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Is the US Government Facilitating the Sinaloa Cartel's Activities?

The Sinaloa Cartel's "Chapo" Guzman The Sinaloa Cartel's "Chapo" Guzman

Leaked internal emails by security analysis firm STRATFOR suggest that the United States government may be favoring Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organization, the Sinaloa Cartel.

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According to internal emails obtained by transparency advocacy group WikiLeaks, an anonymous Mexican diplomat serving as a confidential source for STRATFOR -- known only as “MX-1” -- has accused the US government of facilitating the activities of the Sinaloa Cartel.

In April 2010, MX-1 said that the US government favors a violence-minimizing approach to law enforcement along the border, and have given “signals” to cartels which support this. He alleges that US authorities signaled to the Juarez Cartel in 2010, an extremely violent year in Ciudad Juarez, that it should recognize the superiority of the Sinaloa Cartel and called on both groups to cut down on violence in the area. According to MX-1, the US effectively told the Juarez Cartel: “we recognize that Sinaloa is bigger and better, so either [your cartel] gets in line or we will mess you up."

MX-1 also maintains that the US had a direct hand in negotiating a truce between these groups in Tijuana. In a June 2010 email, he claims that this would not work in Ciudad Juarez because: “the major routes and methods for bulk shipping into the US have already been negotiated with US authorities.” He further alleges that the US has told the Mexican military to stop seizing “large trucks full of dope as they made their way to the US” they belong to the Sinaloa Cartel and “they are OK with the Americans. The argument is that most of the violence remains related to the local market, and that [the military] should focus on smaller gangs and fringe groups that try to cross smaller quantities.”

InSight Crime Analysis

There is reason to be skeptical of this analysis, and the importance of WikiLeak’s STRATFOR leak overall. As The Atlantic pointed out in February, despite the company’s self-portrayal as a "global intelligence company," STRATFOR’s analysts are occasionally ill-informed and their level of access often rarely differs from that of most journalists.

Still, this is not the first time that the authorities have been accused of working with the Sinaloa Cartel. Analysts have long suspected that the Mexican government favors the organization because of its reputation for professionalism and the fact that it largely avoids the kinds of mass displays of violence that have become synonymous with the names of its rivals, the Zetas. In June 2011, leaked US government documents revealed that US law enforcement authorities refrained from informing their Mexican counterparts of the whereabouts of Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” when they knew he would be staying at a ranch near the Arizona border in January 2009.

Several allegations of US authorities favoring the Sinaloans have sprung up more recently. The son of Ismael Zamaba Niebla, who is currently on trial in the US, has alleged that he was promised immunity from American law enforcement, and that the Sinaloa Cartel was “given carte blanche to smuggle tons of illicit drugs into Chicago and the rest of the United States.” In January, a Newsweek investigation reported that El Chapo has been working as an informant with federal authorities, providing them with information about his rivals in exchange for his allowed drug trafficking.

If these rumors prove true, it would have several implications for citizen security in Mexico as well as the role of the US in the country’s war on drug trafficking organizations. Traditionally, Mexicans have been wary of the US’s involvement in their domestic security, which some see as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.  Mexico has long had laws which prohibit foreign militaries from operating on Mexican soil, and these have often put the administration of President Felipe Calderon in difficult positions. Both the blowback from the failed Operation Fast and Furious and reports that the U.S. have flown unmanned drones over Mexican territory raised the ire of some Mexican legislators. If there is any truth to MX-1’s analysis it could make increased security cooperation with the US, a goal of incoming President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, much more difficult.

It could also have an impact on drug-related violence in Mexico in the short term. As noted, the Sinaloa Cartel is known as less violent than the Zetas, reportedly showing more readiness to make deals with rivals and preferring the use of “soft power” like bribes and intimidation over direct confrontations. The country has already seen a drop in homicides in 2012 compared to previous years, and this strategy may have been a factor. In the long term, however, it could be detrimental to the rule of law. As InSight Crime has reported, making deals with drug trafficking organizations (official or not) affords them a dangerous kind of political leverage that they can use later for their advantage.

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