Border Report: El Chapo's San Diego Ties | Voice of San Diego

Border Report

Border Report: El Chapo's San Diego Ties

All El Chapo all the time, biometric scanning at the border port, trippy vegetables and a never-ending party Señor Frogs-style.

Unless you’ve been living under a surprisingly well-excavated tunnel, you’ve probably heard by now kingpin Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, has been captured. Again. This time, it happened after a nearly six-month manhunt that led authorities to Guzmán at the end of a sewage pipe in Los Mochis, Sinaloa.

For an overview, CNN tells the tale of the capture of “the most wanted, the most dangerous drug lord.”

Before tribute piñatas and interest in his fashion choices hit the mainstream, a perfect storm — tinged by correspondence with actor Sean Penn and a suspicious taco order— led authorities to Guzmán. The New York Times breaks it down:

[A]uthorities had swept through 18 of his homes and properties in his native lands. Days on end in the inhospitable mountains, where even a billionaire like Mr. Guzmán was forced to rough it, left him yearning for a bit of comfort.

In early January, he arrived in the coastal city of Los Mochis, in Sinaloa, at a home where the authorities had trailed one of the chief tunnel diggers from his escape. Construction crews had been hard at work on the house for weeks. Telephone intercepts indicated that someone big was about to arrive.

The final bit of evidence was a food order, Mexican officials said.

Just two blocks away, a big order of tacos was picked up after midnight on Jan. 8 by a man driving a white van, like the one believed to be driven by Mr. Guzmán’s associates, witnesses said.

Hours later, at 4:30 a.m., the marines stormed the compound, meeting a knot of doors and fierce resistance from gunmen. Like many of Mr. Guzmán’s homes, this one was equipped with elaborate escape hatches: a decoy beneath the refrigerator, and another behind a closet mirror, which he used to flee as the battle raged.

Hours later, on a highway heading out of town, the authorities finally got Mr. Guzmán, arguably the most powerful drug dealer in the history of the trade, for the third time since 1993.

Penn spoke about his meeting with El Chapo and his widely criticized article about the drug lord with “60 Minutes” on Sunday. Penn says the get-together happened in early October, before the capture was set in motion:

“I think the policy of the war on drugs, which so deeply affects all of our lives, seems not to change. It seems to be so unmovable. And it occurs to me that often, because we want to simplify the problem, and we want to look at a black hat and put our resources into focusing on the bad guy and … and I understand that. I absolutely understand justice and the rule of law. And so I do what I call experiential journalism. I don’t have to be the one that reports on the alleged murders or the amount of narcotics that are brought in. I go and I spend time in the company of another human being, which everyone is. And I make an observation and try to parallel that, try to balance that with the focus that we– that I believe we– we tend to put too much emphasis on.”

You can find the “60 Minutes” interview transcript with the actor here.

El Chapo’s potential extradition to the U.S. will be a months-long process, but debate is already brewing on which jurisdiction he might land in. San Diego is a possibility.

“U.S. attorneys in seven jurisdictions have charged Guzmán, who was recaptured Friday in Mexico, with organized crime, murder and drug trafficking in his role as head of the Sinaloa cartel,” The LA Times reports, adding that San Diego prosecutors brought the first federal charges against Guzmán in the mid-’90s.

Not so fast, says the Union-Tribune’s Greg Moran. The reporter interviewed San Diego defense attorney Jan Ronis, who represented another drug kingpin, Benjamin Arellano Felix.

“I doubt he would come here, because the San Diego case is so old,” Ronis said. “Other cases are fresher, and they probably have more current witnesses and active cooperators on those.”

The U-T also had a great story detailing how El Chapo’s low-level foot soldiers do their jobs based on federal charges filed in San Diego three years ago: “The case illustrates the cycle of the drug business, from obtaining precursor chemicals in China to manufacturing the drugs in Mexico to smuggling them into the U.S. to laundering millions of dollars in illicit profits.”

Facial Scanning at the Border

Biometric scanning is now a part of the border-crossing experience at the Otay border port, KPBS reports. The facial recognition and iris-scanning kiosks are currently being used only on non-U.S. citizen pedestrian border-crossers. Some are worrying about privacy, including the local branch of the ACLU”

Mitra Ebadolahi, a border litigation attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, tells border crossers, “I would say your interest in getting through the border as quickly as possible is a valid one.”

But Ebadolahi is worried that this focus on physical features could lead to racial profiling. She said border crossers should be more concerned about the future of face scanning at the border.

“If you pay for convenience by giving up a photo of yourself, and that photo then gets into a database—not just at the border, but potentially used elsewhere—and then is used to connect you to a crime you didn’t commit because you sort of look like a guy who the victim of that crime has identified as being the perpetrator, how would you feel about the government having that information on you indefinitely?”

Also at Otay, U.S. Border Patrol agents were allowed for the first time to inspect cargo coming into the U.S. on the Mexican side as part of a joint customs inspection pilot program. The U-T says the program is set for a six-month trial period, in hopes that it becomes “a model for future border crossings.”

Tijuana daily Frontera was there the first day the inspections took place.

Pope on the Border

Cities on both sides of the border are preparing for Pope Francis’ visit to Juárez next month. Roman Catholic Church officials have cautioned about potential ticket scams. The Diocese of Ciudad Juárez is the sole ticket-issuer for an open-air papal mass to be held on Feb 17.

The Diocese has put together a handy-dandy website in Spanish and English with all the papal 411, including a link to their Instagram page.

Maybe They Wanted a Healthier Option Than Pot Brownies

If El Chapo’s brand of escapism reeks of a Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote dynamic, this piece certainly comes from the Elmer Fudd school of sleuthing: U.S. Border Patrol agents discovered over 2,000 pounds of marijuana — street value estimated at $499,000 — inside a Mexican carrot shipment.

“Once again, drug smuggling organizations have demonstrated their creativity in attempting to smuggle large quantities of narcotics across the U.S./Mexico border,” Port Director Efrain Solis Jr. said in a statement. “Our officers are always ready to meet those challenges and remain vigilant towards any type of illicit activities.”

Silly smugwuers!

Finally, I leave you with this picture postcard from Señor Frogs in Times Square. After receiving a glowing zero-star review from the NYT that included gems like, “I had passed a sign promising that ‘Drinks go in, fun comes out!” (If nothing else, I was looking forward to seeing the restrooms),” the ever-popular eatery and balls-to-the-wall watering hole just got a glowing image-heavy write-up in Business Insider.

“[L]ots of selfies were snapped,” one caption reads. Another one praises staffers that “somehow managed to teach a drunk, rowdy crowd a choreographed dance. That’s not an easy task.” Now this, this right here is journalism. Eat your heart out, Sean Penn.

What do you think?