Wednesday, January 20, 2016
El Chapo’s Dirty Linen
The Sinaloa Cartel is currently the primary force delivering illicit narcotics through Mexico into the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. The Cartel has operatives in virtually every state in the U.S., not to mention its global operations stretching from Europe to Australia. At any given moment, the Cartel can count on as many as 150,000 people (not all directly part of the cartel) implementing its criminal activities all over the earth.
Experts put the value of the Cartel at somewhere north of a billion dollars. Forbes looked at the scope of the Cartel’s U.S. activities: “The cartel is responsible for an estimated 25% of all illegal drugs that enter the U.S. via Mexico. Drug enforcement experts estimate, conservatively, that the cartel's annual revenues may exceed $3 billion. This February  the city of Chicago branded him the first ‘Public Enemy No. 1’ since Al Capone.”
This is the criminal enterprise run by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán (pictured above), whose “miraculous” escape through a well-constructed, mile-long tunnel system six months ago dominated the headlines. He had been on the run until earlier this month. With a little help from Hollywood (and actor-turned-journalist Sean Penn), catering to El Chapo’s ego and desire to be immortalized on film, Mexican authorities began their new year with a gun battle and ultimate arrest of this illusive drug kingpin. He is currently in Mexican federal custody in the same prison from which he escaped, albeit in a different cell. The tunnel (pictured left above) from his last escape (July 2015) – which was his second – has yet to be sealed.
As much as the Mexican authorities want to put El Chapo – “Shorty” based on his stocky 5’6” frame – away, the U.S. wants him more. And as pundits predict, to avoid further embarrassment, the Mexican government is very likely to respond positively to an American request to extradite El Chapo. “During his time allegedly running the cartel, Guzmán is believed to have trafficked more than 100,000 tons of cocaine [quite a bit more as of today] into the U.S. He has been indicted in New York, Illinois, Texas, California – hence the extradition request.” CNN.com, February 24, 2014. Still, through legal maneuvering, El Chapo’s extradition could take years.
Assuming El Chapo does not escape once again, always a risk, assuming that the extradition goes smoothly and he is tried in the United States, there are whole lot of very important people on both sides of the border, from bankers to government officials, who really do not want a full trial of this mega-malevolent miscreant. Should the relevant facts pour out, the embarrassment of Mexican officials at El Chapo’s escape through his tunnel six months ago will pale in comparison to the embarrassment – and potential legal violations – that are a likely result of a full inquiry and public trial here in the United States. So many expect that a negotiated “guilty” plea in American courts, without a trial, could easily be brokered based on high-level pressures from both sides of the border. Too many do not want the truth to be revealed.
“[The] cartel's reach … extends into the United States, says investigative journalist Anabel Hernández, author of Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers. ‘The Sinaloa cartel functions like a transnational company,’ Hernández told The WorldPost. ‘El Chapo Guzmán knows the names of the people who help bring drugs into the U.S., the banks who launder the money... If there were a judge in the United States or in Mexico who really wanted to pursue it, this could be the case of the century.’
“Brian Phillips, a professor at Mexico’s Center for Research and Teaching in Economics who researches organized crime, said the cartel’s influence in the United States is more limited than in its home country. While drug operations have managed to pay off a smattering of individual border patrol or police officers in the U.S., they have not brought high-level officials like state governors under their control, as they allegedly have in Mexico.
“But other U.S. institutions, including commercial banks, play a role in facilitating the drug trade, he noted. Wachovia, for example, in 2010 settled allegations of laundering billions in cartel money… ‘If El Chapo were to testify, it would be fascinating to learn about the money laundering processes and the involvement of big banks,’ Phillips said. ‘[The Sinaloa cartel] is not just bringing bundles of dollars across the U.S. border. They’re using banks because it’s much more efficient.’
“Guzmán told Sean Penn that the cartel launders money through ‘a host of corrupt major corporations, both in Mexico and abroad,’ though Penn declined to name them in the article he published in Rolling Stone [in January]… Much of what we know about how Mexico’s drug cartels operate emerges out of drug trafficking cases prosecuted in the United States. In the past, those cases have raised questions of American complicity in the drug trade.” Huffington Post, January 13th. Getting El Chapo to the United States is not exactly a cakewalk.
“Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence official who is now the security editor for ElDailyPost.com, said prosecutors and the DEA would also likely try to offer Guzmán a plea bargain in exchange for information on the operations of Sinaloa or rival cartels.
“But first, U.S. officials will have to get El Chapo into an American courtroom. The Mexican courts have yet to approve a U.S. extradition request and the law in Mexico affords many opportunities to contest extradition… As long as Guzmán remains in Mexico, Hope said, he has little incentive to divulge information about the Sinaloa cartel’s activities because he will likely be planning another escape. When Guzmán escaped from the maximum security El Altiplano prison in July, it was his second prison break.” Huffington Post.
Money talks, and if the scope of corruption were to flow from a public trial in the U.S., it will scream! Still, the demand for illicit narcotics in the United States keeps demand and prices high. There may be a power struggle within the Sinaloa Cartel or perhaps a coup as another cartel fights to be the new top dog – all which is likely to be very violent – but the incentives for drug smuggling seem to be worth it to those with no inhibitions against criminal activity. And there are a lot of those on both sides of the border.
I’m Peter Dekom, and making sure major narcotics remain illegal is probably the number one force keeping these ultra-violent organizations in business.