Thursday, 8 August 2013

The End of El Chapo Guzman? Why STRATFOR has got it wrong.

STRATFOR has produced a report that is now widely circulated and seems to be accepted as authoritative truth in Mexico. "The Mythical El Chapo" was available to subscribers on STRATFOR's site beginning on AUG 1, 2013. It is also available to others as a "promo" if they are willing to sign up for STRATFOR's monthly subscription rate ($39.99)
"El control de Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán sobre su territorio está en riesgo ante el ataque de grupos rivales por el control de rutas y plazas. Incluso, el capo ya es considerado como “sustituible” dentro del Cártel de Sinaloa por especialistas de Estados Unidos."
Several reputable news sources in Mexico reproduced parts of this report and have represented it as an authoritative United States view. Proceso referenced the report on August 7 (http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=349471 ) and Rio Doce (Sinaloa) provided a lengthy summary and analysis based on the details available in the Mexican news portal 24 horas.  (http://riodoce.mx/noticias/mundo/el-%C2%B4chapo%C2%B4-guzman-ya-es-sustituible-sostiene-stratfor ). The link to the 24-horas site is http://www.24-horas.mx/debiles-el-chapo-y-los-zetas-analistas/ 
The STRATFOR report argues that El Chapo is not invincible or irreplaceable. Personally, I know of no-one who would argue with that statement.  Many of Mexico's previous "Jefe de Jefes" have fallen by the wayside —remember Miguel Angel Feliz Gallardo and Amado Carrillo Fuentes? But all of them were replaced, and the Mexican drug business has continued without them.
The STRATFOR provides little evidence and this is an opinion piece and a matter of speculation. It relies on widely circulated reports about "challenges to El Chapo's authority" and refers to several "battles for plazas". The report has escalated those incidents to the point where they are presented as evidence of El Chapo's decline. I am not convinced by the arguments made in this report.
The Stratfor report makes three major arguments that are reproduced in the Rio Doce report). 
One argument is that El Chapo is being seriously challenged by los Mazatlecos. This is true, but it is also old news. Los Mazatlecos are a heavily armed group of sicarios headed by "El Chapo" Isidro Meza Flores (a good English language description of him is available in  Borderland Beat http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2012/07/chapo-isidro-history.html and several Spanish language reports are in Rio Doce at http://riodoce.mx/noticias/reportaje/la-caza-del-dos-letras and http://riodoce.mx/noticias/reportaje/regresa-la-mochomera ).  This minor "Shorty" has terrorized the north of Sinaloa for a few years now and has variously operated in the service of the Beltran-Leyvas as hitmen for hire, as armed allies working with Los Zetas to disrupt trade routes along both highway 15 and highway 24, and sometimes just acting as local thugs and bullies following their own agenda of repaying personal grudges and violence.
STRATFOR has not provided any evidence that Los Mazatlecos have made inroads beyond those that it achieved two years ago. And STRATFOR has not provided any evidence that Los Mazatlecos have learned how to function as a well-oiled organization. All evidence from Sinaloa suggests that Los Mazatlecos are brutal, dangerous, heavily armed, frightening and bothersome – but there is little evidence that they are anything more than a band of thugs operating in the long tradition of roving bandits in the Sierra Madre of the Golden Triangle. They are a definite pain in the ass for the powerful El Chapo, but they won't be the group that replaces his powerful organization.
Another argument made in the STRATFOR report is that the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) is the major threat to El Chapo in Jalisco. The report also suggests that this threat emerged out of a "betrayal" of a CJNG leader by El Chapo. Again, this is old news and although the CJNG has created serious organized disruptions in Guadalajara, they were also quick to "back off" in the face of government displays of power.
As is the case with los Mazatlecos, there is no real hard-core evidence that they are structurally organized to the point where they represent a real threat to the "hegemonic" control of Joaquin El Chapo Guzman Loera's dominion. There's no evidence that the CJNG have the international reach (Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, Latin America) that has been carefully maintained by El Chapo (the same argument holds for Los Mazatlecos). Where's the structure behind the threat of CJNG? Where's the organization that makes them anything more than a local group of thugs? Where's the reach beyond Jalisco? Where's the support from other challengers? None of this is addressed in the STRATFOR report.
The third argument made by STRATFOR is that it's too early to write off Los Zetas after the capture of Miguel Angel Treviño Morales. Who hasn't said this? Who would disagree? One valuable part of this STRATFOR report is its description of how Los Zetas have organized along different lines (vertical) than the Sinaloa cartel (horizontal). This part of the article and report is a nice summary and that is undoubtedly accurate. In fact, STRATFOR's main strength over the past few years has been its ability "to correctly describe the threat and structure of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas". On the other hand, STRATFOR has always been on shakier grounds when it describing the strength, power and organization of the Sinaloa cartel. 
And STRATFOR's "lesser-understanding" of the Sinaloa cartel is likely the reason that they were willing to publish a report as speculative as this. All evidence suggests that the powers that be in Mexico (from los Pinos down) would prefer to work with the Sinaloa cartel and its leaders. The Sinaloa cartel has a proven track record and business model, they generate profits, they share with others (albeit through corruption), and they cause less trouble for the State and make less noise than Los Zetas, Los Templarios, Los Mazatlecos, or the CJNG. The noise and disruption associated with those groups (violence, dismembered bodies, blockades, notorious kidnappings) makes it more difficult for Enrique Peña Nieto to convince the international community that Mexico is back on track and that Mexico is a country of the future. Does anyone really think that Enrique Peña Nieto and the economists of PRI will allow the "cowboy cartels" to replace El Chapo.
Or to put it more succinctly. Sure, El Chapo may eventually go and he may be replaceable, but the Sinaloa cartel and its structure are rock-solid and not threatened by Los Mazatlecos or the CJNG. His replacement is likely to come from within.

JHC. August 8, 2013

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