Thursday, December 14, 2017

Lessons on ‘El Chapo’ from Mexico/US bust

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Mark Fraser

 International collaboration in drug trafficking  investigations remains a promise awaiting fulfilment, since the December 2013 bust in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, of a cocaine shipment with Trinidad and Tobago written all over it. That is the disappointing T&T experience, since law enforcement authorities had left the impression that better-resourced US investigators were actively on the case, both here and Stateside.

For such allegedly allied endeavours, nothing shows by way of achievement. From over in Virginia, no reports have come of US investigators’ progress in pursuit of those to whom the T&T-exported cocaine had been addressed.

Over here, the operators with international reach and financial clout, who arranged the deal that came close to being made, have remained in the shadows they have always inhabited. In T&T, such operatives have been generically characterised as “big fish”. This term has come to connote outlaw establishments too large to fail and too well connected to be identified and busted.

It was in Mexico, however, a country more beset by drug criminality than T&T, that international collaboration between anti-narcotic agencies realised its headline-grabbing potential. The monster story last week concerned the arrest of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa multi—billion-dollar drug cartel, accomplished by Mexican Marines supported by agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. 

El Chapo, who escaped prison about a decade ago, was described by the DEA as “the number one target we were going for in the world”. Such was the scale, and profitability, of his multinational trafficking in cocaine, heroin and other drugs that his worth had earned him a place on the Forbes financial magazine’s list of the world’s richest people. 

That Mexican and US forces, working together, had landed this big a fish was capable of raising hopes for the prospects of joint law-enforcement advances in T&T. Shadowy criminal overlords have continued to remain untouched, even as small-time figures more regularly gain law enforcement attention.

National Security Minister Gary Griffith had  encouraged hopes for T&T-US co-operation against larger-than-life crime bosses long operating untouched in and around T&T. Such hopes as have remained can hardly be called high.  

Meanwhile, Mexico and the US mark the capture of a figure indicted in California, New York, Chicago, Texas, Florida and New Hampshire, as well as in his homeland, for drug trafficking and related crimes. Over the decade that he has evaded recapture, El Chapo demonstrated the range and reach of his organisation, and his personal near-untouchability.

Reports of the Guzman arrest in Mexico necessarily resonate in a T&T unhappily used to low achievement in  this regard. The Guzman capture should have the effect of increasing the pressure on T&T authorities to deliver results in the allegedly relentless endeavours against local “big fish”, and indeed, the fabled “Mr Big” himself.