l. “You will be carrying money, of course. And our weapons.”
“Hey, buddy. I want you to know something,” Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán-Loera said to the veteran helicopter pilot who he nicknamed ‘Tinieblo’ (Twilight). The pilot had just arrived in Sinaloa, Mexico from Miami, to begin flying for Guzmán-Loera.
“I’m all ears, Mr. Guzmán,” answered the pilot. He knew his new boss was no saint, but didn’t know much else.
“Do you recognize me?” inquired Guzmán.
“I’m afraid I don’t, sir,” answered the pilot.
“I’m no little angel,” Guzmán said. “But later I’ll tell you the story of a cardinal of the Catholic Church they assassinated, mistaking him for me.”
The U.S. antinarcotics agency believe the drug lord is in Sinaloa, where a source told teleSUR he was after his escape.
Almost four weeks after the escape of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the U.S. government released a statement saying it believes the world’s most powerful and most wanted drug lord is still in Mexico.
Guzman is more than likely in Sinaloa state, they say, a suspicion shared by a source with teleSUR immediately after his alleged jailbreak.
Chuck Rosenberg, acting head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, told reporters U.S. federal agents are working with Mexican authorities on the recapture of Guzman, who supposedly fled the maximum security Almoloya de Juarez jail through a mile-long tunnel leading directly from his cell to an empty house.
“Where is he (Guzman) probably the safest and best protected?” Rosenberg asked during a press conference and replied.
“Probably in Sinaloa.” Guzman and his closest associate, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, run the Sinaloa cartel. They control large swaths of land, from just outside the Sinaloan capital Culiacan all the way up to Badiraguato, the municipality where El Chapo was born. He also said he was “not terribly surprised” to find out that Guzman had broken out of prison for a second time.
In 2001, he escaped the El Puente Grande maximum security jail in the northern state of Jalisco and was recaptured early 2014. The DEA official criticized the Mexican government, saying it had “institutional problems” that make sharing intelligence gathering very difficult.
“We have sources in Mexico we can work closely with. It doesn’t extend throughout the entire government,” he said at the briefing with reporters. Rosenberg said the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the State Department are involved in the recapture of Guzman.
His statement comes the same day the DEA launched a new poster offering a US$5-million reward for information that will lead to Guzman’s recapture. Mexico has offered close to US$4 million.
With Mexican drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera’s second major escape from a maximum security prison in Mexico, his fans are growing in number. The drug lord known as “El Chapo” is becoming something of a folk hero in Sinaloa, Mexico, the killer’s hometown.
The New York Timesreports that citizens in Sinaloa are celebrating “El Chapo’s” escape as an example of his endless guile and intelligence, quite despite his fearsome reputation as a killer and drug trafficker.
One Mexican from Culiacán, for instance, tried to answer why he and his fellow Mexicans view the drug lord as a hero.
“Because he’s a living legend. He’s like Al Capone. He’s like Lucky Luciano. Like Tony Soprano. Like Scarface. He’s like a character on a television show, except that he’s alive, he’s real.”
Others appreciate Guzmán because he is a major source of income for many in the territory he has controlled over the years. They view him more like a Jesse James character or a Robin Hood.
But above all is the defiance that Guzmán represents. Defiance to the Mexican government that many feel have let them down, defiance to the far-off United States, defiance even to a world wracked by the death-dealing drugs that Guzmán sells.
Guzmán has humiliated every enemy, they feel. And they want to be on the winning team.
Mr Guzmán, who spent 13 years on the run after escaping from prison hidden in a laundry cart, is said by prosecutors to have been the boss of the Sinaloa drug-trafficking organisation, reckoned to be the world’s largest.
“Cartels” such as Sinaloa have helped to create a global market for cocaine, whose active ingredient is grown only in remote parts of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.
In recent years police have seized the drug in nearly every country in the world. Though its popularity shows signs of declining in some rich countries, emerging markets such as Brazil are developing a taste for the drug.
It has the drugs and distribution system of a traditional cartel – and it has the modern weapons and audacity of an army. After attacking federal forces, downing a military helicopter and shutting down streets in Mexico’s second-largest city this month, New Generation Jalisco cartel is now the main enemy in the country’s fight with drug cartels.
In just a few years, New Generation has grown from being an offshoot of the powerful Sinaloa cartel to one of Mexico’s strongest criminal groups in its own right, according to the US Treasury Department, whose Office of Foreign Assets Control maintains a “black list” of drug trafficking organisations.
Its quick rise reflects a rapidly changing organised-crime landscape in Mexico as the government targets top leaders of established cartels. More than any other criminal group, New Generation has taken advantage of the government’s top-capo strategy, strengthening and grabbing territory from other cartels as they are weakened.
“You’re talking about a powerful, large organisation with grand logistics, well-made structures, a strong group of assassins, and dedicated and qualified people with high-calibre weaponry,” Guillermo Valdes, a security expert and former director of the Mexican intelligence agency, said. “It’s a new cartel, a second generation born in a restructuring process.”
The strategy of hitting the top leadership began in 2006 under President Felipe Calderon and has continued under his successor, Enrique Pena Nieto.
As a result, large organisations have been fragmented, leaving smaller, leaderless groups to fight among themselves over control of local organised crime activities and drug-smuggling routes to the north.
When Calderon was in office, there were five major cartels. Today, the Mexican attorney general lists nine major groups and 43 smaller factions.
New Generation has its origin in that fragmentation.
While it has operated for years, it surged in public notoriety this month after it waged brazen attacks in and around Guadalajara, a major technology and manufacturing hub and the capital of Jalisco state. But the city, about 460km northwest of Mexico City, is also where Mexico’s largest drug cartels were born.
Leaders of the original Guadalajara cartel were captured in the 1980s, provoking a surge in what Valdes calls the first generation of cartels, many of which still exist, including Sinaloa, Beltran Leyva, Gulf, Zetas and Juarez cartels. But hits on their leaders have left all but Sinaloa as just remnants of their former selves.
In little more than a year, the government has arrested Sinaloa’s Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Beltran Leyva’s Hector Beltran Leyva, Juarez’s Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, Knights Templar’s Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, and the Zetas’ Omar Trevino Morales. It killed Knights Templar leader Nazario Moreno.
The strength of New Generation surprised many on May 1 when federal authorities mounted an operation, reportedly targeting New Generation leader Nemesio Oseguera:
The cartel responded almost immediately with roadblocks and arson attacks in Guadalajara and two dozen other cities. It used a rocket-propelled grenade to force down a military helicopter carrying 16 military personnel and two federal police officers, killing eight people.
And unlike the old major cartels, New Generation is willing to wage war on the state and federal government. The younger drug lords like to show off their money and flaunt their power, even if it brings a direct assault from the government.
For that reason, the May 1 clash may be the beginning of the end of New Generation, said Valdes, the former intelligence agency director.
“The drug business is not going away while we have such a large demand in the United States, but that does not give immortality to any particular group,” he said.
New Generation “just bought the ticket to being enemy No 1”.
MEXICO CITY – The growing legalization of cannabis in the United States is forcing Mexico’s drug cartels to rethink their illicit business model, turning to opium poppy plantations and domestic pot consumption, experts say.
Americans have been legally allowed to light up joints in the U.S. capital since late last month, joining Washington state and Alaska, while Oregon will follow suit in July.
A total of 23 U.S. states have legalized the drug for medical use, and opinion polls show that a slim majority of Americans favor legalization.
The changes in the world’s biggest drug market appear to have prompted the criminal organizations producing narcotics in Mexico to switch strategies.
“As (U.S.) domestic production increases, this will affect production in Mexico,” Javier Oliva, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said.
Drug cartels “will seek to increase their exports to Europe and the opportunities for consumption within the country,” Oliva said this week at a presentation of a report by the International Narcotics Control Board, a United Nations agency.
With Americans now able to grow their own cannabis in many places, one market the cartels appear to be tapping is the growing consumption of heroin in the United States.
Oliva said the number of opium poppy fields has surged by 300 percent in the last five years in Mexico’s southwestern state of Guerrero, one of the country’s most violent regions, where 43 students were allegedly slaughtered by a police-backed gang in September.
The scarlet blossoms are also popping up in the north, including in the state of Durango, which forms a “Golden Triangle” of drug plantations with the neighboring regions of Chihuahua and Sinaloa.
Poppy fields outnumber marijuana plantations by three to one, said Adolfo Dominguez, a military commander in Durango.
“The criminals have obviously seen an improvement in this type of cultivation and they also pay attention to the demand factor,” Dominguez said.
Heroin consumption in the United States has surged due to tighter controls of prescription opioid drugs, said Alejandro Mohar, a member of the International Narcotics Control Board.
“Opiate-dependent drug users are increasingly turning to heroin, which is typically easier to source and cheaper than prescription opioids,” the board’s report says.
“Law enforcement authorities in the region have also identified significant increases in heroin purity,” it says.
The U.S. heroin market was worth an estimated $27 billion in 2010. But marijuana is a more lucrative business, worth $41 billion that same year, according to U.S. government figures.
America has a huge appetite for marijuana.
More than 1,000 tons of marijuana are seized along the U.S.-Mexico border every year, the report says, citing U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration figures.
And the cannabis confiscated by U.S. Customs authorities represented 94 percent of worldwide seizures in 2013.
With Americans now able to grow their own, higher-quality marijuana in some places, Mexican drug cartels will look to sell their weed to local consumers, experts say.
Cannabis now ranks third after alcohol and tobacco in a government ranking of “drugs of impact” that require some kind of medical treatment, said Raul Martin del Campo, representative of the National Commission Against Addictions.
Movements to legalize marijuana have also emerged in Mexico, including in the capital, with the backing of former President Vicente Fox.
An investigation by El Universal found that between the years 2000 and 2012, the U.S. government had an arrangement with Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel that allowed the organization to smuggle billions of dollars of drugs while Sinaloa provided information on rival cartels.
“El Vicentillo” being presented to the media in Mexico City on March 19, 2009.
Sinaloa, led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, supplies 80% of the drugs entering the Chicago area and has a presence in cities across the U.S.
There have long been allegations that Guzman, considered to be “the world’s most powerful drug trafficker,” coordinates with American authorities.
But the El Universal investigation is the first to publish court documents that include corroborating testimony from a DEA agent and a Justice Department official.
The written statements were made to the U.S. District Court in Chicago in relation to the arrest of Jesus Vicente Zambada-Niebla, the son of Sinaloa leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and allegedly the Sinaloa cartel’s “logistics coordinator.”
Here’s what DEA agent Manuel Castanon told the Chicago court:
“On March 17, 2009, I met for approximately 30 minutes in a hotel room in Mexico City with Vincente Zambada-Niebla and two other individuals — DEA agent David Herrod and a cooperating source [Sinaloa lawyer Loya Castro] with whom I had worked since 2005. … I did all of the talking on behalf of [the] DEA.”
A few hours later, Mexican Marines arrested Zambada-Niebla (a.k.a. “El Vicentillo”) on charges of trafficking more than a billion dollars in cocaine and heroin. Castanon and three other agents then visited Zambada-Niebla in prison, where the Sinaloa officer “reiterated his desire to cooperate,” according to Castanon.
El Universal, citing court documents, reports that DEA agents met with high-level Sinaloa officials more than 50 times since 2000.
Then-Justice Department prosecutor Patrick Hearn told the Chicago court that, according to DEA special agent Steve Fraga, Castro “provided information leading to a 23-ton cocaine seizure, other seizures related to” various drug trafficking organizations, and that “El Mayo” Zambada wanted his son to cooperate with the U.S.
El UniversalA screenshot from the documents published by El Universal.
“The DEA agents met with members of the cartel in Mexico to obtain information about their rivals and simultaneously built a network of informants who sign drug cooperation agreements, subject to results, to enable them to obtain future benefits, including cancellation of charges in the U.S.,” reports El Universal, which also interviewed more than one hundred active and retired police officers as well as prisoners and experts.
Zambada-Niebla’s lawyer claimed to the court that in the late 1990s, Castro struck a deal with U.S. agents in which Sinaloa would provide information about rival drug trafficking organizations while the U.S. would dismiss its case against the Sinaloa lawyer and refrain from interfering with Sinaloa drug trafficking activities or actively prosecuting Sinaloa leadership.
“The agents stated that this arrangement had been approved by high-ranking officials and federal prosecutors,” Zambada-Niebla lawyer wrote.
After being extradited to Chicago in February 2010, Zambada-Niebla argued that he was also “immune from arrest or prosecution” because he actively provided information to U.S. federal agents.
Zambada-Niebla also alleged that Operation Fast and Furious was part of an agreement to finance and arm the cartel in exchange for information used to take down its rivals. (If true, that re-raises the issue regarding what Attorney General Eric Holder knew about the gun-running arrangements.)
A Mexican foreign service officer told Stratfor in April 2010 that the U.S. seemed to have sided with the Sinaloa cartel in an attempt to limit the violence in Mexico.
El Universal reported that the coordination between the U.S. and Sinaloa, as well as other cartels, peaked between 2006 and 2012, which is when drug traffickers consolidated their grip on Mexico. The paper concluded by saying that it is unclear whether the arrangements continue.
The DEA and other U.S. agencies declined to comment to El Universal.