Tag Archives: PRI

El Chapo falls … as Time hits the stands

As a reporter, I don’t believe too much in coincidences, especially when it comes to Mexican politics.

So, let’s say that the arrest this morning of drug megalord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, coming just as Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto is featured on the cover of Time Magazine, with the headline, Saving Mexico is, well … let’s say, it’s interesting.

The man flaunted his impunity and could, presumably, have been arrested many times — say, during his well-known marriage to a young girl in the mountains of Durango several years ago.

Guzman’s no dummy and he probably should have been ducking when he heard of the Time cover, which is rare territory for a Mexican president. Instead Guzman was at a condo complex in Mazatlan, my favorite Mexican resort town, as it prepares for its nationally famous Carnival, which tens of thousands of people attend. He was captured without a shot fired by the Mexican Navy, which is quickly becoming the country’s leading law enforcement agency, having also taken down Arturo Beltran Leyva, among others.

(According to the Mexico Attorney General, Jesus Murillo Karam, Guzman used tunnels and even city drainage pipes to get around Mazatlan. Here, btw, is the press conference, which ends with them walking him before reports to a waiting helicopter.)

Pena Nieto has been roundly criticized for the way he’s waging the drug war. So Guzman’s arrest allows him to seriously recover his image, just as this cover hits the stands.

In the past, each Mexican president was supposed to get one kingpin to take down. Carlos Salinas had Joaquin Hernandez, aka La Quina, the oil union boss. Ernesto Zedillo had Juan Garcia Abrego, of the Gulf Cartel, though he tacked on Salinas’s brother, Raul, for good measure.

Vicente Fox broke with tradition and had Osiel Cardenas Guillen and the top Arellano Felix brothers. Felipe Calderon, who spent his sexenio mired in this awful war, took down numerous, including Los Zeta’s Heriberto Lazcano.

We’ll see how many more EPN has in him. After all, the Sinaloa Cartel still has Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada — who is Guzman’s partner and co-equal atop the organization.

Meanwhile, we’ll expect Guzman to remain locked up this time, and not escape as he did in 2001. Look, also, for him to be extradited quickly to the US, where he faces several major federal indictments for trafficking. (The DEA in Chicago is already saying they want him in court in that city.)

Cynicism aside, though, the arrest of the man Forbes once listed as one of the world’s wealthiest men is only to be applauded. It’s very much like the moment when Obama took out Osama bin-Laden.

Mostly, his arrest goes some distance to showing that the old idea of criminals protected by the regime is passing, however slowly, from Mexican political culture. Next up — a few governors, perhaps?

In fact, it opens the question of what comes next. More violence? Very possible, as groups regroup and fight for territories that were once settled issues. After all, this war really dates to the moment Osiel Cardenas Guillen was captured in 2003 and Chapo figured that was a good time to go after Gulf Cartel territory that he thought was vulnerable — incorrectly as it turned out.

Chapo’s story is an amazing one, as is the story of all the Sinaloan narcos. He, and most of the rest, grew from the Sinaloan mountains and, especially, the county of Badiraguato, hillbilly kids who rose to control the drug flow through the key points — known as plazas — along some 1400 miles of the 1900-miles border between Mexico and the United States. Sinaloans formed no fewer than three major drug cartels — and they feuded mightily through the years.

I’ve always thought it was one of the remarkable tales in the history of organized crime anywhere.

Sinaloa_Cartel_Plaza_Bosses_2013Some may say that Guzman will only be replaced by another. That’s possible.

Still, I’ve become a believer in the idea of taking out mafia kingpins.

They’re usually kingpins for a reason. They have remarkable organizational talents, great at logistics, and usually combine all that with a psychopathic taste for blood. Managing to smuggle tons of drugs across a well-guarded border using criminals and gang members is a real talent that I suspect few people truly possess. They’re not easily replaced.

I once interviewed a trafficker from Tijuana’s Arellano-Felix cartel. He said the beginning of the end for that now-fractured group came with the arrest of Ismael and Gilberto Higuera, who ran Tijuana and Mexicali for the brothers. The Higueras were experts at logistics, organization, and murder, he told me. The AF brothers relied on these guys and when they were gone, the organization fell apart. Soon Ramon Arellano Felix was dead and Benjamin was in prison, where he remains today.

So, we’ll see.

We’ll see, too, whether this has any effect on the flow of drugs into the United States from Mexico, though I suspect not so much.

Meanwhile, the corrido factories ought to be working overtime as we speak.

In fact, Guzman’s power and the barbarism of the drug war he unleashed when he made that fateful move across Mexico to the Gulf states, changed forever the nature of the traditional corrido. It was once a brave genre of music, extolling lonely, heroic men, outgunned and doomed, who nobly faced off against power. Now the corrido is about praising the virtues of colossally rich, well-armed and bloodthirsty men whose power is beyond question. Ads, basically.

Chapo Guzman was a major subject of corridos (ballads) and he appeared to have an army of youtube.com producers churning out videos lauding his achievements.

Here are a few Guzman corridos from the past:



Photos: Most Wanted poster; Time Magazine cover, Wikipedia map of Sinaloa Plaza bosses.

Other Reporter’s Blog posts:

Last Arellano-Felix brother killed at birthday by clown.

Manuel Torres — El M1 – killed

Writing workshop in Stockton


Filed under Drugs, Mexico

MEXICO: Elba Esther Gordillo, head of teachers union, arrested, charged with misuse of funds.

imagesBig News From Mexico.

Authorities arrest Elba Esther Gordillo, hugely powerful chief of the national teachers union, and charge her with misuse of union funds, money laundering.

Here’s La Jornada’s take.

She is one of the pillars of the PRI regime, but had broken with the party in the last election, and is widely believed to be a major obstacle to education reform — probably the most powerful woman in Mexico.

This marks an interesting start to the presidency of Enrique Pena Nieto, of the PRI. Reforms that EPN had signed into law recently stripped Elba Esther, as she’s known, of her power to hire and fire teachers. Here’s the LA Times story.

Resembles the start of Carlos Salinas’s term, when he arrested the powerful head of the Oil Workers union, Joaquin Hernandez, known as La Quina, as a first step in what Salinas proposed would be a transformation of the Mexican economy.

Here’s what La Quina said about Elba Esther.

Mexico’s Attorney General, Jesus Murillo Karam, said there was no political motive behind Gordillo’s arrest.

Wow….As an ironic note, I’m watching the PBS documentary on the women’s movement as I write this.




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MEXICO: More Oaxaca photos

Oaxaca is such a colorful place. I’m getting very absorbed in photography lately.

Hope you like these.

Meanwhile, you can see more of my photos up at Kaldi’s — a South Pasadena cafe. I’ve mounted shots from Los Angeles, Colombia and Mexico.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Photography, Southern California

MEXICO: A New President

Twelve years after peacefully voting out in a clean election the party that had ruled it as a political monopoly for seven decades, Mexicans returned the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to power the same way, with not only a president but what appears to be a majority in Congress (NB: It now appears the PRI will not have a congressional majority).

Enrique Pena Nieto won with an eight-point majority Sunday that was comfortable though much smaller than polls were indicating. The PRI also won governors’ posts in Jalisco, Hidalgo and Chiapas.

Pena Nieto takes office on December 1. Not many appear to know what he’ll do as president. (I’ll be discussing the elections this morning at 11:20 a.m. on KPCC –89.3- with host Larry Mantle and Mexicanist Andrew Selee. Here’s what Andrew Selee had to say about the election.)

EPN’s background, though, wouldn’t seem encouraging to anyone interested in the continuation of democratic reform in Mexico.

He is from Atlacomulco, a fascinating little town in the State of Mexico, the horseshoe-shaped state surrounding Mexico City that is its largest in population. (Five of Mexico’s largest cities are suburbs to Mexico City in the state of Mexico: Tlanepantla, Ecatepec, Naucalpan, Chimalhuacan, and Nezahualcoyotl.)

Some half dozen of the state’s governors have come from little Atlacomulco. The Grupo Atlacomulco is a kind of political clan. Its hallmarks through the decades of PRI hegemony were a combination of laissez-faire, some would say crony, capitalism combined with political authoritarianism and personal enrichment while in office.

In time, even the governors of the state who weren’t actually from Atlacomulco bought into the clan’s governing ideology of taking what you can get while you have the chance. One of its standard bearers, Carlos Hank Gonzalez, came up with the phrase, “Un politico pobre es un pobre politico” – a politician who is poor is a poor politician.

Hank was one of Mexico’s richest men when he died, without having spent a day working in the private sector.

His saying seemed PRI ideology, together with the preservation of its own power, for its decades as Mexico’s political monopoly.

Pena Nieto is the first from Atlacomulco to become president.

A lot has changed in Mexico that will prevent that PRI monopoly from reconstituting. There are political actors today who will counter-balance the PRI’s power. Political institutions such as the Federal Electoral Institute are no longer part of the PRI. The media is more independent.

The left seems recharged. The Yo Soy 132 movement, resembling the Occupy movement here last fall, seems at the moment to have a lot of energy, and made Pena Nieto its target.

However, EPN would appear beholden to the two television networks (Televisa and Azteca), who seem, from reporting, to have created his candidacy from nothing, and pushed it even though he seemed a candidate with severe personal drawbacks.

What of the major reforms to education, energy, labor law, and on so, that the most agree the country needs and were blocked, largely by PRI congressmen, during the years the center-right PAN had the presidency? The PRI now has the presidency and the Congress – so it can push these reforms if it wishes. Will it?

During its years of hegemony, the PRI-government made deals with drug traffickers, facilitating the trade. This is one reason small groups of narco-hillbillies over the years developed into the menacing, well-armed, bold cartels that today threaten the country’s national security.

What will EPN do? He hasn’t said.

I’m interested to see whether a party that formed without ideology can now shape one. What exactly does a Priista believe? What compass guides him? I can’t tell you. After all, this is a party that nationalized banks, then privatized them a decade later.

In the past, the party’s philosophy nationally was most brazenly expressed and practiced by the Grupo Atlacomulco in the state of Mexico.

He has said he won’t return to that past, that he’ll govern responsibly, democratically.

But will a man who comes from a political culture that is used to participating in the lucre of politics have what it takes to stand up to these forces?

I really don’t know.


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