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Eliot Ness, Mexican style

2 January 2020

It was a little disheartening to read New Years Day’s The Guardian, where it was suggested that the recent arrest in the United States of General García Luna and prosecution of Chapo Guzman was the oextent of the Mexican government’s “war” on corruption.  They completely overlooked our Eliot Ness… head of the FIscal General’s (the independent Attorney General’s office) Unit for Financial Intelligence, Santiago Nieto Castillo.

In the last year, Nieto’s department has managed to claw back a record 5,023,000,000 pesos (about US$270 million), in addition to 52 million US greenbacks, from various “white collar”, and rather soiled collar crooks… including the former CEO of PEMEX (and his mom), the long-time PEMEX union president, a disgraced Supreme Court justice, at least one former cabinet officer (who is now sitting in prison), a few ex-governors, former President Enrique Peña Nieto (no relation to this Neito)’s personal attorney, and some less illustrious, but equally entrepreneurial, crooks.  And, that’s just a warning to the others.  So far, it’s been rather simple, comparing spending to income and checking tax returns.  Gangsters of the old fashioned type may be a bit more difficult, but give Santiago Neito Castillo some time.

No need to go in, like the previous administrations did with guns blazing… It appears the “cartels”… having to turn on each other, and to enterprises with a quick cash return (kidnapping, people smuggling, plain old-fashioned banditry) are starting to feel a financial pinch… something one wishes the foreign media would recognize.

OK, Nitti… come out with your tax returns …



2020… in the bag

1 January 2020

As of today, within Mexico City, stores and other points of sale can no longer provide plastic bags.  The  Ley de Residuos Sólidos (“Solid Waste Law”) will only permit “compostible” packaging at points of sale except where there is no alternative for hygienic reasons, or there is no alternative available to prevent food waste.  Considering there is a stiff fine for providing such bags, I doubt there will be much of a black market (and, Mexicans are adaptable, with plastic bags only having been around for the last 20 or so years, and plenty of alternatives…. ask your abuela).

While I expect biodegradable bags and food cartons will be on the market shortly, the unsaid major effect of this is that, given Mexico City’s percentage of the country’s population… coupled with the obvious fact that outlets in Mexico City generally have franchises outside the city, or that packaging distributors are unlikely to want to have to sort out sales within Mexico City from those in, say, State of Mexico, or Morelos… or for that matter Chihuahua, Oaxaca, or Chiapas) one can expect what happens in Mexico City won’t stay in Mexico City.

Latin America 2019….

31 December 2019


No room at the border…

25 December 2019

Word of the day: agredado

16 December 2019

He’s got diplomatic immunity.
He’s got special powers no one can see.
Send in the envoy…

(Warren Zevon)

I never heard, or saw, the word “agredado” until today… when it showed up not just on the front page of the morning newspaper, but in the first four stories in the paper, and a couple of times in national news reports on radio and TV. Basically saying Mexico don’t need so stinking agregados.

Which are “attaches”… diplomatic representatives, or, specifically in today’s news, “agredados laborales”, “labor attaches”, a never heard of before this weekend diplomatic post, seemingly invented by the Democratic Party members of the US House of Representatives, or by the Trump Administration, or … well… somebody in the US, in a last minute addition to the revised NAFTA treaty (USMECA in English, T-MEC, in Spanish and French).

What it comes down to is that the Mexican legislature approved the treaty early, but the US congress refused to ratify it, without some sop to their own base. Unfortunately, in the spirit of Woodrow Wilson, they turned paternalistic and “demanded” that US “labor monitors” oversee compliance with certain provisions related to labor standards in Mexico. You know, the country that was the first to mandate paid weekends, put the basic labor code into its constitution in 1916 and is now governed (and holds a majority in both houses of Congress) by a pro-labor, socialist, party.

The US has proposed these “monitors” be diplomatic personnel… agredados laborales”… which, naturally, the Mexican foreign ministry will not, under any circumstance, permit. It’s not that there aren’t labor violations from time to time (a lot of times to times to be honest about it), but that Mexico traditionally has, as have most nations, rejected foreign control oer their internal affairs. Mexico, with better reasons than most (remember the Drug War?), certainly would not allow some foreign diplomat (who is likely to side with who do you think in a dispute between workers and management in a US owned business?) to dictate dispute resolutions… especially when the treaty Mexico approved called for a regular arbitration process involving two representatives from each of the T-MEC states involved in a dispute, and one mutally accepted arbitrator from a disinterested third country. That is, in a dispute between Canadian labor and a US management, there would be two Canadians, two people from the US, and one from… say, Argentina or France or Gabon, or wherever… a total outsider.

The arrogance of the US Democrats, and frankly racist assumption that Mexicans will somehow “cheat” unless stalwart American are watching is bad enough, but the proposal also stinks of absolute ignorance of what is happening in this country, and what labor protections already exist.

Let’s put it this way.. can Mexico now insist they won’t go along until the US includes domestics in the Social Security/National Health system (oh, that’s right… the US doesn’t have National Health), that all workers are entitled to two weeks of vacation, maternity leave, sick days, and an end of the year extra paycheck? Are the bills in the US House (as there are in the Mexican Chanmber of Deputies, waiting on a vote) to cover “outsourced workers” (Kelly Girls and the like) as employees, entitled to the same benefits (including the right to unionize and/or strike) as any other worker?

Can Mexico insist its diplomatic corps can order US companies to comply with Mexican labor law?

One grace note. A foreign ministry official pointed out that the ministry has the right to declare any foreign diplomat “persona non grata” and doesn’t have to give a reason. Should the US try to send us those new “agregados laborales” they may not need more than an overnight bag when then enter the country.

The fire this time: Genaro García Luna in the dock

16 December 2019

Lo importante de que Estados Unidos haya capturado a García Luna no es García Luna, siquiera, sino los baldes de lumbre que caerán hacia arriba, hacia los lados y hasta abajo de García Luna.

(The important thing is that the United States captured García Luna, not García Luna himself. However, the fire that is going to flare up up, down, and all around García Luna.)

Alejandro Páez Varela, in SinEmbargo

That Genaro García Luna, a top cop from the Fox Administration, then Secretary of Public Security, and, arguably, the most powerful figure in the Calderón Administration as chief architect, cheerleader, and commander in the “war on drugs” (or, as it turns out, war on some (inconvenient) drug (exporters) was arrested in the United States for trafficking in “more than five kilograms” of cocaine (as a matter of law, how many more that five doesn’t really matter, but multiply by a number with several zeros to the right might not be excessive) is going to, indeed, “flare up, down, and all around” not just the disgraced General, but scorch not just any number of former (and possibly still active) political and business leaders, but the media, the political parties and, yeah, probably, some of the traditional “cartel” figures as well

How far back García Luna’s “secondary career” of working for (or, at least not against) certain criminal organizations goes isn’t yet clear. His official career in counter-intelligence stretches back to Carlos Salinas’ Administration, when the General worked for CISEN, the now disbanded Mexican intelligence agency. IN 1998, during the Zedillo Administration, he moved to the Preventative Police, and during Fox’s tenure moved to the Judicial Police, then headed the also since disbanded (for being too corrupted) AFI. During Calderón’s tenure, he was, of course, Secretary of Public Security, the face of the “war on drugs”, endlessly featured on television and in the print media, despite well-documented reports of his inexplicable wealth, and the painfully obvious rising body count indicating the so-called war was anything but a success… or even sane.

It’s no wonder he was a media star… the government paid out 231,000,000 pesos to media firms to publicize his, and his “drug warriors” activities. That included financing a television serial centering on the derring-do and exciting lives of fictional anti-narcotics officers (by the way, the show earned some of the lowest ratings in Mexican television history). And… in a particularly bizarre attempt to improve his brand, re-enacted (with the orignal cast of “perps”) the capture of a kidnapper and his French moll. Both were probably guilty as sin, but the re-enactment threw the entire legal case into limbo, the French media had a field day, and a ruckus in France, leading the the lowest point in Franco-Mexican relations since… oh… the attempt to install Maximilian as Emperor.

That so many in the media either ignored the warning signs that García Luna was openly corrupt, or just unblinkingly accepted payments for positive coverage has left them exposed as incompetent as best, corrupt and untrustworthy at worst. Expect several retirements, or retreats to less and less prestige posts… heck, even a tiny little website like this one isn’t going to take them at their word now.

As to the politicians and the parties.

The Lopez Obrador Administration (which has wanted to both end the drug war, and reform the security apparatus, has been taking full advantage of the situation to order a thorough purge of the police… firing anyone connected with García Luna. It’s understandable that his administration would not want to go after the upper echelons of former administrations, or the opposition parties, lest he be accused of seeking vengeance on his enemies and seen as a dictator. HOWEVER, with the new administration, there has been an important change in the justice system. Where before, the “Attorney General” was the Procurador General, a cabinet officer serving at the pleasure of the President, the nation’s chief prosecutor is now the Fiscal General, appointed by the President and the Senate, with a term overlapping that of the presidency, and not dependent on the Executive branch.

My sense is that the Fiscal leaked information, or made it available to US prosecutors… both to protect the Executive branch from the inevitable backlash of instigating a witch hunt… and to justify likely investigations and probable indictments of very high level former officials. Calderón has been unconvincingly claiming he knew nothing, Fox for once is keeping a low profile, Zedillo is safely (for now) buried in academia, and Carlos Salinas is probably holed up in his lair, boning up on the extradition treaties of various other sunny climes for shady people, As to Peña Neito, it should be noted that Chapo Guzman’s extradition to the United States was during his tenure, but he’s not off the hook, with allegations that holdovers from the previous administrations, as well as those within Peña Neito’s own circle, were also beneficiaries of the largess of various cartels.

And, they’ll burn, burn, burn… in a ring of fire.


Asmann, Parker, “Mexico’s Former Top Security Official Indicted on US Drug Charges” InSight Crime, 11 December 2019

Corruption allegations long dogged ex-Mexico security chief“, Associated Press, 10 December 2019

De Vicente Fox a Felipe Calderón: ¿quiénes ‘tiemblan’ con la detención de Genaro García Luna?” Vanguardia, 10 December 2019

Flores, Linaloe R. “El policía patriota: Genaro García Luna gastó 300 millones en construirse una imagen de héroe“, Eme Equis, 11 December 2019

Medellín, Jorge Alejandro. “La negra espalda de García Luna y el final de una era en el narco,” Eme Equis, 10 December 2019

Páez Varela, Alejandro. “El encargo” SinEmbargo, 16 December 2019

Santiago, Cuauhtécatl. “Calderón dice desconocer las causas de la detención de García Luna“, La Hoguera, 10 Decembger 2019

Narco-industrial policy

16 December 2019

When we talk about the history of Mexico’s traditional exports (oil, minerals) we often divide the story into one of free-lancer eventually consoldated into state run operations, although run mostly for the personal profit of the politically favored, and… in the neo-liberal era, privatized for the benefit of those favored few though with the government always ready and willing to step in to help those who help… themselves.  Diego Enrique Osorno, in an extract from his revised version of his 2010 El Cartel de Sinaloa. Una historia del uso político del narco, published as “La cuna de la narcocultura” in Gatapardo, suggests the same he same holds true with another important export… narcotics.

It’s easy to see a parallel between the gangsters who sell drugs, and the crooks running PEMEX.  If nothing else, the former probably never declared their incomes properly nor paid anywhere near the income taxes they owe.  I used to speculate that the state could take over the narcotics trade as a paraestal [state managed business] leaving the crooks running it now in charge, and no worse a company than PEMEX.  That was then, this is now:  the 4th Transformation, the era of a “Moral Economy”.  I’m not sure how narcotics exports fit into a “moral” economy (but then, it’s hard to put the fossil fuel business in a moral framework either), but I suppose… given that there are legitimate, and “moral” uses for both marijuana and opium poppies, and that crop substitution and better economic and cultural opportunities in the rural backwaters of the country will only go so far, maybe an openly state run narcotics “cartel” … freed from crooks in and out of the government,… would be a logical next step in the on-going “Narco” saga. 

From “La cuna de la narcocultura” (my translation)

Following Félix Gallardo’s arrest in 1989, the government claimed the now-imprisoned Culiacán-born “godfather” had organized a meeting with his principal associates among the Sinoloan drug trafficking families, to assign them specific territories.  For several years this was considered the “genesis” from which the Sinaloa Cartel was divided into cells organized in different places called “plazas” in the drug lingo. However, when I interviewed Felix Gallardo himself for this book, the capo told me that while there had been such a meeting, the plazas were assigned by the chief of the anti-narcotics police in the government Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Guillermo González Calderoni.

“It was González Calderoni who distributed the plazas.  He answered to his superiors, but after my arrest, he never arrested anyone of any importance.  They were all friends of his.”   In 1989 there were no “cartels”, the capo told me, who still remains locked in a maximum security prison.

“Cartel” is the word that the DEA began using during the eighties in Latin America, later picked up by Mexican authorities, then by the press and eventually by ordinary citizens.  It is not a precise term, designating a group of traffickers, but referring to an economic organization that dominates all phases of a business and is in a position to control the market and prices of a product or service.  This does not always apply with Mexican “narcos”, however, beyond the mythology surrounding the term — which in recent years has been claimed by the traffickers themselves to name their organizations  — the word “cartel” has transcended its dictionary definition and in the popular imagination it has become a simple way to refer to an intricate conglomerate of gangs , generally made up of family members, in a specific region.

Although it is not clear whether it was Felix Gallardo or the government which created the cartel system, the idea that these various groups all work in a coordinated way with the government still prevails.  As Felix Gallardo told me: “The drug traffickers were not against the government, we were part of the government.” Thus, until the end of the eighties, drug trafficking functioned as a kind of parastatal enterprise [state corporation, like PEMEX] controlled by mostly Sinaloan families.

But in the nineties, Mexico was simultaneously experiencing the consolidation of neoliberal economic policies and a trend towards alternation in power between various political parties.  So, the new competitiveness, as well as a turn to the free market, eventually prevailed in the narco world as well. In this context, the first independent cell to separate from the others was the Tijuana cartel (coincidentally or not, centered in the first state to be ruled by a party other than the PRI). At the time, the Arellano Felix family decreed the autonomy of their territory and began charging special rates to other traffickers who wanted to use the coveted border with California, in the United States.