Friday, February 25, 2011

Mass Arrests in Response to Zapata's Murder

Here's the NY Times on the arrest of more than 400 people nationwide:
A little more than a week after an American law enforcement agent was shot to death by gunmen suspected of being drug traffickers in Mexico, federal authorities struck back Thursday with raids across the United States that rounded up more than 450 people believed to have ties to criminal organizations south of the border.

The authorities said sweeps were conducted in nearly every major American city; involved more than 3,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents; and resulted in the seizure of an estimated 300 kilograms of cocaine, 150,000 pounds of marijuana and 190 weapons. Derek Maltz, a special agent at the Drug Enforcement Administration, said the sweeps were part of a multinational investigation that could lead to more arrests and seizures in the United States, Mexico, Colombia and Brazil.
Two points are worth raising. First, this almost certainly is not a back-breaking move. If these arrests were really capable of slamming Mexican organizations, and Mexican organizations are a longstanding menace, then we would have carried out the raids a week ago. I find it hard to believe that by virtue of our anger and indignation because of the shooting of Zapata, we were able to throw together a truly meaningful operation in the space of less than a week.

Relatedly, as to whether the arrested have much to do with the havoc in Mexico, I am extremely skeptical. "Ties to criminal organizations south of the border" is the vaguest of terms. If you adopt a broad enough definition, then I have ties to the Zetas. Of course, in any practical sense, I do not, which is what I suspect is the case for the overwhelming majority of those swept up. The authorities haven't released names or statistics regarding nationalities, but I'm willing to bet that most of them are American criminals whose criminality is not the product of the Zetas or any other group in Mexico. This passage from the AP report in December is worth repeating:
The Justice Department claimed that Xcellerator arrested "hundreds of alleged Sinaloa cartel members and associates," but the outcomes of individual criminal cases suggest otherwise.

Otis Rich, a 34-year-old career criminal from Baltimore, Md., was arrested after he was connected, via cell phone calls, to another Baltimore cocaine dealer, who had his product shipped from an Arizona trafficker, who got his product from Mexico.

When asked about the Sinaloa cartel, Rich said, "Sina-who? I don't know anything about them guys." He's serving 15 years in federal prison in Atlanta for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

The arrests included a suburban Los Angeles software engineer and charter pilot accused of helping the cartel transport drugs. But he was acquitted after he persuaded a jury that he had no idea a passenger aboard his Cessna was carrying 66 pounds of cocaine on a flight from California to Stow, Ohio.

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