A "peace summit" was held in Colombia's Caribbean port of Cartagena last week, as last year at this time, bringing together international experts and civil society representatives to discuss the ongoing process to end the country's multi-generational civil war. The conference came as the UN Security Council is preparing a resolution in support of Colombia's peace process, empowering a "special political mission" to the country to oversee implementation of pending accords with the FARC guerillas. (El Espectador, Jan. 20; El Espectador, Jan. 7) According to Colombia's Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), political violence registered over the past six months is at its lowest level since the FARC first took up arms in 1964. CERAC cited the FARC's unilateral ceasefire that came into force in July, and the government's suspension of air-strikes. The report found that both the FARC ceasefire and government air-strike halt had been broken, but registered only 16 clashes between guerillas and government troops over the past six months, resulting in the deaths of 17 guerilla fighters and three members of the security forces. (Colombia Reports, Jan. 22)
The story of the capture of Chapo Guzmán—Mexico's top fugitive drug lord—took a turn for the surreal Jan. 9 with the relevation that Hollywood heavy Sean Penn had interviewed the kingpin when he was on the lam last year for Rolling Stone magazine. In the account, Penn describes the complicated process of estabishing contact, with encrypted communications and such, before being flown from an unnamed location in central Mexico to a "jungle clearing" for some face time. We have to be a tad skeptical here. Chapo was tracked down by Mexican federales to a luxury condo in a Sinaloa seaport—nowhere near any jungle. Even if the meeting was arranged at a remote location, it was still likely to be in Chapo's northern stronghold state of Sinaloa—and the only real jungle in Mexico is in southern Chiapas state, hundreds of miles away. Taking some liberties for dramatic effect perhaps, Sean?
The Zapatista rebels in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas marked the anniversary of their 1994 New Years Day uprising by hosting a national activist gathering in their territory. Guests of honor at the proceedings in the small pueblo of Oventic were a group of parents and other family members of the 43 students who disappeared in September 2014. The students, from Ayotzinapa in Guerrero state, are said to have been abducted by corrupt local police and turned over to a murderous narco-gang—but surviving kin and their supporters increasingly charge Mexico's government with a cover-up in the case. The Zapatistas' Subcommander Moises, joined by 43 masked rebels (one for each missing student), oversaw the ceremony and each embraced the family members. Moises expressed his own skepticism of the official investigation: "The Zapatistas believe that we cannot trust the bad governments anymore, they are the servants of capital, stewards of big capitalist business," he said. "The one calling the shots is global capitalism, that is why we cannot believe them." (TeleSur, Jan. 1)
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto might have made a more auspicious choice of words in proudly announcing the recapture of fugitive drug lord Joaquin Guzmán Loera AKA "El Chapo" on Jan. 8. "Mission accomplished: we have him," the prez declared in Spanish on his Twitter account. El Chapo's escape from Mexico's top-security prison in July was a bitter humiliation for Peña Nieto and his government. The elusive Chapo had spent a decade and change as the country's most-wanted fugitive after his last escape from a Mexican prison, in 2001. The first time around, he allegedly used bribes to slip out in a laundry cart; the second time he slipped out through an elaborate tunnel that had been built from his shower block at Altiplano Prison to a nearby apartment. The Sinaloa Cartel kingpin taunted the world on social media as the second manhunt was carried out. So we have to ask: Was a nervous Peña Nieto unconsciously echoing the famously premature boast of George W. Bush after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003?
Mexico on Sept. 30 extradited 13 people to the United States—including two accused drug lords and several suspects in two high-profile attacks on US citizens. One was the 2011 deadly ambush of US immigration agents in San Luis Potosí state; the other the previous year's killing of US consulate workers in Ciudad Juárez. The two accused kingpins were Edgar Valdez Villarreal AKA "La Barbie" of the Beltran- Leyva Organization and Jorge Costilla Sánchez AKA "El Coss" of Los Zetas. The US Justice Department hyped the extraditions as signaling a new binational coordination following a June meeting between US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her Mexican counterpart, Arely Gómez. As AP noted, extraditions had fallen dramatically since 2012, the final year of President Felipe Calderón's term, when Mexico sent 115 people to face criminal charges in the US. Under President Enrique Peña Nieto, the number dropped to just 66 last year. (AP, Sept. 30)
The Mexican interior ministry, known as Gobernación, was on Sept. 15 accused by a senate committee of covering up evidence pointing to official complicity in the July escape of drug kingpin Joaquin Guzmán Loera AKA "El Chapo"—for more than 10 years the country's most-wanted fugitive. Sen. Alejandro Encinas of the left-opposition PRD, who heads the Senate National Security Committee, said that Gobernación had denied him access to video footage from Guzmán's cell—which is now revealed to incude "drilling sounds" in the background, incdicating that prison authorities ignored construction work on the tunnel through which Chapo escaped. "The video exists and it is crucial in order to identify the extent of complicity in Chapo’s escape," Encinas told the EFE news agency. "Just the fact that the sound of a drill can be heard [on the recording] implies complicity on several levels."
Well, that didn't take long, did it? A massive manhunt is underway in Mexico after the country's most notorious drug lord escaped from the country's highest security prison on the night of July 11. Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán stepped into a shower and through a secret door down a tunnel that led out of Altiplano Federal Prison. The lighted and ventilated tunnel was nearly a mile long, Mexico's National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido García admitted. Reports indicate the tunnel even had a "rail system." It came out in a warehouse. The Mexican press have now dubbed El Chapo the "Lord of the Tunnels."
Identical twin brothers Pedro and Margarito Flores on Jan. 27 were the latest to be sentenced in a series of high-profile federal cases targeting the Sinaloa Cartel's operations in Chicago. Accused of running a continent-spanning trafficking ring, they each received 14 years in prison after US District Judge Ruben Castillo agreed to sharply reduce their term in recognition of their work as government informants. Castillo called the Flores twins, natives of Chicago's West Side, the "most significant drug dealers" he'd dealt with in two decades on the bench, stating that they had "devastated the walls" of US national security by bringing at least 70 tons of cocaine and heroin into the country from 2005 to 2008. Prosecutors also charged the twins smuggled $1.8 billion back to Mexico—wrapped in plastic and duct tape. But it was federal prosecutors who pleaded for leniency, hailing the twins for gathering evidence against the Cartel's long-fugitive kingpin "El Chapo" Guzmán, who was finally busted in Mexico last year.