In the early hours of Saturday, February 22, the Mexican government and security forces scored a huge success in the war against cartels: the arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the leader of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel. It’s a huge success for Mexican security forces and a gold star in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration.
Guzmán,once declared byForbesas one of the richest men on Earth, was the effective ruler of a parallel narco-terrorist state covering large swaths of Mexican states. So far it is unclear whatspecific charges he will be trialedfor, or in which prison he will carry out his sentence – he’s currently in the Altiplano prison.
The prison that will ultimately host him is doubly important sincehe already escaped from one once. There is also the possibility that he will be eventually extradited to the U.S.
Moreover, another question that analysts are scrambling to figure out is how his capture will affect, in the short and long term, both the Sinaloa Cartel as well as the country’s other cartels.
For the time being, President Enrique Peña Nieto can add Guzmán’s capture to the list of major achievements under his leadership. Let us hope that the Sinaloa leader remains behind bars.
The operation to capture “El Chapo”
Surprisingly, the Mexican media has reported several details of Guzmán’s capture. The operation took place around 3-4 AM this past Saturday as Guzmán slept in a fourth floor suite of a somewhat upscale 27- floor building in Mazatlan, a city in the state of Sinaloa.
TheMexican dailyMilenioexplains that Mexican intelligence services, in cooperation with the DEA, detected that Guzmán had been staying in room 401 of the building for two days. (The role of U.S. security and intelligence agencies in Guzmán’s capture will surely be scrutinized for months to come.)
By 6:40AM both Guzmán and his bodyguard had been neutralized and arrested. The media has emphasized that not a single shot was fired to apprehend Mexico’s most wanted man, though some physical force was used by the marines who arrested him as he struggled to escape.
The captured leader of the Sinaloa Cartel was then taken to the Mazatlan airport, and from there he was airlifted to Mexico City. Finally, he was transported to the Altiplano prison via one of Mexico’s Policia Federal (Federal Police) helicopters.
The effects of his arrest
President Peña Nieto confirmed Guzmán’s capture via social media, tweeting: “I recognize the work of the security agencies of Mexico to capture [Guzmán] in Mazatlan.” He also started the hashtag #MexicoEnPaz(#MexicoInPeace).
The Mexican president’s aforementioned hashtag was created to stress that Guzmán’s capture is an example of the Mexican government’s initiatives to bring back stability and peace to the country. Whether these efforts will actually succeed is debatable. While Guzmán’s capture is certainly a commendable achievement, it is unclear to what extent it will affect violence within Mexico.
In an April 2010 interview with the Mexican magazine “Proceso,” Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, the Sinaloa cartel’s second in command after Guzmán, summarized the leadership structure of cartels.
“When it comes to the capos, jailed, dead or extradited – their replacements are ready” the cartel leader explained.
Indeed, a problem with these vast criminal networks is that even when a major leader is captured or eliminated, the cartel’s leadership structure is either flexible enough to select a new leader to maintain its cohesion, or it breaks apart into multiple smaller networks. There is just too much money to be made in drug trafficking and other crimes for new cartels not to appear.
A textbook example of a Mexican cartel surviving what should be a decapitating blow happened in July 2013, when the Mexican government captured another high-profile criminal:Miguel Angel “Z-40” Trevino, head of the Zetas Cartel. However, this has not hampered the Zetas, as new leaders have emerged.
Likewise, there are also cases of new cartels emerging from defunct ones. The Zetas themselves were originally the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, before splitting to become their own criminal entity. Similarly, the Knights Templar Cartel, Mexico’s third largest cartel (currently in a bitter war against vigilante forces in Michoacan), is itself a splinter group from the now defunct Familia Michoacana cartel.
Experts on Mexican security are participating in the debate of the Sinaloa cartel’s future: one of these specialists is Guillermo Valdes, former director of CISEN (a Mexican intelligence agency). He declared toMileniothat Guzmán’s capture means that the Sinaloa cartel has lost “50% of its leadership.” He explained that while he does not think the Sinaloa Cartel will disappear, it has been severely weakened, and it remains an open question whether the aforementioned Zambada, the cartel’s second in command, will be able to keep Sinaloa united.
As a final point, in aJuly 2013 commentary for VOXXI, I discussed the capture of the aforementioned Z-40 of the Zetas. At the time, I highlighted the importance of having state-of-the-art maximum security prisons to keep high-profile criminals behind bars. Tragically, Mexican prisons have a tendency to allow for prisoner escapes – Guzmán himself escaped from jail in 2001.
After the huge success for Mexican security forces now they need to manage the Mexico’s penitentiary system to keep El Chapo behind bars this time.
The Three Amigos Summit held this week in the Mexican city of Toluca did not generate any major economic breakthroughs, nor did President Enrique Peña Nieto convince his Canadian counterpart, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to address a pesky visa requirement that Canada has for Mexican citizens.
Nevertheless, the Mexican leader and host can congratulate himself for a well-organized and incident-free high-level meeting which, at the very least, has generated slight momentum for relations between Mexico City and Ottawa.
A Mexico-Canada momentum?
Prime Minister Harper seemed particularly eager to make the best of histrip to Mexico. He arrived on Monday, February 17, and spent a total of three days in the host country.
Harper and Peña Nieto reportedly signed four cooperation agreements which included a new “Action Plan” for relations between Mexico and Canada for 2014-2016. The Action Plan is hailed as an important document as it identifies priorities so that the economies of both countries can be more competitive.
Other agreements deal with credits for exports as well as “greater access forMexican airlines to Canadian cities and vice versa.”
The two leaders also penned a declaration to promote bilateral relations. The statement highlights how bilateral trade has grown more than six times since NAFTA came into effect in 1994. It explains that trade betweenMexico and Canadasurpassed 31 billion dollars (USD) in 2012. Canada is the second biggest importer of Mexican goods and the fourth largest investor in Mexico.
The 3 Amigos meet
The summit itself took place in a picturesque location: the botanical gardens of Toluca. While Prime Minister Harper spent a couple of days in Mexico, President Obama arrived on the day of the summit to join his North American counterparts.
The three leaders met in private, but they also carried out public ceremonies, including a brief press conference at the conclusion of the summit(click herefor a video of the three leaders’ final remarks).
It should be stressed that the three leaders’ public remarks did not provide any new initiatives. In their final statements, the leaders declared their support for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), clean energy partnerships, and also addressed the situations in Ukraine, Syria, and, briefly, Venezuela.
The 800 Pound Visa in the Room
As previously mentioned, one topic that was not publicly discussed in Toluca was immigration, in the broad sense of the word.
Mexico hopes that the U.S. government will reform its immigration program in order to allow the regulation of undocumented Mexicans that reside in the U.S. However, this process has been slow to occur and it is doubtful that a breakthrough will happen in Capitol Hill before the end of President Obama’s second term.
Meanwhile, Ottawa has been ambivalent in agreeing to a visa waiver for Mexicans traveling in Canada.
Harper has declared that Mexico meets the criteria to require its citizen a visa to enter Canada, and this is unlikely to change in the near future.
“We remain always ready to discuss those criteria, what Mexico could do to address some of those issues and also what possibilities exist between us to facilitate legitimate travel,” the Prime Minister stated.
Canada’s visa requirements for Mexicans wereimposed in 2009to combat an increase of fraudulent asylum seekers.
President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper discussed the visa issue during the summit and the Mexican leader praised the Canadian leader for being open to dialogue on this issue. To put it in a more straightforward way: an agreement over the visas has not been reached yet.
To be fair, there were some initiatives with the potential to simplify immigration and encourage the movement of individuals across borders.
In his concluding remarks, President Peña Nieto explained the educational initiatives to encourage U.S. students to study in Mexico and vice versa. One ambitious goal that was mentioned includes 100 thousand Mexican students traveling to the U.S. and 50 thousand Americans going to Mexico. Nevertheless, it’s unclear if there is a timeline for these proposals to be put in place.
Finally, President Obama highlighted that he is cutting the bureaucratic “red tape” to make it easier for American businesses to export and import from other countries. This will have the added benefit of making it easier for businesspeople and tourists to travel.
Ultimately the question comes down to how what was accomplished in the 2014 Three Amigos summit: No major agreement was reached (such as a new direction for the NAFTA bloc) other than the interest of the three leaders to support the TPP. With that said, the agreements between President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper may signal a new momentum for stronger relations between Mexico and Canada.
Ultimately, President Peña Nieto declared that he congratulated himself for having created a space for dialogue at Toluca. While that is true, Mexicans probably would have preferred a new visa agreement with Canada.
The aircraft supercarrier USS Forrestal departed Feb. 4 fromPhiladelphia for Texas, a trip that will takeapproximately 17 days. This is to be the vessel’s final voyage: it will be dismantled upon arriving in Brownsville, after 38 years of service in the U.S. Navy. A Texas scrap company, All Star Metals, reportedly bought the supercarrier fromthe Navy for one cent (not a typo).
The legacy of the Forrestal will be felt in Latin America, as the carrier was part of a fleet sent by the U.S. government to support a military coup in Brazil in 1964. At the time, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson deployed the Forrestal off the coast of Brazil as part ofOperation Brother Sam. The goal was to support a military coup against then-President Joao Goulart. (The military officers who staged Goulart’s overthrow suspected the Brazilian leader of having communist sympathies.) The coup occurred onMarch 31 of that yearand was successful and largely bloodless — though it also initiated a military regime in the Portuguese-speaking giant that lasted from 1964 until 1985.
Upon coming to power, the military began a brutal crackdown on left-leaning entities. One group worth noting was theComando de Liberacao Nacional(COLINA; National Liberation Command), a small militant movement that had branches in the Brazilian states of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. When the group was disbanded under the pressure of the clampdown, various members fled into the arms of a bigger guerrilla group, theVAR Palmares. One member of both movements was a young woman named Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s current president, and in 1970, while a member of VAR Palmares, she wasarrested (and tortured) by the Brazilian military.
Predictably, U.S. media have focused on the more palatable aspects of the Forrestal’s history. It was in standby mode during the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. The warship also aided in evacuatingU.S. citizens from Cyprusduring a 1974 conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriot forces in the Mediterranean island. Tragedy struck the Forrestal in July 1967 when it was operating in the Gulf of Tonkin, off Vietnam’s coast. An accident started a fire that killed 132 sailors and injured over a hundred more. Coincidentally, Lt. CmdrJohn McCain, Republican Senator from Arizona and the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, was aboard at the time. (That last fact has been a real sop to the American press corps.) In Brazil, as might be imagined, the coverage is sparser and darker. Consider this opening sentence of a January 7 article in the website of theBrazilian news agency Folha de Sao Paulo: “…the major symbol of Washington’s support for the 1964 coup, the [Forrestal] will be scrapped.”
The Forrestal’s role in Brazilian history may be a small anecdote in the warship’s distinguished decades of service. But 40 years ago this supercarrier and its support vessels were a larger-than-life demonstration of American military might and how far Washington was willing to go to protect its interests in the Western Hemisphere. The fact that the warship will now be scrapped as a left-wing “ex-guerrilla” (as Rousseff was first labeled when she came to power in 2010) sits in office as (and willlikely be re-elected) Brazil’s president reveals how substantially power dynamics in the region have shifted since then.
WASHINGTON (VR)—Although Latin American and Caribbean nations make up a cornucopia of political ideologies, one unifying desire is to make political and economic decisions on their own terms, free of obligations to world powers. Radio VR's Brittany Peterson looks back on the CELAC summit, and brings us the story on a new trade agreement among the Latin American countries in the Pacific Alliance.
Two weeks ago, representatives from the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, known as the CELAC, including 33 nations, gathered in Cuba for the second summit since its formation 3 years ago. Over 30 heads of state were present, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Organization of American States Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, to discuss regional issues such as poverty, hunger and economic inequality.
The summit closed with a conclusive political declaration for the organization as well as a series of documents including development plans to implement in respective countries. Yet uncertainty lingers over the effectiveness of this organization. Here to discuss the issues at hand is Alex Sanchez, senior researcher with Council on Hemispheric Affairs.
Sanchez responded to widespread criticism that the countries calling most loudly for integration and democracy are most deeply affected by inequality and corruption.
“The criticism of some member states of CELAC, of Venezuela, Honduras…[they] are going through some major tumultuous times, but I don’t think that decreases any kind of validity. You can look at the European Union right now that is going through this transitional phase…but that doesn’t take away any validity from the successes of the EU.”
You can listen to the full conversation on the CELAC summit here:
In other news, the Pacific Alliance met this week in Cartagena, Colombia. This includes Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico, and as of this week, Costa Rica. Also a new organization, member presidents just signed an accord to eliminate tariffs on 92 percent of the products they trade among each other.
“This momentum is only going to last if the economy of the member states remain as productive as they have been. Tomorrow if Peru runs out of gold…then their economies are going to collapse. They are still agricultural-based and mining-based economies. So they are at the mercy of the international market, at the mercy of a variety of issues. But certainly, for the time-being, the Pacific Alliance is the way to go.
To listen to the significance of the Pacific Alliance, you can listen here:
A bizarre incident occurred on Capitol Hill during the confirmation hearing of Noah Mamet, the Obama administration’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Argentina. During a grilling by members of the Foreign Relations Committee, including New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez and Florida Republican Marco Rubio, it came out — via a question from Rubio that quickly madeits way into viral stardom— that the would-be ambassador had never been to Argentina.
Mamet is not a diplomat (like most ambassadorial appointees) but rather a long-time supporter of the Democratic Party. Mamet raised a reportedhalf a million dollarsfor President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, and critics are calling the ambassadorial post his reward. The blunder sparked off a minor domestic firestorm, with opponents of the president attacking him for cronyism and questioning his foreign-policy chops. BySlate’s reckoning, Mamet is not alone in being a bundler with a prestige ambassadorial appointment — 23 have made it into the diplomatic corps so far since the start of Obama’s first term. True, Obama is not the first leader who has nominated individuals to diplomatic posts as a reward. Nevertheless, anABC commentaryhighlights that he has “has rewarded political supporters with plum ambassadorships more than his predecessors. So far, 37 percent of Obama’s appointments have been political, compared to 30 percent under George W. Bush and 28 percent under Bill Clinton.”
The domestic politicking around this gaffe is entertaining, but it’s at the international level that the incident with Mamet becomes interesting. The Argentine government does not seem concerned at his lack of direct experience of Argentina. They are reserving their ire for Marco Rubio who, as an addendum to his criticisms of Mamet, slammed the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner for leaning in an “anti-democratic direction”.Jorge Capitanich, Chief of Cabinet of Ministers, stated that “Argentina enjoys a full democracy” and also is “a paradigm of freedom of expression. Everyone expresses their opinion.” Meanwhile,Minister of Foreign Affairs Hector Timermandeclared that “these two senators have been widely critiqued for their extremist policies” in reference to Rubio and Menendez.
Which suggests the discussion regarding Mamet’s nomination needs to focus on what is important: the future of U.S.-Argentina relations.
And the clock is ticking, here. The U.S. has not had an ambassador in Argentina since July 2013, when Ambassador Vilma Martinez completed a four-year term. The interim head of the embassy is theDeputy Chief of Mission, Kevin Sullivan. While there is no reason to doubt Sullivan’s qualifications for his post, Washington sends the wrong message to Buenos Aires by waiting over half a year to appoint an ambassador. So the quicker they can get a body in that seat, the better — be it Mamet or no. But if Mamet is indeed confirmed as ambassador to Argentina, he must become proficient on two critically important U.S. policy stances vis-à-vis Argentina. First is the future of Argentina’s debt to international lenders. During the nomination hearingMamet stated thatif he becomes ambassador, he would pressure Buenos Aires to pay its debt with the Paris Club and private creditors (the infamousvulture funds) — a move that will not sit well the Kirchner government. The other issue to keep in mind in relation to Buenos Aires is the Falkland Islands / Islas Malvinas. Washington’s neutral (but pro-British) stance regarding the control of the islands has been critiqued by the Argentine government. Mamet will need to learn how to walk that delicate line if he’s going to be an effective emissary.
Whoever steps into Martinez’s shoes will face a monumental task: rebuilding U.S. ties with the Kirchner government. Sniping across the political aisles in the U.S. Congress is only going to hinder that.