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The Narco Trafficker Next Door

Even in some of Mexico s most expensive and exclusive neighborhoods there is no escaping the drug cartels they re your neighbors. GUADALAJARA, Mexico Gabriela Navarro, who lives in an exclusive gated community in southern Guadalajara, suspects three locals of having ties to one of Mexico s most powerful drug cartels. She bases this belief on their unconventional working hours, unexplained wealth, and fondness for narcocorridos folk ballads that glorify drug traffickers. All, she says, are from Sinaloa, the mountainous home-state of drug kingpin Joaqu n El Chapo Guzm n and the ruthless Sinaloa Federation, one of the largest criminal organizations in the world.

Some people s backgrounds are a bit doubtful, said Navarro, who is in her forties and asked that her name be changed to protect her identity. They have lots of money and big trucks. No one knows what they do, but it makes you wonder.

In one incident a visitor broke the parking barrier with his car when security refused him entry.

The guard said he had no ID and nobody could enter without it, Navarro said. A resident came out with a gun in his hand shouting: No, he s my guest, let him through! Even when these suspect neighbors set off fireworks in the early morning hours, locals are afraid to complain.

It s either stay quiet or be threatened. People moan, but everyone puts up with it, Navarro said. Thirty minutes drive from the bustle of central Guadalajara, Mexico s second-largest city and the capital of the state of Jalisco, the wealthy community is ringed by a 1.5 kilometer electric fence. Visitors must sign in at the sentry box. The huge CCTV network is managed from a 24-hour control room and uniformed guards patrol the grounds round-the-clock.

Drug lords living in gated communities is nothing new, and the phenomenon is not limited to Guadalajara. In the border city of Juarez, the wealthy neighborhood of Rinc n de San Marcos, or St. Marks Corner, is popularly known as Rinc n de San Narcos because of its links with numerous top traffickers, including the late Amado Carrillo. In December 2009, Arturo Beltr n Leyva, a particularly bloodthirsty drug lord, was killed[1] during a firefight with the navy s Special Forces in an exclusive apartment community in Cuernavaca, near Mexico City.

Nine months earlier, Beltr n Leyva had been included on the Mexican government s list of 24 narcos worth a bounty of 30 million pesos (around $1.6 million U.S. dollars). Of the 17 who have been captured since the release of that list, five were in exclusive communities when the authorities swooped. Thank You! You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason

Guadalajara property developers have taken to the gated model with particular enthusiasm. There are nearly 2,500 gated compounds in the city, occupying more than 14 percent of its territory, according to[2] investigators at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara.

While international media focuses on U.S. President Donald Trump s proposed border wall, the proliferation of walls within Mexico betray growing internal divisions and a deep dismay with the government s ability to tackle crime. Of course, such high security, gated spaces are popular outside of Mexico. Almost identical developments are now a common feature in South Africa, China, and the United States all countries with high levels of inequality. But Mexican gated communities come with the added irony that the undesirables have already breached the walls. A significant number of those living in private enclaves are themselves criminals, beneficiaries of a drug industry that has massively enriched traffickers yet left a truly staggering body count. According to official figures, more than 170,000 murders have been recorded in Mexico since 2006, many of them directly linked to the ongoing drug-war (PDF[3]).

Gated neighborhoods, with their promise to protect the rich from the risks of the city, have become as much a part of the narco lifestyle as luxury suburbans or AK-47 s. From the beginning, the growth of gated communities in Guadalajara was closely connected with the rise of drug cartels in Mexico. A government clampdown on cannabis and opium producers in Sinaloa in 1976 pushed many narcos from the state. Dozens of top kingpins set up shop in Guadalajara, finding their wealth was welcomed in the city.

The Guadalajara cartel, formed by Sinaloan drug lords, took advantage of the new housing that was springing up in response to the city s rapid growth. The real estate provided traffickers with easy money laundering opportunities. A founding member of the Guadalajara Cartel, Rafael Caro Quintero still owns many properties in the city, including gated residential complexes, according to the U.S. Treasury Department s Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC (PDF[4]). Responding to U.S. pressure, Mexican authorities eventually dismantled the Guadalajara Cartel but the Sinaloa Federation, a spin-off from the Guadalajara organization, took the reins of power (PDF[5]). Under the leadership of the notorious Chapo Guzm n, the cartel became the largest and most powerful in Mexico. For two decades, Guadalajara was run by local boss Ignacio Nacho Coronel Villarreal, who earned the nickname the King of Crystal for his success in the crystal meth trade.

Throughout this time, Guadalajara avoided the widespread violence that plagued many Mexican cities, even after 2006, when the country s death toll spiraled after then-President Felipe Calderon deployed troops in a disastrous attempt to stamp out drug gangs. One popular theory holds that local narcos made a pact to keep their immediate surroundings safe. Ioan Grillo, the author of Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America[6] said that while there is little evidence of any formal agreement, local criminals probably shared a tacit understanding about security.

It makes sense. If you are a cartel boss and you have a child who s going to school in a certain place you are not going to send assassins to start shooting outside their school.

Grillo said the Sinaloa Federation s dominance of the city was another key factor behind Guadalajara s relative calm.

There s clear evidence that for many years, Sinaloan traffickers had a monopoly on the area. Yet this fragile peace was shattered on a hot summer night in 2010, when Nacho Coronel was killed[7] during a military raid on his mansion. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel sprang up to fill the vacuum, triggering a wave of violence that included massacres of civilians[8], deadly attacks on police[9], and the downing of a military helicopter in 2015[10].

At local level, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel operates a kind of franchise system, said Darwin Franco, a Mexican journalist from Guadalajara. These smaller groups tend to focus on crimes which particularly impact civilians, such as kidnapping and human trafficking. Killings in Jalisco more than doubled in the five years following Coronel s death compared to the five years before it (PDF[11]).

Kidnappings quadrupled over the same period (PDF[12]), although analysts agree official numbers massively understate the problem, because victims and their families are often unwilling to involve police. Although cartel hits make more international headlines, kidnapping is the menace looming over daily life in Mexico. A recent survey conducted by pollsters Mitofsky found 48 percent of respondents were very afraid of being kidnapped (PDF[13]). This dread has fueled a private security boom and contributed to the exodus to the suburbs.

Despite the presence of such criminals and the potential dangers they attract, residents still express the apparently logical belief that the guards and cameras will protect them. Navarro has lived in her gated community for more than a decade and feels it is worth the extra cost.

In the city, there are people who are drugged and make you nervous they might attack you, she said. We think with all this violence it s better to stay here, even if it costs a bit more. Yet statistics show gated communities cannot always guarantee security.

According to data obtained by M sporm s, a local newspaper, 3.5 percent of households reported a robbery in Navarro s community between October 2015 and December 2016. In academia, debate rages in urban studies as to whether gated communities effectively protect residents.

A comparison[14] of gated and non-gated areas in California found no difference in crime rates, as criminals target neighborhoods because of their wealth and isolation.

According to the United States Overseas Security Advisory Council[15], wrong-place, wrong-time violence is the greatest threat to personal safety in Guadalajara, and the risk is as likely in upscale as well as lower-income areas. In many Mexican gated communities, the presence of drug traffickers further compromises safety.

Sometimes it s scary, Navarro said. If there s a gunfight and I m here I could get caught in the crossfire. Or if my daughter goes out to play

The problem is, the promise of gated communities to enhance security through the use of walls, guards, and cameras is as attractive to drug traffickers and contract killers as to law-abiding citizens. Ironically, another common feature of gated communities that appeals to criminals is the lack of community life those random interactions and curious neighbors within their walls.

A gated community very often isn t a community, it s just a gated transport hub, said Anna Minton, the author of Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City[16]. A really interesting paradox I found is that they advertise all these facilities and they have all these amazing things on offer: swimming pools and sports courts and even a theatre in one place, and yet no one uses them because there s no sense of community. Social contact with strangers in gated suburbs is often seen as unnecessary, because residents delegate responsibility for security to professional guards and cameras, Minton said.

Residents tend to avoid mixing with others, said one Guadalajara academic. Criminals like that because the place affords privacy.

While developers present gated communities as the perfect private solution to the public problem of crime, suspicion of strangers is not so easily subdued. Only 12.4 percent of Mexicans believe most people can be trusted, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development[17]. This compares unfavorably to an average of 36 percent among all 34 OECD countries and is well below Demark, where 74.9 percent reported trust in others. These anxieties do not disappear in the suburbs, as residents of gated communities are often suspicious of those living and working among them, whether narco neighbors or visiting staff.

Andrea Castellanos, whose name has been changed, is in her thirties and lives in Colina, a gated community within Ciudad Bugambilias in Guadalajara, one of the richest neighborhoods in Mexico. Also located in southern Guadalajara, this private city-within-a-city has an English speaking kindergarten, bilingual schools, an ice-skating rink, and a shopping mall. The neighborhood is classified as semi-gated, because visitors pass through a single entrance, but there are no entry procedures at the gates. However, there are several fully-gated communities within the suburb s limits.

Castellanos has never lived outside of the Bugambilias complex.

They regularly change the security personnel, she said. That s a good thing because the guards know all your movements and they re often the ones who end up stealing from you. A 2011 study[18] of different housing types in Mexico City found that living in a gated community did little to reduce the self-reported levels of fear among residents who were home alone.

Research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation[19], a British social policy and development charity, concluded that the provision of additional security measures, may actually serve to heighten levels of anxiety. Another study (PDF[20]) released by the same organization found that security measures stoke fears because symbols of security can remind us of our insecurities.

In Bugambilias, the illusion of safety is undermined by the presence of Jalisco state Attorney General Eduardo Almaguer. His neighbors have publicly asked[21] him to move, complaining that his huge security team is a disturbance.

They re dressed as police officers and they have guns in their hands. I don t know if they have the safety on, but they re carrying it in their hands, said resident Paulina Barragan. Of course, the subtext here is that if the neighborhood really was as safe as advertised, the guards would be unnecessary. Plenty of evidence suggests that the fear of crime in Bugambilias is well-founded. Yet the location attracts problems precisely because of its reputation for luxury. Even the U.S. Department of the Treasury has highlighted Bugambilias[22] as a narco hotspot, and arrests of residents are fairly common, even though it only has around 3,200 inhabitants.

In April last year, the leader of a kidnapping ring[23] died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after dozens of armed soldiers surrounded his house in the complex. Two kidnapping victims were discovered alive in the residence. A man was shot[24] multiple times in a botched hit in February last year, while a bodyguard and a pair of armed robbers exchanged gunfire during an attempted car theft[25] last October. Except for 2014 and 2015, shootouts have occurred within the suburb every full year since 2008. While exclusive communities like Bugambilias promise a solution to crime, they in fact foster the kind of social divisions that fuel it.

The village of Santa Ana Tepetitl n sits just outside of Bugambilias, and provides the suburb with an army of construction workers, gardeners, security guards, and nannies. As such, it is a relationship of mutual convenience. Yet it also presents a vision of almost feudal inequality.

There are incredibly high rates of alcoholism and drug addiction, said Tulio Rosas, the former general secretary of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena) in Jalisco. You can see young people using drugs on the streets. Gang fights are common, leading to murders. There s a gang known as the Dwarves with children as young as 5 that rob to buy drugs. Sewage from Bugambilias collects within the village limits and most of its 6,000 residents live in crowded, makeshift houses. Child sexual exploitation[26] is reportedly widespread in the neighborhood.

Social contact between the residents of Bugambilias and its neighbor is completely non-existent, and these stark divisions create anxieties on both sides.

It is not only the level of inequality and poverty in a city that triggers social conflict but the perception of this inequality, said Dr. Eduardo L pez Moreno, the director of research and capacity development at UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Program. The best way that perception can manifest is through a wall. L pez Moreno argues that residential segregation has played an indirect role in fueling Mexico s drug war, because physical walls reinforce existing inequalities.

The city can contribute to negative social behaviors, he said. The more inequalities exist in cities the more you will have cheap labor to join cartels. That will be all these young people that are ready to kill for very little money. L pez Moreno believes a plan to break up clusters of wealth and poverty in cities should be part of the government s long-term anti-crime strategy.

In the developing world gated communities are the result of a lack of planning, L pez Moreno said. Clear rules and regulations are needed so the city is not formed by the addition of gated communities but is designed as a whole as an integrated system.

Augusto Valencia, a political deputy for the liberal Citizen s Movement in Guadalajara has proposed[27] major changes to the law that would effectively open private communities and prevent them from restricting road access. Although the proposal has been met with significant opposition, it still represents a milestone for raising awareness of the issue. In recent years, local authorities in Guadalajara and Mexico City have tried to breathe life into public spaces. Initiatives such as the renovation of Guadalajara s historic center and Mexico City s Chapultepec Park are positive first steps toward strengthening public life. Free open-air events and bike sharing projects have also been successful.

Yet the prevalent sense in Mexico is that the government and its institutions are ill-equipped to curb divisions. This view is reflected in Rodrigo Pl s film, La Zona, which focuses on wealthy citizens who take security into their own hands.

In Mexico, we live with this intense feeling that there s an absence of state. The state doesn t regulate and is not there to resolve conflicts, Pl told The Daily Beast. Social polarization, fear of others and a desire for status are also factors driving the growth of these communities. Following the film s release nearly a decade ago, the director suffered an experience that forced him to reconsider its tone.

Me and my family have chosen to live outside of a gated community, without this kind of security. However, soon after making the film, we were held up at gunpoint. And we had to ask ourselves if we had done justice to the people who choose to close themselves away. Because it s also a reality, the impunity and violence.

Pl said the shock of President Trump s plans to build a wall along the border with its ally have forced the conversation on Mexico s own walls.

We like to think of the wall of the film as a metaphor for the walls that spring up on all sides to separate, to enclose, to divide, to prevent people passing. These walls correspond exactly to the inability of human beings to solve their problems. The bigger and higher, the more clumsy and intolerant we have been.


  1. ^ was killed (
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  3. ^ PDF (
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  6. ^ Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America (
  7. ^ was killed (
  8. ^ massacres of civilians (
  9. ^ deadly attacks on police (
  10. ^ the downing of a military helicopter in 2015 (
  11. ^ PDF (
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  14. ^ A comparison (
  15. ^ According to the United States Overseas Security Advisory Council (
  16. ^ Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First-Century City (
  17. ^ according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (
  18. ^ 2011 study (
  19. ^ Research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (
  20. ^ PDF (
  21. ^ publicly asked (
  22. ^ highlighted Bugambilias (
  23. ^ leader of a kidnapping ring (
  24. ^ was shot (
  25. ^ attempted car theft (
  26. ^ Child sexual exploitation (
  27. ^ has proposed (

NFL Draft: Bengals take chance on RB Joe Mixon

PHILADELPHIA Running back Joe Mixon, suspended for the 2014 season after hitting a woman at a caf in Norman, Oklahoma, has repeatedly vowed he never will let something like this happen again and that he can be trusted to be a responsible member of the NFL. He ll get to show whether he truly is reformed after being drafted Friday by the Bengals in the second round, a team known to give chances to controversial players with questionable backgrounds. Mixon was arrested in July, 2014 and charged with misdemeanor assault for punching a woman in the face and breaking four bones. Video of the incident was made public in December, 2016. And while Mixon did not serve time in prison, he was barred from playing for a year by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops. Mixon was reinstated in 2015 and was the Sooners leading rusher in 2016 with 1,274 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Latest NFL stories

I don t know who isn t disgusted at what they saw, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said Friday night about the video. But that s one day in the young man s life. Mixon was emotional about the chance to begin his NFL career.

I m still sitting here crying, he told reporters after being drafted. I can t believe it.

Mixon said the 2014 incident changed me a lot as a person. How you think. How you carry yourself. How you go about things. While many NFL teams didn t even have Mixon on their draft boards because of what happened, the Bengals didn t hide their interest in him. The Broncos also were reported to be interested in Mixon. The Bengals either have signed or drafted several players with off-field issues. Cornerback Pacman Jones, wide receiver Chris Henry, defensive tackle Tank Johnson and linebacker Vontaze Burfict have all served suspensions imposed by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Bengals owner Mike Brown, when asked about Jones arrest in January for disorderly conduct after he allegedly pushed a security guard and head-butted a police officer, offered a window into his thinking about players who break the law.

Maybe I am overly tolerant, he said. If so, so be it. Drafting Mixon will only reinforce that line of thinking. Another running back who previously has been arrested, Dalvin Cook of Florida State, also was taken in the second round. The Vikings moved up to select Cook, adding him to a backfield that recently signed free-agent Latavius Murray. The Vikings previously released former All Pro running back Adrian Peterson.

Cook was arrested as a juvenile for robbery in 2009, and was charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly punching a woman in 2015 outside a Tallahassee bar. A jury found Cook not guilty, and he has no convictions on his record.

The other big-name player drafted Friday was Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, who was taken in the second round by the Browns. Cleveland had shown interest in North Carolina s Mitchell Trubisky, and debated whether to take him first overall. But the team instead took Texas A & M pass-rusher Myles Garrett with the top choice before the Bears traded up to the second spot to take Trubisky. After highly rated quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes (Chiefs) and Deshaun Watson (Texans) went later in the first round, the Browns settled on Kizer, who has a big arm and terrific running ability, but also has accuracy issues. He threw a combined 19 interceptions in his previous two seasons at Notre Dame, and completed only 58.7 percent of his passes last year.

Quebec: Uniting to fulfil mosque attack victim’s dream

Mamadou Tanou Barry once dreamt of bringing a permanent supply of fresh water to his native town in Guinea. But his dream was brutally cut short when a gunman opened fire on a mosque in Quebec City, killing Barry and five other Muslim men as they prayed.

The attack[1] at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre on January 29 sent shockwaves across Canada, and prompted candlelit vigils, rallies, and an outpouring of support[2] for the victims families and the larger Muslim community. Now, three months after the killings, Barry’s family, their supporters, and the Guinean community in Quebec City have launched a campaign to commemorate all six victims – and turn Barry’s unrealised goal into reality.

Organisers hope to raise about $18,000 to establish two water wells in Central Guinea, which is where Barry, a father of two, and his friend, Ibrahima Barry, a father of four who was also killed in the attack, were originally from. The wells will be dug in their memory, and in the memory of the other victims: Aboubaker Thabti, Abdelkrim Hassane, Khaled Belkacemi, and Azzedine Soufiane.

“We can t replace these fathers,” Souleymane Bah, president of the Guinean Association of Quebec, said. But the project will show the men’s families that the world has not forgotten about them, he told Al Jazeera.

“All we’re asking is for sensitivity, joy, and generosity from people, in the hopes of realising this dream.”

OPINION: Why the Quebec mosque shooting happened[3]

Organisers hope to build the wells in Guinea this summer in collaboration with a French NGO. Kim Vincent, another campaign volunteer, said the goal is “to create some sort of positive action as a result of such a horrible event”.

Security measures

The Muslim community across Canada, and in Quebec in particular, is still coming to terms with the deadly attack. Mohamed Labidi, interim president of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre, said the first priority after the shooting was to re-open the mosque and bring some semblance of normality back to the Muslim community in the city. Quebec mosque shooting puts islamophobia in focus

“We spent one week cleaning and putting the space back in order,” Labidi said. “After we tried to re-launch all the activities we did before,” including prayer services, meetings, and Arabic lessons.

“Especially for those who lived through the tragedy, who were eye-witnesses, yes, they were quite traumatised by it, and we feel it daily. But it didn’t stop them from coming back to the mosque to pray.”

He said mosque officials have taken steps to provide greater security at the mosque, which prior to the attack was always open, especially during prayer times, giving anyone access to the building. The mosque is now locked, but about 1,000 electronic entry passes have been distributed to regular congregants, Labidi said, and plans to reinforce the building’s glass facade and build more emergency exits are under way. He said putting a better security system in place was a long-standing priority, but the attack created a sense of urgency.

“The hateful acts started with graffiti on the walls, continued with leaflets passed around to houses in the neighbourhood, and culminated with the pig’s head” that was left on the doorstep of the mosque in June 2016, Labidi said.

“All that put us on guard that something was being prepared. It was like a race against the clock.”

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard described it as “a terrorist act”. But the alleged shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, does not face explicit terrorism or hate crimes charges. The 27-year-old has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder, and five counts of attempted murder. Labidi said charging Bissonnette with terrorism is important because it would send a clear message to society at large “that hate can cause tragedies, [and] can cause audacious criminal acts”.

Anti-Islam rallies

In the months since the attack, anti-Muslim rhetoric has seen a rise in Canada. Far-right hate groups, spurned on by Conservative Party politicians, have recently become more vocal, rallying in several major Canadian cities against a federal parliamentary motion on Islamophobia.[4]

Passed in March, the federal motion condemns all forms of systemic racism, including Islamophobia, and tasks a parliamentary committee to study the issue, and track hate crimes. Opponents said the bill would lead to Islamic law in Canada, and stifle freedom of speech, and far-right groups held protests against it at city halls across the country, often shouting anti-Muslim slogans.

OPINION: Quebec mosque shooting – Beyond the official rhetoric[5]

Mosques have been vandalised in Montreal and Ottawa, and Montreal police recorded a spike in reported hate crimes in the city immediately after the attack in Quebec City. Elsewhere, anti-Muslim protesters calling for a ban on Islam picketed outside a Toronto mosque in February, and several incidents of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim graffiti have been reported. A poll released earlier this week found that 59 percent of Quebecers thought that racial discrimination is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” issue.

Still, Labidi said the Muslim community received a great show of solidarity and sympathy from people across Quebec and Canada following the attack, and that this openness and sense of inclusion is still being felt today.

“There are very positive signs,” he said.

“It continues, and we hope it doesn’t fade because I hope that everyone learnt the lesson from this, to have a better integration of Muslims and a better openness towards Muslims from their co-citizens in Quebec and Canada.”

Quebec: Uniting To Fulfil Mosque Attack Victim's Dream Six people were killed in the attack on January 29 [Mathieu Belanger/Reuters]

Source: Al Jazeera


  1. ^ The attack (
  2. ^ outpouring of support (
  3. ^ OPINION: Why the Quebec mosque shooting happened (
  4. ^ motion on Islamophobia. (
  5. ^ OPINION: Quebec mosque shooting – Beyond the official rhetoric (