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Radio reporter shot to death in Brazil after receiving threatening phone calls

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By Natalia Mazotte/SH

Brazilian journalist Laécio de Souza was shot to death the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 3, in the metropolitan area of Salvador, the capital city of the state of Bahia, reported G1. Police said the radio reporter had received threats on his cell phone minutes before he was killed, according to the news site Itaberaba Notícias.

Witnesses said two men shot the journalist while he worked to construct a storage facility for the local community on his property, according to Agência Estado. Souza was shot three times and died on the spot.

Police have not released a motive for the crime, but initial findings indicate that local drug traffickers were upset with the journalist’s plans to construct a social project on his land, reported the newspaper A Tarde.

Souza was a local news reporter for the radio station Sucesso FM, and he aimed to run for city council, according to Correio 24 Horas.

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Mexico Turns Up the Heat on Drug Lord Guzman

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s ruling conservative party had been in power just 50 days when drug lord Joaquin Guzman slipped out of a dark prison and into Mexican folklore.

Eleven years later, President Felipe Calderon‘s government is furiously trying to flush out the man nicknamed El Chapo – “Shorty” – to rescue its bloody war on drug cartels.

Guzman’s flight from a maximum security prison in a laundry cart on January 19, 2001, was a major embarrassment to Calderon’s predecessor Vicente Fox, who had just begun a new era as the first National Action Party (PAN) official to lead Mexico.

Now, Guzman is the greatest symbol of the cartels’ defiance of Calderon, whose war unleashed a wave of gang violence that is eroding support for the PAN ahead of presidential elections on July 1. Calderon is barred by law from seeking a second term.

In the last few months, authorities have arrested dozens of Guzman’s henchmen, seized tons of his contraband and razed the biggest single marijuana plantation ever found in Mexico, subsequently chalked up as another setback for El Chapo.

Over Christmas, three senior Guzman associates fell into Mexico’s hands, including one named as his chief of operations in Durango, a state where he has been rumored to hide out.

“He’s certainly aware people very close to him have been captured over the past two weeks, so he must be seriously concerned,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings Institution expert on the drug trade. “The noose seems to be tightening.”

Since his nighttime escape, Guzman’s legend has grown daily, as the wily capo evaded capture, eliminated rivals and sold billions of dollars worth of drugs across the border.

Meanwhile, the PAN, who won office under Fox pledging to restore law and order in a country tired of the corruption that marred the 71-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has become more and more bogged down in the drug war.

Calderon staked his reputation on rooting out the cartels, but the army-led struggle has cost over 46,000 lives in five years, spooking tourists and investors alike.

As Calderon fought to contain the violence, he had to watch Guzman feted for success when the kingpin placed 41st in a Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people in 2009.

Immortalized in song both in Spanish and English, Guzman seemed so untouchable that rumors began spreading the Mexican government had made a deal with him to keep the peace.

That talk has now faded, and Attorney General Marisela Morales said in October Guzman would be captured “very soon.”

North of the border, things have also turned sour for the fugitive trafficker, who made headlines as the world’s most wanted man after the death of Osama bin Laden.

In last few weeks, U.S. authorities in Arizona announced details of raids in which they arrested over 200 people linked to the Sinaloa cartel, named for the northwestern Pacific state where Guzman was born, probably in 1957.

DRUG LORD PROTECTOR

Surveys show the public backs the crackdown on the cartels. But it also believes Calderon is losing the drug war.

Alberto Vera, director of research at pollster Parametria, said only something of the magnitude of Guzman’s capture would persuade voters Calderon was winning. That could boost support for his party by two or three points if it happened not long before the election, he added.

“Catching him would do Calderon credit,” said Luis Pavan, 40, a Mexico City insurance agent. “Fighting the gangs is one of the few good things the government has done.”

Weakened by the mounting death toll, Calderon’s PAN lags the opposition PRI by about 20 points, recent polls show.

Capturing Guzman could also benefit U.S. President Barack Obama, who faces a tough re-election battle against Republicans that accuse him of being weak on border security.

Arturo R. Garino, mayor of Nogales – an Arizona border city lying right on Guzman’s main smuggling routes – said the kingpin’s arrest would be a boost to both governments. “Cutting the head off the snake would help our economy too,” he said.

Intelligence officials declined to say if efforts to catch Guzman had increased, but his biographer Malcolm Beith said there was little doubt they had, as recent operations on El Chapo’s turf were being conducted by crack military units. “It’s been special forces and marines to the best of my knowledge. These guys are called in for special raids because they’re less likely to have been infiltrated,” he said.

Officials who have tracked Guzman say it is one thing to locate him and quite another to capture him.

Like late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Guzman has a reputation as a protector of his heartland in Sinaloa, a rugged region that the state still struggles to penetrate, where news of approaching of strangers quickly reaches him and his followers.

“Chapo has allegedly paid for schools, hospitals, and other public projects,” said Beith. “Second, he’s just about the only source of employment in parts of Sinaloa. And he has provided security of a sort. He’s been known to apprehend small-time crooks or thugs when they got out of hand. Lastly, the name Chapo pretty much puts the fear of God into people.”

With locals watching his back, Guzman has always had just enough warning to get away at the last minute. The exception was when soldiers captured him in Guatemala in June 1993.

New surveillance technology has raised the stakes though.

Mexico has admitted allowing U.S. spy planes to track the cartels, reviving memories of the chase for Escobar, who was gunned down on a Medellin rooftop in December 1993.

The U.S. Army’s spy unit Centra Spike played a crucial part in that takedown – using planes to triangulate Escobar’s phone calls – and U.S. surveillance drones stationed just across the Arizona border are likely being used to help catch Guzman.

Adding to his problems are attacks from the rival Zetas gang, which has engaged in a spate of tit-for-tat killings with the Sinaloa cartel that have spread onto his territory.

If Guzman is caught, it could unleash a bloody scramble for power before the election, said Jose Luis Pineyro, a security expert at Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University.

“He is said to have influence in five continents,” he said. “It would have repercussions outside Mexico and America.”

Reuters

Mexico’s cartels build own national radio system

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By Associated Press, Updated: Monday, December 26, 4:26 PM

MEXICO CITY — When convoys of soldiers or federal police move through the scrubland of northern Mexico, the Zetas drug cartel knows they are coming.

The alert goes out from a taxi driver or a street vendor, equipped with a high-end handheld radio and paid to work as a lookout known as a “halcon,” or hawk.The radio signal travels deep into the arid countryside, hours by foot from the nearest road. There, the 8-foot-tall (2-meter-tall) dark-green branches of the rockrose bush conceal a radio tower painted to match. A cable buried in the dirt draws power from a solar panel. A signal-boosting repeater relays the message along a network of powerful antennas and other repeaters that stretch hundreds of miles (kilometers) across Mexico, a shadow communications system allowing the cartel to coordinate drug deliveries, kidnapping, extortion and other crimes with the immediacy and precision of a modern military or law-enforcement agency.

The Mexican army and marines have begun attacking the system, seizing hundreds of pieces of communications equipment in at least three operations since September that offer a firsthand look at a surprisingly far-ranging and sophisticated infrastructure.

Current and former U.S. law-enforcement officials say the equipment, ranging from professional-grade towers to handheld radios, was part of a single network that until recently extended from the U.S. border down eastern Mexico’s Gulf coast and into Guatemala.

The network allowed Zetas operatives to conduct encrypted conversations without depending on the official cellphone network, which is relatively easy for authorities to tap into, and in many cases does not reach deep into the Mexican countryside.

“They’re doing what any sensible military unit would do,” said Robert Killebrew, a retired U.S. Army colonel who has studied the Mexican drug cartels for the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank. “They’re branching out into as many forms of communications as possible.”

The Mexican army said on Dec. 4 that it had seized a total of at least 167 antennas, 155 repeaters, 166 power sources, 71 pieces of computer equipment and 1,446 radios. The equipment has been taken down in several cities in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz and the northern states of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas.

The network was built around 2006 by the Gulf cartel, a narcotics-trafficking gang that employed a group of enforcers known as the Zetas, who had defected from Mexican army special forces. The Zetas split from the Gulf cartel in 2010 and have since become one of the nation’s most dominant drug cartels, with profitable sidelines in kidnapping, extortion and human trafficking.

The network’s mastermind was Jose Luis Del Toro Estrada, a communications expert known as Tecnico who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine in federal court in Houston, Texas, two years ago.

Using millions of dollars worth of legally available equipment, Del Toro established the system in most of Mexico’s 31 states and parts of northern Guatemala under the orders of the top leaders in the Gulf cartel and the Zetas. The Gulf cartel boss in each drug-smuggling territory, or plaza, was responsible for buying towers and repeaters as well as equipping his underlings with radios, according to Del Toro’s plea agreement.

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Mexico’s Drug Lords: Too Big to Fail?

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Written by  Alejandro Hope*

On the anniversary of the death of one of Mexico‘s most-wanted drug lords, analyst Alejandro Hope looks at the government’s strategy of taking down high-value targets, which many criticize as destabilizing the underworld and triggering more violence.

The following is InSight Crime’s translation of an article from Plato o Plomo, a blog by Alejandro Hope:

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Nazario Moreno, alias “El Chayo,” leader of the Familia Michoacana. With his demise, a spectacular cycle of captures and killings of cartel leaders was brought to a close. They fell one after another; in addition to Chayo, Arturo Beltran Leyva, Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel and Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, alias “Tony Tormenta” all lost their lives in the space of 12 months. And this doesn’t include the captures of various lieutenants who were key players in the country’s criminal organizations (like “La Barbie,” El Grande, El Indio, etc.).

Many of us thought that such “decapitations” would continue, that it would be only a matter of months until a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas, or the Caballeros Templarios [Knights Templar] was detained or killed. But no; it has been 12 months and nothing has happened. Well, not exactly nothing. Some small-scale leaders have fallen (like Jose de Jesus Mendez, alias “El Chango,” who headed what remains of the Familia; Moises Montero, alias “El Koreano,” from the Independent Cartel of Acapulco; or Oscar Osvaldo Garcia Montoya, alias “El Compayito,” of the Mano con Ojos), along with a handful of second-tier figures (like the Sinaloa Cartel’s Noe Salgueiro; Jose Antonio Acosta, alias “El Diego” of the Juarez Cartel; Jesus Enrique Rejon, alias “El Mamito” from the Zetas, etc.). But when it comes to top capos, not a single one has been taken down in the last year.

Unless somebody gives me additional information, I will accept the most straightforward explanation for this: we simply haven’t found them. From media campaigns to the statements of the most important government officials, everything indicates that the federal government continues to believe that it is a good idea to decapitate criminal organizations. I have no doubt that, when the occasion presents itself, they will go after the remaining capos.

But is this the correct strategy? Is it worth it to destabilize the criminal underworld with the capture or killing of a high-profile figure? Several months ago, there was a debate over the issue, staged on Nexos and other forums, between Eduardo Guerrero and the current interior minister, Alejandro Poire. The dispute centered around one main question: does the decapitation of criminal organizations cause violence to increase in the short term?

The answer turned out to be yes, sometimes. The data presented by Poire and Guerrero showed that the takedown of a capo produced additional violence in some cases, but not others. In some cases, the absence of a boss does not necessarily lead to disorder. There may have been a brief spike in violence in the northwest of the country in the wake of the 1989 caputre of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, “El Padrino,” the boss of bosses of the Pacific Cartel (possibly even contributing to the death of Cardinal Posadas in 1993), but probably not after the arrest of the Gulf Cartel’s Juan Garcia Abrego in 1996.

In Colombia, first the arrest and then the death of Pablo Escobar saw an indisputable reduction in the number of homicides, but the arrest of the Cali Cartel’s Rodriguez Orejuela brothers likely had the opposite effect. The same goes for Italy and the United States; there are captures of criminal leaders which result in wars and others which bring peace.

For the sake of the argument, we will suppose that, on the whole, the decapitation of a criminal band tends to generate violence in the short term, due to succession conflicts, the unraveling of some groups, or through power vacuums that are exploited by rival groups. Is this reason enough not to abandon such a strategy? I believe not, for two fundamental reasons:

If criminals perceive that reaching a certain level of prominence makes them untouchable because their removal will have destabilizing effects, they will seek to make it that threshold. This dynamic could generate even more violence in the long term than high-value takedowns; it would be the equivalent in the criminal underworld of the “too big to fail” argument.

Cartel leaders are horrible people who deserve punishment. They are responsible for the torture, degradation and death of thousands of human beings. It seems morally inconceivable to me not to bring them to justice. Yes, without a doubt, the likely consequences should factor into this moral calculus, but it still seems to me a non-negotiable duty of the state to pursue those who corrupt, intimidate, kidnap, extort, torture and kill. Criminal justice does not simply exist to shape behavior; it also serves as an expression of societal values.

For these reasons (and others) a security policy must have an element which includes the decapitation of criminal groups. The discussion is not whether we should go after drug lords, and kill them if they resist, but over the criteria which should determine their pursuit. In my judgement, a policy of decapitation must have the following elements:

  • The priority level of a high value target should be determined not by the relative prominence or size of the organization, but by the intensity of the violence it causes. The more violent the criminal group (marked, for instance, by carrying out massacres), the more resources should be devoted to the capture of its main leaders. This decision should be completely explicit, but it should not keep officials from going after a cartel leader who is not deemed of high value if the opportunity presents itself.
  • Whenever possible, authorities should try to make sure that their targets are captured alive. In plain terms, a narco brought to justice is worth more than a mangled corpse. This is also particularly important considering the favorite Mexican pass-time of building conspiracy theories.
  • Likewise, whenever possible, each high-profile capture should be paired with the arrest of a number of lieutenants and foot soldiers, as a way to a.) maximize the impact and b.) lessen the risk of violence due to succession conflicts and fragmentation.
  • After the capture of a drug lord, officials should strengthen the presence of federal troops and other security forces in the organization’s area of influence, as a way of preventing an immediate backlash.
  • In some cases, their near-immediate extradition to the United States may be necessary. There are individuals who cannot be easily and safely held in a Mexican prison.

In summary, I am in favor of the government’s strategy of targeting cartel leaders, and will rejoice the day in which they capture “Lazcano,” “Treviño,” “Mayo Zambada,” “La Tuta,” or Chapo Guzman. I only hope that their downfall is accompanied by measures which prevent destabilizing effects, and maximize effects which dissuade violence. Decapitation is a powerful strategy, but it must be use prudently and strategically.

Translated and reprinted with permission from Alejandro Hope*, of Plata o Plomo, a blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read Spanish original here.

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Obama Admin Seals Records of Murdered Border Patrol Agent Implicated in Fast and Furious

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By MARK HEMINGWAY 

And to think that Attorney General Eric Holder is getting testy about congressional calls for his resignation. After all, the Justice Department has nothing to hide, right?:

The Obama Administration has abruptly sealed court records containing alarming details of how Mexican drug smugglers murdered a U.S. Border patrol agent with a gun connected to a failed federal experiment that allowed firearms to be smuggled into Mexico.

This means information will now be kept from the public as well as the media. Could this be a cover-up on the part of the “most transparent” administration in history? After all, the rifle used to kill the federal agent (Brian Terry) last December in Arizona’s Peck Canyon was part of the now infamous Operation Fast and Furious. Conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the disastrous scheme allowed guns to be smuggled into Mexico so they could eventually be traced to drug cartels.

Link via Judicial Watch. The murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent is related to the Justice Department willingly turning over thousands of guns to Mexican criminal gangs, and Obama administration is hiding information about his death from the public. Amazing.

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