Geopolitics

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

Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.


The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.

Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA

Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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