Monday, 7 April 2014
The Mexican Drug Scene After the fall of El Chapo and the rout of Los Templarios
Do we really know who —or, if anyone— is running the Sinaloa cartel since the surprising arrest of El Chapo Guzman on February 22? And can we know whether the "autodefensa" surge in Michoacan is a citizen uprising headed by good and trustworth leaders who decided they "don't want to take it any more"— or whether it has been a clever maneuver to take-over a drug plaza by a criminal group masquerading as heroes?
Clearly, there is a continuing “manipulation and readjustment” at the leadership level of Mexico's criminal chains, but there is not enough concrete intelligence to arrive at a definitive conclusions about power-struggles in Sinaloa and Michoacán; even less is known about plazas in Edomex, Jalisco and Guerrero. In these last few weeks before Easter 2014, many regions of Mexico might now be described using the same words that Javier Valdez Cardenas used to describe "la Perla Tapatia". His new book (Con una Granada en La Boca) reports the observations of an El Chapo lugarteniente following the death of his boss El Nacho Coronel:
"Todos contra todos, es tierra de nadie. La gente que hemos tenido acá, los parientes de Nacho Coronel, todo se nos vino abajo. Los mataron, los detuvieron, y los otros, los mas recientes, se nos han volteado. Y ahí están todos los cartels y organizaciones nuevas, disputándose la plaza."
"Everyone against everyone, it's a no man's land. The people that we had there, those linked to Nacho Coronel, all have been taken down. They killed them, they captured them, and the others, the most recent arrivals have thrown us aside. And all of the cartels are there and the new organizations – all fighting for the plaza".
The fact is, we do not know who is in charge of the Sinaloa cartel or who may be giving the orders. Neither do we know who has the advantage and control in Michoacan. We know that at least six groups are competing for the plaza in Edomex (http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=367307) — but can't be certain which is dominant.
However, there have been developing trends indicating a shift in the drug market — in particular, reports of major differences in the "product" that is shipped and consumed both in the USA and within Mexico.
One report describing this trend is a report by Nick Miroff in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/tracing-the-us-heroin-surge-back-south-of-the-border-as-mexican-cannabis-output-falls/2014/04/06/58dfc590-2123-4cc6-b664-1e5948960576_story.html?wprss=rss_homepage —and also at http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/tracing-the-us-heroin-surge-back-south-of-the-border-as-mexican-cannabis-output-falls/2014/04/06/58dfc590-2123-4cc6-b664-1e5948960576_story.html).
Miroff describes an increasing heroin use, and perhaps a weaker marijuana market for Mexican "mota" in the US. Perhaps this is one consequence of El Chapo's take-down — Marijuana is a “stable cash-crop” and “income staple” of the Sinaloa Cartel (primarily shipped through the tunnels of Arizona from Nogales to Agua Prieta), and marijuana supplies the payroll for much of El Chapo Guzman’s organization. Marijuana shipments may have been disrupted —in response to the changing demand in the market (unlikely), to a new competition within the US markets taking advantage of "legalization", or perhaps as a result of confusion and uncertainty within the Sinaloa distribution network.
There is also evidence a shifting consumer market within Mexico according to Proceso (#1953 —Manzanillo, más caliente que nunca ). Proceso attributes an increase in domestic consumption of synthetic drug to the plaza battles between Los Templarios and the Cartel Nueva Generacion de Jalisco. This report reports that the port city of Manzanillo has now "heated up" ever since the Cartel de Jalisco Nuevo Generacion (CJNG) decided to focus the internal Mexican synthetic drug market.
Any adjustments at the "top of leadership level chain" and the long-term changes in the distribution patterns and consumer tastes should become clearer over time. But what is even more chaotic and difficult to control are the changes affecting the bottom end of the drug underworld. The crime on the street will remain unpredictable, chaotic and dangerous until the adjustments at the top reach a new equilibrium.
The chaos at the street level and in the lower echelons of the drug trade is becoming more evident and has been described in a few Spanish language reports. The payroll (la nomina) of several organizations has been severely disrupted, and as a result the entry level apprentices and hangers-on — "los halcones”,“enforcer squadrons”, and "goon enforcers" are not assured of a regular "sueldo" (bi-weekly payments) nor can expect "bonuses" for jobs well executed. The result —rising trends in petty crime (robberies, car-jacking, strong-armed extortion, and kidnapping. The widely publicized attack on a Noroeste Director may be one example of this fall-out (e.g. http://www.noroeste.com.mx/publicaciones.php?id=939364 ). Proceso edition #1953 also has a report describing the rise in extortion, robbery, car theft and other street crimes throughout Tamaulipas suggesting that it is the bottom feeders of the cartels who have been left without a steady source of income (En Tamaulipas, violent recaída)
It will take time to understand how things have resettled at the leadership level, but in the short term I expect to see a significant increase in called routine street crime and random violence. Without a stable leadership who are firmly in control, thousands and thousands of young hoodlums have no expectation of a regular salary. Many Mexican communities can expect increases kidnapping, extortion and robbery. And I expect that this will happen in the cities that have been previously been safe and described as "sanctuary cities".
We must remember that "capos" and high level operators employed "squadrons" of lower-level thugs to "keep the lid-on" local communities and gave them directives to sanction petty crime. And in some cases (Tamaulipas and Nuevo Laredo), they used these lower-echelon thugs to create confusion and public mayhem. Many who have have written about this, but one of the most detailed descriptions is found in Javier Valdez's new book where one chapter focuses on a member of one of these lower end "squadrons": Valdez describes the criminal life of Juan, a low-level enforcer whose primary task was to "sanction" anyone who perpetrated a crime on ordinary citizens in Culiacan. Juan describes one assignment where he was ordered to hunt down, torture and kill three young guys who kidnapped someone. Juan and three companions— all under 20 years old — carried out their task with a brutal efficiency that included feeding one of the kidnappers to a crocodile and dousing the partially eaten victim with cocaine. Valdez asks Juan if he feels bad about this, but he reports that feels no remorse or moral quandary. His only concern was whether he would be receive his regularly bi-weekly payment in the coming week.
Unfortunately, routine street crime is likely to increase over the next few months during this period of leadership instability and it is ordinary citizen who will suffer the consequences. And in the absence of "capos" in clear control, there will be no-one to defend the ordinary man or woman — and they never had confidence in the police. The fact is, the police are more likely to join in and exploit them if they believe that there is no "chief of the plaza" watching them.
April 7, 2014