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EL ESPECTADOR

What The Capture Of The World's Most Wanted Man Means For Mexico

The arrest of Joaquin Guzman Loera on Feb. 22
The arrest of Joaquin Guzman Loera on Feb. 22

The world was surprised, and very likely pleased, by this past weekend's capture of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel and one of the world’s richest and most powerful drug traffickers. Pleased for good reason, because “Shorty” Guzmán, who was on the run for 13 years after a prison escape, is believed responsible for importing 25% of all illicit drugs into the United States.

In 2013, he became the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s No. 1 target. Forbes magazine had estimated Guzmán’s fortune to be $1 billion, though he disappeared from the magazine’s list of global billionaires that year because his earnings couldn’t be verified.

The international police agency Interpol was also pursuing the Sinaloa cartel for coordinated trafficking of cocaine and synthetic drugs between Europe and the United States, as well as the drug trade to Asia.

The cartel was also believed to be involved in arms trafficking between Eastern Europe and Latin America. Its operatives have been caught in unlikely places such as Egypt, while Guzmán’s global sway led Australian media to dub his operations "an empire on which night never falls."

He was finally caught early Saturday in a rented flat in Mazatlán, a resort in the northwest Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Guzmán's downfall is momentous for several reason. First, he led a massive criminal empire, which made him the world’s most wanted man after the death of terrorist Osama bin Laden. “Shorty” — though he was not unusually short — had become a criminal icon comparable to Colombia's Pablo Escobar or to Al Capone. His capture is a victory for global order, and above all for the Mexican government.

Three chances at capture

Guzmán fled from a maximum-security Mexican prison in 2001 — when Vicente Fox was the country's president — and worse, police had the opportunity three different times to catch him. Internal obstructions inside President Fox’s National Action Party prevented them from doing so. The administration of the next president, Felipe Calderón, also failed to catch him, that time apparently for press leaks by members of the bureaucracy.

So the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto had the chance to display not just a great feat in fighting crime but also a measure of unity within the president’s Institutional Revolutionary Party.

The arrest is also important because it appears to be part of recent pattern of law enforcement successes, notably the recent capture of the cartel’s chief gunman, a man dubbed “Number 20.” Joint operations between Mexican forces and the United States' Drug Enforcement Agency suggest they may be closing in on the cartel’s other strongmen, Ismael Zambada and José Esparragoza, nicknamed “The Blue.”

“Shorty” Guzmán was not betrayed by associates but caught thanks to investigations. The same type of intelligence work led to the July 2013 capture of the mass-murdering head of the Zetas Cartel, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales or Z-40.

Faced in recent months with the rise of self-defense militias in western Mexico — the result of increasing fury about crime’s unfettered sway over the daily lives of Mexicans — the Mexican government began an offensive against one of the cartels, the Knights Templars, in one of the country’s most violent states, Michoacán. Guzman’s arrest can be seen as a continuation of this type of initiative, and if these actions do not yet add up to a victory against the cartels, the state is certainly giving them a battering.

Still, the arrest is far from signifying the end of the Sinaloa Cartel. Violence is not about to decline, as his arrest could indeed foment disorder inside the cartel, and weaken it against its main rivals, the ultra-violent Zetas. So unless the authorities have a plan for striking at the Zetas with the same force, the arrest’s success could end up drowning in the bloodbath it may yet provoke.

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Society

Genoa Postcard: A Tale Of Modern Sailors, Echos Of The Ancient Mariner

Many seafarers are hired and fired every seven months. Some keep up this lifestyle for 40 years while sailing the world. Some of those who'd recently docked in the Italian port city of Genoa, share a taste of their travels that are connected to a long history of a seafaring life.

A sailor smokes a cigarette on the hydrofoil Procida

A sailor on the hydrofoil Procida in Italy

Daniele Frediani/Mondadori Portfolio via ZUMA Press
Paolo Griseri

GENOA — Cristina did it to escape after a tough breakup. Luigi because he dreamed of adventures and the South Seas. Marianna embarked just “before the refrigerator factory where I worked went out of business. I’m one of the few who got severance pay.”

To hear their stories, you have to go to the canteen on Via Albertazzi, in Italy's northern port city of Genoa, across from the ferry terminal. The place has excellent minestrone soup and is decorated with models of the ships that have made the port’s history.

There are 38,000 Italian professional sailors, many of whom work here in Genoa, a historic port of call that today is the country's second largest after Trieste on the east coast. Luciano Rotella of the trade union Italian Federation of Transport Workers says the official number of maritime workers is far lower than the reality, which contains a tangle of different laws, regulations, contracts and ethnicities — not to mention ancient remnants of harsh battles between shipowners and crews.

The result is that today it is not so easy to know how many people sail, nor their nationalities.

What is certain is that every six to seven months, the Italian mariner disembarks the ship and is dismissed: they take severance pay and after waits for the next call. Andrea has been sailing for more than 20 years: “When I started out, to those who told us we were earning good money, I replied that I had a precarious life: every landing was a dismissal.”

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