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PostWho Is the Sinaloa Cartel? (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA, 12/23/19 3:26 pm)
Gary Moore writes:
John E has asked, after my report on Mexico's president, for a sequel on that president's nemesis, the Sinaloa Cartel of drug traffickers, symbolized by its most publicized figure, the now-jailed El Chapo, Joaquín Guzmán, after his "trial of the century" last January in New York.
El Chapo's long-time partner in running the Sinaloa Cartel, Ismael Zambada, "El Mayo," has never been caught, leaving questions as to who has been giving the topmost orders, and whether Chapo was to some degree a public flak-catcher for the more elusive El Mayo. There would seem to be scant discontinuity as Mayo now becomes the nebulous power behind El Chapo's brother and two sons, one of whom, Ovidio, was the ignominiously released (non) prisoner in the October 18 fiasco that has badly damaged the Mexican government's credibility. And even had Ovidio been successfully retained in custody, El Mayo and his mysteries would still have remained, seeming to operate rather freely.
I want to take John's question, however, into a narrower vein: How do we know it even is a "Sinaloa Cartel"--in the sense of whether it's the shadowy presence behind any given explosion in the wave of atrocities tormenting Mexico? Answer: Much less is known conclusively than is made to appear by the stakeholders in public information purveyance--that is, the Mexican government, a shifting cast of talking-head think-tank experts, and the news media. All are pressed to sound omniscient, in a symbiotic relay process that can soon disguise wild guesses as supposedly well-established fact.
Example: On November 5--just a day after the massacre of nine American citizens in Sonora, and some 350 kms away--the large border metropolis of Ciudad Juárez seemed to explode, in anarchy that burned more than 30 vehicles, including buses, killing some of the people inside, along with other fatalities. This was attributed to instigation by the Mexicles gang, supposedly in a move to derail a scheduled search of the city's prison (and gang HQ) for weapons and drugs. But who, in turn, do the Mexicles work for? Media reports blithely ignored one another as some repeated the old boilerplate that the Mexicles are an armed wing of the Sinaloa Cartel, but others stated flatly that the Mexicles work for what's called the New Juárez Cartel, the local arch-enemy of the Sinaloa Cartel. Few seemed to even remember that the previous summer the El Paso Times, next door to Juárez, had noted an arrogant public communique from the Mexicles, announcing that they were going to war against another big name, the Gente Nueva. For years Gente Nueva has been one of the most notorious of the shock troops of the Sinaloa Cartel. The El Paso Times was moved to muse that the Mexicles seemed to have switched sides--as often happens--and were now against the Sinaloa Cartel, and were working for its enemies in the New Juárez Cartel. So who was it, ultimately, that was responsible for burning all those vehicles on Nov. 5-6, and burning some people alive?
A news consumer scanning the headlines or the screen crawls doesn't want to wade through such mazes, and each individual media reporter or outlet must perform--or discreetly avoid--the choice of whether to just use the old truisms on faith. Really, much of what we think we see about the Mexican drug trafficking cartels is on faith. They're criminal enterprises, after all, and not in Barron's, so, over the years, what builds up is an edifice of stern pronouncements by law enforcement sources, often unnamed, and sometimes colossally mistaken about what they, too, don't know--and in cases they are simply deceiving (as happened last September with a Mexican police massacre disguised as a firefight, WAIS Oct 31).
The Sinaloa Cartel is a main smuggler of meth, but in Ciudad Juárez, the Juárez Cartel has persuasively been shown to be trying to keep meth out, so it can profit from Juárez street sales of its preferred poison, heroin. And 370 miles west on the same border is the long-held Sinaloa Cartel bastion of Agua Prieta--which also, for reasons not publicly explained, seems to keep out meth, so it can concentrate on marketing another poison, crack cocaine. Why is this? And was it affected by last June's blow-up in Agua Prieta, which rubbed out a figure said by the US Treasury Department to be running Agua Prieta ops for the Sinaloa Cartel? How does it all fit together?
It's like peering inquisitively into a stormy sky around, say, 1800, when the level of analytical capability on anarchic-seeming weather didn't even have names for types of clouds yet. Thus we peer into Mexican swarm and thunder, and somewhere in there., sure enough, is the Sinaloa Cartel.
The confident pontifications seen by news consumers are not belaboring the fact that in this connect-the-dots puzzle, few dots are visible, so the tracings can be used to envision a monster of one's choosing.
However, one way to remain positive about interpretation is to try seeing the violence not as much in terms of the betes noirs that make easy headlines, but in terms of a single (though vastly more general) villain: the chaos itself.
Who killed the nine American mothers and children in the La Mora massacre of November 4? We may never know, partly because the Mexican government may not want us to know, since specifics worsen the public relations disaster for Mexico. And even aside from that is the vastness of the government's inability to find out the truth, an impotence also concealable by silence. Still, the larger villain can be pinpointed: the violence as a whole, coalescing into a definable moment in Mexican history.
As unsatisfying as this may seem, the alternative often consists of feeling satisfied by watching and denouncing a monumental shadow--like the Sinaloa Cartel as it floats confusingly into the news--a shadow made partly of real monstrosity, and partly of shifting smoke.
JE comments: Gary, you've done more spadework through this maze (pardon the mixed imagery) than anyone I know. And your conclusion may be frustrating, but it's undeniably true: the villain is the chaos. I am reminded of Colombia's tumultuous period of political killings between 1948 and '58: historians now call it, simply enough, La Violencia.
I am better versed in Colombia's cartel history, but there too, shifting alliances and frequent internecine betrayals make it nearly impossible to determine who is who. Only when you have a boastful public persona like Pablo Escobar can you pinpoint a culprit. But why, say, when Pablo is killed, do the drugs keep flowing and people keep dying?
Mexico's "Ungovernability" (from Gary Moore)
(John Eipper, USA
12/26/19 7:21 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
John E brought up an apt parallel case to backlight
my discussion (December 23) of the cartel violence in Mexico.
His example from an earlier era is "La Violencia,"
1940s-'50s, in Colombia--an upheaval so molten
and shifting that, as with Mexico today, the violence
itself seemed the villain. The catch-word for such
chaos is "ungovernability."
Way back in 1848, when the US dictated the draconian
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to a Mexico that had been
conquered clear down to its capital city, the enormous
territorial grab was still not as great as the slave South
was demanding, in its "Golden Circle" vision of a large
new Latin empire for slavery. Instead, the victors chose
a comparatively northern line in the sand--not as far north
as Corpus Christi, Texas, and the Nueces River, as Mexico
was advocating, and not quite as far south as the Panuco
River of today's Veracruz (the old conquistador boundary
of ne plus ultra). The Rio Grande, along with its far-west
survey extensions, was being tapped--in a process far too
epic to reflect on such things--as what might be called the
southern limits of governability. North of the line lay a
lawless wilderness which, notwithstanding, could be seen
as ultimately tameable by inclusion of this large but digestible
And once the line was drawn, the vast and tormented
realm south of it continued a bandido-plagued trajectory
so intense that President Juárez could handle the Plateados
horde, among many others, only by declaring victory and
anointing them as the new Rural Police. (Today's haunting
"hugs not guns" ambivalence reminds that the current
Mexican president sees himself overtly as role-modeling
Juárez: a nice guy in the chaos, declaring it as victory.)
"Ungovernability" is not a fatal diagnosis like "failed state,"
but can swell and dwindle in a plagued land while many
regions seem placidly undamaged--much as in the real-world
profiles of many wars. The 2019 newsroom cliche on Mexico
is 250,000 dead in a many-phased drug-cartel eruption since
2006--all of which numbers and dating are like old tourist tales
about Acka-Poko and "Ole Mexico." The previous round, neatly
centurion, was 1910-1920 in the Mexican Revolution, when the
(questionably) recorded Mexican population dropped by a million
--though no one could say how many of those losses had simply
fled north of the pulsating line, or had died collaterally, or even in
the 1919 pandemic of "Spanish" flu.
Thus it's not so unforgivable to see Mexico's upheaval just by
standing quizzically on the hotel battlements of the border cities
and peering into the smoke. It's in the nature of ungovernability--or "La Violencia," or "the drug war"--that you might not be able
to see much more even in the middle of the fight.
JE comments: The "memeosphere" is having a field day with AMLO's "abrazos no balazos" (literally, hugs not bullets). It might be naive, but it does make him sound like a very nice guy.
Have you hugged a politician today?