Good Bye El Chapo

Joaquin Guzman(“El Chapo”) headed the Sinoloa Cartel in Mexico until 2016, and was responsible for smuggling marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth, and other drugs into the US through Mexico.   His trial consisted of 56 witnesses testifying against him and lasted 11 weeks.  It is now in the hands of the jury. I am hoping he’s found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life imprisonment.  He deserves to be locked up.   I wish they could lock up all his associates too.

El Chapo was a master of prison escapes.  He was arrested in Guatemala in 1993, and extradited to Colombia.  He escaped a maximum security prison in 2001. He was recaptured in 2014, and placed in a maximum security prison.  He managed to escape in 2015 through a mile long tunnel.  After he was arrested the third time, in 2016, his luck had run out.   He was extradited to the US to stand trial.

To arrest him, and build a solid case against hin, there was international cooperation with law enforcement agencies in many countries, but certain information could not be shared with Mexican officials, because corruption existed at high levels.  According to the NY Times:

The case required the cooperation of several American law enforcement agencies, but it also required keeping some Mexican authorities out of most discussions. Among the cooperators were the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration, Homeland Security Investigations and the United States Coast Guard. Also involved were foreign law enforcement and military based in Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic, as well as local law enforcement in New York City, Chicago and Texas and federal prosecutors in New York, Chicago, El Paso, Miami, San Diego and Washington, D.C.

I suspect the heavy lifting was done by the Drug Enforcement Administration, whose agents  had the really dangerous job of working in Mexico, knowing that some local law enforcement officers might be working more to protect El Chapo instead of capturing  him.  What really did El Chapo in at the end was his paranoia,  as he had special encryption programs created for his cell phones.   The DEA located the IT expert responsible for the coding and could wiretap and decode his conversations.   The solution to one problem, really lead to a much bigger problem.

The Sinaloa Cartel  is still in the business of smuggling drugs into the US.   It operates in the same manner as a corporation, with a board of directors, and executives, with offices in cities worldwide including the US, Mexico, Colombia and Thailand.    According to Wikipedia,  “With the arrest of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, Ismael Zambada will most likely assume leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel.”

One take away from all this, is there was tremendous ingenuity and effort put into what I can only describe the most economical  “end to end” narcotics distribution.  According to the NYT:  “the Sinaloa Cartel globalized, stretching far beyond the Mexican-United States border to Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Belize, Honduras, Canada, Thailand and China.” The cocaine or heroin might come from Colombia or Thailand, and the objective of the cartels is getting large quantities into the US under their control.

Secret compartments in trucks were routinely used, and entered through legal ports of entry.   Other times, they were hidden inside of legitimate products, such as plastic fruit.    It was pretty incredible operation. According to the NYT drugs were transported by “Trains, helicopters and planes, semi-submersible and tanker ships, shoe boxes and chili cans. Although many more drugs crossed over than were seized, a few notable successes for authorities included a 16-ton seizure from a merchant vessel in Panama and a 6-ton seizure out of Ecuador. Although it never happened, the cartel also discussed trying to move 100 tons of cocaine on an oil tanker ship.”

If the 11 week trial proved anything beyond Joaquin Guzman’s crimes,  it proved that Donald Trump’s wall will have no direct effect on the influx of drugs in the US.   The cartels are looking to move large quantities, so large trucks or tractor-trailer semi’s which routinely pass through the legal ports of entry proved to be the most economical way to more drugs.    The illegal border crossings were not part of the Sinaloa Cartel operation, with the exception of some tunnels near San Diego.   The 5 billion dollars for 100 miles of wall, that has become so contentious,  will have no effect on the Sinaloa smuggling operation.

Finally,  the trial did not show that El Chapo and his cartel were involved in the current Fentanyl  epidemic.  I’m not saying that they are not involved because they have huge control over the distribution of drugs in the US.  Fentanyl is very addicting and resulting in over 70,000 overdoses.  It is made in labs in the US, but the constituents and pre-cursors come from China, courtesy of the US Postal Service.   If we are able to crack down on China, then the source chemical suppliers will likely shift to India.  It’s been reported that the Mexican drug cartels, namely the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) are involved, as they can cut their heroin with fentanyl.  The Jalisco Cartel is a very violent gang and at times, fight to enlarge their areas of distribution,  waging deadly battles with the Sinaloa Cartel.

The chance of a Fentanyl overdose can be reduced by taking naloxone, which apparently is widely available.  See Wikipedia link on Fentanyl.

I’m stopping here, as I’ve wandered a bit off the tracks.  I am very glad when El Chapo gets locked up for the rest of his life.  The DEA and FBI have done well.

Tomorrow, as part of the State of the Union Address Donald Trump will be telling us the drug problem can be solved by pouring concrete.   It can’t.   And going after the “bad actors” needs incredible international cooperation.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

NYT: The El Chapo Trial

Wikipedia:  Fentanyl  (I learned a lot from this link)

Mexico cartels now fuel deadly Chicago opioid epidemic

Wikipedia: Joaquin Guzman (El Chapo)

Jalisco New Generation Cartel 

 

Debt Ceiling Approval Issue: Unbelievable

I wrote on August 9, 2017 that the debt ceiling approval was not headline news, but in two weeks it would be.  Boy did I nail it!

Congress must act fast to increase the debt ceiling limit.   After September 29, 2017, the US will start to default on its debt obligations if they fail to act.  Congress goes back in session on September 5, 2017  after Labor Day.   Secretary Treasurer Mnuchin  has call the debt ceiling limit “ridiculous”  and I agree with him 100%.

Unfortunately,  commentators in the media constantly confuse the issues of budget approval (non-approval results in a shutdown of non-essential gov’t services)  and debt ceiling approval (non-approval lowers credit rating of the US with long term harm to our economy).  They fail to mention that the ceiling does not restrict spending, only the government’s authority to pay its bills for approved expenditures.  Perhaps it should be called,  “Pay your bills on time approval” to get popular support.

Trump’s recent tweets were down right scary,  chastising McConnell for not slipping into the recently passed Veteran Affairs budget  bill, the debt ceiling approval.   The VA bill was controversial because it allowed veterans to seek medical care outside of the VA hospitals (Choice Program).  The problem with any free health system is it gets abused.  It has been documented that non-veterans were also getting free medical care.    But, the Choice options to the VA medical system were put in the budget bill, so it would get approval.   So, the VA bill was already dirty in a way and it was the reason why the bill didn’t pass until VA funds were nearly gone.

Adding to this bill an approval for the debt ceiling was a horrible precedent, as it says either you approve the VA Choice program or the country will be in sovereign default.  I call that super ridiculous-  but it is exactly what Trump tweeted.

Treasury Secretary Mnuchin calls for a clean debt ceiling increase,  just as the former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew did before him.    Clean means clean.  It means that Trump’s administration request  for increased funding for the border wall, or anything else, including infrastructure spending must be passed on the merits of requests, and not a political deal.

There are just 12 working days between Sep 5 and 29, 2017.   The exact same arguments used by President Obama, in pleading with Republicans in Congress to pass a clean approval,  are being made by the Secretary of the Treasury.   But this time,  he is pleading with his own party and most likely will need the Democrats to get the job done.

There are Republican groups pushing for a dirty bill and to tie the ceiling approval to spending cuts or other things on the Trump neoconservative  agenda.   This is the same horrible idea that Obama had to deal with.   I particularly like the idea analogy of a President Trump putting a gun to his head, and declaring “You pass this bill with border security and debt ceiling in it, or I’ll pull the trigger.”

If President Trump really wants to go on the attack,  he can propose elimination of the debt ceiling altogether.    I certainly would support this.

Stay tuned,.

Dave