MEXICO. The capture in Mexico of the son of former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán this week was an isolated nod to the drug war strategy abandoned by the current Mexican administration, not a sign that President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s mindset has changed. experts say.
The arrest of Ovidio Guzmán at the Sinaloa cartel stronghold in Culiacan on Thursday cost at least 30 lives – 11 military and law enforcement personnel and 19 suspected cartel fighters. But analysts predict that this will have no effect on the flow of drugs into the United States.
It was a show of force—combat helicopters, hundreds of troops and armored vehicles—at the start of a possible extradition process, not a significant step in Mexico’s homegrown effort to take down one of the country’s most powerful criminal organizations. Perhaps coincidentally, this happened just days before US President Joe Biden made the first visit by a US leader in almost a decade.
López Obrador made it clear during the first four years of his six-year term that pursuing drug lords was not his priority. When the military cornered Guzmán Jr. in Culiacan in 2019, the president ordered his release to avoid death after militants began shelling the city.
The only other major takeover under his leadership was that of the aged Rafael Caro Quintero last July — just days after Lopez Obrador met with Biden at the White House. At that moment, Caro Quintero had more symbolic significance for ordering the assassination of a DEA agent decades ago than real weight in today’s drug world.
“Mexico wants to do at least the bare minimum in terms of combating drugs,” said Mike Vigil, a former head of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration, who spent 13 years of his career in Mexico. “I don’t think this is a sign that there will be more cooperation, bilateral cooperation, if you will, between the United States and Mexico.”
While the capture of the perpetrator is a victory for justice and the rule of law, Vigil said the impact on what he considers “an ongoing anti-drug campaign” is nil. “In fact, what we need to do here in the United States is to work better in terms of reducing demand.”
This became a key topic of discussion when, in late 2021, the US and Mexican governments announced a new 200-year program for safety, public health, and safe communities, replacing the outdated Mérida Initiative.
The pact was to take a more holistic approach to the scourge of drugs and the deaths they cause on both sides of the border. But, highlighting the frequent gap between diplomatic speech and reality, just two months later, the US government announced a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of any of El Chapo’s four sons, including Ovidio, suggesting that the US strategy in law the thief in law is alive and well. .
“The Bicentennial understanding was a change on paper in regards to combating drug trafficking and violence, with a more important focus on what were supposed to be public health programs — (but) without any budget,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, George Mason Associate Professor. . University. In fact, “Mexico is subject to the interests of the United States.”
For decades, the US has arrested drug lords from Mexico, Colombia, and elsewhere, she says, but drugs in the United States are more accessible and deadlier than ever. “The thief in law strategy is a failed strategy.”
The US Department of Justice declined to comment on Ovidio Guzman’s arrest.
López Obrador took office in December 2018 after campaigning under the slogan “hugs, not bullets.” He has redirected resources to social programs to address what he sees as the root cause of the violence, a medium-to-long-term approach that has done little for a country with more than 35,000 murders each year.
“In my opinion, the security policy of Mexico in recent years is characterized by the fact that it is not very clear. It was a bit controversial,” said Angelica Durán-Martinez, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. This ambiguity makes it difficult to determine whether a change has actually taken place, she said.
López Obrador’s government is benefiting from Guzmán’s detention in several ways. The arrest eases the humiliation of the military after cartel gunmen forced him to release him in 2019. He may assuage animosity after his administration severely curtailed US cooperation on drugs two years ago. And it may help reduce the perception that López Obrador, who frequented Sinaloa and praised its people, was easier on the Sinaloa cartel than other gangs.
For four years, López Obrador continued to expose his predecessors’ drug war allegations at every opportunity. Experts say the reprieve allowed the cartels to get stronger both organizationally and militarily.
Guzmán played an increasingly important role at the time after his father was sentenced to life in the United States. The younger Guzman was indicted in Washington on drug trafficking charges along with another brother in 2018. He allegedly controlled a number of methamphetamine labs and was involved as the Sinaloa cartel greatly expanded fentanyl production.
Synthetic drugs have been immune to government eradication efforts, are easier to manufacture and smuggle, and far more profitable.
The Sinaloa cartel almost missed when Guzmán’s father was sent to the US, so the capture of one of the so-called “chapitos”, as the brothers are known, will never shake the operation.
Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said Ovidio Guzmán’s detention was likely the result of pressure or information from the US government and marks a tacit rejection of López Obrador’s rhetoric about abandoning the kingpin strategy.
For Hope, this detention is frustrating not only because it will not fundamentally change the Sinaloa cartel’s booming methamphetamine and fentanyl export trade, but also because it shows how little Mexican authorities have investigated Guzmán and the cartel since 2019.
“It’s great that they have Ovidio, applause, great,” said Hope. “What depresses me is that we have been involved in this (war on drugs) for 16 years or 40, counting from (the murder of DEA agent Enrique) Camarena, and we still do not have the opportunity to investigate” .
After Guzmán’s capture, Mexican officials said he was arrested on an existing US extradition request, as well as illegal possession of weapons and attempted murder at the time they found him. On Friday, Interior Minister Adan López Hernandez said there were other investigations in Mexico that they could not talk about.
“We continue to rely on strength, military capability, and not on the ability to conduct investigations,” Hope said.