Things That Matter

Mexico’s President AMLO Just Said ‘El Chapo’ Had As Much Power As The President And That’s A Big Deal

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.

Credit: Keriarko / Instagram

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).

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Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

Things That Matter

Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

WENDELL ESCOTO/AFP via Getty Images

As the United States experiences a so-called surge of people attempting to enter the U.S., human traffickers and smugglers are working double time as they try to capitalize on the increased movements.

Cartels and human traffickers have long run their smuggling operations like a legitimate business but they’ve only got more advanced in how they move people across the border region and one key tool: color-coded bracelets. These bracelets almost act as passports for migrants to safely cross a cartel’s territory without interference or threats of violence. But what do these bracelets mean and how are they fueling the problem of human trafficking?

Plastic bracelets are being used by cartels to identify migrants in their territory. 

U.S. border agents carried out nearly 100,000 apprehensions or rapid expulsions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, which is the highest monthly total since mid-2019. With the increase in people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, cartels are managing this migration of people over their territory and trying to make money off the humanitarian crisis. 

Many cartels have implemented a color-coded bracelet system that identifies those migrants who have paid for permission to cross their territory. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, Border Patrol agents have recently encountered immigrants wearing the bracelets during several apprehensions, Matthew Dyman, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told Reuters.

The “information on the bracelets represents a multitude of data that is used by smuggling organizations, such as payment status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman said.

The color-coded system isn’t totally understood.

Credit: ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the journey to the United States and human smugglers have to pay off drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico. This is a money-making operation and cartels want to pay close attention to who has paid. The bracelets may just be a new way to keep track.

Criminal groups operating in northern Mexico, however, have long used systems to log which migrants have already paid for the right to be in gang-controlled territory, as well as for the right to cross the border into the United States, according to migration experts. In fact, in 2019, smugglers kept tabs on rapidly arriving Central American migrants by double checking the names and IDs of migrants before they got off the bus to make sure they had paid. 

One man, a migrant in Reynosa – across the border from McAllen, Texas – who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a picture of a purple wristband he was wearing. He told them that he had paid $500 to a criminal group in the city after he arrived from Honduras to ensure that he wasn’t kidnapped or extorted. He said once migrants or their smugglers have paid for the right to cross the river, which is also controlled by criminal groups, they receive another bracelet.

“This way we’re not in danger, neither us nor the ‘coyote,’” he told Reuters.

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Here’s Why Mexico’s Feminists Are Now Considered The Country’s Political Opposition

Things That Matter

Here’s Why Mexico’s Feminists Are Now Considered The Country’s Political Opposition

CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images

For years now, Mexico has seen a burgeoning feminist coalition that is working to shine a light on the country’s severe record on women’s rights. However, since the presidency of Andres Manuel López Obradador (AMLO), that coalition has grown into a powerful movement that is pushing back against much of the dangerous rhetoric and policies of President AMLO. 

With AMLO’s continued support of a party official accused of rape and his denial of the widespread violence against women in his country, millions of women have had enough and are making their voices heard in opposition to the president and his misogynistic beliefs.

Women say that AMLO has made them public enemy number one.

For weeks now, the president – commonly known as Amlo – has faced mounting anger over a candidate for governor from his party who faces five accusations of sexual abuse, including rape. The disgust has spread to prominent women in the party, who last month called on its leadership to remove the candidate.

This feminist activism has become the country’s most powerful opposition voice against the popular president, a leftist who swept into office in 2018 promising to rid the country of its entrenched corruption and lead a social transformation.

While Amlo has appointed women to powerful posts, including much of his cabinet, his policies have failed to address the pervasive violence that kills more than 10 women a day and forces many more to live in fear.

AMLO has refused to stop supporting a party member accused of rape.

Despite the outrage, AMLO has refused to drop his support for the candidate and although the party has decided to reconsider his candidacy, he has not been barred from running for office with the same party. Given the movement’s focus on violence against women, the choice of Félix Salgado Macedonio to run for governor of Guerrero seemed almost a deliberate provocation.

In a letter to party leaders last month, 500 Morena supporters, including prominent female senators, wrote: “It is clear to us that in Morena there is no place for abusers” and called for Salgado Macedonio to be removed. But AMLO has repeatedly said that it is up to the people of Guerrero, where the candidate is popular, to decide.

And AMLO has repeatedly dismissed concerns of female activists.

Instead of acknowledging their concerns, he has suggested that women’s groups are being manipulated by his conservative enemies. He even cast doubt on the rising rates of domestic violence registered during the pandemic lockdown, suggesting that most emergency calls were fake.

“He has placed the feminist movement as public enemy No 1,” said Arussi Unda, the spokeswoman for Las Brujas del Mar, a feminist collective based in the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz that organized a women’s strike a year ago after International Women’s Day.

“We are not asking for crazy things,” she said. “We’re asking that women get to work, that women aren’t killed and girls aren’t raped. It’s not insane, not eccentric, it’s human rights.”

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