Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mexican Gangsters and American Agencies

Proceso had an interesting piece about the relationship between a lieutenant of Chapo Guzmán's and a couple of agents from ICE last week, which I have partially translated here. And here is part of what I wrote as a prelude:

While US agencies often employ a combative, not-one-step-back rhetoric with regard to Mexican criminal gangs, the reality is a bit more complicated. Rather than a straightforward situation with authorities like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in constant pursuit of criminal gangs, the two sides sometimes stumble into cooperative arrangements, which have periodically caused embarrassment for the US government.

One illustration of this is the case of Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, son of one Mexico's most famous traffickers, who was arrested in Mexico in 2009 and extradited to the US a year later. He has alleged that officials in the DEA, the FBI, and the Department of Justice had worked out an agreement with the Sinaloa Cartel to reduce the pressure on the gang in exchange for information on other groups. ICE's relationship with informant Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez Peyro caused a scandal in 2010, when it was revealed that he had been paid some $250,000 over several years while also participating in at least 12 murders and continuing to traffic drugs across the US border. Going back decades, as (among others) books like "El cartel de los sapos" and "El narco: La guerra fallida" have detailed, Latin American drug lords have often sought to turn themselves in to US authorities as a way out of the drug trade, exchanging information about criminal associates for a lighter sentence.

Another example of this deal-making is given in a recent report by Proceso magazine on the testimony of Jesus Manuel Fierro Mendez, who has been cooperating with justice since his arrest in 2008. He says that he was the spokesman for Joaquin Guzman, alias "El Chapo," in his dealings with US authorities. Fierro Mendez depicts a symbiotic relationship in which each side made use of the other: agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would arrest Sinaloa’s adversaries, while Fierro Mendez would provide tips and confirm leads for the US authorities.

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