Intl. Notebook Jan 10 2016
BUNGLE IN THE JUNGLE
Drug lord’s ego leads to capture, but bigger issues remain.


Last night Rolling Stone, one of the U.S.’s top investigative magazines, published a pulp-worthy article on its website about Mexican drug lord Joaquín Guzmán Loera, aka El Chapo. The magazine sent actor Sean Penn to the jungles of Mexico to interview Guzmán, a meeting that came about at the drug kingpin’s behest because he was interested in making a movie about his life. Long story short—Guzmán ended up being captured Friday in Sinaloa, Mexico after a gun battle with police, and his ongoing contact with Hollywood figures was the primary factor that led authorities to him.

Guzmán has been imprisoned before, so nothing new there. He escaped both times. He may well escape again. His most recent breakout is detailed in the Rolling Stone article—he disappeared through a hole in his shower (see below), dropped into a mile-long tunnel, and rode away on a specially designed motorcycle on rails that had been modified to runin a low-oxygen environment. All this took at least $1 million to achieve. According to Penn and Rolling Stone, Mexican engineers were flown to Germany for specialized training in tunnel building.

The article is worth a read. Penn describes being waved through police checkpoints to Guzmán’s jungle lair, and when that fact is measured against his capture, it suggests a factionalized Mexican state, with the president and certain other top authorities conducting an anti-drug crusade even as military figures, federal officers, and local cops often work for the drug lords. But Mexico is not uniquely corrupt, and that is something that must be emphasized. The wealthy north is also in the drug trade.

Consider—the British bank HSBC knowingly laundered hundreds of millions of dollars of Guzmán’s drug profits. Yes, they knew about it. The bank was caught, and its heads talked about a “failure of standards,” but all the bankers skated from justice for this terrible crime thanks to their connections in the political world. Is this any different from Joaquín Guzmán motorcycling to freedom through a tunnel? We don’t think so. This is something that global authorities desperately want to keep the general public from understanding—the drug trade is an integral part of capitalism, not some dark subset of it.

Not convinced? The U.S. bank Wachovia laundered drug cartel money and deliberately failed to apply anti-laundering measures to $378.4 billion that passed through the institution. That amount of money is equal to one-third of Mexico's gross national product. The result? Fines of about $160 million—less than 2% of the yearly profits—and no jail for anyone in the executive suite. The list goes on. Liberty Reserve, Bank of America, Western Union, and J.P. Morgan all have drug ties. There are doubtless more we don't yet know about.

Articles in The Wall Street Journal and other establishment papers try to paint the banks as victims. Yet in the end, there are always executives who know exactly what’s happening—just like the cops that waved Sean Penn through those Mexican checkpoints. Besides, since when do victims get to charge millions in fees for their crimes? In the same way U.S. slavery was enabled by banks in New York City and Boston, which even accepted slaves as collateral, the southern drug trade cannot exist without the money laundering operations of the northern banks. And the amounts of money involved don’t just influence markets—it shapes them. Roberto Saviano, possibly the world’s foremost expert on the global drug trade, and author of the blockbuster exposé Zero Zero Zero, says, “It’s not the world of cocaine that must orbit around the markets, but the markets that must rotate around cocaine.” 

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The Naked City Feb 21 2010
EASY MONEY
Critics claim Felipe Calderón’s government is in league with Sinaloa drug cartel.

Last week in Mexico, critics of President Felipe Calderón’s administration ratcheted up claims that Calderón is playing favorites in his high-profile war on drugs. Arrest records going back to 2003 show that the Sinaloa Cartel, which is responsible for 45% of drug trafficking in Mexico, has suffered only a handful of arrests—none involving high-ranking members. Even as a group of investigative reporters pointed out last week that this indicated possible collusion between Calderón and the Sinaloa Cartel, two more Sinaloa members were arrested, but again they were little more than errand boys—sacrificial lambs, according to skeptics.

The Sinaloa Cartel is run by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, seen at lower right in the photo. He is estimated to have amassed more than a billion dollars trafficking cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines to the U.S. Calderón denies being in league with Guzmán, yet statistics reveal that his military-style drug war has targeted only the weakest cartels, such as Familiana Michoacana. It’s also indisputable that 15,000 lives have been lost with no measurable benefits—save for the infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. financial support, money that comes directly from American taxpayers.
 
The feeling among some Mexicans is that Calderón is playing both ends against the middle—accepting American cash, while receiving kickbacks from Guzmán to leave his operation unmolested. If so, it would represent a scam of breathtaking proportions, even in the chaotic world of drug interdiction. A more charitable interpretation is that Calderón simply believes the Sinaloa Cartel is too powerful to tackle, and that an all-out assault would lead to even more violence that might destabilize the entire country. Calderón’s critics have asked for answers to these latest questions, but so far he has had no comment.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
December 14
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
December 13
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe.
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
December 12
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
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