The staggering death toll in Mexico’s drug war has outpaced the number of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.
A new documentary by Spanish journalist David Beriain discloses what and who is behind the brutality that has turned Mexico into one of the most violent places in the world.
Beriain spent several weeks in northwest Mexico filming the inner workings of the Sinaloa Cartel, whose leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s arrest and recent extradition to the United States has thrown the group—and Mexico—into an even more chaotic spiral of violence.
MEXICO CITY, March 16 (Reuters) – The son of one of Mexico’s most notorious drug lords is missing from prison in the capital of the northwestern state of Sinaloa and is presumed to have escaped, local media reported on Thursday.
Juan Jose Esparragoza Monzon was missing from a prison in Culiacan, the deputy security minister for Sinaloa state told national newspaper Excelsior. Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports with state authorities.
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”.