Did US Link Arrests to ‘Chapo’ to Influence Mexico Elections?

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US anti-drug officials in Mexico have been accused of pressuring captured drug suspects to claim to be relatives of the most wanted Mexican drug kingpin in order to influence upcoming presidential elections in the country.

When brothers Felix and Kevin Beltran Leon (pictured) were arrested on June 22, many news sources incorrectly identified him Felix as the son of Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo.” When his true identity was revealed a day later, it was dismissed as an embarrassing mishap for Mexican authorities.

Now however, it has emerged that there may be more to this initial mix-up. La Jornada reports that the defense lawyer of the brothers, Juan Heriberto Rangel Mendez, is claiming that his clients were offered incentives to pretend that they were related to El Chapo. Rangel says that the brothers spoke with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), personnel who said the ruse only had to last until the upcoming July 1 elections, after which they would be freed.

Felix refused to cooperate, according to Rangel, despite the assurance of officers that he would be freed if he did so.

InSight Crime Analysis

Amidst concern over presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto’s commitment to combating organized crime with US assistance, it makes sense that the US would seek to boost the chances of the National Action Party (PAN) candidate by making it seem as though the current PAN government is hot on El Chapo’s trail.

However, the evidence for Rangel’s allegations is extremely flimsy. As proof that his clients spoke with DEA agents, he says Felix claimed that those who questioned him were “blonde, tall and spoke English,” which is far from indisputable proof and sounds more like a fabrication based on stereotype.

More likely, the claim is an attempt by the lawyer to exploit endemic mistrust of the US and its role in the war on drugs to drum up support for his clients. Peña Nieto is leading PAN candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota by at least 15 points in the polls, and the US would not likely risk a damaging controversy on a move that would likely have limited effect on that lead.

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