The Case of “El Rey – The King” Zambada Garca: Witnessing the Breakdown of Mexico’s “Landau” Drug Control Law
“Last year, drug overdose deaths hit a record high – fueled by fentanyl,” wrote House Speaker Kevin McCarthy last week on Twitter. “Securing our southern border would help address this crisis and save lives.”
Four years ago, the trial of Joaqun “El Chapo” Guzman caused prosecutors to further examine the root causes of the drug trade.
In recent years, U.S. officials have identified cartel-related corruption at the highest levels of the Mexican government. In New York City, the former head of Mexico’s equivalent of the FBI is on trial for his crimes after being arrested in Texas in 2019.
Felbab-Brown points to “dramatic levels of corruption and dramatic levels of infiltration of the cartels into judicial and law enforcement institutions in Mexico” that make it nearly impossible for the Mexican government to help the U.S. in the drug war.
In their testimony in the case of the drug-traffickers in the U.S. custody, they described both the lawman on the take and the alleged role that he had in helping the drug lord escape arrest.
On Monday, the star witness was Jesús “El Rey – The King” Zambada García. Zambada Garcia told jurors about packing duffle bags holding millions in cash which he watched Garcia Luna collect from one of the Sinaloa cartel’s lawyers.
Zamabada described how paying about $1.5 million dollars per month to government officials allowed his men to integrate completely into Mexican law enforcement agencies – even wearing government uniforms as they raided rival cartels or made sure to escape raids themselves.
The Trial of Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda: How the U.S. Can Stop Mexican Drug Trafficking, Methamphetamines and Fentanyl
But defense lawyers have pointed out at every turn that the prosecution’s case is all hearsay – most of it from convicted narcotraffickers who have won great reductions in their prison sentences in exchange for their cooperation.
This trial is unfolding at a time when the Jalisco New Generation, the second largest Mexican drug group, has only grown in power and wealth.
Efforts to target the cartels inside Mexico unraveled four years ago when the U.S. attempted to prosecute another top Mexican official, retired Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda.
During the last months of Donald Trump’s presidency, Cienfuoches was arrested in Los Angeles. But in a highly unusual move, charges against Cienfuegos were dropped and he was returned to Mexico.
Facing intense pressure from the government of President Manuel Lopez Obrador, the U.S. DOJ filed court documents unsealed in November 2020 stating that “foreign policy considerations outweigh the government’s interest in pursuing the prosecution of the defendant.”
It’s very long. You don’t get results within a year or two of being in office, says LaBelle, who was acting director in the first year of the Biden administration.
“We’re not going to just throw up our hands and say it’s impossible,” she says. Asking Mexico to do more seizures in the country isn’t going to happen.
“There’s no doubt that endemic corruption, impunity, a weak rule of law are Mexico’s achilles heels,” Sarukhan said. “That means fentanyl and methamphetamine labs operate in Mexico with almost no pressure.”
Republicans have made the Mexican cartels, the fentanyl crisis and border security into a major line of attack, arguing the Biden administration can do far more to stop traffickers.
President Biden said this weekend that he wants to launch a “major surge to stop fentanyl production and sale” that’s driving 70,000 fatal overdoses in the U.S. every year.
Republicans have yet to come up with a plan of their own for controlling the drug trade, but experts say it might reduce the amount of Fentanyl reaching American streets.
China is home to many of the chemicals used to make the synthetic opiate. But as disputes over Taiwan and other issues have escalated, the Chinese government has suspended most drug-fighting collaborations with Washington.
Rep. Trone’s Feeling about Mexico’s Pentaquark Overdose Crisis and Implications for the Future of the Drug War
“My feeling is that there is no way to prevent it,” said Rep. Trone, who was skeptical about the Mexican government’s willingness to target the groups.
The public health model is seen by most drug policy experts as a way to save lives. They also say public fears about fentanyl will likely raise political pressure in Washington for a tough response on the border, whether it’s effective or not.
“As long as both countries continue to hew to the old paradigms, which have not worked, absolutely not, we will not be moving the needle,” Sarukhan told NPR.
There is enough Fentanyl in this country to kill every single American more than twenty times over and you cannot tell us it’s secure, said the California Republican. “This has all got to change. That’s our commitment and that’s what we’ll make happen.”
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said at a hearing last week that it’s fundamentally wrong to work with Mexican friends on the issue of illegal drugs. “I don’t know how many more lives have to be lost for Mexico to get engaged.”
Drug policy experts speaking for NPR said that these ideas, which include pressuring Mexico, and further securing the border and defeating the cartel are unlikely to succeed.
Experts say fentanyl smuggling increased sharply in recent years. In 2022 alone, the DEA seized more than 50 million fake prescription pills laced with fentanyl along with more than 10,000 pounds of fentanyl powder.
The fate of the U.S. war against the cartels of fentanyl and other drugs: Mexico’s reluctant support of the drug gangs
Sarukhan, Mexico’s former ambassador to the U.S., said only a handful of law enforcement agencies in his country are willing or able to engage with the powerful drug gangs.
The first time the U.S. can do anything about these drugs is when they cross the border, almost always passing through official checkpoints hidden in cars or commercial trucks driven by American citizens.
President Biden and others have argued for improving technology designed to detect fentanyl at those crossings, but the drug is uniquely difficult to detect and stop.
Things haven’t improved since Mexico backed away from almost all drug interdiction partnerships with the US during the Trump administration.
At last week’s Senate hearing, the DEA’s Milgram said there’s so little cooperation that her agents can’t take down known fentanyl labs or even get good intel from Mexican cops. She acknowledged that they are not getting information about the seizures of precursor chemicals andfentanyl.
There is no need to demonstrate global leadership by working in the area of trafficking and production of drugs. [Beijing] is instead choosing to not engage,” Dr. Rahul Gupta, who heads the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, testified during last week’s Senate hearing.
Some Republican governors, lawmakers and state attorneys general have called for the U.S. government to designate the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels as terrorist organizations comparable to al-Qaida or ISIS.
He believes that if the U.S. war was to be fought against the Mexican cartels, it would be much like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Biden administration has resisted that kind of escalation, and Rep. Trone agrees that it would be a grave mistake. “We could do major raids in Mexico with our military [but] it’s not our country,” Trone said. It’s their country. They didn’t want to go after the drug traffickers.