The Capture of “El Chapo” Changes Nothing

This past weekend the Mexican government, with help from American drones and intelligence, captured the Sinaloa Cartel’s CEO, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. It is the perfect moment to make a few points about the drug war.

Point #1:

While his capture ends a decade long manhunt, it does nothing to end the drug war in Mexico. Actually, the capture or killing of drug cartel CEOs has typically led to infighting and more violence, rather than any reduction in drug smuggling. It is the problem of the hydra, each decapitation the production of more heads, rather than the death of the hydra. And if doesn’t increase violence, it still has little impact on stemming the drug trade.

For example:

  • Up until 2013, the main focus of the fight against drug cartels was on Los Zetas. As some of their leaders were captured and/or killed more extreme violence did begin to subside. However, as of January this year, they were still handing out presents in Tamaulipas.
  • Between 2008 and 2009, the majority of Beltran-Levya Cartel leadership was captured or killed. By the 2010, the cartel was considered defunct. However, recently, it has been considered to be alive and kicking again, with the US Department of the Treasury stating they will try and put the brakes on them (once more).
  • After the drug war subsided in Colombia with the crippling of major cartels there, the Mexican cartels grew in power. It turned out that smashing up the drug trade in one place was just moving it elsewhere.

Further consider a question raised by Simón Vargas Aguilar’s editorial at La Jornada, “who let [El Chapo] reach this level of influence on the world stage?” This leads to point #2.

Point #2:

For all the attacks and criminal charges on the cartels, little attention is ever given to those who are considered “legitimately” powerful and their connections to the drug trade. It is odd to believe that these transnational drug cartels would be able to operate without the help of other “legitimate” transnational organizations, such as corporations and governments, for example, the bankers who launder the money that keeps these operations going. As FAIR pointed out, HSBC was shown to be complicit in money laundering and entered into deferred prosecution over the matter. One of the cartels HSBC laundered money for was the Sinaloa Cartel, Chapo’s organization. It is important to remember that powerful cartel leaders can and do have powerful friends. It may explain why El Chapo was able to move so freely around North America. It’s also important to remember there is money to be made in these illegal activities. It has even been proffered that drug money helped to rescue banks during the economic crisis. There is good reason to be wary of the elites fighting the drug war and their motives, which leads to point #3.

Point #3:

The Mexican population has little faith in the veracity of their government. The first article I saw on the El Chapo matter – from the leading Mexican magazine, Proceso – insinuated the arrest could be a fake. I don’t doubt it was Chapo, but the fact that it can and will be doubted demonstrates a very real ideological belief in the government’s capacity to lie. And the Western media will continue to push this story of Peña Nieto “Saving Mexico” and this story will add to the list of his “bona fides.” Although, most Mexicans don’t see him as saving Mexico, but more or less selling it. Nabbing Chapo will probably buy Peña Nieto some political points to be expended on continuing his disastrous reform package.

What really needs to happen is legalization and public health solutions. Ending the drug war will let us get back to these real solutions. Otherwise, what we have is a PR campaign for Peña Nieto, complete omission of other powerful organizations plugged into the money flows of transnational drug cartels and the continuance of cartel power.

Here are some follow-up places for information:

  • If you want a comprehensive discussion of how drugs aren’t the problem, I suggest watching Dr. Hart on Democracy Now.
  • I also suggest reading Chomsky on how the drug war was used to attack the poor and enable imperialist goals.
  • And if you want to understand the Mexican cartels and links to all types of powerful people, pick up Narcoland.