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Kadner: Southland police chiefs recruited for latest drug war

Guzman Loera

Guzman Loera

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Updated: February 25, 2014 6:24AM



Southland police chiefs on Thursday heard leaders from the Chicago Crime Commission and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration describe how Chicago has become the hub of the Mexican drug cartel.

Last year, the privately funded commission and the DEA joined together to name Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera as Chicago’s Public Enemy No. 1. Al Capone is the only other criminal to have been given that designation by the crime commission.

Guzman Loera is a Mexican drug lord who heads the Sinaloa cartel, named after the Mexican Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa where the organization was originally formed.

Joseph Ways, executive director of the crime commission and formerly the No. 2 person in the FBI’s Chicago office, said heroin and methamphetamine are the two major exports of the Mexican cartel.

“But they deal just about any narcotic that is sold illegally,” Ways said, including marijuana and cocaine.

Ways emphasized that illegal drug organizations are big business, “like a Fortune 500” company.

Indeed, Guzman Loera was listed No. 67 among Forbes magazine’s most powerful people in the world, with an estimated net worth of more than $1 billion.

His organization controls roughly 25 percent of all the illegal drugs that flow into the U.S. and between 70 to 80 percent of the supply in the Chicago area, according to DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Jack Riley.

Riley is heading up a new Chicago Strike Force composed of federal, state and local law enforcement that’s “pushing hard against the violent gang- and drug-related crime in Chicago by implementing a strategy of focusing on the choke point where drug cartel and gang members interact to exchange drugs and money.”

As part of that strategy, Riley is reaching out to suburban law enforcement agencies to encourage their cooperation.

“The strategy really came about after our joint announcement about Guzman Loera being the new Public Enemy No. 1,” Ways told me. “We discussed going out to the suburbs to enlist the support of law enforcement officers out there to get at the choke points in the cartel’s operation.

“We had already held seminars with the north and west suburban police chiefs, and the south suburbs is our last one for Cook County,” he said. “We’re now talking about reaching out to the collar counties and doing something there.”

Ways kept talking about those “choke points,” and I admitted I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.

“They’re sort of the middlemen between the street dealers and the drug cartel leaders, the ones who are the middlemen for the money and the drugs,” Ways said.

In a news release, those individuals were referred to as the “Achilles heel” of the Sinaloa cartel because of cultural and language barriers.

“If we can successfully exploit their choke points, we can arrest cartel and gang leaders, disrupt and stress the cartel operation and ultimately capture their leaders and dismantle operations,” Riley states in the news release.

Maybe. But what then?

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the Medellin cartel out of Colombia was considered the most fearsome, wealthy and powerful criminal organization in the world.

In August 1989, that cartel murdered the leading presidential candidate in Colombia and declared “total and absolute war” against that nation’s government.

Drug leaders ordered the murders of newspaper owners, reporters, prosecutors, anyone it felt was standing in their way.

Many members of that cartel eventually were hunted down and killed in Colombia, with the aid of the U.S. Delta Force and the CIA. The DEA claimed some credit for specifically targeting senior cartel figures.

The Colombian cartel primarily was in the cocaine business, Ways told me, while the Sinaloa cartel is into other drugs that have become more popular.

“But even in those days, a lot of drug traffic always moved through Mexico on its way up to the U.S.,” Ways explained.

I asked Ways what point he would like me to make in this column for readers. What did he want the public to know?

“This is a business, and every business is about supply and demand,” he said. “We want parents to have serious conversations with their children about the dangers of drugs. I don’t just mean a casual conversation but a serious talk.

“We can’t just focus on the supply side in this war. We have to talk about the demand, and the demand is driven by people in this country who buy drugs.”

Billions of dollars are spent on illegal drugs each year in the U.S. The money involved entices children to get into the sales end of the business so they can buy iPads, Xboxes, athletic shoes and, in some cases, put food on their table at home.

Money paid for illegal drugs supplies street gangs with lots of cash to buy weapons, wage war with rival gangs and buy more drugs for recreational use.

It eventually makes its way to the CEOs of the drug trade, who use all that cash to bribe government officials and construct armies of loyal soldiers who kill thousands of their enemies in the streets of foreign countries.

All of this has been going on for decades. I’ve lost track of how many drug wars we’ve declared and how many times our government leaders have declared victory.

“We’ve got to keep trying,” Ways said. “We can’t give up.”

Yes, but doing the same thing over and over with the same result is said to be the very definition of insanity.

I asked Ways if there was any evidence that the Mexican cartel had operational strongholds in the Southland.

“They are everywhere,” he said. “But I couldn’t point to any specific south suburb and say it has an especially bad problem.”

Afghanistan is considered the leading supplier of most of the world’s heroin. Production of opium there covered about 516,000 acres in 2013, a record for that nation.

Supply and demand thrives in the illegal drug trade, even as our government spends billions of dollars to try to stop it.



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