Mexico’s arrest of El Chapo’s son is not a signal of change: experts


Mexico’s arrest of the son of former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman this week is an individual nod to an anti-drug strategy that Mexico’s current administration has adopted, experts say giving up is not a sign that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s mind has changed.

The arrest of Ovidio Guzman in the Sinaloa cartel’s stronghold of Culiacan on Thursday cost at least 30 lives – 11 members of the military and law enforcement and 19 suspected gunmen of the gang. But analysts predict it won’t have any impact on drug flows to the United States.

It was a show of force – armed helicopters, hundreds of soldiers and armored vehicles – at the start of a possible extradition process rather than a major step in the efforts of Mexicans at home to dismantle one of the country’s most powerful criminal organizations. Perhaps coincidentally, it comes just days before US President Joe Biden makes his first visit by a US leader in nearly a decade.

Lopez Obrador has made it clear throughout the first four years of his six-year term that pursuing the drug lords is not his top priority. When military forces cornered young Guzman in Culiacan in 2019, the president ordered his release to avoid death after gunmen began opening fire on the city.

The only other major arrest under his administration was the arrest of a geriatrician Rafael Caro Quintero last July – just days after Lopez Obrador met Biden at the White House. At the time, Caro Quintero was more symbolic of the order to kill a DEA agent decades ago than it really was in today’s drug world.

“Mexico wants to do the least to the bare minimum in the anti-narcotics effort,” said Mike Vigil, the DEA’s former director of international operations, who spent 13 years of his career in Mexico. “I don’t think this is an indication that there will be closer cooperation, bilateral cooperation, if you will, between the United States and Mexico.”

While arresting a criminal is a victory for justice and the rule of law, Vigil said, the impact on what he sees as a “long campaign against drugs” has been nil. “Really what we need to do here in the United States is we need to do even better at reducing demand.”

It was an important point of discussion when the US and Mexican governments announced in late 2021 the new Bicentennial Framework for Security, Public Health and Safe Communities, replacing the failed Merida Initiative time.

The pact is supposed to take a more holistic approach to the drug scourge and the deaths they cause on both sides of the border. But underscoring the frequent distinction between diplomatic word and fact, just two months later the US government announced a US$5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of any person. of El Chapo’s four sons, including Ovidio, signal the US magnate’s strategy is still alive and well.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at George University, said: “Understanding Bicentennial is a shift on paper that deals with drug trafficking and violence with a more important focus on violence. what’s supposed to be a public health program — (but) doesn’t have any budget”. Mason University. In fact, “Mexico is submitting to the interests of the United States.”

“For decades, the United States has captured drug lords from Mexico, Colombia and points in between, but drugs are still available and more lethal in the United States than ever before,” she said. “The kingpin strategy is a failed strategy.”

The US Justice Department declined to comment on the arrest of Ovidio Guzman.

Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018 after campaigning under the motto “hugs, not bullets”. He diverted resources to social programs to address what he saw as the root cause of violence, a medium-to-long-term approach that would not do much for a country with more 35,000 murders per year.

Angelica Duran-Martinez, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, said: “There’s something, in my opinion, that has characterized Mexican security policy in recent years that it’s not very clear. It’s a bit of a blur. conflict”. That ambiguity makes it difficult to determine if there’s really been a change, she says.

Lopez Obrador’s government benefited from Guzman’s detention in several ways. The arrest helps defuse the humiliation of the armed forces after being forced to release him by gang gunmen in 2019. It could assuage bad feelings after his administration severely restricted him. strict U.S. anti-drug cooperation two years ago. And it may help alleviate the perception that Lopez Obrador – who regularly visits Sinaloa and praises its people – has been more lenient with the Sinaloa cartel than with other gangs.

For four years, Lopez Obrador has continued to crack down on the drug war prosecutions of his predecessors wherever he goes. Experts say the respite allows the gangs to become stronger, both in terms of organization and weapons.

Guzman during that time took on an increasingly large role after his father was sentenced to life in prison in the US. The younger Guzman was indicted in Washington on drug trafficking charges along with another brother in 2018. He is accused of controlling several methamphetamine labs and being linked to the heavily expanded Sinaloa cartel. into the field of fentanyl production.

Synthetic drugs are impervious to government crackdowns, easier to manufacture and smuggle, and more profitable.

The Sinaloa gang barely missed a beat when Guzman’s father was sent to America, so the arrest of one of the so-called “Chapitos,” as the brothers were called, would never shake it. work.

Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said Ovidio Guzman’s detention could have been the result of pressure or information from the US government, and marked Lopez Obrador’s tacit abandonment of the rhetoric of giving up the war. boss comb.

For Hope, the detention is disappointing, not only because it will not fundamentally change the Sinaloa cartel’s booming meth and fentanyl exports, but also because it shows that Mexican authorities have taken action. There have been very few investigations into Guzman and the gang since 2019.

“It’s amazing that they have Ovidio, clap, it’s perfect,” Hope said. “What frustrates me is that we’ve been in this (drug war) for 16 years, or 40 years since (the murder of DEA agent Enrique) Camarena, and we still don’t have the capacity to investigate. .”

After Guzman was arrested, Mexican officials said he was arrested under an existing U.S. extradition request, as well as on charges of illegal weapons possession and attempted murder at the time they found him. . On Friday, Interior Minister Adan Lopez Hernandez said there were other Mexican investigations underway that they could not talk about.

“We continue to bet on muscle, military prowess, not investigative ability,” Hope said.

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