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What Capturing A Drug Kingpin Means For Mexico's Mob Scene

The arrest of a notorious Mexican mobster belonging to the Zetas cartel is a significant accomplishment for President Pena Nieto, but it won't tame the bloodshed.

Mexican soldiers arresting cartel suspects in southwestern Mexico
Mexican soldiers arresting cartel suspects in southwestern Mexico
Redaccion América Economía

SANTIAGO - The recent capture of Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, kingpin of the notorious Zetas gang, deals a serious blow to the most-feared drug cartel in Mexico. It also refutes speculation that President Enrique Peña Nieto is dedicating fewer resources to the war against cartels in an attempt to curb the violence they generate.

As a presidential candidate, Peña Nieto promised to reduce the growing number of homicides and kidnappings in the country. He emphasized public safety rather than the war against drug trafficking. This worried the country's partners in the North and some locals that military action against the cartels would lose priority under the new government.

Mexican marines captured Morales after intercepting a pickup truck in the outskirts of the border city Nuevo Laredo, where the Zetas' operations are headquartered. The narco-chief was travelling with bodyguards, an accountant, eight firearms and $2 million in cash.

It is the Nieto administration’s first big attack on organized crime. Since taking office in late 2012, the Mexican president has failed to reduce the country’s high levels of violence. In his presidential campaign, Nieto promised to dial back the presence of armed forces in the war against narcotraffic in favor of stepping up police action. Morales' capture by armed forces demonstrates the government’s continued use of military intervention to defeat the drug cartels.

More corporation than family enterprise

But whoever thinks that this decisive action will help reduce crimes related to drug trafficking is, sadly, wrong. Morales’ arrest is the eighth capture of a Zetas higher-up since 2011 — and the seven previous arrests have not resulted in less violence.

These days, the Zetas operate more as a corporation than a family enterprise, so they easily adapt to the arrival of a new leader. Besides, it is likely that Morales will be succeeded by his brother, Omar, which would make for a fast and seamless transition. If not, Mexico could be in for an outbreak of independent cells spread all over northern Mexico. Without a central command, these would just target one another, resulting in more kidnappings, extortion and assassinations.

Even if Morales' arrest does weaken the Zetas, it will almost certainly strengthen the Sinaloa cartel and its leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera — the most wanted man in Mexico.

The fact is that as long there is still a huge demand for drugs in the countries of the North, and they remain illegal there, there will be a buoyant market for organized crime in Mexico.

Ironically, the biggest blow to the drug cartels in Mexico could be the legalization of the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, where talks are under way. If local governments were to regulate the production and sale of marijuana in those states, several analysts agree that this would significantly reduce the Mexican cartels’ marijuana market in the United States. Marijuana is the second-largest income source for the cartels, meaning that this would be a significant development.

As for Nieto, he has been more successful in other areas of governing. While Morales’ capture may not prove effective in diminishing violence in Mexico, it is nevertheless heartening to see the administration being tough on crime.

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Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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