Things That Matter

Former Drug Cartel Members Share Why The Drug War Will Continue To Fail And What Is Needed Instead

The strategy that the Mexican government has employed during the past 13 years, since then incumbent president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa basically declared national war against the global trafficking organizations operating out of Mexico, has been nothing short of catastrophic. More than 200,000 people have died and at least 60,000 have disappeared. Whole communities have fled their lands, other crimes such as sex trafficking and illegal organ harvesting, as well as kidnapping and financial fraud, have increased and morale is low in many regions of the country. 

We often get the government’s perspective in the media. Reports also focus on the effect that cartel violence has had in the individual and collective wellbeing of victims. However, save a few notable examples such as Everardo Gonzalez’ poignant documentary “La libertad del diablo”, the view of current or former sicarios is rarely shared. The Spanish newspaper El Pais has just published the doctoral findings of Karina Garcia Reyes, a woman from Northern Mexico whose city has lived dantesque levels of violence and who did a postgraduate degree overseas to find out what was the rationale behind cartel members’ actions and lifestyle. She is currently a Professor in Bristol, United Kingdom. 

Garcia Reyes interviewed 33 former cartel members and wrote their biographies.

Credit: El Pais

Garcia Reyes interviewed former cartel members in both sides of the border. Some belonges to the biggest criminal organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas Cartel or the Gulf Cartel, although the majority used to belong to independent cartels. This speaks of the probable fear that former cartel members might experience and their reluctance to speak out. 

This is the first academic study that includes interviews with real narcos, in which they talked about their early years.

The study is extremely relevant and innovative, as Garcia Reyes did not make suppositions on what these men think or feel: she actually got them talking about drugs, alcohol, street violence and their entry into the criminal underworld. Chief among the findings is how narcos perceive themselves: there is a lack of self esteem that can lead to a life of violence and illicit livelihood. 

The study revealed that narcos do not see themselves as “victims” and that the “no other option” narrative is misleading.

One of the prevalent reasons given to the rise of cartel violence is the lack of opportunities and socioeconomic vulnerability. Media narratives indicate that young men are lured into the narco world because that is their only chance to make a living. The subjects interviewed by Garcia Reyes claim that, contrary to popular belief, they are not victims and they were making ends meet in the informal economy. They just wanted “more”. They wanted tu pursue a lifestyle that an everyday job would not give them. 

They feel they are “disposable” and that their life has little value, and that death is “a relief” sometimes.

Credit: J Bustamante / Reuters

According to the researcher, former cartel members don’t see themselves as monsters and reject the media depiction of them as bloodthirsty bad hombres. Instead, they see themselves as free agents whose life is dispensable.Sometimes, they said, death is a relief. 

Poverty is a constant trigger for cartel activity and a “survival of the fittest” mentality.

Through her 33 respondents, the researcher found that there is an Us vs. Them mentality among former cartel members when it comes to social class. As one of the participants argued: “I knew that I would live and die in poverty and I asked God ‘Why does it have to be me?’’. Poverty is seen as something that cannot be avoided and that determines your fate for life. A respondent called Rigoleto said: “I knew I was all alone, if I wanted something I would need to get it myself”. 

Gangs are seen as the only way to survive the streets and that is why the government is losing the war.

Credit: Alfredo Estrada / Getty

According to the men interviewed, there is a sense of inevitability when it comes to being a male in poverty-stricken Mexico. You will become an addict and you will be a victim of street violence. That is unless you become a gang member yourself. Gangs are seen as the only way to survive in a “kill or be killed” type of environment. 

Former cartel members believe they will die tragically so they want to live each day as if it was the last.

An overdose or a bullet, plain and simple. That is how former cartel members thought their lives would end and there was no other alternative. Because they have this pessimistic view of life, many cartel members want to live a life of excess and luxury. 

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A New Investigation Alleges That Some Of Mexico’s Largest Tequila Brands Are Laundering Money For Drug Cartels

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A New Investigation Alleges That Some Of Mexico’s Largest Tequila Brands Are Laundering Money For Drug Cartels

Carlos Jasso / Getty

Thre have long been alleged links between Mexico’s drug cartels and legitimate businesses. Whether by pressure or choice, several companies have been proven to be working alongside some of Mexico’s most deadly cartels – whether it be laundering money, lobbying politicians, or paying off corrupt officials.

However, a new investigation has revealed just how far the cartels have gone to ensure a steady stream of cash directly to their pockets. And in the process, they’ve revealed that some of Mexico’s most iconic brands may be tied to some of its most dangerous cartels.

Working together with the U.S. DEA, Mexico has identified tequila brands that are allegedly laundering money for cartels.

On Tuesday, Mexican financial regulators unveiled details about companies they believe to be linked to movements totaling more than $1.1 billion related to the hyper-violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). They also froze the bank accounts of nearly 2,000 people they allege are involved in the money laundering scheme.

The country’s anti-money laundering agency said it worked with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to identify the 167 companies caught up in the financial dragnet, dubbed “Operation Blue Agave.”

Blue agave is the plant used to make tequila, which is the signature drink of Jalisco, the cartel’s home state.

Drug cartels have a long history of using tequila to disguise their operations, dating to at least 2006.

Credit: Carlos Jasso / Getty

This isn’t the first time that criminal groups have used Mexico’s most popular beverage to advance their illegal activities – links between the tequila industry and drug cartels go back to at least 2006. That was the year the DEA first discovered a connection between tequila and drug trafficking in Mexico, the newspaper Milenio reported on Thursday.

Much like today’s report, it’s alleged that drug cartels are using legitimate – and sometimes totally fake – tequila companies to launder money.

In 2006, it was the Tequila Cartel – also known as the Arellano Félix organization – that was found to be using tequila as a front for illegal activities. the U.S. Treasury Department had alleged that the tequila company 4 Reyes had helped the Tijuana Cartel to launder the money it obtained from distributing drugs in both Mexico and the U.S.

So which tequila companies have been accused of working alongside the cartels?

Mexican officials so far are remaining pretty tight lipped about which specific companies have been accused of working alongside the cartels. However, from previous reports, links between the tequila company Onze Black have been discovered. The company was set up by Los Cuinis, a drug cartel with close ties to the CJNG, to help finance its criminal activities. The U.S. government added the company to an economic blacklist the same year.

Another tequila company, one owned by the actress Kate del Castillo, was investigated by Mexican authorities to establish whether it had any financial links to the former Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, currently imprisoned in the United States.

However, no illicit dealings between del Castillo’s company, Tequila Honor, and El Chapo were detected.

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Violence In Mexico Is Expected To Get Even Worse Just As The Country Enters The Worst Phase Of The Pandemic

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Violence In Mexico Is Expected To Get Even Worse Just As The Country Enters The Worst Phase Of The Pandemic

Sergio Maldonado / Getty

On paper, Mexico has seemed to largely escape the worst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Although its leaders came under fire from many at the beginning of the outbreak, the healthcare system hasn’t collapsed and in many parts of the country, it’s largely been business as usual.

However, officials are warning that as the economic impacts of the pandemic begin to take hold, the country could be in store for a very violent 2020. And this dire warning comes as Mexico is already experiencing it’s deadliest year in modern history, unrelated to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Even with Coronavirus restrictions, deadly violence continues to rise in Mexico.

Officials had thought that with Coronavirus-related restrictions in place, much of the widespread violence that plagues the country would gradually be reduced as more people stayed at home. But with the 6,000 homicides between March and April, 2020 is shaping up to be the deadliest year in modern Mexican history – just after 2019 claimed the top spot last year.

So far in 2020, homicides have climbed by 2.4% in the first four months of the year, compared to 2019. In the first four months of this year, 11,535 murders were registered, up from 11,266 homicide in same period last year, preliminary data from the security ministry showed. Just over 34,600 murders were logged in Mexico in all of last year.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador pledged to bring down gang-fueled violence afflicting Mexico when he took office in December 2018, but homicides hit a record level in 2019 and have continued to climb even during the Coronavirus lockdown.

And now as the country begins to find a ‘new normal’ and slowly reopen, officials are warning that the situation will only get worse.

Credit: Henry Romero / Getty

Speaking at a “justice, transparency and Covid-19” conference, Santiago Nieto, the head of the government’s Financial Intelligence Unit, bluntly declared that an economic and security “crisis is obviously coming.”

He predicted that burglaries, financial fraud, human trafficking and child pornography offenses will be among the crimes that will increase. Mexico’s court system will consequently come under significant pressure, Nieto said.

For his part, the head of the Federal Protection Service, a division of the Security Ministry, told the newspaper El Universal that Mexico is likely to go through a “very rough” period of insecurity in the next three to six months.

Although the economic losses haven’t been as severe as in the U.S., Mexico was already in a precarious economic situation before the pandemic.

So far, the pandemic has left more than 750,000 Mexicans without work in the formal sector – this isn’t including the roughly 60% of Mexican society that works in the informal economy. And analysts and financial institutions are forecasting that the economy will suffer a deep recession in 2020.

Commissioner Manuel Espino Barrientos said the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn caused by the mitigation measures put in place to limit the spread of the virus will leave Mexico in a “very complicated” security situation.

Violence and crime will increase because a lot of people “will not find work but they will be hungry,” Espino said.

Despite the economic downturn, a new poll shows that a majority of Mexicans support further extending strict stay-at-home orders.

Although Mexico’s President AMLO has repeatedly stated that the country’s Coronavirus pandemic is under control, that’s not what most Mexicans feel, according to a new poll.

Conducted by the newspaper El Financiero on May 22 and 23, the poll found that 52% of those polled believe that the Coronavirus situation has not been controlled.

Participants were then asked to offer an opinion on the government’s coronavirus mitigation measures, and 64% of poll respondents said that more restrictions should be enforced and stay-at-home orders/recommendations should be extended.

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