El Chapo's conviction

  • The catastrophe that is Mexico's drug war is so much bigger than one man
- Ioan Grillo

Feb 15, 2019-

Mexico City—People lined up for hours outside the federal court in Brooklyn last week for a chance to hear the jury instructions at the trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo. On Tuesday, the jury handed out guilty verdicts on all counts, including  conspiracy to murder and money laundering. During the trial, while American audiences were focused on the courtroom, the Mexican government held a news conference on forced disappearances south of the border. The figures were alarming. The two stories—of Mr. Guzman being tried in New York and the continuing bloody tragedy here in Mexico—are intrinsically connected.

Tuesday’s verdict followed more than 200,000 murders over the past decade, a level of bloodshed that has ripped at the heart of the nation. More than 100 journalists have been slain, including my friend and colleague Javier Valdez Cárdenas, whom one of the witnesses against Mr. Guzmán was questioned about. An entire movement has grown of family members of those killed and disappeared, pushing to see the violence against their loved ones punished, or at least to find the bodies.

In the face of such slaughter, it is obviously good that Mr. Guzmán, a leader of one of the drug cartels involved, is convicted and is likely to spend the rest of his life in a tough prison. But considering this was the biggest trial to date related to Mexico’s catastrophic drug war, it seems only a bittersweet victory in the battle for justice.

It is a painful fact that Mr. Guzmán was convicted in the United States and not in Mexico, where he has sown corruption and terror. After he escaped from two top security prisons here, the Mexican government conceded that its institutions were not powerful enough to hold him and extradited him north. As a result the charges were mostly related to his trafficking drugs to Americans rather than murdering Mexicans.

Questions about the dubious practices of American agents were shut down by the prosecution and judge. The jurors were not allowed to hear about the so-called Fast and Furious debacle, in which agents watched as thousands of guns were trafficked south, including a .50-caliber rifle found in the last hide-out of Mr. Guzmán. Or about the cooperating witness who had previously claimed that his cartel had been protected by the United States government while it informed on rivals.

And despite Mr. Guzmán’s infamy, there are questions about whether he was truly the biggest drug trafficker in Mexico or just one of various powerful kingpins, including his fellow Sinaloan trafficker Ismael Zambada García, called El Mayo, who is still at large. Indeed, the prosecution said in its closing argument that it didn’t matter if Mr. Guzmán wasn’t the supreme head of the Sinaloa cartel, so long as he was one of its bosses.

A veteran agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration once admitted to me that the policy of taking down kingpins didn’t stop the flow of drugs. But he said that it did stop certain drug traffickers who were becoming too infamous and powerful, which made them a threat to governments.

Perhaps the conviction of Mr. Guzmán at least shows  aspiring drug traffickers that they cannot become as notorious as El Chapo and escape the law. But for the families looking for their loved ones in the mass graves here in Mexico and the families of those who have died of drug overdoses in the United States, the search for justice and peace continues.

— © 2019 The New York Times

Published: 15-02-2019 11:34

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