Sunday, November 13, 2011

This One Before, Part 4

We continue from Part 3 considering the connections between the US government and Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.

This map, from Mexico's Drug-Related Violence, a report by June S. Beittel of the Congressional Research Service dated May 27, 2009, shows the geographic extent of the Sinaloa Cartel's activity as of 2009; notice that the Sinaloa Cartel had the greatest geographic area of activity.


Some recent news and analysis came out in an article entitled US Prosecutors Seeking to Prevent Dirty Secrets of Drug War From Surfacing in Cartel Leader's Case, from November 5, 2011; we quote the beginning:

US Government Using National Security to Conceal Evidence, Attorneys for Narco-Trafficker Zambada Niebla Claim

The criminal case of accused Sinaloa drug organization leader Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla is straying even further into the path of a cover-up under the guise of national security, if pleadings filed by his attorneys are to be believed.

Lawyers for the alleged Mexican narco-trafficker, son of one of the top figures in the Sinaloa "cartel," recently filed a motion asking the court to block U.S. prosecutors' efforts to exclude the defense from discussions with the judge over the treatment of evidence deemed classified material. Zambada Niebla's attorneys contend they must be part of those discussions since the supposed classified material goes to the heart of their client's claims in the case.

The information the US government is seeking to withhold from Zambada Niebla's attorneys, they believe, is likely related to a key figure in the case, an informant, Mexican attorney Humberto Loya Castro, who served as an intermediary between the Sinaloa Cartel leadership and US government agents seeking to obtain information on rival narco-trafficking organizations.

The analysis goes on, at one point quoting from an affidavit dated October 24, 2011, entitled DECLARATION OF FERNANDO X. GAXIOLA, and filed in the ongoing case UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. JESUS VICENTE ZAMBADA-NIEBLA, which the article addresses. Here I quote an excerpt from the same part of the affidavit quoted by the article:

9. Mr. Loya-Castro stated that agents told him that, in exchange for information about rival drug trafficking organizations, the United States government agreed to dismiss the prosecution of the pending case against Mr. Loya-Castro, not to interfere with his drug trafficking activities and those of the Sinaloa Cartel, to not actively prosecute him, Chapo, Mayo, and the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel, and to not apprehend them. The agents stated that this arrangement had been approved by high-ranking officials and federal prosecutors. Mr. Loya-Castro told Chapo and Mayo about this arrangement, and they agreed and relied on this agreement by providing the requested information. Mr. Zambada-Niebla was told of this agreement and relied on this arrangement by providing the requested information to Mr. Loya-Castro, who would then pass along the information to the agents. The agents told Mr. Loya-Castro that, when he went to meet with Chapo, he should notify the agents in advance. The agents assured Mr. Loya-Castro that they would not follow him and would not interfere with the meetings so that he could be calm and obtain as much information as possible, and Mr. Loya-Castro informed Chapo that the agents would be aware that he was going to meet with him. The agents also told Mr. Loya-Castro to be careful when he spoke on the telephone with Chapo because they could be heard by Mexican authorities, and therefore he should not be explicit about the information that he gave Chapo over the telephone. The agents also allowed Mr. Loya-Castro to be present at confidential meetings where information about the Sinaloa Cartel was being discussed and allowed him to pass the information along to Chapo.

10. Mr. Loya-Castro stated that he gave the agents significant information that he relayed from Chapo, Mayo, and Mr. Zambada-Niebla, which resulted in numerous arrests of major figures in rival drug trafficking organizations. He said he was present when Chapo received a call from Mr. Zambada-Niebla in which Mr. Zambada-Niebla provided information about a major rival drug trafficker for the purpose of passing on to the DEA, which he did pass on and which helped lead to the apprehension of that individual. Mr. Loya-Castro stated that, under his agreement with the government, the charges against him were dismissed in 2008.

11. Mr. Loya-Castro stated that, in 2007, he asked his main handler, a DEA agent named "Manny," to help him obtain the same deal that he had received for Mr. Zambada-Niebla who had outstanding federal charges in the District of Columbia, in exchange for information. Thereafter, Mr. Loya-Castro negotiated the same deal for Mr. Zambada-Niebla. In 2009, Manny informed Loya-Castro that the federal prosecutor in Washington D.C. and the DEA had agreed that Mr. Zambada-Niebla's charges would also be dismissed and he would not be subject to prosecution in exchange for information. As a result, they arranged a meeting between the DEA agents and Mr. Zambada-Niebla in Mexico City so that the parties could establish a more personal relationship and so they could deal directly under the same arrangement that Mr. Loya-Castro had. Mr. Loya-Castro told Mr. Zambada-Nieble that he was immune from arrest and prosecution under the existing agreement and that the agents wanted to continue the same arrangement with him.

Basically, the DEA teamed up with the Sinaloa Cartel. The Sinaloa Cartel would help provide information that the DEA would use to take down the Sinaloa Cartel's rivals; in return, certain key Sinaloa Cartel figures would be immune from prosecution. This relations ship was going back several years.

Of course, the predictable outcome would be that the Sinaloa Cartel would come to dominate the drug-trafficking in Mexico.

Might this arrangement help explain the greater extent of geographic influence of the Sinaloa Cartel as opposed to the other cartels in Mexico?

We now consider excerpts from Mexico's Drug Cartels by the Congressional Research Service, updated February 25, 2008, from pages 13-15 (of 21) (I fixed some misspellings):

Enforcer Gangs

[snip]

Sinaloa Cartel

In response to the Zetas, the Sinaloa cartel established its own heavily-armed enforcer gangs, the Negros and Pelones. Both are less sophisticated than the Zetas, and focused on attacks against adversaries.39 Edgar "La Barbie" Valdés Villarreal is alleged to be the head of the Negros. The Negros are believed to be "responsible for the recent rise in attacks against police officers in Nuevo Laredo, in an attempt to wrest control over the local police from the Zetas."40

In recent turf wars in Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nuevo León, and Tabasco, the Zetas have alleged that the Sinaloa cartel and Negros leader "La Barbie," enjoy police protection. The Mexican government dismissed these charges, noting that it has at varying times focused on prosecutions of different cartels, and each time the affected cartel charges that the government is working on behalf of a rival organization.41 In May 2006, "La Barbie" made similar allegations of police protection of the Zetas in a full-page ad in a Mexico City daily.42

Police Corruption

Mexican cartels advance their operations, in part, by corrupting or intimidating law enforcement officials. For example, Nuevo Laredo municipal police have reportedly been involved in the kidnapping of Gulf cartel competitors to hand over to the Zetas. The Zetas then hold them for ransom or torture them for information about their drug operations.43 The International Narcotics Control Board44 (INCB) reports that although Mexico has made concerted efforts to reduce corruption in recent years, it remains "a serious problem."45 Recent efforts to combat corruption include promoting professionalism in law enforcement agencies and inclusion of rule of law lessons in training. Nevertheless, the INCB recommends that Mexico continue to promote efforts to combat corruption.46

Some agents of Mexico's Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) are believed to work as enforcers for the Sinaloa cartel, and the Attorney General's Office (PGR) reported in December 2005 that one-fifth of its officers are under investigation for criminal activity. The PGR reported in late 2005 that nearly 1,500 of AFI's 7,000 agents were under investigation for suspected criminal activity and 457 were facing charges. In November 2005, a video depicting the interrogation of four Zetas who revealed their methods of torture, ties to Mexican law enforcement agencies, and recruitment techniques, was given to the Dallas Morning News. The video ends with the murder of one of the Zetas. The Mexican government sent mixed signals about the involvement of AFI agents in the kidnapping of the Zetas, first announcing that eight agents were under investigation, and then announcing that AFI agents had no connection to the kidnapping and murder of the four Zetas.47 However, a report from a non-governmental organization says that "subsequent U.S. and Mexican press reports based on Mexican court files have concluded that AFI agents probably kidnapped the Zetas in the resort city of Acapulco, then handed them over to members of the Sinaloa cartel to be interrogated and executed."48

This might put into perspective a recent report entitled Neither Rights Nor Security: Killings, Torture, and Disappearances in Mexico's "War on Drugs". The report made a splash in some circles about rampant torture and other abuses by Mexican authorities during recent years.

Of course, it could be that authorities on both sides of the border have been corrupted, with key officials allowing the trafficking of arms to the Sinaloa Cartel and obstructing justice on its behalf, and steering the conduct of counternarcotics operations to take down the Sinaloa Cartel's competitors.

That might also explain not just the... uh... aggressive law enforcement tactics... :) being used by Mexican authorities, but also the rise of some apparent vigilantes in some parts of Mexico. From Shadowy group says it targets cartel; some in Veracruz are glad, October 19, 2011, by Tracy Wilkinson:

Reporting from Veracruz, Mexico— The callers to the radio program were voicing their support for the Matazetas, the Zeta killers.

Better they fight among themselves. Let them kill each other. Anything to rid us of the thugs who long ago took control of our city and are slaughtering our people.

It is a sign of the desperation and deep outrage over surging drug-war violence that a shadowy group of vigilante killers is not only tolerated but welcomed by many here in Mexico's third-most populous state.

Yet it also comes with a disturbing question: Just who is behind the killings of Zetas — another drug gang? Agents acting on behalf of the government or military? An ad hoc group whose presence is being tolerated by authorities as well as the public?

Or, are these vigilantes that are fed up with the excessive crime and with the excessive government corruption? Skipping down:

Their sudden rise and the surgical precision with which the killers systematically picked off nearly 100 people in 17 days has led to conjecture among some people that they may be operating with implicit or direct support of the government or military. Some suggest that the June kidnapping, torture and killing of three marine cadets in Veracruz might have propelled the marine corps to begin acting outside the law. Officials dismiss such speculation, and others wonder why a group aspiring to be a clandestine death squad would post videos on YouTube.

The case against Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla - and several related cases - are being prosecuted in northern Illinois. In fact, according to a February 18, 2010, press release from the US Attorney's office in the Northern District of Illinois, several Chicago-area-based agencies were key in cooperating to bring Mr. Zambada's case to court:

The DEA led the investigation in Chicago, together with the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division and the Chicago Police Department. Also assisting in the overall investigation were DEA's National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Police Department; the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of Illinois; the Chicago and Peoria offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Chicago offices of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Cook County Sheriff's Department, and other state and local law enforcement agencies. The investigation was coordinated by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago, and with the assistance of agents and analysts of the Special Operations Division (SOD), and attorneys from the Criminal Division's Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS), which is prosecuting related cases.

It sure looks suspicious that the current President, under whose administration much of this gun-trafficking scandal has occurred, is from the same part of the country as key law enforcement agencies that helped put together this case against Zambada.

What might have happened that US authorities are now prosecuting a guy they supposedly had a deal with? And, what classified information might the government be trying to keep under wraps during the course of this prosecution?

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