Governor of Sinaloa at the head of a region under the thumb of the drug cartels: “We take care of it”

IIn the June 2021 midterm elections, Rubén Rocha Moya was elected governor of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, snatching the post from his political rivals with 55.8% of the total vote, according to INE data. (National Electoral Institute). He won by a wide margin of almost 25%, with his closest opponent Mario Zamora, from the coalition of PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party), PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) and PAN (National Action Party), obtaining only 31.1 percent of the vote.

Rocha Moya governs under the protection of Morena (National Regeneration Movement), the party that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) founded in October 2011. Like almost all Morenoite heads of state who have taken power the Last year, Rocha Moya adhered from day one to the rules, beliefs and even maxims of AMLO, which demanded the “blind loyalty” that the governor practices on a daily basis.

Sitting at his desk in a very casual outfit, without appearing luxurious or displaying the power that his position confers on him, he answers questions from Independent in Spanish categorically, as any “culichi” (citizen of Culiacán) would do. Some are uncomfortable, others do not concern him but represent a challenge, a few months after he took office.

The fight against organized crime is the main issue on the state agenda:

“Security is a concern for governments in Mexico and indeed the world. We are supporters of President López Obrador and our strategy is his. We must give meaning to life for all the poor who live in marginality, not only to feed themselves, but to offer them an education, a culture, sports and a dignified way of life. People often act out of hunger, lack of culture, lack of attention from the authorities.

In an interview with Independent in Spanish, Rocha Moya assures that “the use of force by the State is imperative to prevent and prosecute crimes in order to avoid impunity”. And he remarks:The crime that is committed and not punished is a crime that is repeated. We will act accordingly, and in the three months that I have served as head of state government, we do.

Convinced that AMLO’s anti-crime policy “abrazos, no balazos” “(hugs, not bullets) means applying preventive action to tackle the causes that generate crime, the governor assures that “economic and social , employment opportunities, the generation of places of recreational, educational and cultural coverage, and the care of health problems, are the hugs that the government should give”.

Rubén Rocha Moya, governor of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, speaks to Independent en Español

(Independent in Spanish / José Luis Montenegro)

In previous administrations, the people of Sinaloa were embraced, but by organized crime. According to figures from the FGE (Office of the Attorney General of the State), in 2021 alone, the municipalities that registered the highest number of crimes were Culiacán, with 10,170; followed by Ahome, with 5,734; Mazatlan, with 4,725; Guasave, with 2,257; and Navolato, with 824. Over the past five years, crimes have increased. In the capital of Sinaloa alone, 9,625 crimes were recorded in 2017; 9,814 in 2018; in 2019, it decreased slightly to 9,768 offences; in 2020, it fell slightly further to 9,610; but in 2021 it rose to 10,170 crimes.

The governor assures that “there is a stigma that we will fight because we are not a violent state”. Sinaloa is no longer among the most divisive regions of the Mexican Republic, as it was during the six-year term of former President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa from 2006 to 2012. Now the top spots are held by States like Zacatecas and Guanajuato, which are in dispute between the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG (Jalisco New Generation Cartel), commanded by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho”.

However, Sinaloa still records more federal crimes than Mexico City, in its “health crimes” division. In 2021 alone, the Ministry of Security and Citizen Protection registered 20 cases of drug production in Sinaloa, while in the country’s capital only two were registered. Regarding drug transport cases, 155 were recorded in Sinaloa and 42 in Mexico City. Regarding drug possession, Sinaloa recorded 136 cases which include consumption; while the capital had 57.

Talk to Independent in SpanishRocha Moya occasionally turns to the back wall, as if to draw attention to his governor’s certificate for the period of November 2021 to October 2027. However, what stands out is one of AMLO’s books at above a large wooden cabinet, titled At La Mitad Del Camino (Half way up the road). The book is new, still shiny with the plastic cover intact. Rocha Moya looks at the camera and continues to respond.

Is it possible to govern Sinaloa without colluding with organized criminal groups?

Rocha Moya: “Of course. Neither we nor President López Obrador have a pact with drug trafficking. We are witnessing what corresponds to the government of the state, with regard to common crimes, those who persecute our institutions We don’t need to make a pact with anyone.. We don’t have it.

He has no agreements, he says; but it cannot be ignored that there are characters like Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who have a great ability to operate illicit businesses in the state…

Rocha Moya: “You can’t ignore what’s going on in your state, but you don’t have to have connections or pacts or agreements with crime. That’s not one of my government’s inclinations. López Obrador’s mandate and ours fully coincide, because we must align ourselves with the national security strategy, that is, prevent crime, attacking the causes that generate it; and apply the use of force, to assist in the prosecution of the offence.

Rocha Moya’s predecessor, Quirino Ordaz Coppel, the former governor of the PRI, ended his mandate as head of Sinaloa – according to opposition political parties – “in favor of organized criminal groups”, in particular children by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, known as “Los Chapitos”. ”; and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, the cartel’s longest-serving leader.

According to Sinaloa government figures, marijuana seizures dropped dramatically under Ordaz Coppel’s leadership from 2017 to 2021. In his first year in office, 16,152 doses of marijuana were seized; followed by 10,601 in 2018, 1,017 in 2019 and 1,217 in 2020. As of last September, only 234 had been seized in 2021.

Methamphetamine seizures under Ordaz Coppel’s administration followed a similar course. In 2017, they got 29,118 doses; followed by 12,842 in 2018, 2,089 in 2019, 2,140 in 2020 and 1,332 in 2021.

The same trend occurred with cocaine, as just over 13,200 doses of cocaine were seized in its first year and only 154 in its last.

This graph shows the most violent municipalities in Sinaloa – with criminal incidents broken down by year

(The Independent / Google Street Maps)

If this course continued, the Sinaloa Cartel would operate from today with absolute freedom and impunity in the demarcation and, moreover, would exercise the maxim of “pax narca”: “live and let live”. A negotiation or “unwritten pact” that would reinforce the complicity between the State and its criminals.

The governor puts his hand to his mouth and insists: “We have no pact with organized crime. We have a security table every day, we review what happened the day before and, based on that, we reflect and try to take measures to avoid the greatest possible criminal impact.

In December 2021, just months after taking office, Rocha Moya witnessed the might of the Sinaloa Cartel and one of its rising leaders: Aureliano Guzmán Araujo, alias “El Guanito”, the nephew of Joaquín ” El Chapo » Guzman. when a fight broke out between patrons of the Casanova bar on Diego Valadez Boulevard, in front of the Lucerna Hotel, three kilometers from the Government Palace.

Police say an argument over “El Guanito” and members of the crime cell he commands led to one man brandishing a gun and shooting another, injuring him. Surveillance videos showed that there were at least three armed subjects. State and City Police officers arrived at the scene to intercept the attackers, but seeing themselves outnumbered and overpowered, they simply retreated from the scene.

Does the state force have the capacity to manage security crises, like the one experienced a few months ago at the Casanova bar?

Rocha Moya: ” We take care of it. Who came to take care of it? Did England or the United States come to help us? Well no!”

There were no arrests or penalties for this violent act…

Rocha Moya: “It was followed, yes; but no natural person is in custody because he escaped. However, all measures have been taken and we have prevented things from getting out of hand. It was a media scandal, but we sued it, that is, the state police and the municipal police. Yes, there is a capability for these operations, there is a response capability.

When asked about the shooting, management and staff at Casanova Bar remained silent for fear of reprisals from authorities and criminal groups in the area.

For his part, Rocha Moya assures that his government is coordinating with all state and federal law enforcement entities. However, after the shooting at the Casanova bar and, months before, after the so-called “Culiacanazo”, it was assumed that the actions of justice in Mexico relied more on political pressure from the United States than on own intelligence. from the country.

Recently, the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) increased the reward to $5 million for anyone providing information leading to the capture of “El Chapo” Guzmán’s children. In this regard, is the government of Sinaloa working with federal or international agencies to bring about the arrest of the alleged suspects?

Rocha Moya: “No, it’s not our responsibility. It is a federal jurisdiction.

And you, as a state government, do not support the federal government?

Rocha Moya: “Yes, we support, if the federal government invites us. Although, often the federal government does act, and for fear of states leaking information, they don’t ask for help.

Do you intend to apprehend Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, the children of “El Chapo” Guzmán or any other key members of the Sinaloa Cartel?

Rocha Moya: “At this time, we have no plan for the case.”

The camera stops filming and Rocha Moya picks up a copy of the local newspaper Riodoce, one of the most critical of the state government. A headline on the cover stands out as a damning phrase for Sinaloans: “They’ll come for the capos and the problem will go on.”

This story was originally posted by Independent in Spanish in Spanish and has been translated into English for The Independent. Read the first part of the series here.

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