
In 2011, Patrick Corcoran of InSight Crime noted the “destabilizing” tendencies of the Sinaloa Cartel in Mexico’s criminal underworld:
“Sinaloa’s move on Juarez has alone caused some 10,000 deaths, roughly a quarter of all the killings linked to organized crime during the Calderon administration. They also took advantage of a weakened Arellano Felix clan to increase their control over Tijuana, in the process unleashing an ongoing battle for the city. Before that, the gang launched an aborted attempt to take over Tamaulipas that ironically helped cement the Zetas’ rise to prominence.”
This suggests that although Treviño’s arrest is a victory for Mexico’s violent image and Peña Nieto's security chops, it will have little effect on the violent nature of the country’s drug-fueled conflict overall, and in the short run may even cause a spike in homicides due to infighting among Zetas lieutenants. Also, as the L.A. Times notes, it will have “surprisingly little effect on trafficking of cocaine and other illicit substances” northward.
This perfectly illustrates the shortcomings of the U.S.-supported “kingpin strategy,” based on the assumption that targeting high-value figures in criminal structures causes them to fracture, allowing them to be dismantled with enough pressure from law enforcement. First implemented in Mexico by President Felipe Calderon in 2006, the strategy is widely believed to have contributed to the roughly 60,000 drug war deaths seen during his administration. Calderon’s former interior minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, has conceded that the kingpin strategy caused splintering of criminal organizations, making them "more violent and much more dangerous."
When Peña Nieto took office in December 2012, he claimed he would prioritize a reduction in killings, kidnapping and extortion over going after big fish. The arrest of Treviño, combined with the fact the military is still at the forefront of the government’s security strategy, and federal police are still deployed across the country to make up for poorly-trained local law enforcement, indicates that he may have strayed from this promise, opting to follow Calderon’s approach.
- The Cuban government has issued a response to Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli’s announcement on Monday that officials in his country had intercepted a North Korean vessel carrying “sophisticated missile equipment” from Cuba. According to the Cuban Foreign Ministry, the shipment amounted to Cold War-era “obsolete defensive weaponry” which had been sent to North Korea for repair. As a result of the discovery, Congresswoman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen has urged the president to scrap talks with Cuban officials on migration issues, which as CBS News notes, were planned for today. It is unclear whether they will proceed.
- The Wall Street Journal reports that a new nationwide survey released by polling firm MDA has found that support for the administration of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff fell from 54 percent in early June to just 31 percent a month later. According to the Associated Press, MDA found that her personal approval rating fell from 73.7 percent to 49.3 percent during that time.
- While El Salvador’s gang truce appeared weakened earlier this month when authorities registered 103 homicides in a single week, in some areas it has proved exceptionally effective at reducing violence. One of these, according to El Faro and the AFP, is the community of Valle del Sol, north of San Salvador, where there have been no reported homicides since the truce was first announced.
- El Universal reports that Mexico’s public transparency agency, the Institute of Access to Information and Protection of Data (IFAI), has requested that the Peña Nieto administration turn over records on the individuals detained by federal police, marines and the military in the first four months of this year. The appeal comes after the IAFI’s May request that officials submit a report on any progress made in locating missing and disappeared individuals in the country.
- Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has announced that he will meet with Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro on the Colombia-Venezuela border to carry out a “complete assessment of bilateral relations.” Relations between the two countries soured earlier this year after Santos agreed to meet with Henrique Capriles of the Venezuelan opposition. Reuters reports that the meeting was confirmed by Maduro, who said he would “go with the best good faith, the best goodwill.”
- In a public address yesterday, Santos annoucned that he did not believe that Colombia required a UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country any longer. “The reasons for having a UN office on human rights re disappearing,” he said. El Espectador notes that the president said he would relay this message to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pilay, who has just arrived for a country visit.
- El Pais reports that six months after abortions were decriminalized in Uruguay, roughly 2,550 legal procedures have been carried out in the country, according to country’s Health Ministry.
- Despite the diplomatic fallout that resulted after Santos met with the Venezuelan opposition leader, Chilean President Sebastian Piñera has agreed to meet with Capriles this week. According to La Tercera, however, Piñera has cautioned that the meeting will not take place in the presidential palace.
- On Monday, the Spanish government formally apologized for his country’s decision to deny access to its airspace to Bolivian President Evo Morales on the suspicion that he was harboring former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, according to Spain’s El Pais.
- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has announced that he and his longtime partner, former Attorney General Cilia Flores, have married in a civil ceremony presided over by Caracas mayor Jorge Rodriguez. According to the AP, the two have been a couple for over twenty years.