Mexico’s drug cartels are becoming increasingly involved in the country’s COVID-19 response.
Yesterday, the sons of famed narco Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán instituted a curfew order in one of their territories. Residents of the city of Culiacán must be in their homes by 10 PM. According to the Yucatan Times, violators will be subject to punishments ranging from fines to beatings with boards. Heavily-armed cartel thugs are patrolling the city in vehicles to enforce the orders. In a video circulating on social media, one cartel enforcer warned residents, “This is no game. We’re not playing.”
Guzman’s sons, who are known locally as “Los Chapitos” (Little Chapo’s), are prominent leadership figures in the Sinaloan Cartel. Iván Archivaldo Guzmán and his brother, Jesús Alfredo Guzmán, took over the cartel shortly after their father was incarcerated. “El Chapo” is currently serving a life sentence at the federal super-max prison facility in Florence, Colorado.
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Far from a backwater town, Culiacán is the state capital of Sinaloa, and it boasts nearly a million residents. The mostly rural state of Sinaloa has been a hotbed of drug trafficking activity for decades. Lately, however, the local cartel has practically become the region’s local government.
In 2019, Mexican National Guard soldiers attempted to capture one Chapo’s other sons in the city in a disastrous operation that later known as “The Battle of Culiacán”. Soldiers successfully captured Chapo’s son but, soon afterward, 700 cartel gunmen launched an all-out assault on the city in a bid to secure his release. Mexican authorities ultimately folded to the pressure and released the convicted druglord’s son, a decision that was widely condemned by the international community.
The Sinaloa Cartel has been playing an active role in the country’s coronavirus response since the outbreak began. In April, videos began to surface that showed cartel representatives handing out “Chapo”-branded supply packs during the pandemic. The packages included toilet paper, hand sanitizer, face masks, and other necessities. Chapo’s charitable giving organization, “El Chapo 701”, provides the supplies and every item is branded with a branded depiction of the notorious narco.
The aid packages were part of a major public relations push by the social media-savvy cartel, but many critics doubt the sincerity of the organization’s motives. Over the past two decades, Mexican cartels have become so powerful that they’re vying with the government for control of the country.
Earlier in the week, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador released a statement recounting his first year in office. In an apparent shot against his predecessors, López Obrador said, “There was a time when Guzmán had the same power or had the influence that the then-president had … because there had been a conspiracy and that made it difficult to punish those who committed crimes. That has already become history, gone to the garbage dump of history.”
Despite López Obrador’s convictions, the cartels seem to have become even more powerful under his leadership. Mexican authorities are either unwilling or unable to counter the cartel threat. The Sinaloa Cartel’s power rivals that of the Mexican government. Also, many Mexican citizens have more faith in their local gangsters than their local politicians. Cartels have become so influential that Mexico is on the brink of becoming a narco-state. If Mexico collapses into cartel rule, it would be a serious national security concern for the United States.
Regardless of the organization’s PR push, the Sinoloa Cartel aren’t good guys. At best, the curfew order is an act of self-preservation. However, the real tragedy is that gangsters have to step in to fill the gaping holes left by Mexico’s government. Mexican authorities cannot allow local crime syndicates to set the rules in their cities. If Mexico doesn’t take drastic action to suppress cartel influence soon, it won’t be long until cartel crimelords become the country’s de facto rulers.
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