Politics: Drug Trade and Policy Post ‘Chapo’

MEXICO - Report 21 Jan 2016 by Guillermo Valdes and Esteban Manteca

Politics in Mexico during the first two weeks of 2016 has been dominated by the arrest of drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, and his eventual extradition to stand trial in the United States. This week we will focus our analysis precisely on the consequences his latest arrest will have on drug trafficking, the trajectory of trafficking syndicate organizations operating in Mexico (Chapo’s organization, historically referred to as the Sinaloa Cartel, and all the rest), and the direction of the government’s anti-crime policies.

Given that the massive North American market for the drugs such gangs produce and sell continues to grow, the Mexican government cannot focus its security policies on the quixotic objective of ending drug trafficking. Instead it must curtail the violence such organizations routinely engage in, as well as their increasing focus on taking control of security and criminal justice institutions and municipal governments.

To that end the government must take actions, such as the unrelenting arrest and deportation of the drug lords and other operators that preside over such criminal gangs. This is the symbolic meaning of El Chapo’s arrest and extradition proceedings. If the message is understood, drug trafficking organizations will not abandon their businesses but will tend to adapt their modus operandi in ways that avoid violence and direct confrontations with state institutions.

In the case of Guzmán Loera’s operation, we are unlikely to witness the same sort of wholesale fracturing of the cartel or the bloody turf wars that have routinely followed the arrest of drug lords in the past. The Sinaloa organization is highly professionalized and retains a well- established collective leadership under the command of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, into which two sons of Guzmán Loera were recently incorporated. Remember that the Sinaloa Cartel remained intact through two previous periods when El Chapo was in prison.

Looking ahead, the government will remain focused on curbing violence in Guerrero, and will eventually implement one or another plan to reform the system of police in each of the states as it strives to deal with the acute problem of insecurity.

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