The Capture of “El Chapo”- US Involvement in the Drug Trade:
Joaquín Archivaldo “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera was arrested on Saturday February 22nd, 2014. The infamous leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, widely hailed as Chicago’s public enemy No. 1, was an emblem representing the success of the international drug-trade and the failure of the 'war on drugs' and the Mexican and American governments. Considered among the ranks of notorious drug kingpins such as Pablo Escobar, many believed any altercation involving Guzmán and arresting authorities would not be a peaceful affair, as it was on Feb. 22nd, the notorious drug lord being apprehended without a single bullet being fired after a months-long joint operation involving various agencies from the United States and Mexico. A brief history of the crackdown of the cartel and the capture of Guzmán is as follows:
A recent article by Danny Benavides reports, “The path to Chapo was laid one stone at a time, beginning in earnest in January of 2013. That month, immediate family, in-laws, extended relatives, and associates of Chapo Guzmán were added to the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) sanctions list prohibiting them from conducting business with American banks and companies. In the months following, Mexican authorities apprehended both Chapo’s father-in-law and brother-in-law, and as a result, a network of targets belonging to the Sinaloa Cartel began to materialize”
In November of 2013 U.S. Marshalls arrest Serafin Zambada Ortiz, the 23 year old son of Guzmán’s right-hand lieutenant, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia.
The next month, rival cartel members Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) and Los Zetas gunned down Jesus Gregorio Villanueva Rodriguez (“El R5”), a Sinaloa Cartel leader, supposedly having been tipped off a forthcoming Sinaloa ambush.
The following week, Mexican military personnel killed Gonzalo Inzunza Inzunza (“El Macho Prieto”), the chief of a team of hitmen operating under the order of “Mayo” Zambada of the Sinaloa Cartel.
In December of 2013, Interpol arrested another lieutenant of the Sinaloa Cartel, Jose Rodrigo Arechiga Gamboa (“El Chino Antrax”).
In January, Mexican Police arrested a dozen more Sinaloa operatives, including boss Daniel Fernandez Dominguez (“El Pelacas”), Joel Enrique Romero Sandoval (“El 19”), Mayo’s security chief Jesus Pena Gonzales (“El 20”), Apolonio Romero Sandoval (“El 30”), Cristo Omar Romero Sandoval (“El Cristo”), Omar Guillermo Cuen Lugo (“El Compa Omar”), Mario Miguel Perez Urrea (“El Pitaya”), Jesus Andres Corrales Aztorga (“El Bimbo”), and others before the February arrest of Guzmán.
Danny Benavides reports on the events of Guzmán’s arrest,
"An extensive Mexico-U.S. joint operation involving Mexico’s SEDENA (Defense Department), SEMAR (Marines), and CISEN (Intelligence) paired with a supporting cast of U.S. DEA, ICE, DHS, and U.S. Marshals was underway and making significant gains…"Just before dawn, at around 6:40 in the morning on Saturday, February 22, 2014, Mexican Marina (Marines) swarmed the Miramar Inn, a modest hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean in a touristy resort district of Mazatlán, Sinaloa. The Mexican Marina, backed up by two helicopters, rammed open the door to room 401, catching Chapo Guzmán shirtless, red-eyed, and off-guard. Reports following the breaking news claimed that Chapo had reached for an AK-47 kept by the bedside, but had rifles of the Marina in his face before he could get his finger on the trigger. He was apprehended — 13 years after his now-legendary escape from the Puente Grande maximum security prison in Jalisco state (his second prison break in fact) — without a single shot fired. Certainly not the hail-of-bullets glory The Chapo Mythology would have us expect.Guzmán was arrested along with a bodyguard named Carlos Manuel Hoo Ramirez, his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro, and another female companion. According to the official statement from the Mexican government, the operation lasted less than 8 minutes. By the time people nearby realized what was happening, Chapo was already being lifted to Mexico City. Before he had even landed, the facade of Miramar Inn had become a tourist attraction itself."
Irrespective of the celebratory headlines hailing the arrest and capture of one of the world’s largest drug kingpins, many remain skeptical about the bloodless, seemingly benign account of the arrest. Many have long held allegations that Guzmán and Sinaloa were coordinating with American authorities as well as the Mexican government. More is brought to light by the ongoing court case against former-rising Sinaloa capo Zambada Niebla, son of “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia, who, together with Guzmán, serve as godfathers of the Sinaloa organization. Zambada Niebla was arrested in March of 2009 hours after a meeting between a DEA agent and Sinaloa laywer-turned informant Loya Castro. “That informant, Mexican attorney Humberto Loya Castro, by the US government’s own admission in court pleadings in the Zambada Niebla case, serves as an intermediary between the Sinaloa Cartel leadership and US government agencies seeking to obtain information on rival narco-trafficking organizations.”
As reported by Business Insider, DEA agent Manuel Castanon told the Chicago court of his 2009 meeting with Niebla,
“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 such as Castro more than 50 times since 2000.”
DEA agents meet with Zambada Niebla and cooperating informant/ Sinaloa Cartel lawyer Loya Castro in a hotel room a few hours before Ziebla's arrest in 2009. DEA agents have had regular contact with Sinaloa for years before this, as court documents reveal that a strong correlation exists between Sinaloa’s rise in the drug trade and DEA contact with the organization, going back at least to 2000. Court documents also show that Zambada Niebla, in coordination with the rest of Sinaloa’s leadership, going through the Sinaloa attorney and informant Loya Castro, made a deal with the United States in which they were guaranteed protection from criminal prosecution in exchange for providing law enforcement and intelligence agencies information relating to rival Mexican cartels that could then be used to compromise their operations, thereby strengthening Sinaloa control of the Mexican drug trade, according to Zambada Niebla. Bill Conroy of NarcoNews reports,
“From U.S. government pleadings filed in the case earlier this month, and so far ignored by the US mainstream media:
[Zambada Niebla’s] theory to support his affirmative defense of public authority [acting with US government sanction] and his motion to dismiss on an alleged grant of immunity rests on the premise that, as part of his cooperation with the US government, the CS [informant Loya Castro] obtained information from the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel “about rival cartel leaders and their associates” and supplied that information to the US government “in return for carte blanche for the Sinaloa Cartel to continue their narcotics business in the United States and Mexico without interference and in return for immunity and protection from arrest from the United States and Mexican authorities.”
In other words, allegedly the Sinaloa cartel was given ‘carte blanche’ to continue to smuggle tons of illegal drugs onto the streets of Chicago while being assured protection from its competitors. This theory is further corroborated by Michael Kelley for the Business Insider who states in an October 2012 article that,
“Leaked emails from the private U.S. security firm Stratfor cite a Mexican diplomat who says the U.S. government works with Mexican cartels to traffic drugs into the United States and has sided with the Sinaloa cartel in an attempt to limit the violence in Mexico.”“The email went on to say that "the major routes and methods for bulk shipping into the US" from Ciudad Juárez, right across the border from El Paso, Texas, "have already been negotiated with US authorities" and that large shipments of drugs from the Sinaloa cartel "are OK with the Americans."
Despite being unable to confirm the validity of the Stratfor source's claims, what is revealed by the court proceedings of the Zambada Niebla case is an intimate and cooperative relationship existing between authorities and the cartel, whether that relationship existed as Niebla says it did is another question entirely however. What is known is that communication between the DEA and the cartel go back to 2000, and strong communication between the DEA and the Sinaloa lawyer exist between the years of 2005-2009 (See 'Update 1/4' at the bottom) as the U.S. government has verified, in its own court pleadings, that Loya Castro served as an intermediary for them to communicate with the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel, the implication being that at the very least some kind of rough agreement was reached between the two parties that was mutually-beneficial. U.S. prosecutors continue to deny that any cooperative agreement exists between U.S. and Niebla yet have also taken action to keep certain 'classified' evidence from Niebla’s attorneys; the judge has agreed for certain evidence to be admitted "ex parte" (to the judge alone), further preventing more information from being released pertaining to agreements made between the U.S. government and the cartel leaders, further hindering Zambada Niebla's ability to prove his relationship with the DEA as well. Bill Conroy from NarcoNews reports,
"So the stage is set for Zambada Niebla’s trial. He must now prove his narco-trafficking activities, and those of the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel, had sanction from the US government — absent a host of “classified information” that the US government seeks to keep hidden from his defense attorneys and the public at large.The recent crack-down of the cartel which resulted in the arrest of many top level affiliates, including Guzman, one would surmise would have ended any kind of alleged immunity/ cooperation agreement between the two entities. The news media celebrates this great and awesome 'victory' for the 'war on drugs,' just as they did when the Sinaloa Cartel allegedly provided information on other rival cartels who were then arrested while the "El Chapo" gang was free to run wild (Michael Kelley reports, "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..."), yet still many remain skeptical about the practical long-term impacts of these arrests,
However, some key questions arise with respect to the nature of the relationship between the US government, the Sinaloa Cartel leadership (in particular Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada) and the informant Loya Castro. Both the government and Zambada Niebla, through their court pleadings, concede that Loya Castro was close enough to both Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada that information could be easily passed back and fort between the Sinaloa leadership and US government law enforcers.
If the relationship was that close, then why would US law enforcers not choose to use Loya Castro to set up a sting on Chapo Guzman and Ismael Zambada, thereby taking down the top leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel? And if those Sinaloa godfathers had any inkling that Loya Castro, who they knew to be cooperating with US law enforcers, might betray them, then why has he been allowed to live and continue serving as a US informant?"
"Many fear that the splintering factions of various cartels can ignite more violence as turf wars erupt. Even a U.S. Marshal remarked that Chapo’s arrest hardly spells the end for the cartel he commanded. Chapo’s replacements were lined up well in advance to provide continuity to the cartel’s operations. Additionally, there are also rivals who will vie for influence to fill the power vacuum and seek strategic and tactical advantage amid the ensuing chaos."
Others have alleged that the non-eventful arrest of "El Chapo" implies that some kind of deal was worked out between Guzman and the authorities, an understanding that Guzman agreed to and therefore did not try to fight. Overall, more than likely these arrests will have a minimum effect on the drug trade and instead serve as an ostensible political symbol of the efficacy of Pena Nieto’s government and Barak Obama’s DEA, assuaging widespread concern over narcotics-suppliers and domestic addiction while new cartel leaders are appointed and profits from the drug trade continue to be realized, albeit in the hands of different beneficiaries. Much is still yet to be proven, but as Bill Conroy points out, the argument advanced by Zambada Niebla’s attorney may not be far from the truth,
"The United States government considered the arrangements with the Sinaloa Cartel an acceptable price to pay, because the principal objective was the destruction and dismantling of rival cartels by using the assistance of the Sinaloa Cartel — without regard for the fact that tons of illicit drugs continued to be smuggled into Chicago and other parts of the United States and consumption continued virtually unabated. Essentially, the theory of the United States government in waging its “war on drugs” has been and continues to be that the “end justifies the means” and that it is more important to receive information about rival drug cartels’ activities from the Sinaloa Cartel in return for being allowed to continue their criminal activities, including and not limited to their smuggling of tons of illegal narcotics into the United States. This is confirmed by recent disclosures by the Congressional Committee’s investigation of the latest Department of Justice, DEA, FBI, and ATF’s “war on drugs” operation known as “Fast & Furious”[an ATF operation in which thousands of weapons purchased at US gun stores by criminal groups were allowed to move across the border into Mexico unimpeded, many going into the hands of Sinaloa Cartel mercenaries.]"[See Bill Conroy's full report on NarcoNews for more in-depth analysis]
[See here for the Congressional Committee's reports on the "Fast & Furious" operation]