In The Politics of Heroin, Alfred McCoy notes that we capture a drug lord only when he is no longer a drug lord.
So it is with news of the arrest of El Teo, a vicious Tijuana drug baron who is accused of having the bodies of his enemies beheaded or dissolved in caustic soda.
McCoy reminds us that a man like El Teo, or rather, the man authorities accuse him of being, can only be arrested when the drug traffic shifts, stripping him of the power, profits and protection he needs to stay in business. In other words, the arrest of El Teo was only possible because he was already irrelevant.
While the bloodbath in Tijuana attracts the attention, the Sinaloa carter and its leader, Joaquin El Chapo (“Shorty”) Guzman, quietly prospers, as The Economist noted this week:
Sinaloa, by contrast, has stuck to drugs and money laundering and is smarter and more sophisticated. It prefers anonymity to the ostentation of others (Mr Beltrán was undone by inviting a famous accordionist to play at a Christmas party). It eschews jobless teenagers, its rivals’ rank and file, in favour of graduates, infiltration and intelligence. Although all the gangs have penetrated local governments, only Sinaloa and the Beltráns have been discovered to have bribed senior officials. Officials complain that Sinaloa operatives receive warning of pending raids. Sceptics wonder whether success against other gangs comes from tip-offs from Sinaloa.
Forbes reckons that Guzman, who bribed his way out of prison in 2001, is now the 701st richest man in the world.