Even behind bars in a maximum security prison in the United States, where he will live for the rest of his life, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán exerts enormous political influence due to his legacy. This legacy involves not only the still viable and very much present criminal organization that he founded, the Sinaloa Cartel, but also the networks of vested interests and corruption that the cartel threaded with and within all levels of government throughout the decades. These acts of corruption are being slowly revealed and the magnitude of the Cartel’s influence in past and current administrations at all levels of government is just now beginning to be fully understood.
Just recently Genaro García Luna, the architect behind President Felipe Calderón’s 2006-2012 full frontal war against the cartels was arrested by United States authorities for allegedly receiving bribes from Sinaloa and using federal security forces to decimate its enemies. This was seen by opponents of the former president as a validation of their point of view that Calderón had benefited the Sinaloa Cartel by using the army against other organizations such as Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.
Now a New Year’s video from the city of Palenque in which current Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador recounts what he believes are the accomplishments of his first year in power further fed the myth of El Chapo as an omnipresent figure in cultural, social and political life in Mexico . The video also made many question whether Mexico is in fact a narco-State, a country whose government dances to the rhythm set by criminal organizations. What AMLO said is nothing new, but rather sort of validates what was un secreto a voces.
AMLO said that El Chapo was just as powerful as his predecessors.
Power is the capacity to make others do what you want them to, either for personal or communal benefit. Plain and simple. AMLO said: “There was a time when Guzmán had the same power or had the influence that the then president had … because there had been a conspiracy and that made it difficult to punish those who committed crimes. That has already become history, gone to the garbage dump of history.” He was referring, of course, to Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, with whom he had an antagonistic relationship for years.
Few political pundits question whether El Chapo had an influence in past administrations, but what can be debated is whether AMLO’s presidency has a stronger hold of power vis a vis the cartels.
He also used a word that has been long one of his favorites: conspiracy. It sometimes seems that for AMLO anything that escapes a logical explanation falls into the category of a “complot” in the highest spheres of power.
As The Guardian states, AMLO’s words are sort of empty and in line with his rhetorical style of offering little proof when stating big, important things: “He claimed without offering any evidence that he had already done away with the high-level corruption that was rampant in previous governments, but said it was crucial to draw a bright line between criminal elements and authorities so that the two sides do not mingle as they had in the past.”
But how can this line be drawn when municipal, state and federal forces find it hard and almost impossible to coordinate? As The Guardian reminds us, the lack of specificity in AMLO’s political style is often dumfounding: “But his vaguely defined strategy has itself come under intense criticism after a string of high-profile violent crimes, including an ambush which killed 13 state police officers, the murder of nine members of a US-Mexican family and the humiliating release of one of Guzmán’s sons after cartel gunmen besieged an entire city after he was briefly detained.”
Critics were quick to remind AMLO that his “abrazos no balazos” (hugs instead of bullets) policy has been ineffective.
Cartoonists and commentators were quick to point out that AMLO’s first year in power was the most violent ever (save for the period known as the Mexican Revolution). Also key in the first year of government was the embarrassing episode in which Ovidio, El Chapo’s son, was found by security forces but then let go when hitmen from all over Sinaloa descended on Culiacan to fight state and federal forces. In videos captured by bystanders and then shared on social media, we can see cartel members carrying heavy weaponry that in theory can only be used by the military.
It was overwhelming to see how much influence they also have in the population, as online chatter was divided in how positively or negatively they thought of the cartel.
Critics blamed AMLO for his lack of leadership in face of the cartel’s intimidation tactics, while supporters cheered his decision to stop the bloodshed and protect human life above anything else (it is said that cartel hitmen held a building hostage; this building worked as a housing facility for military families).
Since the mid 1980s, when the Guadalajara Cartel became the prime exporter of cannabis to the United States first, and then acted as intermediary between the Colombian cartels and the US market, illegal trafficking organizations have become an important yet controversial institution in many parts of Mexico. We use the word “institution” a bit ironically, but there is some truth to it. Because state and federal governments often fail to provide even the most basic services to rural communities, drug kingpins, often of origen humilde themselves, are famous for giving back to their people, and then some.
Not only in Mexico, but also in Colombia drug lords have built houses, churches, roads, clean water, schools and all sorts of basic amenities for marginalized communities. Pablo Escobar is famous for building houses for the most impoverished sections of his native Medellin. As the Daily Mail reminds us: “The Colombian drug lord once ordered the construction of more than 200 homes for poor families living in the Medellin slum of Moravia, and also built more than 50 soccer pitches. He also made his henchmen delivers loads of gifts ahead of Christmas.”
In Sinaloa, Mexico, El Chapo is revered and famous for his generosity, perhaps on par with the infamous violence he has unleashed for years. State governments often stay out of cartel territory as the population itself has chosen sides a long, long time ago. All of this comes with a prize, of course, and that often comes in the guise of social disruption and turf wars among the cartels and between cartels and the military, which results in death and anguish.
In many regions of Mexico, cartel kingpins are basically Oprahs, and so much more.
Yes, cartel leaders love to display their wealth and their generosity. They often fulfill roles that the government is just disinterested in when it comes to taking care of the population.
As this author stated on an academic paper, drug kingpins have become mythical figures that have become fascinating to people and the entertainment industry: “Because the federal government has failed to provide basic services for large segments of the population, Mexican narcos are immortalised in popular lore as modern day Robin Hoods who distribute wealth in a more just, if unlawful, manner. The celebre Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán, for example, has been the subject of movies and documentaries (Chapo: el escape del siglo (Axel Uriegas, 2016); El Chapo: CEO of Crime, 2013), as well as a 2017 quality TV show coproduced by Univisión and Netlix, El Chapo”.
This is Ivan Archivaldo Guzmán, son of El Chapo and allegedly one of the current bosses of the almighty Sinaloa Cartel.
We all know that El Chapo is currently behind bars and will remain there for the rest of his life. There are conflicting reports on who runs the Sinaloa organization today. Some accounts claim that Mayo Zambada, El Chapo’s compadre, has always been the true boss. He has been elusive and has never been caught by the authorities. Other’s say that it is El Chapo’s son, Ivan Archivaldo, who truly runs the cartel and that there are sometimes conflicts in the highest spheres of the organization.
As shown on a video leaked online, Ivan Archivaldo threw a lavish Christmas party for his town.
What has become clear, however, is that the cartel remains powerful even in the face of the competition from the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion, CJNG, which has conquered plenty of territory in recent years. The recent find and then release of Ovidio, Ivan Archivaldo’s brother, demonstrated both the firepower and social influence that the Sinaloa Cartel holds in their home state, and the support it is still getting from the population in all corners of the state.
This event also demonstrated that the AMLO government is perhaps as incapable of asserting its authority over the cartels as previous administrations. The cartel had a lot of reasons to celebrate and they threw la casa por la ventana with music acts and dance, drink and music.
He even gave away cars, complete with Mexican pinatas on top.
As the Daily Mail UK reports: “Videos uploaded across several Mexican social media accounts showed a row of at least 10 cars and SUVs lined up at the event at an unidentified town in Mexico.”
Ivan Arcvhivaldo remains at large, so the use of social media is often discouraged in these type of gatherings. But there are always a few videos that record these parties.
And the kids got toys, and there were electronics galore as well.
Allegiance to the cartels starts at a young age, and kids shouted “Gracias, Don Ivan” as they got toys and pinatas fat with treats.
Things between the cartels and the population are not black and white, there are many shades of gray (much more than 50!)
From a Global North perspective it might be easy to blame the population for being complicit with the cartels, but things are not that simple. In places like Sinaloa, which is a rural state crossed by impenetrable mountain ranges, government aid is hard to come by. So what would anyone do if someone brings mild prosperity to a godforsaken land? See? Not that easy to see it in terms of “good guys versus bad guys” is it?