Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, infamous kingpin of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, was unanimously found guilty on all 10 counts against him by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 12. He was convicted of overseeing an international criminal conspiracy to import tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States over a 20-year period, and laundering the billions of dollars in proceeds.
In a joint anti-drug operation code-named "Armagedon," Peruvian military and National Police troops carried out a series of raids in the remote Putumayo river valley along the Colombian border this week, arresting some 40, destroying four cocaine laboratories, and seizing large quantities of cocaine sulfate and harvested cannabis. The raids took place in the locality of Güeppí, near Laguna Pacora, Putumayo province, Loreto region. The majority of those detained were Colombian nationals, and authorities said they suspect the presence of "dissident" FARC units, who are trying to establish the zone as a staging ground to keep alive their insurgency. More than 350 troops have been deployed in the operation, with five helicopters and three planes as well as boats. The operation is being coordinated with Colombian security forces, who are carrying out similar missions on their side of the Río Putumayo. (BBC News, July 18; El Comercio, July 16)
Colombia has taken significant steps back in a hardline pro-Washington direction since the election of the right-wing Iván Duque as the country's new president last month. Shortly after Duque's victory, the government announced that it will resume aerial spraying of glyphosate on coca crops—this time using drones rather than planes, to supposedly target the planted areas with greater precision. The move comes in response to a new report from the White House finding that Colombian coca cultivation has reached a new record. Data for 2017 indicates coca cultivation rose 11% to 209,000 hectares (516,450 acres), a level not seen in more than two decades of record-keeping. Estimated cocaine production increased 19 percent to 921 metric tons. "President Trump's message to Colombia is clear: The record growth in cocaine production must be reversed," said Jim Carroll, acting director for the US Office of National Drug Control Policy. (El Colombiano, June 26; AP, June 25)
Brazil's ongoing favela wars have taken a dramatic turn for the bloody—prompting the government to send military troops into Rio de Janiero's notorious Rocinha. This is the most violent of the city's sprawling favelas—informal urban settlements virtually abandoned by the government for anything other than militarized anti-drug operations. The army on Sept. 22 deployed nearly 1,000 troops in Rocinha, responding to a request from the Rio state government, Defense Minister Raul Jungmann told local TV. Rio Times reports that the violence in Rocinha is the deadliest since the launch of a "pacification" program in 2011 to push warring narco-gangs out of the city's favelas.
A judge in El Salvador on May 24 sentenced seven accused members of the country's feared mara gang networks to 390 years in prison each for the March 2016 massacre at the town of San Juan Opico. Authorities say the maras kidnapped three day laborers and eight electric company workers at the town, just outside the capital San Salvador—and then killed them, without waiting for a ransom. The mara networks have been factionalizing in a struggle over the cocaine trade through Central America, as well as the lucre from their new sidelines of extortion and kidnapping. The seven sentenced are said to be from a new faction with the disconcerting name of the Barrio 18 Revolutionaries—implying they actually seek to challenge the state, in the style of Mexico's Zetas.
Edgar Veytia, attorney general of Mexico's western state of Nayarit, was once himself targeted for death by the narco-gangs. But on April 8 he was ordered jailed by a US federal judge in Brooklyn, facing charges of trafficking cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine into the United States. Veytia, who has now won the epithet in Nayarit of "Diablo," allegedly netted at least $250 million in protection payments from a smuggling ring since his election in 2013, according to the Daily News. After entering a "not guilty" plea, Veytia was remanded to the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn pending a bail hearing.
A Colombian cartel operative who established Central America's remote and lawless Miskito Coast as a major cocaine transfer point, building a mini-empire in the region of jungle, savanna and offshore cays, has since Feb. 7 been cooling his heels in Managua's notorious El Chipote prison, according to a Feb. 26 report in Nicaraguan daily La Prensa. Although his capture was confirmed by his attorney, Nicaraguan authorities failed to announce the arrest of the country's most-wanted crime lord, Amauri Carmona Morelos AKA Alberto Ruiz Cano.
Even as the FARC guerillas begin the disarmament process under Colombia's peace plan, the ongoing wave of deadly violence against social leaders remains unrelenting. On March 5, a brother and sister who were both local leaders in the Independent Agrarian Workers Syndicate of Meta (SINTRAGRIM), José Antonio and Luz Ángela Anzola Tejedor, were slain in attacks two hours apart by unknown gunmen in their village of Mesetas, Meta department. (Contagio Radio, March 6) Both were also followers of the Colombian Communist Party, which issued a statement calling the double murder part of a "counterinsurgency" plan being carried out against social movements in Meta by right-wing paramilitaries with the complicity of authorities. The statement said the terror campaign is aimed at destroying organizations seeking a just social order after implementation of the peace plan. (Prensa Rural, March 8)