The week in Latin America: A smuggler named John
The Times this week published a four-part series by reporter Richard Marosi on the U.S. face of Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, considered one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the world. Here are highlights from the series, and other stories that made top headlines in Latin America this week:
In the first part of the series, Marosi introduces readers to a Drug Enforcement Administration operation tracking Sinaloa cartel distributors in Southern California. The article highlights the exhaustive surveillance strategies that U.S. anti-drug authorities employ to track smugglers, which includes permitting loads of drugs to pass from Mexico in order to gather further intelligence on suspects.
"Mexican psychics have been known to rub white pigeons up and down a person to absorb negative forces before releasing the birds, and any evil, into the sky," reads part two of the series. "They suggest herbal baths and sometimes add hallucinogenic morning glory seeds to teas they serve their clients." Fascinating and creepy stuff.
John Charles Ward made a living out of piloting drugs from Mexico into the United States, as part three of the series describes. Ward, now serving a sentence in a federal prison in California, managed to escape the law for decades. He tells Marosi of his high-flying times: "It wasn't just a smuggling job. It was my career."
The final part of Marosi's series recounts a confrontation between a U.S. cocaine distributor and his boss in Sinaloa, a top cartel lieutenant. While the DEA operation targeting them eventually netted major arrests and seizures of cash and drugs, Marosi writes: "More than four years later, the cartel continues pumping drugs through the Calexico border crossing."
In other news:
'El Ponchis' is sentenced in Mexico
It was another week of horrific incidents in Mexico's drug war. A newspaper reporter was found decapitated in Veracruz. Shootouts in the municipal prison in Ciudad Juarez left 17 dead and fueled a spat between the local police chief and federal forces. And Edgar Jimenez, also known as "El Ponchis," was sentenced in Morelos, a reminder that Mexico's 4-1/2-year conflict is breeding ever-younger victims and perpetrators.
Humala assumes presidency in Peru
Ollanta Humala, a leftist former military officer, was sworn in as president of an increasingly prosperous Peru on Thursday. Among his first appointments was naming Susana Baca, the celebrated Afro-Peruvian singer who was recently profiled by The Times, as his government's culture minister.
Guatemala election heats up
From Guatemala City, special correspondent Alex Renderos looks at the state of the campaign to replace President Alvaro Colom in elections in September. More than 30 people have been killed in campaign-related violence, a troubling figure, Renderos reports. One of the candidates is Colom's ex-wife; Sandra Torres, the former first lady, had to divorce her husband in order to be eligible to run.
— Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Convicted cartel smuggling pilot John Charles Ward, in federal prison in California in 2009. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times