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Arrest of El Chapo’s son sparks fears of drug cartel violence
Hey everybody Peter Zeihan coming to you from…i don’t even know where I am today. It’s January 6, and the news is out of Mexico. Ovidio Guzman, who is the son of the former cartel head, El Chapo of the Sinaloa Cartel, has been arrested and spirited off to Mexico City in anticipation of the Biden Administration’s presidential visit coming next week. Not saying specifically the two are linked, but it is a little coincidental.
A little bit of background. The Sinaloa Cartel until recently was the most powerful organized crime group in the world, and that’s because they did their business differently. They thought of themselves as a business and El Chapo, the leader of that organization, made it very clear to everyone that you do not prey upon the locals. You don’t shoot the local police, you don’t rob from old ladies. To kind of sum it up, you don’t shit where you sleep. And that way the general population doesn’t think of you as a problem. And if anything, you try to make their lives a little bit better and use some of your drug proceeds to help local groups.
And as a result in the state of Sinaloa, the bulk of the population is actually broadly neutral to favorable when they think of the cartel specifically, because it’s a group that brings in money and doesn’t bring in a lot of pain. This has allowed them to spread their influence up and down the various drug smuggling routes down into Central America and Colombia and up into the United States. And during the Obama Administration, they rose to be the most powerful organized crime group on the planet.
Now, say what you will about the Obama Administration, the White House at the time saw that as a problem. And so put a lot of pressure on Mexico and threw a lot of resources at capturing the guy, El Chapo, specifically. And we got him. He got away and then we got him again. And now he is serving multiple life sentences in a U.S. prison. But when you remove a corporate head, like you do from any corporate entity, there is then a power struggle and there is a breakdown and a fractionization of the entire organization. And that’s what’s been happening ever since.
And so instead of having this one guy on top with a light hand with some strong directives, you now have a menagerie of local warlords who have kind of risen up in the years since and trying to take over the organization for themselves, and they are not nearly as peaceable, especially when it comes to the power struggle. So the main contestants, if you will, have been a guy by the name of El Huevo, you gotta love the Mexican names, who is El Chapo’s former accountant who is now also been captured and is also in a U.S, prison. A guy by the name of El Mio who’s kind of a nominal head of the organization, and arguably the most powerful, but certainly not controlling the majority of the thing. And then El Chapitos, which are the three sons of El Chapo, one of which is the guy who was just arrested today.
So back in 2019, that was when the Mexican government under its current leadership decided that something needed to be done about all these secondary leaders, because their fighting was bringing the drug war in Mexico back to a high murder point, which they were trying to avoid.
And so they went after Ovidio, one of the…Los Chapitos. And in doing so, they spawned basically a riot in Sinaloa and they backed down and they released him. This time, the operation was a lot cleaner. They got him to the airport without too much of a problem before most of the cartel realized what had been going on. They got him flown back to Mexico City.
Now, the speculation, of course, is whether or not he’s just going to be handed over to Biden as a gift. I don’t have any reason to think that is or is not going to happen. But relations between the Biden Administration and the Mexican government under Lopez Obrador have not been great. Under Lopez Obrador and Trump, they got along because Trump stopped asking things of Mexico. He was like, you know, “you slow down illegal migration and that’s all I care about.” And so relations between the two countries had been almost cordial. Under Biden, we have a much more traditional relationship where issues of human rights and sex trafficking and trade and immigration…all the other things are all back on the agenda. And Lopez Obrador is kind of like a less polite, less competent, more ornery version of Donald Trump and that he sees everything as a personal front. So relations are not great right now.
If, if, if AMLO has decided that a peace offering is necessary, that actually could lead to a breakthrough in a lot of bilateral relations. We’ll know about that in the days to come.
The really scary thing about the drug war is despite the fact that Sinaloa is not really disintegrating, but breaking up into different pieces that are mutually antagonistic. This really does increase the violence level, but that’s not even the most violent part of the cartel wars anymore.
One of the chunks that broke off from Sinaloa after El Chapo’s fall basically went on to take over their own cartel. They are known as Jalisco New Generation. Basically, the enforcers of El Chapo are now working there, and they have a very different outlook. Their leader is a guy by the name of El Mencho and he is former Mexican military and hyper violent. And when his group moves into a town, they don’t try to kind of lay low and win over people. They just shoot the place up. Their general position is that we are drug smugglers, yes, but drug smugglers is an outcome of our violence, whereas El Chapo and the Sinaloa was like, you know, we are drug smugglers, and that is a business. And so violence is a means to an end.
El Mencho sees the violence as the point because it underlines to everyone who is in charge immediately. And so they do everything that the Sinaloa doesn’t. And their violence in their expansion has been successful in gaining territory and eliminating rivals, but at a huge cost. And they are now the most powerful drug trafficking organization within the Mexican state and they are challenging the other cartels for control of each and every one of the transfer plazas on the border.
Now to this point, they have not succeeded in crossing the border. But if they do, their own penchant for violence, the whole idea that the shit is the point of being a cartel, is going to change the political discussion within the United States and between Washington and Mexico City, almost overnight. Now I’m not saying that is how this is going to go. That is a possibility. El Chapo led a dis-aggregated organization with a light touch. El Mencho is almost hierarchical. And if he were to slip in the shower and fall in some bullets tomorrow, his whole organization might disintegrate. But that hasn’t happened yet and there’s no reason to think that it has to happen.
Anyway, that is the risk moving forward, that the Mexican drug war actually comes north of the border. And considering that the Jalisco New Generation is so hyper violent, and has now overtaken the Sinaloa as the largest organized crime group in Mexico, it’s something we honestly should be preparing for. Okay, that’s it from me. Until next time…
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