Tag Archives: Enrique Pena Nieto

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


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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: Michoacan begins new anti-crime strategy

Jaripo, Michoacan

Mexico’s new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has begun a new strategy intended to coordinate federal, state and local police forces in the fight against the rampant criminality of kidnapping, robbery, exortion, murder that is the detritus of cartel wars.

Michoacan has been horribly affected by all this — with some areas controlled by squads of roving criminal bands against which the local police are powerless. In one town I visited often, residents tell me a cell from one of the groups disputing control in the state with what amounts to a roadblock at the entrance to town inquiring who is coming through and what their business is.

The state is among the first to receive funds, and federal attention, in EPN’s new plan, which will also include funding for help to the 68 municipios with the highest homicide rates — Tijuana, Culiacan, Juarez, Acapulco, and others.

Michoacan is a great state. I spent dozens of trips wandering through the state, looking for stories about, in those years, mostly immigrants, as so many Michoacanos have migrated to the US.

Those kinds of trips are now impossible due to the spread of the violence.

The idea of combining and coordinating police forces has some appeal — instead of the use of the military, as ex-president Felipe Calderon resorted to. Soldiers aren’t trained or prepared for police work, after all.

Problem is, that many police forces aren’t either.  I’m wondering whether local police forces can be effectively used at all. Or state forces, for that matter. They are not just corrupt in many cases. They are poorly funded, equipped, trained, educated.

This is why, after all, Calderon resorted to the military — something for which he was widely criticized. He had no other weapon at his disposal but soldiers.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had recently with a man in Los Angeles who is from a rancho near Apatzingan. He told me that he returned home and on two corners he saw headless bodies. Whenever a police issue arose, officers sent citizens to the cartel gunmen to get them resolved, as they were the real power.

It’s possible when this new strategy plays itself out, we all may understand better why Calderon acted in the way that he did.





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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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MEXICO: Mexican Spring?

I’ll be talking about the Mexican presidential elections today on KPCC, with Larry Mantle, host of Air Talk, beginning at 11 a.m. Please tune in.

Meanwhile, an interesting column from academic Guillermo Trejo about the rise of the Occupy-like student movement, Yo Soy 132, and whether it can influence the Mexican presidential election next Sunday.

Polls showed that the movement drained frontrunner Enrique Pena Nieto, of the PRI, of a good part of his c0mmanding lead, while Andrew Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the left PRD, surged to within a few points of him in some surveys.

The movement has put the issue of the manipulation by the Mexican media conglomerates — Televisa and Television Azteca — to the forefront of the campaign, where it deserves to be.

Still, it’s unclear whether 132 has enough oomph to push AMLO ahead for good. Should be an interesting election.

More soon on Pena Nieto and his political forefathers.




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MEXICO: Televisa paid to promote EPN, smear AMLO

Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui interviews Laura Barranco about the money reportedly paid by presidential candidate Enrique Pena Nieto (of the PRI) to Televisa, the country’s television and entertainment conglomerate, to promote his image and campaign.

Barranco is a former Televisa employee. The interview is in Spanish.

Added to that is a story by Jo Tuckman of the Guardian, who has reviewed documents, contracts apparently, that seem to show that Televisa sold time on entertainment and news shows to promote the candidacy of Pena Nieto, and smear the campaign and image of leftist candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. AMLO has called on EPN and Televisa to release the contracts.

“We’re watching a presidential candidate constructed openly, or sometimes not so openly, by the most important television network of the country,” Aristegui says during the interview.

Televisa has denied the claim.


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MEXICO: Presidential poll echoes on

Thursday’s poll in Reforma showing leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador within four points of front-running PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto continues to echo today.

The PRI has redirected its focus at AMLO, according to Animal Politico, even as they discount the poll’s importance. To be sure, other polls

Meanwhile, the party’s corrupt past is once again on display with the scandal surrounding former Tamaulipas governor Tomas Yarrington, suspected of laundering narco-money.

The peso fell in value and stocks were off late Thursday, in part due to the poll and the apparent fear among investors and the business class that a leftist would become president of Mexico — though the European economic crisis is also a big player in this.

More later on who Enrique Pena Nieto is and the political clan he represents.



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MEXICO: Presidential race tightens

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, presidential candidate of the leftist PRD, has drawn within four percentage points of frontrunner Enrique Pena Nieto, candidate for the once-ruling PRI, according to a poll in Reforma in Mexico City.

Josefina Vasquez Mota, of the rightist PAN, the party of President Felipe Calderon, remains in the low 20s.

AMLO has been aided by student protests against Pena Nieto, who is viewed widely as a member of the PRI’s dinosaur element, young though he may be.

Pena Nieto is always widely viewed as being a creation of Mexico’s media elite, particularly the vast Televisa news and entertainment conglomerate, which many people charge has devoted enormous amounts of air time to promoting his candidacy and campaign over the last few years.

This makes the Reforma poll marking AMLO’s resurgence all the more interesting. One key force in EPN’s fall-off would seem to be the student-based Yo Soy 132, an Occupy-like movement that has held marches critical of the PRI candidate and the media promoting his campaign.

Animal Politico’s El Palenque debates whether AMLO can catch EPN, with discussions about which candidate will benefit from the large number of undecideds.

By the afternoon, EPN tells Reforma that the poll figures leave him “really animated” to campaign and that the real poll takes place July 1, when Mexican elect the new president.

By end of day, investors used the poll — fear of an AMLO presidency — to stage a big sell off in stocks and a fall in value for the Mexican peso.

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