Monday, February 24, 2014

'El Chapo' Arrest Highlights U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation

On Saturday morning at 6:40 a.m, Mexican marines captured the country’s most-wanted outlaw, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

It’s worth noting that El Chapo’s arrest was the result of cooperation of between U.S. and Mexican intelligence officials, illustrating the limits of recent reports of a strained relationship on security issues between the two countries. His downfall can be traced back to the November arrest of a son of El Chapo’s associate, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, at the border. U.S. federal officials have told the press that his arrest provided law enforcement with key cell phone data used to track the top leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel. This information was shared with the Mexican government earlier this month.

El Universal, the Washington Post and Reuters each offer detailed accounts of the weeks leading up to the kingpin’s capture. The Mexicans began putting this intelligence to use immediately, capturing a series of Sinaloa operators. Two weeks ago, security forces raided a number of inter-connected safe houses belonging to El Chapo, but the kingpin managed to escape through an underground tunnel while his pursuers were delayed by steel-enforced doors. This series of operations led to the capture of several Sinaloa enforcers, however, one of which tipped authorities off that the cartel boss would be in the resort city of Mazatlan. He was tracked to a relatively modest condominium complex there, and arrested without a single shot fired.

El Chapo’s arrest is also a big victory for President Enrique Peña Nieto, and may end some of the rumors that the government has been going easy on the Sinaloa Cartel in favor of more violent criminal groups in the country. But as the New York Times notes, many Mexicans remain skeptical of the “official story” of his arrest, and plenty of conspiracy theories are circulating about the veracity of his capture.

But while the symbolic advantage of the kingpin’s arrest are undeniable, its strategic importance to the government’s efforts to rein in drug-fueled violence are being questioned. In a post for Fusion news network, Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope writes that El Chapo’s capture will likely fuel more violence in the short term, accelerating a process by which the country’s most powerful criminal organizations are becoming “smaller, more local, more territorial, and more violent.” Other experts consulted by El Pais agree with this assessment.

Still others, however, have suggested that El Chapo’s arrest will have only a minimal effect on the Sinaloa Cartel. The Dallas Morning News spoke with one anonymous U.S. official who cautioned that El Chapo was “more of a figurehead than the dominant leader,” and that the real power within the organization lies with El Mayo Zambada. According to the source, Zambada and another associate, Juan Jose “El Azul” Esparragoza, will likely keep the crime syndicate together, potentially acting “more quiet, less violent” to avoid further law enforcement attention.

News Briefs
  • While El Chapo’s arrest shows that the U.S. and Mexico still maintain a working relationship on security issues, the question of what to do with him now that he is in custody will no doubt illustrate the limits of this relationship. U.S. federal prosecutors have said they will ask Mexico to authorize his extradition on drug trafficking charges, but so far there has been no response from Mexico. While accepting the request might ensure that the cartel leader’s immense influence does not affect his trial, it would also likely be a major affront to nationalist sensibilities in the country.
  • More than two weeks since opposition protests first began in Venezuela, but they still show no signs of dying down. El Nacional reports that opposition groups have set up roadblocks throughout Caracas, while the New York Times notes that the death toll from the unrest has been politicized by the opposition and government alike. Opposition figure Henrique Capriles, whose profile diminished somewhat as Leopoldo Lopez took the spotlight in recent weeks, appeared to solidify his stance as the opposition’s leader in an appearance at a rally on Saturday. As Caracas-based reporter Girish Gupta writes for USA Today, the highlight of his speech was his call for the movement to widen its base to include disheartened Chavistas, a move that also appealed to opposition blogger Francisco Torres of Caracas Chronicles.
  • The Miami Herald has an editorial comparing Venezuela’s protests with the uprising in Ukraine, calling on President Nicolas Maduro to avoid the bloodshed seen in the eastern European country by engaging in dialogue with the opposition. Over the weekend, Maduro did just that, extending an offer to Capriles and all other opposition governors to attend a meeting in the presidential palace today to address the demonstrations. However, Capriles has taken to Twitter this morning to announce that he will not attend the meeting, and will consult with his base about the offer.  
  • The presidential candidate of Colombia’s newly reinstated left-wing Patriotic Union party, Aida Avella, survived an assassination attempt yesterday while campaigning in the northeastern province of Arauca. As El Tiempo reports, Avella’s three-vehicle convoy came under fire from armed gunmen on a motorcycle. No one was harmed by the attack, and the assailants managed to escape. Following the incident, President Juan Manuel Santos ordered security forces to provide her with special protection.
  • Ecuador held local elections on Sunday, in which President Rafael Correa’s Alianza Pais suffered a major drawback. Not only did his party’s candidates fail to win high-profile races in Quito and Guayaquil, exit polls suggest they lost by wide margins (18 percent in Quito and 22 percent in Guayaquil, the AFP reports). As analyst James Bosworth  points out, Correa actively campaigned for his party’s candidates in these races, and their losses have deprived him of claiming a renewed national mandate for his government.
  • Following the release of public opinion polls by UCA and La Prensa Grafica showing the candidate of El Salvador’s ruling FMLN with a roughly ten-point lead ahead of the upcoming second round presidential vote, Universidad Francisco Gavidia released a survey on Friday suggesting the lead is even greater, at 20 points.
  • The Wall Street Journal profiles increasing cross-border exchanges among artists in the U.S. and Cuba, facilitated by loosened travel restrictions in recent years. For the WSJ, such activities are proof of a “growing thaw in relations at the grass-roots level,” even as a major policy shift is unlikely in the short term. Meanwhile, advocates for an end to the U.S. embargo of Cuba received a boost on Friday from the Financial Times, when the paper’s editorial board endorsed lifting the embargo, alleging that it is “embarrassing, anachronistic – and has failed.”
  • On Friday, three Mexicans and six Guatemalans were found guilty for participating in the 2011 massacre of 27 farmworkers in Guatemala’s Peten region authorities say was linked to a dispute over drug trafficking routes. murders and sentenced to 106 years in prison.
  • According to a new poll released by Brazil’s Datafolha, domestic support for the wave of anti-government protests that swept the nation last June has reached its lowest point on record. Only 52 percent of respondents still support the protests, compared to 81 percent in June. During that same period, opposition to the protests has risen from 15 percent to 42 percent, according to the pollster.

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